Thoughts on International Education
Musings on Japanese and Ryukyu Budo
Musings on Japanese and Ryukyu Budo
A powerful, if not well-known article by sociologist Bourdieu and Wacquant (1999) entitled On the Cunning of Imperialist Reason argues that imperialism is most potent when it takes palace at a level of ideas and control of media by those who come from a similar political, national and economic background. As someone with a vested interest in inter-race relation and international schools who wish to deliver an authentic global education the past months have been a time of critical energy.
Early in 2020, the energy appeared to be an increasingly global awareness of the need to curb single plastic use. Indeed we seemed to be making some progress when Covid-19 hit, followed by the Australian bush-fires and more recently the spectre of racial violence in the USA.
It is to this latter issue I wish to turn and offer some thought on a way forward that is global rather than national in focus. I draw upon the central thesis of Bourdieu and Wacquant. I argue that a simplistic acceptance of the #balcklivematter has the potential to simplify and stifle the complexity of issues around prejudice, of which race, gender, economics etc. are all part and parcel.
#blacklivematter, as we know, started in 2013 with the shooting of Trayvon Benjamin Martin (February 5, 1995 – February 26, 2012) to draw attention to the issues surrounding police brutality toward American citizens based on skin colour. Sadly, such incidents continue and are far too familiar. Indeed the murder of George Floyd further emphasized the need for changes to take place. While the movement has helped encourage some meaningful change on some fronts, it does nonetheless run the risk of becoming a form of cultural imperialism whereby the experience of black Americans is presented as a template for all 'blackness' globally. If this does happen, I believe we may miss a very profound opportunity to enable all those who suffer under the yoke of oppression.
That we need a hashtag and a movement to remind us that black lives indeed do matter is testament to our failure. For almost a century, the USA has remained the pinnacle of power in the world, yet it has failed to address the issue of race within its borders. Shameful. Yet here is the rub. This is not just a US problem. Prejudice and its sidekick, discrimination remain global issues and must be tackled both locally and globally.
I hold that several issues being raised by the #blacklives movement are not furthering the discussion meaningfully as a result of the creation of a pan-blackism that does not export effectively beyond the confines of the unique settings of the USA.
For example, it is arguable that the USA has remained stuck in its post antebellum era division of 'race' permitting only for a black/white divide. Other post-slavery societies in the same region practice colourism where the varying colours of their skin define one. While still racist such an approach permits for a more nuanced exploration of colour and power which a black/white dichotomy may be incapable of addressing.
Of course, by focusing on the lives of black (a highly vague and contentious term) citizens what happens to others who do not fit this duality may risk being 'white'washed. For example, Canada will often celebrate its openness to black citizens claiming that it never had slavery. It did (Walker, 1997). However, its treatment of Asian was and remains an issue causing 'squeaky bums' among wielders of power.
Additionally, the treatment of indigenous people remains sadly a topic given little public voice yet the ravages of modernization and globalization continue to destroy lives in the Pacific Islands, the Americas, China, and Japan to name but a few. In other places, the prejudice takes on religious or ethic guises as seen on the treatment of Roma in Europe or the on-going Protestant/Catholic tensions on my native Ireland. Post-colonial tensions in Zimbabwe have seen violent and political backlashes against its white citizens. The status of British citizens of Indian descent living in the UK has and continues to be an issue in need of addressing; however, the BLM marchers have arguably forgotten such voices.
At the same time, the horrors of the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans or Rwanda offer painful reminders of work that needs to be done to prevent such catastrophes in the future. Issues not grounded in 'race'.
Furthermore, tensions such as those between Pakistan/India and Israel/Palestine arguably do not share a colour coding codex but are grounded in prejudice, history and heuristics which the BLM movement cannot address.
In a similar vein issue around gender inequality, sexual orientation rights remain matters of grave concern on a global scale.
The USA is not the only place on the globe where issues of prejudice require immediate addressing. Nor may the framework being offered by the BLM political agenda be best suited to address such concerns. Indeed, there is a very real possibility that the frameworks being offered by the BLM drawing upon USA centric experience are not capable of addressing issues outside of its political, social and economic time/space. While there is a genuine need to reveal, learn and act upon the history and consequences of American slavery, we must not be lulled to cognitive numbness - the stakes are too high!
Rather than focusing on one country's experience in addressing 'race', I believe it is essential that international schools and their communities MUST realize these are issues of global concerns.
It is our collective responsibility to provide the correct environments and structures which enable our students and community to think and act globally and locally.
While we may choose to support BLM, we must not be lulled into believing that its solutions and issues are universally exportable.
