Thoughts on International Education
Musings on Japanese and Ryukyu Budo
Musings on Japanese and Ryukyu Budo
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.
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.
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan