Thoughts on International Education
Musings on Japanese and Ryukyu Budo
Thoughts on International Education
Usually, I do not like to explicitly point out specific places or people regarding misinformation on Chito Ryu, especially if they are not expressly tied to Chito Ryu. Still, the so-called `history` at the site (https://www.hakuakaikarate.org/history.html) is so poorly researched and checked that I must, in good conscience, draw attention to significant inaccuracies in its presentation of Chitose Sr`s history. Firstly, Chitose Sensei Sr did not serve in China. Instead, in World War 2, he worked in Kumamoto as a civilian and helped with the `national guard` during the latter years. Eyewitness accounts from his family certify to this. Indeed, there are no photos of him in military costume, among their collections. Secondly, while he worked with some karate groups on the mainland in the late 1920s and 1930s, he mainly lived on Miyako-Jima teaching karate and working with Kyan and Jyuhatsu. Thirdly, he did NOT change his name to Chitose Tsuyoshi until AFTER World War 2 - the adoption of this name had nothing to do with the other name changes he made in the 1920/the 30s.
Indeed thus far, I have found no evidence that Chitose Sr ever served in the Japanese Imperial Army. I must point out, however, such a lack of proof is not sufficient in and of itself to make a definitive statement. In Japan today, discussing wartime actions remains a taboo among those of a certain age. However, as research by Mario Mckenna and others (see, for example, https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20181217/p2a/00m/0na/018000c) has pointed out, draft-dodging among Okinawas was not uncommon and indeed may have been the norm. Due to a combination of ambivalence towards the national conscription law and an awareness of the racism they would face, the majority of draftees were not overly keen (that is, putting it mildly) to follow in the footsteps of Yabu-Sensei.
Even on the mainland, there was a keen awareness of the inequality prevalent in the conscription law. For example, for those who could afford the 280Yen, they could buy an exemption. At the time, 280Yen was approximately half a months salary for a general, so it was a substantial amount. Footsoldiers made about 9 yen. Thus on the mainland, the conscripted army was mainly composed of poor farmers sons until mid-way through the Taisho period. Still, others, such as Kyoda Jyuhatsu, were too short to meet the minimum height requirement of 150 cm.
Another common way of reducing the draft impact in Okinawa was to graduate as a teacher, thus reducing conscription to 6 week stint in the army. For others, the option was to go to the mainland and disappear. Perhaps this may have contributed to Chitose`s name changes during the 1920s and 30s. However, this is only speculation and must not be interpreted as truth. Indeed in Okinawa, he kept using his official name during this period, thus suggesting the name changes on the mainland were done for other reasons.
I have contacted the site owners and will let you know if I hear back from them.
Bad history = ignorance and betrayal of Chinen and indeed the life he lived with his family on Okinawa
It is a privilege and an honor again to be able to present some thoughts from Mr Peter Giffen. Always articulate. Always thought provoking.
The Purpose of Traditional Karate - by Peter Giffen
I didn't want to post this during the Olympics, to disrespect the fine young karate athletes participating. But now that we are done, here we go:
With the Tokyo Olympics underway, karate is in the spotlight. I hope that its debut makes a good impression with viewers and helps to build memberships in dojos worldwide hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
While modern karate competitions are exciting — especially with rules that provide scoring incentives for competitors to execute high kicks — I think the karate masters who founded the different styles, and the todi practitioners before them, would little recognize their practical methods of self-defence in these contests.
Yes, the young competitors are highly skilled athletes who should be admired for their physical abilities and determination. But the danger is, people will perceive that you need to be an elite athlete in order to do karate effectively. This may have been what happened when judo appeared in the Olympics 1960s. Some experts argue that the Olympics harmed rather than helped judo’s growth, and branded it more as a sport than martial art.
Karate is not just for young athletes. It developed as a civilian method of self-defence, with highly effective techniques, including hand strikes, kicks, joint locks, chokes and throws. Anyone, any age can gain increased self-defence skills through regular and committed practice.
But the key is to stay true to karate’s purpose as a traditional martial art, and not get distracted by modern variations and attitudes. We have practitioners who just like to have a bit of exercise and perhaps socialize a little bit with other members. We have regimens like Tae Bo, which strip away the combative aspects of karate and turn it solely into a cardio exercise. We have parents who want to make their children a little more disciplined.
All these uses of karate are good, but you don’t need to water down the art to receive the benefits. The exertion required to do a martial art properly hones the body and focuses the mind. And yes, if adults want to get together after a workout because they feel a joint sense of relief for surviving a gruelling workout, that’s fine too.
If you want to become an elite athlete, that’s also good. But after your competitive career is finished, don’t just sit in a chair, looking at your past medals, and say to yourself, “Ah, those were the days.” Continue to practice and continue to grow outside the structure and rules of tournament karate. Be a coach, if you wish, but cultivate a personal practice of traditional karate that draws on your discipline as an athlete.
Traditional karate requires rigorous training so you can execute techniques properly. You must also train the mind to be focused and calm, so you can perform effectively even when pressured by a dangerous situation (such as being attacked) or a deflating one (you feel lazy and uninspired). You must continually push your boundaries and strive for self-mastery.
I have students who have come to me and say they don’t like violence or the idea of hurting other people. I say, good: You should train yourself every class as if you were going to fight for your life, or someone else’s. But then you should conduct your life in a way that you never have to use your skills.
If you practice in this way, the old masters would be much more likely to recognize their karate in you than in the rules-bound contests of Olympics karate.
The or A 6th Generation Toudi master? Lost in translation of something more nefarious?
At the outset, I would like to thank my Japanese colleague, Dr Nishimura, who has provided support for this research. Indeed, his work in unscrambling the connection between Kyan and Chitose continues to prove immensely helpful. However, although Dr Nishmura has helped and provided feedback on my ideas, what is written here must in no way be taken to infer Dr Nishimura agrees with the hypothesis or arguments herein.
Previously I have attempted to examine the myths, and exaggerated stories presented by some promoting the karate system developed and left to the world as Chito Ryu. At one level, these fanciful stories present the real-life Chitose as a version of the mythical Kwai Chang Cain and their worst, as an uncouth country bumpkin who was nothing short of a meathead.
Neither of these images, in my opinion, do the man justice. While those promoting such stories may have good intentions, what has emerged is that over time is a story that does not age well.
A central part of the ChitoRyu mythical canon is that Aragaki Ou, upon his deathbed, proclaimed Chitose THE 6th generation TouDi master. This was the first story in the canon that I heard and was impressed with, even though I had no clear understanding of what TouDi was or even who this person Aragaki was.
The above photo is from a joint publication issued by both the Hombu in Japan and the Canadian Chito Kai as part of the commemorative magazine and competition guide for the Soke Cup, 1998. In Japanese it simply states that Chitose was the 6th generation of TouDi, in English the story is significantly different. Such discrepancy between the Japanese official story and the one issued in English, may lie at the heart of the confusion.
Using this simplified version of the TouDi master lineage assertion, I will attempt to demonstrate in the following blog why this story may be as simple as something lost in translation, or indeed a fanciful assertion without much historical merit.
Fact Number 1.
Chitose`s Birthdate is listed as 1898. Aside from the fact that the Birthdate is wrong, what is of more relevance to the current discussion is that Chitose, or Chinen as he was known then, would have been between approx. 22 years old in 1920. While not unheard of, passing a designation of THE 6th generation toudi master to one so young would be highly uncommon, especially as Aragaki had more senior students, not least of whom was Gichin Funakoshi, who was preparing to move to the mainland and introduce karate there. As far as we know, Chitose was not a blood relative of Aragaki, thus making the passing on of such a title even less plausible. For those aware of the Okinawan adoption systems, Chitose was not adopted by Aragaki as either a son or son-in-law, thus furthering the distance between Arakaki and Chitose (Swift, 2015).
Who is this Aragaki O?
An oft-overlooked fact is that Aragaki O is an honorific title. It is not an actual name. It translates as honourable Aragaki (or Aragaki the older man). Therefore, Aragaki O could be many people for on Okinawa as Aragaki is a unbiquitious family name similar Tanaka on the mainland.
The assumption has been that the Aragaki referenced is Aragaki Seisho (新垣 世璋), a well-known martial artist who had traveled to China to study martial arts. As an official Ryukyu court Chinese language expert, Seisho moved in fairly illustrious circles, which included karate luminaries Ankō Asato, Ankō Itosu, and Matsumura Sōkon. Indeed, he and Matsumura are reputed to have demonstrated karate before a visiting Chinese dignitary in 1867. If we assume that this is the Aragaki to which the Chito story refers, we have a further two problems. One, while he did train in China under Wai Xinxian from Fuzhou, he only tarined six months+ hardly suffiecent to master the entire martial tradition of China. Second, and a central issue is that Arakagi has died in 1918, making the transition date of 1920 highly unlikely!
This fact demands a particular proficiency with the subtleties of the Japanese language. Indeed it was not something I had paid particular note to until my friend Joe Swift drew my attention to it. A direct translation of TouDi means ALL Chinese Martial arts, including weapons and the diversity of martial forms in China. Calling oneself THE TouDi master would appear impossible, although a master of ONE of the versions of TouDi is plausible. Even allowing for the fact that on Okinawa TouDi was an eclectic daily term, it nonetheless includes all of those Okinawan fighting systems influenced by China, such as Shorin Ryu, Uechi Ryu, GoGyu Ryu and Kojo-Ryu, to name but a few (Bishop, 1999). While there is some evidence that Aragaki played a role in the foundations of these systems none lay any claim to him as a THE TouDi master of his generation. Indeed, to state he was THE master would be fanciful, especially given that he had trained in China for only six months. Finally, nowhere do we see Aragaki referred to as THE master of TouDi. Indeed, history has passed him down as A master of TouDi along with the more other famous Meijin" (名人) such as Itosu and Matsumura.
The Kyan factor.
Thanks to research by my colleague, Dr Nishimura, we now know that Chitose was training with Kyan Chotoku by 1920. This creates a significant dent in the claim of THE Toudi master story. Why would Chitose/Chinen continue to train and learn from Kyan, who was about to embark on travels to China (Taiwan) and later Yaeyama Island to pursue a deeper budo study (https://ryukyu-bugei.com/?p=4158)? If Kyan did not claim to be a master of TouDi, how could his student, Chinen, be asserted as THE master?
Chitose`s own words.
In both his penned publications Kempo Karate-Do (1957) and the largerand still untranslated All Japan Karate Federation: Chito Ryu KyoHon (1971) Chitose clearly outlines that he is a 6th generation teacher/student of a particular lineage Shorin but not THE only one. Indeed in Kempo Karate-Do, he names other Shorin Schools, which have Chibana and Motobu as the current generational leaders. A similar pattern is shared in the latter position, although with the division between Shorin and Shorei. Nowhere in either of these texts does he claim to be a master of Toudi, let alone THE master of Toudi.
The vs A - an important article
Lastly, Chitose tells us in Kempo he started training with Aragaki in 1905, and learned Sanchin. The lineage he cites and the later work all point to him being A 6th generation of Shorin and Shorei Ryu schools. Aside from the fact that his presentation of these lineages is selective, what is of more pressing relevance is he does not claim to be THE Toudi Master OR indeed anointed as such. With the latter text, Chitose suggests that when he left Arakagi is was not under the best of conditions as there appears to have been a falling out. Having learned one kata and trained for seven years, the current discourse, at least as it appears in English, asserts that Aragaki appointed a fourteen-year-old, with no blood or legal connection to him, as the inheritor and head of the Toudi system: a fourteen year old who had no legal or blood connection to the master and had stopped training with him at least two years prior to his death.
Aside from the strangeness of such a selection, why would a well-educated and well regarded public figure such as Aragaki claim it as his right to confirm such a lofty title? He was a court official not one of the well-trained bodyguards such as Matsumura.
Aragaki`s age and Location.
If we take Chitose’s starting date at face value, Aragaki would have been in his late 70s and in poor health when they started training together. Aragaki died in 1918, so Chitose would have stopped training with him somewhere between 1914-16. On-going work by Scott Mertz indicates that Aragaki did not live in Naha during these years, and thus, it would have been difficult for Chitose to train regularly with Aragaki as the road system and transportation were not supportive of such mobility. Aragaki weekly traveled to teach karate at a middle school in Naha. Therefore, he could have instructed the young Chitose at that time or in private lessons afterward (May 2021, Personal Correspondence with Scott Mertz). Again, Scott continues to dig into this aspect of Okinawan history, so hopefully, more clarity will emerge.
Other TouDi Lineage Schools?
None of the current schools which trace their lineage to Toui-di or China claim to be THE Toudi Master. Those to whom I have spoken have never heard the phrase nor have ever heard that Aragaki used it.
So where does all of this leave us?
As I said at the outset, I do not believe the vast majority of those passing along such information do so with any ill intent. However, as teachers of Chito Ryu we do have a responsibility to pass on as accurate a history and lineage as possible - especially if we claim legitimacy via such lineages.
From what I have presented herein there are sufficient grounds upon which to be skeptical of this story. Based upon the evidence we currently have, it would appear to be apocryphal. However, such an assertion based solely upon my sense-making of evidence currently available to me and others.
New evidence may emerge that completely disproves my argument, and I look forward to the hypothesis herein furthering research into this topic. However, we must no longer be lulled to sleep by stories passed down by word of mouth. There is far too much good, scholarly work being done for us to remain selectively ignorant. To be productive members of Chito Ryu and all karate, we must and should challenge old assumptions.
So what do I think happened?
As my forthcoming publication exploring the early years of Chitose`s life, Chitose`s claim to legitimacy was established in Okinawa in the 1920 and 30s. There is no need for us to assign him mythical or superhuman attributes.
Likewise, based on what appears to be a poor translation which built up a life of its own, there is NO need to assume a deliberate intent to mislead.
Regardless, of which version of history we choose to believe their is no denting that Chitose was a man of his time, who rose to leave a powerful legacy.
J. Hatch (May 2021) Personal Correspondence with Scott Mertz. Tokyo, Japan.
M. Bishop (1999) Okinawa Karate: Teachers, styles and secret techniques. Boston: Tuttle.
Bowerbank, A (1998). Spirit of the Sensei. Toronto:Morris .
Chitose, T. (2000) Kempo Karate-Do. Trans. C. Johnston. Toronto: Shindokan Interntional.
Chitose, T. (1971) All Japan Karate Federation: Chito Ryu KyoHon. Unpublished personal translation J. Hatch, Tokyo 2001.
Quast, A. and Motto, N. (2018) Okinawan Samurai: Instructions to a Royal Official to his Only Son. Germany: Private Publication.
Quast, A. (2020) Matsumura Sokon:The Seven Virtues of Martial Arts. Germany: Private Publication.
Shimabukuro, Z and Smith, D. (2012). Shorin Ryu Seibunkan: Kyan Karate. Okinawa: Private Publication.
Swift, J. (2015). The Essence of Naha-te. Tokyo: Lulu Press.
Many thanks to 沖縄剛柔流空手古武道拳志會山口県支部 Okinawa Gojuryu KenshiKai-Yamaguchi Prefecture branch for putting this timeline together. I have translated it roughly and added a few key dates for those interested in Chito Ryu. The text below was posted on their Facebook page. I have shared my translation with them
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I made this video as a document on promotion to the rank of dan.
If there are any mistakes or problems, please let me know.
History of the title-dan system in karate. Super zany! Judo included.
Other Key Dates
For a fuller chronology of Karate key dates please see Hokama., T (2007) Timeline of Karate History: Pre-History to 2000. Trans J. Swift
Original Article in the Keio University 50th Anniversary Commemorative Journal celebrating the founding of their Karate Club. Keio was perhaps the first university to formally organize a karate club in 1924 (http://www.uaa.keio.ac.jp/club/karate/index.html).
Thus this article is from 1974. The original text was provided to me by my friend and colleague Dr. Nishimura.
The translation was done by Nanami Hatch. However, all edits and mistakes are mine.
The first article is then followed by a shorter piece about Chitose written in an article from a collection regarding keeping one’s strength and goals later in life.
To my knowledge, none of these articles’ information has been made available in English.
Aside from the fact that the first article was written by Chitose, it is also of interest as it claims that Itosu was teaching karate at a local elementary school as early as 1901. Likewise, the second helps clarify what Chitose’s connection was to the Waseda University group.
Please note all sections in blue are additional information I have added to help give context or add clarity.
Story from Chitose Tsuyoshi’s writing (by Chitose Tsuyoshi)
The story of how karate, which had been hidden and forbidden to be taught in public, came into the public eye in 1901 (Meiji 34) is an interesting one. It was in this year that Itosu sensei started teaching karate at Shuri-jinjou primary school. This class was focused on karate as recreation and lasted for an hour each day after class. However, one day, during the student’s annual physical check-up, the army surgeon/medic and school doctor were surprised by how, when compared to other schools, Shuri-jinjou's students had bodies that were evenly and well-developed. Intrigued, they were curious about what kind of PE program was being implemented. This curiosity was aligned with the nationwide movement at that time which sought to catch up and surpass the West, though improving the country's wealth and strengthening the military. This movement was driven by a national motto, taught in all schools.
These surprising findings at Shuri-jinjou were immediately reported to the public servant for the education department of Okinawa-ken, Ogawa Tetsutarou. Public servant Ogawa enthusiastically listened to the characteristics of karate from Itosu sensei and understood the physical benefits. Ogawa, very impressed, then proposed it to a former Minister of Education. Eventually, in Meiji 37 (1904), karate was officially permitted for PE in the ken’s (i.e. Okinawa province) teachers’ college and Dai-ichi middle school.
Once karate was officially an accepted subject, Mr. Itosu transferred to the teacher's college and continued spreading karate until he passed away on August 9th, Taisho 3 (1914), at the age of 86.* Please note Chitose dates for the death of Itotsu while incorrect is only out by 1 year. Itosu we now believe died on March 11, 1915, after a 1.5 year battle with illness. Thus, he actually dies in Taisho 4 (see Anko Itosu, by Thomas Feldmann, 2021). This accuracy is of interest as until quite recently Itosu's death was debated in the English-speaking world - however as Swift (2019) has accurately shown through translations of Itosu’s death notes, this puzzle has been unanimously resolved.
An additional small article was found in the Bannnenn no chikara hittatsu collection (i.e. Keeping One’s Will to Power - Later in Life) regarding Chitose Tsuyoshi (1898~1984).
Chitose Tsuyoshi (1898~1984)
Born in Kumoji, Naha. Doctor and founder of Chito Ryu. His grandfather was Matsumura Sokon. His (i.e. Chitose’s) Master/teacher was Arakaki Seishou (1840 - 1917).
In the midst of a tea party, Itou (shun), Katsumi, and Noguchi went to their shihan’s house. There, Chitose Tsuyoshi, who performed at a recent tournament, taught them kata. Shimokawa-senpai was also with him, along with Egami – his senpai from Waseda University and Yamaminami and Miyata from Takushoku University and they taught Arakaki’s ‘chin-tau.’
NB: Excerpt from another page retelling how the Waseda University karate teachers visited and learned kata from Chitose, who had recently performed in a local tournament. This excerpt is of note for it clearly demonstrated that Chitose was not teaching at Keio but was teaching some of its instructors. Likewise, he was also teaching and moving in the same circles of karate teachers from both Keio and Takushku university, two of the more elite private universities in Japan. Unfortunately, there is no date on this article.
Of note also is that the relationship between Kyan and Chitose is not mentioned. Moreover, the different rendering of Kanji used in writing the name - Chitose Tsuyoshi points to the difficult of researching about O-Sensei.
Feldmann, T (2021)., Anko Itosu: The Man. The Master. The Myth.
Swift, J (2019)., Itosu Anko: Saviour of Cultural Heritage.
I remember years ago learning of the notions of Tatemae (建て前) and Honne (本音 or ほんね). Put simply, tatemae is the 'front face' or the 'face' we show in public while honne are the real feelings, experiences etc. Arguably those coming to Japan from more individualistic cultures often struggle deeply with these cultural artefacts of Japanese life. However, in a culture with one of the highest population densities globally, utilizing these approaches often help smooth over potential complex interpersonal challenges and saves 'wa' (和) or harmony. However, living here longer, it becomes evident that the forces of tatemae and honne are far more intrusive than simple interpersonal relations. Japan, and in particular, those responsible for its international image, are keen to stress its high-tech, peaceful and harmonious side. The image shown to the world of Japan is essentially a region known as the Hanshin corridor, which runs between Tokyo and Osaka. Bullet trains, urban-dwelling, high per-capita GDP are the norm. Indeed this is the image most outsiders have of Japan.
People are always shocked when I tell them that the high-tech image you see is by no means the 'norm' - far from it. This is a country where faxes are still a significant way of doing business. You must handwrite ALL forms, including those to buy a house. You need an official's seal (i.e. Hanko) to make documents legal - even though Hanko are readily available for about 100Y (less than 1 euro) at many convenience stores. Dig deeper, and you see that Japan has the highest child poverty rate among the G8; its workers are famously over-worked and have the fewest holidays of the G8. Likewise, its productivity is among the lowest of the developed world. It also has the highest national debt of the G8, far outstripping the US and has epidemic levels of suicide and bullying among adolescents. You do not have to venture out of the cities too far to see people living in 'houses' that have corrugated iron as walls and living in conditions not aligned with the glitzy image presented by the media. However, unless you live here and care about the people, you will never see this side of Japan. Below I share a video that reveals a side of Japan it does not wish to show - however, it is an area of rising concern. I live and work in Japan and am married into this beautiful culture. Like many places, Japan has a rich and complex history, but it has a dark side some would rather not discuss. Often those on the 'outside have no means of raising their voices - this is my small attempt to support them.
One of the great mistakes I often see in popular media and pseudo-budo research is that the Samurai of Japan was a warrior fighting class from ancient times. Indeed nothing could be further from the truth.
Before the Tokugawa unification (1603-1867 - aka Edo Period), a type of fighting men loosely called Bushi (侍) - literally meaning ‘person who stops a spear - were the one’s who did most of the fighting. Aside from a few, these people were non-professional and mostly commoners/farmers. However, after the Tokugawa unification and stability to feudal Japan, the Bakufu and a new caste system were established.
Under this caste system, there were four significant classes within Japan, Samurai (士 shi), farming peasants (農 nō), artisans (工 kō) and merchants (商 shō) in standard parlance references as shinōkōshō.
Outside of this system were the Emperor, Shogun and nobility, and the outcast. This latter group became known as the Eta or Burakumin (部落民) and were considered outcasts as they usually worked in industries such as executioners, undertakers, slaughterhouse workers, butchers, or tanners. Based on an interpretation of Buddhist scripture, they worked with blood and thus were damned. Indeed, it was not until the mid-1990s that the Japanese government made a significant effort to end this caste’s ostracisation.
(from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burakumin ).
Under the Tokugawa regime, the new term/kanji for Samurai (侍) provides clues to their role. Gone was the idea of them being warriors, replaced instead with their new status of ‘people who form a temple’ or, in other words, the bureaucracy, of which warring was but one of their roles. Indeed, the highly misleading book the Hagakure, written by a bureaucratic samurai from a peaceful Japan, harkens back to a mythical past and a blood lust that had long been outlawed within Japan. Moreover, the stereotype of seppuku was strictly forbidden for this samurai class were far too valuable to the state to kill themselves willy-nilly even if their honour was tarnished. Research indicates of the 600 samurai who committed seppuku in the Tokugawa period, none of their families had retained their previous status or land within one generation. Thus, seppuku was not a way of ‘saving face, and family fortune, as the popular media would have us believe (Kannon Kakumyo, ‘What is Bushido?' Paper presented at the 18th international Seminar of Budo Culture, 2006)
For some of the more romantically inclined, they will be sad to know that the whole 47 Ronin escapade resulted from financial friction rather than avenging the death of the honourable Lord Asano. Indeed Asano was a hothead and very irresponsible; thus, when he was found guilty and made to commit seppuku, few mourned his death. Indeed his selfish action resulted in mass poverty for his family and those 47 families he was responsible for.
While the word Samurai had been used before the Tokugawa period, it was not until establishing the caste system that it became mainstream. In a similar vein, Bushido (see HERE ) did not gain wide usage until Nitobe used the term when writing in English about the Japanese spirit. To make Japan acceptable within the world order wherein the Meiji restoration, he essentially coined the term in 1911! It had been used previously, but only within elite academic circles. It is perhaps one of the great ironies of history that a word often used to define Japan was re-imported to Japan from the English book of the same name in the early 1900s. Sadly, it is also a word used to drive 3 million Japanese and over 30 million others to their death during World War two.
Thus despite what so-called Sensei or populist writing would have us believe, ‘the code of Bushido’ did not exist in mind or soul of the average Japanese until after it had been exported to the English-speaking world. Additionally, even for the samurai caste, there is no single code. Most of those that suggest samurai ethics were written long after the Samurai had primarily been a military force. Indeed, those who doubt this assertion must read the works of Musashi, Takuan, and Yagyu, all of whom write at the start of the Tokugawa era. None of them discusses ‘bushido’, except in a few poorly translated English texts.
Lastly, the Samurai were not a homogeneous cast. There were three main groupings:
The Tozama would come back to haunt the Tokugawa as they oversaw the end of the Shogun system during the Bakumatsu and Meiho periods.
While this is a short post on a complex topic, I hope it can contribute in a small way to dispelling so many myths I see passed on in dojo, populist history/fiction and misleading post on SNS. And sadly, in many schools!
This week I am happy to share this article on student responsibility by my friend and fellow budoka, Mike Clarke, Kyoshi.
For those of you in the loop on great Budo folk and books, Clarke-sensei will be no stranger to you. Author of one of the best selling karate books, 'The Art of Hojo-undo' and over 500 articles, Mike is well trained, well versed and deeply practised in the wonderful 'do' we call karate. Mike lives in Oz with his wife and runs a dojo where membership is by application only.
He is a devoted teacher and takes his responsibility very seriously - indeed, he has never missed a training session with his students in three decades - he is an inspiration to those who seek to become passers on this 'way' of life.
Mike is a rare gem in the karate world, for he understands at a deep level the truth that is karate and the power it offers to those willing to commit to its study. Mike is the embodiment of Musashi's statement, 'the way is in training'. Indeed you can read more about Mike at www.appliedkarate.com/tag/mike-clarke/
In this article, Mike explore student responsibility to their teacher.
I thank him for sharing this article and his insights.
Please enjoy - James.
No point having a good teacher if you're a bad student....One of the things I enjoyed the most about the recent gasshuku was the opportunity it brought for me to observe everyone's karate. Not just your kata or your ability with kigu, but how you conducted yourselves in and out of the dojo, as well as with each other. Given that we don't practice together very often due to the distance between us, I was impressed by your efforts in the dojo and your conduct outside of it.
Twice recently I've been asked by people to teach them karate. It's such a strange question to answer, and one I'm finding more and more difficult to reply to in a way that is honest to my feelings and also understandable to the person asking. When I was a kid a lot of shops had a sign behind the counter that read..."Please don't ask for credit as a refusal often offends". I don't want to offend anyone but I'm aware of just how easily offence is taken, especially in todays world of high expectation and sense of entitlement.
Experience tells me that most people who start training won't continue. They might stick with it for a few years, decades even, but long before their gi stops being worn they have stopped training. I say this because training is an attitude, a way of being in the world. Yet so many treat karate like its completely expendable. Something to be done when you feel like it and dispensed with when you don't. I wonder therefore why so much fuss is made about finding a 'good' teacher. What's the point of having a good teacher if you don't have it in you to be a good student (of karate).
By my own admission I am at best a reluctant teacher. I am first and foremost a student of karate. I was never any of my sensei's best student, but I'm pretty sure I was close to being their worst. I say that not with a sense of false modesty but from knowing my own nature. My karate has always been limited by my inherent laziness. And even though I've made great progress with keeping my anger in check, I'm still lacking in many of the subtle graces required to be considered a "good student" of karate. I'm not making excuses here, I don't wear this realisation like a protective cloak preventing me from addressing my inadequacies. I'll keep trying of course, because that's the point....to continue trying regardless of the setbacks.
So the next time you think of your relationship with karate, think of yourself as both the student and the teacher. You are the dojo and you're the only one in it. Teach yourself to grasp the idea of what karate is by exploring who you are. If you can manage that, then karate is not far away...
I am delighted to share this video by Troy Feener, Shihan from Chito Ryu. Feener-sensei is research in the area of physiology and anatomy. In this video, he shares the latest research about the why and how of stretching. Amazingly well put together and articulated.
It is a real honor for me to be able to share this article write by my senior, but also good friend Peter Giffen, Kyoshi. Peter is IMHO one of the finest karate folk on the globe and he skill is only outdone by his dedidation. You can read more about Peter and his group of RyuSei Canada on their website at: www.ryusei-karate.com/english/what.html . Enjoy this thought provoking article from someone who has walked the path.
Sometimes with my kids' karate class I’ll have a games night and we’ll play broken telephone.
I’ll whisper a message into the ear of one student, who will whisper to the ear of the next in the circle, who will whisper into the ear of the next, and so on.
If I’m lucky my message—say, “the brown cow jumps over the fence”— might only be changed a little when it is said aloud by the last student: “The green frog hops on the road.” But sometimes the message is completely mangled: “My brother is full of snot.” In some instances, the changes happen because students mishear the message. In other cases it’s because young wags deliberately change the message to one they like better.
In many ways the transmission of karate from one generation to the next—teacher to student, teacher to student, in an endless cycle—is like broken telephone. In some cases, the changed message is because talented practitioners such as Chitose Tsuyoshi-Sensei, founder of Chito-Ryu, and Sakamoto Ken-Sensei, founder of Ryusei Karate, change the kata deliberately.
As far as I understand, Chitose-Sensei changed some kata, distilling them to their essence. And Sakamoto-Sensei made changes to kata he practised in order to bring out qualities he found important, deepening their meaning. In neither case did the karateka make their changes lightly. They both spent years mastering the conventional forms before they made deliberate changes to demonstrate their special insights. The situation is not analogous to tournaments in North America in the 1970s, when a yellow belt might demonstrate a form he had created
himself, complete with back flips, and perform it right after the half-time show of scantily clad go-go dancers (I’m not making this up). And he’d be scored well.
Then you have the many instructors who insist that they do the kata exactly as they were taught. I know they believe that, but can it possibly be true? They likely have different bodies than their teachers, different characters and different insights. Though they might do the same movements as their teachers, if they are advanced practitioners, they will bring their unique approach to the performance, so that there are differences on the inside—their understanding, body connection, explanations for the meanings of moves.
If you take this process over a number of generations, it’s unlikely that a modern practitioner’s
performance would look anything like the founder’s. In some cases, the transmission might be broken because one generation’s teacher didn’t pass on vital information about the kata. This has sadly happened more than a few times, in a traditional Japanese teaching approach in which the student is expected to perform a kata repeatedly until they understand its inner meaning. Sadly, this doesn’t always happen, so valuable secrets are lost.
On the other hand, a truly talented practitioner can take a tired old form and breathe new life into it, with his or her insights derived from diligent practice. I don’t think broken telephone is a bad thing. Karate and its forms are a living martial art language, which must constantly undergo change so it doesn’t become a dead language. I’d rather speak English or French or Japanese than Latin, because as frustrating as these languages can be with their exceptions and changing usage, they are living entities that are as exciting as the cultures where they are spoken.
Latin is useful if you are a scholar and like to drink small glasses of sherry at awkward social functions.
At university I had a gifted professor who taught classes in buddhism and taoism. He would typically start a class meditating. Then he’d launch into a deeply insightful lecture which he would deliver without notes or hesitation. One class he questioned us about our conception of karma and rebirth.
What is reborn? He asked. It’s obviously not our bodies. Our minds? Well, in this life we can become old or sick and lose our minds. So the mind isn’t permanent. The same goes for our character. We may think our characters are unique but they can change under different circumstances. So what is reborn?
He asked us to picture a line of matches. You light the first one, and it lights the next, which lights the next . . .all the way down the line. The material in the first match is different from all the others. The flame is also changing all the time, burning different material.
So nothing is the same but there is a deep continuity and connection that runs through the existence of one match to the next. The same is true for the flame of karate transmission from one generation to the next, going into the future, which will be different than the past, but that doesn’t matter, so long as the flame burns.
Author: Peter Giffen.
Originally published in the RyuShu (Vol. 84) - all righted reserved by author.
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan