Thoughts on International Education
Musings on Japanese and Ryukyu Budo
Musings on Japanese and Ryukyu Budo
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.
Having been swamped under with work - a positive swamp, as working on what I believe to be some very important issues - I have been unable to keep up on my wee blog. Thankfully, I have come across the wonderful and clear thinking of John McWhorter linguist and social commentator. His work may be found HERE . Professor McWhorter has authored numerous pieces on a range of topic but I encourage, those of you who have not read his work, to read it. He calls for clarity in a time where myopia appears prevalent.
As someone once said ' divided, we fall; united we stand.'
I say - The past is there to guide us to a better future not to BE our present.
As someone who studies Japanese budo you may have heard and wondered what is the difference between Jitsu, Jutsu and Jyutsu. While in English the words are used interchangeably in Japanese the difference is obvious. Jitsu (実) or to read it in the Japanese kana じつ actually means something real or whole and as such is not the word that should be associated with budo.
On the other hand, Jyutsu (術) in the Japanese kana is read as じゅつand can mean technique, method of art and IS the Japanese word associated with budo. Where some of the confusion comes from is depending in the Romanisation system being used (e.g. Hepburn, JSL, Nihon-Shiki etc). In this case, the extended vowels, such as じゅ can be written as ‘jyu’ or ‘jū’. In the latter case the long vowel is indicated by a dash above the given vowel or it is translated directly from the Japanese kana notation. Strictly speaking the 'ju' sound does NOT exist in Japanese - only 'jyu'.
To make things just that more confusing sometimes, as in the case of ‘judo’, although it should be written as Jyudo or Jūdo, it has moved into common English as Judo. But specifically speaking “judo’ is wrong as it ‘jujitsu’ - which should be written as jyujyutsu (柔術).
This all makes from mass confusion, especially if you are trying to have a conversation in Japanese and your sense hears you say Jitsu (実) when you actually mean Jyutsu (術)!!! So remember even if others don’t use the ‘jyu’ sound when talking about budo jyutsu, your sensei and those of us with a finicky Japanese disposition will appreciate your efforts at clarity.
There again, I live in ToKeyYo and practice kerayte!
Stay well, stay clear. Remember intercultural competence starts with trying our best to communicate clearly.
Depending on your lineage of karate, the role of the 'hips' rests somewhere on a spectrum from absolutely necessary to not needed at all. In Chito Ryu, the use of the hips is significant but not always understood. This shortcoming may be partially due to the ‘lost in translation’ as karate moved from Okinawa to Japan and then into the English speaking world.
Starting my karate training in Canada, I was always told to rotate my hips to help generate a whipping motion; thus, when the word ‘hip’ was used, it meant the skeletal structure. Later I moved to Japan, where koshi (腰) was used. However, koshi referred to the lower back; waist; hips; lumbar region - so a bit more than the bone focus I had understood in Canada. This was a far broader region and appeared to use the large muscles of the lower back and buttocks to generate power, stability and movement. Yet, all was not done as I soon learned that in Okinawa they use the Okinawan dialects’ gamaku (横っ腹) which entailed the entire skeletal system of the core region, ligaments, tendons and muscular structure of the midsection of the body.
Moreover, in most cases also included the use of the diaphragm to regulate breathing. This notion of using the core of the body to stabilise balance, cultivate power and enable breathing, in theory, should lead to a concentration of power called Chinkunchi (ちんくんち). Oh, and let’s not forget a ‘punch’ is better understood as a thrust (tsuki) to generate ‘atifa’ (衝撃波) which is a shock wave of energy given to the opponent (although to be fair I have hardly ever heard this term used).
Confused? It's OK. Where I work our head nurse is Okinawa and she was not overly familiar with the term gamaku. She heard the older people using it, but when she was growing up her seniors always told her to speak mainland Japanese and not the local dialect. She is saddened now as the dialect is dying out and with it some of the beauty that is Okinawa culture.
So next time at training when someone tells you to ‘rotate your hips’ - ask them what exactly they mean!