Hughes, Conrad., (2017). Understanding Prejudice and Education: The challenge for future generations.
Walker, James St.G., (1997) Race, rights, and the law in the supreme court of Canada: Historical case studies.
Bourdieu, P., and L. Wacquant., (1999). On the Cunning of Imperialist Reason.
What follows has taken me over ten years to both research and most importantly, to weigh-up the ramifications of my research. I am a firm believer in just because we CAN, does not mean we ‘should’. With knowledge comes responsibility. My closest friends have been kind as they listened to the wrestling between my academic training as a historian and my wish to enable Chito Ryu practitioners. Ultimately, I believe accuray is important rather than misleading people. And to this end I have decided to share my research.
There are people who wish this information to be known but due to obligation and fear of reprecussions will not. Indeed, some who know this information have already be exorcised from membership in some circles. The ability to impose such social penalties is not the sign of a healthy or enlightened orgaisation. So for those who cannot speak openly, I do hope you find carthesis in this article.
On a personal level, both a researcher and practitioner what I assert below sits uncomfortably with me. Nonetheless, it is my sincere goal that my research will further others to find evidence which contradicts my findings.
Most importantly I hope that those largest bodies with the responsibility for preserving and developing the work of Chitose Gochoku (such as the Hombu in Kumamoto, the Canadian Chito Kai and the USA Chito Kai) will take responsibility for making available in English and Japanese an historically detailed and accurate portrayal of Chitose. I sincerely believe that such bodies hold a moral obligation to provide, in English, translations of Chitose’s formal writings. Chito Ryu is a small karate RyuHa and has as many English speaking practitioners as Japanese. I firmly believe that these speakers should have access to an accurate portrayal of the thinking and life of our founder - indeed all who practice Chito Ryu should have such accuracy available to them in their native tongue. Afterall, when we all bow to show respect to OSensei, who are we bowing to?
Only Chitose's smaller work, Kempo Karate-Do is available in English thanks to the translation by Christopher Johnston with the support of Hanshi Dometrich and Michael Colling of the USA Chito Kai. The much more detailed and, in my opinion, informative Zen Nippon Chito Ryu Kyohon (shortened title) remains only in Japanese. Zen Nippon Chito Ryu Kyohon is fascinating work for in it one gets a greater understanding of how Chitose conceptualised the role of karate in leading a well-balanced and purposeful life.
While the information in the Kyohan is available via the dojos affiliated with the above three organisations, it is an historically significant work that deserves more respect and exploration.
For all who search for the historical Chitose, the information available is thin and repetitive. In Japanese, there are the above works in which Chitose in his own words outlines his martial history and variations of the information found in the Chito Ryu Kyohan text (published by the Hombu in 1975 and edited again in 1979). In English, there are general introductions provided in the Canadian Chito Kai instructor manuals, the Tsuruoka and Higashi texts in various forms. However, all these texts do not deviate much from the script issued by the Hombu.
NB: A word of caution the Kyohon means to book, whereas Kyohan means study guide - they are not the same text, and for this reason, I refer to the Chito Ryu Kyohon as the brown text hereafter, in reference to its brown, cloth cover.
There are, however, three other texts which do add to the canonical history of Chitose. There is the Unante (1995;2000) text by John Sells, which while presenting useful historical photos has numerous factual inaccuracies and assertions. More interesting are the Colling article from Dragon Times (https://www.dragon-tsunami.org/Dtimes/Pages/article33.htm) and the June 2002 article from Traditional Karate, composed by Rune Ingebrigtsen. These latter works make a sincere effort, using oral history, to fill-in-the gaps of the life of Chitose, before the 1950s. Unfortunately, when working with oral history, a central challenge is the stories often repeat the common myths passed down, not to mention the Hawthorne Effect.
As I explored the early years of Chitose’s life, I noticed a minor but, substantial discrepancy between the texts available in English and Japanese around Chitose’s medical career. For example, Colling’s asserts: ‘Chitose took up teaching for a short while at the Okinawan Teachers College, and by 1922 he was ready to head back to Japan to study medicine. He was accepted as a student at the Tokyo University Medical Center and became a doctor in 1924, then spent five years working in a hospital after graduation from medical school before he was accepted as a full doctor by the Japanese Medical Association.’ However, the text from 1975 Hombu suggests that Chitose came to Tokyo in the 1920s and was quite busy practising medicine. In other words, he was practising medicine when he arrived.
Another interesting point is that half of the English text state he graduated from medical College. In contrast, the other half stated he came to Tokyo to study medicine, but no mention is made if he graduated. In neither of the text which Chitose penned himself does he mention either his medical career or graduating from a Japanese university. There remain two other pieces of the enigma that is the Chitose medical career.
Firstly, in the 1964 article for Black Belt magazine Chitose claims to have been a gynaecologist. Secondly, in most of the English text is the assertion at one level or another that Chito Ryu was based in part on Chitose’s studies as a doctor. No such claim is made in the Japanese texts which I consulted although as I will explain later, he does consult with physicians in writing his Chito Ryu Kyohon (brown text).
As time passed and I researched more on this apparent minor issue, I uncovered that several seniors in Chito Ryu knew about this discrepancy in the medical assertions. Using their support and insight, I have spent time researching Chitose’s medical claims and based on my findings I believe he was not a medical doctor, at least in the sense of having a University certification.
Below I discuss the evidence.
Japan during the Meiji Period (circa the 1850s) did have professional schools of medicine and indeed readily caught up with their Western counterparts. The ‘discovery of the plague bacillus in 1894, the discovery of a dysentery bacillus in 1897, the isolation of adrenaline(epinephrine) in crystalline form in 1901, and the first experimental production of tar-induced cancer in 1918’ (https://www.britannica.com/science/history-of-medicine/Japan) all bear witness to the great strides Japan made in the field of medicine. The most notable school was founded in 1857 at the University of Tokyo. By Medical Act of 1874, all medical doctors had to be certified (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6288623/). In other words, to be a certified doctor in Japan meant to study and to pass medical exams.
One of the great myths about exploring Japanese history is that many records were destroyed either as a result of the great Kanto earthquake (1923 - famous in karate circles for destroying Funakoshi’s Tokyo Dojo) and the bombing raids that marked the end of the World War 2. However, such an assertion is simply not accurate. Japan has an excellent national archive, which is available online at https://rnavi.ndl.go.jp/research_guide/entry/theme-honbun-102014.php . Indeed the listing of doctors is complete for the 1920s and early ’30s and neither the name Chinnen nor Chitose are listed. In other words, Chitose was not a recognised doctor, at least of western-styled medicine.
The simple lack of agreement as to if it was Kyoto or Tokyo where he attended university appears to add a need for at least some level of caution when accepting the oral history passed down regarding these years.
Of course, there is the genuine possibility that Chitose attended university just never graduated. We know by the mid-1920’s he had a wife and son and would have been responsible for their care, even if they remained in Okinawa. Those responsibilities plus the massive destruction caused by the 1923 earthquake could have induced the young student to give up his studies.
I also know of two other Japanese researchers who have tried to find evidence of Chitose’s medical certification and found as I did. Likewise, I asked for the help and support of a surgeon and university lecturer who also, could find no evidence that the young Chitose ever graduated with a medical degree.
Had he been a doctor and a university-educated person one would expect him to hold a commissioned officers rank in the Japanese Imperial Army. However, I was unable to find any such standing.
A point of note here is Colling's asserts that in 1919 Chitose was part of the Imperial Body Guard however this seems highly unlikely, as he was an Okinawan. Appointing an Okinawan to serve as an imperial bodyguard in the late 1910s would have been similar to selecting an Irish national to guard George V.
Chitose would have been meeting his national conscription expectation during these years and would have served in Kyushu where Okinawan conscripts were stationed. Had he been an imperial bodyguard in 1918-19, one would have expected him to hold a position of similar status with his remobilisation in the mid-1930s. Again, no evidence was found on any front regarding such condition. Indeed most people consulted believed he was stationed in Kyushu for the duration of the war.
Japan was devastated by the war. It was a prime time to be a doctor yet we know via photo evidence that by 1946 Chitose was holding fundraisers for Okinawa (Sells, p. 136) and not working there as a doctor who was severely needed. Additionally, he married a second time in 1946, and his new wife already had a daughter. Soon other children would follow. However, rather than working as a doctor, he tried unsuccessfully to open a hardware store in Kumamoto in the early 1950s, before landing a more permanent position with local garrison as a karate instructor.
The Japanese Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology was formed in 1948 and based upon a review of the notes from this meeting and the first national meeting Chitose was not present. Membership in this Society was essential if one wished to continue to legally practice as a gynaecological doctor in Japan. Given the date and what we are told in the orthodox history of Chitose, he was still practising medicine at this time so as a gynaecologist we could expect him to attend, especially in light of the massive need for such specific medical care in the aftermath of the war.
When Chitose penned his Brown Book in 1971 he acknowledged that the following doctors had given him advice and support:
So what this does all mean? Closing thoughts
On the one hand, some may be upset for they believed that Chito Ryu was founded on Chitose’s medical training. Of course, even given the orthodox narrative, his practice as a gynaecologist would appear to have little impact on designing a karate system.
Some may believe he misrepresented himself. Perhaps? However, exaggerating the truth has been part and parcel of people trying to escape terrible poverty and find meaning in situations of utter destruction. If he did exaggerate his medical knowledge in the name of promoting his RyuHa, he would not be the first or the last to do so. Indeed, the field almost expects such.
On the other hand, of course, there is the genuine possibility that Chitose served as a medic during the war and thus gained considerable knowledge in the field, even if he was never officially certified. Also possible is he may have studied traditional Okinawan medicine, and that is what he could have been practising on the mainland during the 1920s. Neither of these practices would have enabled him to consinue practice post Wolrd War Two when under the occupation regulation of professions became increasingly documents and centrally controlled.
However, until those that know or have access to such information are willing to share, we remain in the dark.
Personally, having wrestled with this knowledge for over decade now, I realise that by focusing on the medical issue, I may have been missing the incredible and profound RyuHa which is Chito Ryu. Indeed liberating myself for the need to cling to a mythical past meant I could focus on what was important - the connection between the formal two-person drills we have been left and kata.
For me, the historical Chitose is far more appealing than the mythical one. He is a man with an incredible will to power. Someone who, despite racism, lack of opportunity, war, and unimaginable loss managed to pass-on something which has made my life much more fulfilling. For this, I am forever in his debt.
Of course, my sincere wish if for the evidence to come to light which is historically robust and proves what I assert herein is wrong. That is the whole point of research: To open conversations and questions.
There remains much research to be done in karate and Chito Ryu history.
Viable next steps for those in Chito Ryu would be to place Chitose in is Okinawan family, fill in the void of knowledge we have about his life before the 1950s and as always to preserve yet develop the rich roots he left us.
Selected Works Cited.
Chitose, T., 2000. Kempo Karate-Do (trans. C. Johnston)
Chitose, T., 1971. 生理解剖医学に立脚せる 全日本空手道連盟千唐会 教本
千唐流本部 1975 千唐流空手道 入門・基本編 全日本空手道連盟千唐会
Ingebrigtsen, R., June, 2002. Traditional Karate p. 34-38.
Sells, J., 2000. Unante (2nd edition)
I promised a few months back that I would explore the whole question if Chitose went to China, especially during World War Two. Unfortunately, due to a schedule that took a few twists and turns, I was unable to get to the matter until now.
For those who may be unfamiliar with this aspect of Chitose history, the story unfolds as follows. During World War 2, Chitose was stationed in China, where he had the opportunity to study with a Chinese Kung-Fu master whom he befriended. While I have been able to uncover any evidence either for or against this assertion, what I offer below is based upon the historical context of World War Two.
As is suggested by Colling (https://www.dragon-tsunami.org/Dtimes/Pages/article33.htm) Chitose served in the Imperial Japanese army as part of the medical corps during the war. Based upon conversations with senior students of Chitose most notably Kugizaki-sensei and Inomoto-sensei, they believe it is possible that Chitose served as part of the medical corp. However, both are quick to point out that they never had such an explicit conversation with Chitose as to do so would cross many cultural norms not the least of which is World War 2 and one’s activities in it are generally not discussed in Japan.
I explored some databases both in Japan and the USA; I was unable to verify if Chitose did serve in the medical corps. Confirming any such details about Chitose is difficult for three significant reasons:
Indeed the activities of the Japanese Imperial Army were, in 1999 during the 106th sitting of Congress, still being investigated with the passing of yet another Disclosure Acts ( see https://fas.org/sgp/congress/s1902.html).
However, for argument’s sake below, I outline why it was most unlikely that Chitose did receive training at the hands of a Kung-Fu master even if he was in China during World War 2. Under Point 3, I explain why it is my sincere hope that he was NOT stationed in China as a member of the medical corp. Had he been, I would have to consider my options as a practitioner of Chito Ryu, based on personal beliefs.
POINT 1: The Boxer Rebellion.
One of the biggest mistakes made by self-proclaimed karate historians is that they neglect to take into account the massive impact the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901) had on martial arts both in China and Japan. According to Britannia ‘The Boxer Rebellion’s name comes from that used by foreigners for members of the Chinese secret society Yihequan (“Righteous and Harmonious Fists”): they were called “Boxers” for their boxing and calisthenic rituals. The society’s original aim was to destroy the ruling Qing dynasty and privileged Westerners in China. Anti-foreign forces who won control of the Chinese government persuaded the Boxers to end their fight against the dynasty and join them to destroy foreigners (https://www.britannica.com/event/Boxer-Rebellion).’ The boxers ascribing to esoteric Chi and Kung-Fu practices were slaughtered when their ancient martial traditions were faced with the heavily armed and professional Armies of the imperial foreign armies (including Japan).
Moreover, as Japan’s imperial Army marched triumphantly into Beijing, it was accused of stealing numerous imperial treasure from China. This assertion would continue to impact its relationship with China in the next 50 years. More importantly, within China, the practice of Kung-Fu became ridiculed as not only ineffective, but a symbolic embodiment of all that was wrong with China. One of the first acts of both the Chiang Kai Shek and latter the CCP, under Mao would be the persecution of Kung-Fu as a ‘martial art’ while its values as an embodiment of healthy citizens became the norm. In this regard, it shared a commonality with the Shin-budo movements within Japan (Zhouxiang, 2020). Indeed, this persecution would hit its apex during the Cultural Revolutions of the 1960s (Snow, 2017; Zhouxiang, 2016). Thus, we have here two forces at play. One, Kung Fu was to be used to expel not aid foreign oppressors, and two, Kung -fu was used to identify one as a Chinese national thus not something to be shared by outsiders. Of course, even if a master was met, what level of expertise would they have held which would have been of any value to the Chitose who had approx 30 years of training already.
POINT 2: Chinese/Japanese Tensions
Starting with the first Japanese incursions into Asia in the early 1900s and culminating with the outright territorial grabs in mid-1930s Japan and China’s relations had soured dramatically since the Meiji Restoration. Japan, viewed China as undeveloped and ground for its imperial desired and much needed raw materials, while China saw Japan as an up-start, wanna-be Western-styled power (Nish, 2012).
A testament to the anti-Japanese sentiment is that the Chinese Civil war between the CCP and ROC was put on hold during the Japanese occupation as both sides lay aside differences to fight against the Empire of Japan. Against such backdrop sympathisers with the Japanese were dealt with harshly, particularly in rural areas where Japanese atrocities were fule for hatred. After the conclusion of World War 2, many such sympathisers were executed by both the ROC and CPP (for an academic account of such events see https://academic.oup.com/ahr/article/113/3/731/41136)
Point 3: The Japanese Medical Corp in China
Within this romantic version of Chitose, actual history is neglected. Most importantly, the genuine atrocities imposed upon Chinese at the hands of the Japanese Imperial Army and in particular its medical corp are conveniently forgotten. Starting with the occupation on Manchuria the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army (関東軍防疫給水部本部, Kantōgun Bōeki Kyūsuibu Honbu) was established to ostensibly purify the water of China as the Japanese troops progressed. However, upon this group under various units such as 731 and 100 were actively involved in medical experiments on Chinese nationals as well as POWs from USSR and Australia.
It must be stressed that all medical teams in China were expected to conduct such experiments (Gold, 2019). At the end of the war, with the Cold War hotting up, all members of these Units, at McArthur’s insistence, received pardons and were not subject to the trials for crimes against humanity at Tokyo. Indeed many of the leaders of these units such as Shiro Iishi and Ryoichi Naito would go on to help the USA and become prominent figures in Japan, with Naito founding the largest pharmaceutical company in Japan, Green Cross (Gold, 2019).
Knowing full well the extent of degradation these Units enabled, I can only hope that Chitose was never in China at least as a member of the medical corp. While indeed war brings out the worst in humanity, the entire history on these units activites in China need more public discourse and evaluation.
The mythical narrative that he was kind to the locals, and they embraced him would seem beyond the realms of possibility given Chinese animosity to the occupies and the medical corps utter disregard for Chinese life.
Of course, even if Chitose remained in Kyushu as a member of the medical corps, he may still not have escaped the clutches of Unit 731 who were actively involved in Fukuoka and surrounding areas where Koreas were the recipients of much experimentation. However, this was a far more secretive and smaller operation than that in China. There was a genuine concern that the Japanese public may not have reacted well had they know what the Army and medical Corps were doing in their name. However, this all remains speculation.
There may be a clue to what Chitose did, and in my next post, I explore this as I undertake what will no doubt be a controversial exploration of Chitose’s medical career.
Selected Works Cited:
Gold, H., 2019. Unit 731: Testament.
Snow, E., 2017. Red Star Over China: The Classic Account of the Birth of Chinese Communism
The Routledge Handbook of Sport in Asia. 2020. edited by Fan Hong, Lu Zhouxiang 2020
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan