Over the past decade or so, especially with the production of the series Okinawan Karate Masters and the pronouncements of ShinjinBukan founder Onaga-Sensei there has arisen a belief in a progenitor of modern karate called ‘ti’ (手). Indeed it was such a belief that one of Onaga’s predecessors, Chiban-Sensei began a search for this mythical practice in the 1930s only to give up due to a lack of evidence. The thrust of this article argues that the notion of ‘ti’ as a separate, indigenous art is actually a modern construct that has been tied to a mythical past.
I have spent the best part of 20 years living and working in Japan and having met and discussed the historical roots of karate with most of the leading figures both in the West and in Japan. Additionally, as a trained historian, I have brought the methodology of historical research to the elusive history of karate and what follows is a small excerpt which I hope you will find thought-provoking. This paper is an attempt to create an academic debate around this topic and to move it from the hallowed halls of uncritical acceptance into a public forum where ideas and proofs can be developed. To this end I have provided citations and a selected bibliography.
How the Modern Concept of Ti Arose
The modern concept of ‘ti’ comes from two schools. Aside from the aforenoted Onaga one, there is also a lineage through Uehara Seikichi, which appears to originate in the traditional wrestling style known as ‘tegumi’ and resembles aikijutsu. It is clear that Sekichi’s “ti’ originated from his training in Motobu Ryu (Uehara Interview, 1997) and as such any claims from those who followed him that his system can be considered ‘ti’ are simply misleading and an affront to the teachings of Seikichi-Sensei.
‘Ti’ means ‘hand’ and is a general term used throughout East Asia to refer to all martial arts. Indeed McCarthy (Volume 10) attest to the existence of an early 1600’s letter from Ryukyu (i.e. Okinawa) of the term being used in such a manner.
The generic use of ‘ti’ would appear to refer to all types of martial arts that include grappling, striking and in some cases weapons. Some may point to the use of ti (also read as Te) in various forms such as the well known Naha-te, Shuri-te or Tomari-te, sadly these terms only began to be used in 1927 and later (McKenna, 2009; Swift, 2015).
In this post and following post I wish to explore and dispel the claim that it is a separate discipline. Indeed looking at the historical time frame when the term ‘ti’ gained popularity it seems rooted in either an Okinawan desire to reclaim karate from Japan or a marketing tool seeking to cash in on those seeking to learn a mystical, secret deadly fighting. This is the stuff of legend and ‘hollywood’ not the stuff of historical fact.
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