For more interesting ideas on Okinawan dialect and karate-do visit the site:
Below is an article written by fellow Budoka and researcher Mark Tankosich. Mark lives in Japan where he works at writes out of a university in Southern Japan. He holds a 6th dan, Renshi in Jodo. His home page is: http://www.marktankosich.com/
Please visit Mark's page as he has many excellent, well researched papers on Japan, Okinawa and Budo culture.
Karate Ni Sente Nashi:
What the Masters Had to SayIntroductionPerhaps no Japanese phrase is more familiar to karate practitioners around the world than “karate ni sente nashi.” Typically translated as, “There is no first attack in karate,” this maxim has become known primarily through the teachings of Gichin Funakoshi. The founder of Shotokan and, according to many, the “father of modern karate-do,” Funakoshi made the principle the second of his Niju Kun (“Twenty Precepts”), following only the directive to not forget that “karate begins and ends with courtesy” (Funakoshi, “Karate-do nijukajo”).
Clearly, for Funakoshi, the maxim karate ni sente nashi was of great importance. In addition to including it as one of his “Twenty Precepts,” he stated in a 1935 magazine article that he “view[s] it as [expressing] the essence of karate-do” (Funakoshi, “Karate no hanashi” 65). Nor is he alone in this view: Shoshin Nagamine, respected founder of the Matsubayashi school of Shorin-ryu karate, wrote that, “This phrase [. . .] embodies the essence of Okinawan karate” (Nagamine 13). Similarly, Masatoshi Nakayama, longtime head of the Japan Karate Association, stated that, “[. . .] it is not an exaggeration to say that it is these words that succinctly and fully express the spirit of karate-do” (Nakayama 80).
With such esteemed masters as these expressing such strong sentiments regarding the significance of the sente nashiprinciple, one can only assume that the principle represents a way of thinking that is — or at least should be — profoundly important for those who consider themselves to be serious practitioners of the art of karate-do. Specifying just exactly what that way of thinking is, in all of its subtleties, would perhaps be a difficult task, but obviously, at its most basic level, the maxim at least clearly proscribes the use of any “first strikes” on the part of karate-ka. Or does it?
Differing OpinionsCertainly many of today’s karate practitioners would argue that striking first is a violation of karate ni sente nashi. Iain Abernethy notes, for example, that when he published an article in some British magazines advocating the use of pre-emptive striking in certain situations:
[. . .] I received a markedly increased level of correspondence. Some were very supportive of [my position] [. . .]. Of those who contacted me in the positive, many stated that their immediate peer group were wholly opposed to the idea [. . .].
The ones who responded in the negative were often VERY strong in their opposition. Their objections were essentially based on moral grounds, but a number cited “karate ni sente nashi” as if I was encouraging the breaking of an 11th commandment! (Abernethy, “Striking First?!” Emphasis in final sentence added.)
Similarly, in his book Steady Training, Antonio Bustillo notes:
I’ve heard many instructors quote the [sente nashi] slogan stating it means you must first wait for an opponent to attack and strike out before you retaliate. As verification to their testimony they use the katas as examples. “Every kata starts with a block. [. . .]” (Bustillo 247)
Yet, there are also those karate-ka who disagree with this position, who believe that the sente nashi principle does not necessarily rule out all first strikes. These practitioners typically argue that a “first attack” can also consist of something other than a physical blow and that once an opponent has engaged in such an attack the karate-ka is free to “defend” himself by striking first. Abernathy, for instance, says:
I believe that ‘karate-do ni sente nashi’ and the pre-emptive strike are in no way mutually exclusive and can exist side by side. To my mind, once an assailant has decided to attack us, the attack has begun. We are then well within our rights to use whatever methods are appropriate to ensure our safety. [. . .] If an individual is behaving in an aggressive way whilst attempting to invade our personal space then there is a strong possibility that their verbal aggression is about to escalate to the physical. This verbal assault is an attack in itself and waiting until the attack becomes physical is foolhardy in the extreme. (Abernethy, Bunkai-Jutsu 122)
Similarly, an anonymous author, after describing a hypothetical situation in which a female karate-ka dispatches three men who accosted her on the street late at night, writes:
Only when we factor in the intent of your opponents do we get a better picture of “karate ni sente nashi.” [. . .] They surrounded you at midnight. They closed mae (sic) [i.e., engagement distance]. They assumed kamae [i.e., fighting postures] even if only American streetgang type nonchalant kamae. [. . .] Their intents were probably violent for such actions as the above can hardly be interpreted as altruistic.
