McMahon Sensei lives in Australia and share this wonderful, thought provoking article, written by his dad, just over 20 years ago. the thoughts and insights remain relevant. The original was recently reposted on on Facebook - it is republished her with permission
CAUTION: The below article pulls no punches and makes no apologies, however if you truly want to understand Karate then read on and absorb the information.
My Discussions with Mitani Sensei .. one of the last teachers of original karate! By Bob McMahon, 7th Dan, Seitokukai Karate
Mitani Kazuya Sensei, 7th Dan in Original Traditional Karate, is a student of the late last Master of the original Karate, Kinjo Hiroshi, 9th Dan, Hanshi. Kazuya Sensei is attempting to alert karateka from around the world to the possibility that original karate may soon be lost to us all!
He feels it is his duty to speak out about the original karate before it disappears from the world altogether. He is receiving both pleasant and unpleasant email communications in regard to his forthright views. He said, “I hardly speak about the truth in Japan because many karate teachers do not favour the truth. They prefer to hide it.”
According to Mitani Kazuya, Sokon Matsumura is the true pioneer of karate. He was an expert in Jigen-Ryu swordmanship and used the concepts and principles from this art to influence the Te of Okinawa in the Shuri district. This influence was so deep that the term ‘Shuri Te’ (Shurite) is considered to be the Te of Matsumura. Very few karateka, Japanese included, are aware of this.
Matsumura’s students, such as Kentsu Yabu, Chotokyu Kyan and Chomo Hanashiro were also experts in Shurite. Although Ankou Itosu was also an expert, it was not until he turned 60 years of age that he finally understood Shurite at last. Itosu was teaching Shurite before he created karate for school students at the request of the Okinawan Board of Education.
Karate was the name given to the Martial Arts program of the school curriculum for Physical Education. However Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, Kanken Toyama and others cannot be called experts because they did not know what Mitani Sensei refers to as ‘maniau’ technology. I’ll return to this issue a little further down.
Mitani Sensei follows the ‘Ten Teachings of Itosu’, which he refers to as the ‘textbook’ of karate. He says that the physical aim of karate is to seize and down an enemy. Strike the enemy first (kumite), then seize and finally restrain (osae) or throw (nage) him to the ground. There are occasions when grappling (toride) can be used first. This is the technology of karate and this must be with the correct timing and distance (maniau). Kata conveys this technology.
Mitani Sensei says still many Japanese karate teachers misunderstand the form of kata with karate. Kata is only a style it is not karate. The technology of karate is called waza and although waza is in kata, the form of kata is not waza. Karate that has been passed on to the world from Japan is full of errors. It is clear that it is not useful for physical confrontations away from the dojo.
For this reason, Mitani Sensei is completely uninterested in kata competition. He reluctantly teaches kata to his competitors, who have been successful in kata competition. He teaches two (2) kata from the original fourteen (14) of karate for the technology of kumite. They are Pinan Nidan and Naifanchi Shodan. He teaches the following kata for competition only and says he teaches them, as you would teach dance. They are Nipaipo, Oyadomori Passai, Matsumura Passai, Anan, Heiku, and others.
Mitani Sensei says he is mainly teaching karate to children from five to fifteen years of age and at this level he feels it is enough to just learn Pinan Nidan for kumite. He thinks there are very few karate teachers in Japan who can understand Pinan Nidan. His students through this training won the All-Japan Junior Team Kumite title four years in a row. He only entered his students because he was challenged on his views of the difference between what he calls ‘traditional’ karate and today’s ‘modern’ karate.
In Japan, he says, the teachers involved in sport karate don’t like martial art karateka because they are not successful in competition. The martial art karate teachers similarly don’t like sport karateka because they only know sport karate technology. Both groups are basically correct in their opinions, but neither understands that they are both practising the same karate that is not what it was intended to be.
The teachers belonging to martial art karate do not realize that the original karate is a superior martial art. Similarly, the tournament technology of the teachers belonging to sport karate is stagnant. In short, their technology has stood still on the starting line while the technology of other karate groups in the world has raced ahead.
In kumite competition, about 70% to 80% of the technology of karate can be used. His students beat the competitors from the four (4) major modern karate styles with the technology of karate. In kata competition, only about 10% to 20% of the technology of karate can be used. Most of the technology of kata competition is the technology of dance. This is the reason he does not favor kata competition.
Training in karate is not about learning kata he says often. He also does not teach moving basics (ido kihon) which is a method developed by Shotokan teachers. In the Japanese mainland, training is wholly based on this. He considers that it is a mistake because students then cannot understand karate. Kihon is said to be ‘basics’
throughout the world, however it is the ‘basics for kata.’ I teach kihon for karate, not just for kata. Karate is not kata but the technology of fighting. I teach neither three-step (sanbon) nor one-step (ippon) kumite, instead I carry out the practice methods of the original karate. Throws (nage-waza) and jujutsu locks (kansetsu) are important in karate; these are called ‘toride’. Of course ‘toride’ is unnecessary in competition, but toride is very important within karate.
Karate practice is centered on the makiwara he explains.
There is no fixed concept in makiwara training. The makiwara is a training partner and all training partners can be described as makiwara. If you hit a bag, that is a makiwara. Even if you hit the air, it can be classified as a makiwara. The best makiwara is a human being as this is a training partner that can also attack and defend. The ‘makiwara’ is really a general term for a training tool. In boxing, there is a heavy bag, a light bag, a punching ball, etc. These things would be described as makiwara if they were connected with karate.
The concept of correct timing and proper distance, i.e., ‘maniau’ training is practised by means of a makiwara. While power in a punch is important, the power to break things is unnecessary. The purpose of makiwara training is not to train the fist. This is the concept of using the makiwara in Shurite and in karate. In Japan, many think that the purpose of the makiwara is to make a hard fist but this is a big mistake. This was also misunderstood in other districts in Okinawa.
In kata, we leave the punch extended in order to show the technique (waza) clearly. However, in makiwara training, we hit so that the punch bounces and we move our body at the same time as we hit. We practice kata and then proceed to makiwara training where we practice the timing of offensive and defensive moves. This is the training of karate as it is written in Itosu's ten teachings.
Funakoshi sensei knew only kata and Mabuni sensei was the same. Therefore, they are not karate experts. Shitoryu, Shotokanryu and Wadoryu are descended from Shurite but because they have lost the technology passed down from Shurite, I do not consider them to be karate. Of the four major styles, Gojuryu is correct but it is different to the culture from which karate emerged.
Itosu said that when you learn kata, study the oral teachings (kuden) simultaneously. Many of the modern karate teachers do not know kuden. They have not had the necessary instruction to qualify as karate teachers. This is why bunkai / oyo was created, to fill the gap in knowledge, and one of the reasons why we have karate ‘styles’.
In kata we perform the middle punch (chudan-zuki) but the correct target is the enemy's head. Chudan-zuki of kata is actually jodan-zuki. This is the sort of information relayed through oral communication (kuden). A stepping punch (oi-zuki) is delivered before the front foot is placed on the ground. This is effective timing (maniau). It is the method of putting weight into a punch. There are very few people who have been taught oi-zuki correctly by Japanese karate teachers.
There is no oi-zuki in the kumite of Naifanchi. Also another significant feature is there is no switching of the body. It is the front hand strike (kizami-zuki) that is used, with defense coming from the rear hand. This is difficult waza to apply in a kumite tournament. Therefore, I teach only adult expert players this method. The technical essence of Shurite and Karate is the same. Karate can be immediately converted into Shurite by kuden.
When I see the Pinan Nidan / Heian Shodan of Shotokanryu, Shitoryu, and Wadoryu, I believe that Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, and Hironori Ohtsuka did not understand karate. As an example, I will explain the most complicated waza of this kata, i.e. the last two actions of this kata.
In shotokanryu, the mid-level knife hand block (chudan shuto-uke) is performed twice on the left and twice on the right at 45 ° angles. This loses the meaning of the waza. In shitoryu the lower parry (gedan-uke/barai) is carried out twice in shiko-dachi. This is not quite correct as shiko-dachi loses the meaning of the waza as well.
Shitoryu mixed karate and gojuryu (heterogeneous technology) and for this reason, shitoryu is unpopular in Okinawa.
In wadoryu, this section is performed with nukite in shiko-dachi. This cannot be called karate any longer. Shiko-dachi and nukite together is not the technology of fighting. Using shiko-dachi is merely imitating shitoryu. I do not understand the use of nukite here and it may have been a way to distinguish a ‘new’ style.
Shorinryu shows the correct waza and it is the same as karate. The correct waza is the lower parry (gedan-uke) in cat stance (nekoashi-dachi). Nekoashi-implies a front leg kick, as in reality, the cat stance is not actually carried out. An enemy's testicles have been kicked while parrying his kick.
The purpose of the technology of fighting karate is poking an enemy's eyes or crushing his testicles. Also the reason for performing this at 45 degrees suggests a side step.
The technical essence of Shurite and karate is the same. Karate is immediately converted into Shurite by kuden (oral communication). The difference between Shurite and Karate is one of concepts as follows-
Jodan-zuki (face punch) turned into chudan-zuki (body punch- no hitting the face)
Kaishu (open hand) turned into Ken (fist- does not crush eye, testicles)
Little moving turned into more moving
Kakete (hooking block) turned into Shuto-uke (knife hand block)
Shiko-dachi (square stance) turned into Naifanchi-dachi (side stance)
Jodan-uke (high block) turned into Chudan-uke (middle block)
Let’s return to the Te of the pioneer Matsumura Sokon. I believe that Shurite and Fuchien Shorin are not the same culture. All of the Te from Kume Village, i.e. Nahate, Gojuryu, Uechiryu, etc. are Chinese Martial Arts or at least a subset. Probably, they are all wonderful arts.
It is also said that Shurite is one of them, but I don’t agree. I believe that Shurite seceded from the Chinese Martial Arts and that Shurite is a Japanese martial art. Of course, its mother is the China martial art.
It is the following three points where Shurite differs from others. 1. Footwork (continuous punches) 2. Speed (power) 3. Specialization to fighting (very rational, no nonsense approach)
A lot of karateka take great pride in studying karate from one of these four major styles and this is a sad situation. Japanese people have promoted karate as a mysterious exotic martial art however, Japanese people intended no malice, and were deceived by their own seniors and believed that they were correct. Only a small number of men realize the true situation.
Karate is not so special and it is not an eastern mystery. The sad truth is that karate is not such wonderful technology. The competition arena is less so. It is an ordinary martial art. There is no big difference in the method of fighting between the West and the East and boxing bears a strong resemblance to karate. Though they are alike, due to the technology of fighting, there is a big difference in respect for others because of the different cultures.
Okinawan and Japanese Budo
James M. Hatch
International Educator who happens to be passionate about Chito Ryu Karate. Born in Ireland, educated in Canada, matured in Japan