If you felt your life was in danger by their intent your first attack is defense. The war broke out when they stepped across the line of intent and into your personal protected space. [. . .]
When you feel the breach in peace it is time to strike. [. . .] The war has begun. The person who throws the first strike is immaterial (sic). The war began with mobilization, entrapment and perceived intent. [. . .] You would be foolish to delay until after the first physical strike is thrown at you [. . .]. [. . .]
The well-trained martial artist [. . .] may find certain situations [. . .] as conditions where she justifiably throws the physical first strike without breaching “karate ni sente nashi.” (Karate Ni Sente Nashi)
What the Masters Had to Say
Kohaku Iwai lists four Okinawans — all of them legendary martial artists — as “the warriors who introduced karate-jutsu to the [Japanese] mainland”: Gichin Funakoshi, Choki Motobu, Chojun Miyagi and Kenwa Mabuni (Iwai 187-211). What, one wonders, did these men have to say about interpreting the karate ni sente nashi maxim? A future paper will examine Funakoshi’s thoughts; here, let us look at some of the writings of Miyagi, Motobu and Mabuni.
To the best of this author’s knowledge, there were three documents produced by Chojun Miyagi (or at least three have been made public): Goju-ryu kenpo, Ho goju donto and Karate-do gaisetsu (“Outline of Karate-do”) (1). The first two of these, written in 1932 and 1942 respectively, contain no reference to sente nashi. In Karate-do gaisetsu, Miyagi does briefly mention the sente nashi principle, but not in any way that is particularly helpful to our discussion. In the version that appears in Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts, we find the following paragraph:
Folklore contends that the teaching methods of long ago focused mainly upon self-defense, with little emphasis placed upon training the mind, or cultivating the precept “karate-do ni sente nashi” (there is no first attack in karate-do). I have observed the neglect of this diligent principle, although, with the passage of time, teaching policies have gradually improved to where that imbalance has, for the most part, been corrected. My conviction is that the fist and Zen are one of the same (sic). Together, this balance cultivates intellect ahead of strength. The transmission of budo’s essential precept must be fostered. (Miyagi, “Karate-do Gaisetsu” 50) (2)
Other than in this passage, Miyagi makes no mention of the sente nashi maxim.
Choki Motobu, in his 1932 publication Watashi no karate-jutsu (“My Karatejutsu”), expresses his thoughts on sente nashiin a way that is directly relevant to the question being asked here. In a one-paragraph section titled Karate ni sente nashi, he writes:
There is an expression, “karate ni sente nashi.” Apparently some people interpret this literally and often profess that “one must not attack first,” but I think that they are seriously mistaken. To be sure, it is certainly not the budo spirit to train for the purpose of striking others without good reason. I assume that you already understand that one’s primary purpose must be the training of mind and body. The meaning of this saying, then, is that one must not harm others for no good reason. But when a situation can’t be helped, in other words, when, even though one tries to avoid trouble, one can’t; when an enemy is serious about doing one harm, one must fiercely stand and fight. When one does fight, taking control of the enemy is crucial, and one must take that control with one’s first move. Thus, in a fight one must attack first. It is very important to remember this. (Motobu 58- 59) (3)
Indeed, on at least one occasion Choki Motobu did demonstrate his willingness to strike first, if a story told to karate researcher Charles Goodin is to be believed. Goodin reports that he heard the story from Motobu’s son, Chosei, who in turn had heard it from Chozo Nakama, a former student of the elder Motobu (4). According to the account provided Goodin, Choki Motobu, in his seventies at the time, was attending a large party when a former student burst in and, waving a knife, challenged Motobu. Goodin reports:
“I can use this,” [the student] declared stabbing the knife into Motobu’s table, “I will never lose the fight.” (sic)
[. . .] “I won’t fight with any weapon,” [Motobu] stated calmly. “I won’t fight with a knife.” Although he tried his best to convince the student not to fight, the student insisted. “Are you really that determined to fight me with a knife?” asked Motobu.
“I am,” proclaimed the student defiantly. “I won’t change my mind!”
“All right then,” said Motobu finally. “I will take you up on your offer, but we should not fight in the house.”
The student grabbed the knife and headed for the door. Motobu followed closely behind. Just before the student reached the door, Motobu kicked him in the back, shattering his backbone. (Goodin 12)
Assuming that the above account is accurate, whether or not the situation in which Motobu found himself can truly be called one in which physical conflict was unavoidable is, perhaps, open to debate. Motobu’s willingness to strike first, however, is clear.
Additional information regarding Motobu’s thoughts on striking first can be found in Motobu Choki sensei: Goroku (“A Collection of Sayings of Sensei Choki Motobu”) (5). There, listed as saying number nine, we find a statement that seemingly contradicts the karate ni sente nashi principle: Karate wa sente de aru (“karate is the first attack”). (Nakata 42). Given the opinion that he expresses in Watashi no karate-jutsu (see above), it seems reasonable to conclude that with these words Motobu meant to stress the importance of striking first when trouble is unavoidable.
Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of the Shito-ryu school of karate, produced a number of publications during his lifetime. Among them, and co-authored with Genwa Nakasone, was the book Kobo kenpo karate-do nyumon, about which noted karate historian Patrick McCarthy has written:
Considered his best work of all [. . .]. [. . .] this [. . .] was considered by one writer to be the real “Master Text” of karate-do. [. . .] Mabuni Kenwa won widespread recognition during that pre-war era with this book and, considering the magnitude of this work, it is surprising to hear that it has never been translated into English. (McCarthy, “Standing” 30)
In this book, in a section of Chapter 10 entitled “Correct and Incorrect Understanding of the Meaning of ‘Karate ni Sente Nashi,’” we find the following extremely relevant comments:
There is a precept “karate ni sente nashi.” Properly understood, this indicates a mental attitude of not being eager or inclined to fight. It is the teaching that just because one has trained in karate does not mean that one can rashly strike or kick others. It seems that there are two types of mistaken interpretations regarding this precept, and [I’d] like to correct them.
The first is a mistaken understanding held by some people who are not karate practitioners. Such people say, “In all fights the opportunity for victory is seized by getting the jump on your enemy; a passive attitude such as sente nashi is inconsistent with Japanese budo.” Such a view forgets the essential purpose of budo: Bu (6) takes as its ideal the stopping of the spear (7), and its aim is the maintenance of peace. Those who make such statements do not understand that the true spirit of Japanese budo means not being bellicose.
When faced with someone who disrupts the peace or who will do one harm, one is as a warrior gone to battle, and so it only stands to reason that one should get the jump on the enemy and preempt his use of violence. Such action in no way goes against the precept of sente nashi.
Second is a mistaken understanding found among some karate practitioners. It is a view that does not see sente nashi as an attitude, but rather as a literal, behavioral rule to be rigidly followed. As noted above, when absolutely necessary, when one is already facing a battle, it is an accepted truth of strategy that one should try to take sensen no sen (8) and forestall the enemy’s actions.
In conclusion, the expression karate ni sente nashi should be properly understood to mean that a person who practices karate must never take a bellicose attitude, looking to cause an incident; he or she should always have the virtues of calmness, prudence and humility in dealing with others. (Mabuni and Nakasone 82-83) (9)
Examining the writing of Chojun Miyagi reveals little regarding his interpretation of the karate ni sente nashi maxim. Our look at the thoughts of two other legendary karate pioneers, though – Choki Motobu and Kenwa Mabuni – clearly shows that they strongly believed that striking first does not necessarily violate the sente nashi principle. Indeed, both men seem to have felt that a first strike is, under certain conditions, the only reasonable course of action for a karateka to take. It is interesting to note that, just as is true today, when Motobu and Mabuni were writing their books (in the 1930s), there were apparently those who viewed sente nashi as being a prohibition on striking first; both masters unambiguously condemn such literal interpretations.
Given his (assuming here for the purposes of discussion, well-deserved) reputation as somewhat of a ruffian who had more than his share of fights, one might argue, perhaps, that Choki Motobu’s views on the properness of striking first should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. What of Kenwa Mabuni and his views, though? In what light should we see them? According to McCarthy, Mabuni was “a staunch advocate of the moral values established to govern the behavior of karate-do practitioners” (McCarthy, “Standing” 34). If this is true, then one could hardly “explain away” Mabuni’s expressed willingness to strike first as the view of someone not particularly concerned with whether or not karate-ka behaved in a morally-proper manner. Apparently, when Mabuni (with Nakasone) stated that, “[. . .] when one is already facing a battle, it is an accepted truth of strategy that one should try to take sensen no sen and forestall the enemy’s actions,” he did so with complete awareness of the moral issues involved.
AcknowledgmentsThe author would like to express his heartfelt gratitude to his wife (and best friend), Yasuko Okane, and to his colleague and friend, Izumi Tanaka, for their patient Japanese language assistance. He would also like to thank leading karate researcher Joe Swift for his helpful email correspondence, and martial arts author Iain Abernethy for his kind help. Any and all errors are, of course, solely the fault of the author.
Translated by Aodhan and James M. Hatch
Sept. 12, 2020
Below is a translation of a newspaper article from the Kumamoto newspaper Kumamoto Daily News, first published in September 1973. In it, Chitose Sr talks about his life in karate and highlights some key events. The heavy lifting of the translation was done by my son Aodhan Hatch, with minor tweaks made by myself. Any mistakes will be a result of these tweaks and as such are my fault.
While every attempt has been made to translate the document the nature of working between Japanese, a high context language, and English often makes the intended subtly missing. In such places as where we have expanded beyond the written text, I have added italics.
A special thanks to my Norweigan colleague Dr Rune Ingebrigtsen for passing a copy of the original of this article to me.
68 years living with karate: Kumamoto City’s Chitose-san
The soft sounds of a jabisen (Okinawan musical instrument) float across the morning air in Shimizu-Cho, in Kumamoto city. The musician, still alert and healthy is a 68-year-old man who has lived with karate as a core of his life for 68 years. This is Chitose-san, a worldwide know exponent on the traditional Okinawan practice of karate. As he begins to speak his deep-seated passion for karate is evident.
A major turning point in Chitose's karate life took place shortly after the end of the war in downtown Kumamoto. In a local side street off the main thoroughfare, a large brawl broke out, involving approximately 30 people between returned Japanese troops and locally stationed American troops. The fight was causing a large commotion and there was a danger to bystanders. Annoyed with this disturbance Chitose entered the fray alone. Using only his fist and legs he sent the ruffians flying and peace returned. Having quelled the situation, he left silently.
The next day Chitose received a call to attend the local police station and they wanted to have a ‘chat’. Shocked and somewhat worried he was fearful he was going to be arrested for quelling the disturbance, despite it having been a good act for the public. Upon arrival at the station he was ushered into the Head of Police’s office where, to his utter surprise, he was presented with a letter of thanks form the police for his role in resolving the previous day’s altercation. Furthermore, the Head of the USA’s MPs came by the Chitose household and asked Chitose is he would be willing to teach all the MPs stationed locally, approximately 45 people. He agreed and life was to change dramatically.
Chitose was born in Kumioji, on the outskirts of Naha city, Okinawa. When he was 20 years old he joined the imperial guard (Konoe Shidan) but was ‘kicked out’ after 18 months as he had contracted typhoid. He returned to Okinawa where he worked for 18 months as a substitute teacher. However, he wanted to follow the path of medicine so he returned to Tokyo where he worked in a Tokyo hospital as a gynaecology doctor for about 20 years.
However, due to the war, Chitose decided to leave Tokyo and headed to Kumamoto where he worked as an assistant teacher in a kindergarten. The year following his move to Kumamoto, the war ended (i.e. 1945). He settled down near his wife’s (Makie-san) family home in Kikuchi city. Nevertheless, with the urging on a friend he decided to open the Chitose Hykaten, a department store. Sadly, the business was poor and he was forced to close the store after five years of operation. At this time he was also running a small dojo for locals.
Chitose’s karate history goes a long way back. He started karate while at elementary school (7 years old). He learned Shorin Ryu (i.e. Shuri no Te) and also the Shoreiryu (i.e. Naha no Te). While operating his dojo in Kikuchi city he combined both these styles into a new style called Chito Ryu. This style was based on Chitose’s long years of research into the physiology and anatomy of humans.
The kanji uses for wa (唐) is the same used for the traditional kanji of ‘kara’ used originally in Okinawa. Chitose expressly selected this kanji as he wanted to ensure the tradition of karate was passed on.
In 1953 he moved his dojo to Kumamoto city, Shimizu-Cho (area). From 1964 until the present (i.e. 1973) Shimizu-Cho in Kumamoto-city has served as the headquarters of the Chito Kai Association. Chitose is a 10th-degree blackbelt, the Saiko Shihan (leading instructor) and Soke (i.e. founder) of Chito Ryu. The Hombu dojo currently has approximately 150 members, aged between 8-60 training regularly. From this coming Spring (1974) Chitose’s only son, Yasuhiro (4th dan in karate) will graduate from Tokai Dai (Tokai University) and begin his preparation to inherit the Chito Ryu system. The young Chitose will continue to learn from his father and to teach the depths of Chito Ryu.
Chito Ryu is spreading rapidly across the globe with approximately 200,000 practitioners n japan, 15,000 in Canada and 4,000 in the USA. Currently, there are about 150 people in Austalia, 100 in France practising Chito Ryu and it is expected to see a branch open in Germany soon. In Canada Masami Tsuroka ( a second-generation Japanese) oversees the organisation. In the USA, a former MP and one of Chitose’s original groups of MP’s William Dometrich works to spread Chito Ryu. Chitose has now visited both Canada and the USA a number of times and is always lionized by the local media as the ‘Chitose, the Karate-Japan man’.
Last month he visited the USA with his favourite student Kugizaki Eido (Shihan Renshi 6th dan). He also took this opportunity to visit Canada during this trip. In all places, he is treated well and received a hearty welcome from the governor or mayor. visit Chitose and Kugizaki witnessed the Chito Ryu karate tournament. He shares that while on his recent trip to Canada he took an opportunity to have a medical check-up at a location where a Chito Ryu practitioner works. The result showed he had the body of a 35-year-old “They said that I will be guaranteed another 25 years of life, which means I will live to be 100 years old’ Chitose laughs.
The mentality of Chito Kai is summed up in the characters for wa (harmony) and nin (perseverance). The aim if for peace with others and also to have pateince in your life. The Chito Ryu logo personifies this central tenet. On the symbol two empty hands (written as kara and te) with the circle in the middle symbolising the whole world. The message is to unite the whole world with peace and perseverance. Chito-Ryu produces a monthly newsletter with the goal of deepening bonds between practitioners across the globe.
Returning to Japan a 10th Dan from Okinawa was the happiest day of my life
The devastation of Okinawa at the end of the pacific war deeply torubled Chitose. As a means of helping his homeland he set up a charity group in Kumamoto city which sent funds and relief supplies to Kumamoto. For Chitose, Okinawa remains his homeland and posses many fond memories. Thus, he continues to play his jabisen as the memory of his hometown floats before him and remains forever in his mind’s eye.
NB: Below is a copy of the original article.
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan