So what did you think you were practicing? - Vancouver Kowakan
I believe that ALL karate-do on Okinawa represents an amalgam of kata and training techniques introduced into the Ryukyus over a period of about 250 years. I do not know of ANY “PURE” system of karate-do (i.e. a Chinese Quan’fa lineage transferred in its entirety to Okinawa and perpetuated there by a succeeding generation of students).
Some may argue that Kojo-ryu and Uechi-ryu represent comprehensive Chinese systems with a verifiable lineage introduced to Okinawa, but I do not agree. Legend has it that Uechi Kanbun, the founder of Uechi-ryu, received his teaching license from Shu Shi Wa (Zhou Zi He)(a tiger, crane, dog boxer). Uechi reportedly tore up his license after a fatal incident in which one of his students supposedly killed another man in some sort of dispute. Uechi reportedly felt somehow responsible for the death, tore up his license, closed his dojo in China, returned to Okinawa and vowed never to teach again. Certainly a very romantic story, but without any corroborating evidence it remains just that, a story. I am more inclined to think Uechi is an eclectic mix based on Uechi Kanbun’s studies.
Remember, Uechi referred to his “art” initially as Pangainoon-jutsu (half-hard technique). However, NO style going under this name has ever been discovered, despite lengthy research trips to Fuzhou by the Uechi Karate-do Association. It more than likely refers to a common fighting principle found in ALL Chinese Chuan’fa systems (i.e. hard and soft).
As for Kojo-ryu, I was once inclined to think that the karate practiced by the Kojo clan was a clearly delineated style originating in China. But now I am not so sure. It seems to me (at least) that its training methods and kata as well represent an amalgam of sources introduced over generations. But I stand to be corrected.
To my knowledge, I do not know of any Chuan’fa style practiced on Okinawa with the exception of those styles introduced after WWII. If indeed Okinawans studied a Chuan’fa systems in its entirety, why then do none of them have teaching licenses from their Chinese teachers?
Why do none of them refer to their art using the original Chinese names (e.g. white crane, white eyebrow, 18 Buddha hands, monk fist, yong chun (wing chun), hung gar, lau gar, five ancestor fist, etc.)? Just food for thought.
With that said however, I do not feel that because Okinawan karate-do is heavily influenced by a mixture of diﬀerent Chinese chuan’fa, S.E., indigenous sources, and Asian fighting arts, it does not deter from it as a form of civil self-defence. Through the centuries, karate has become a uniquely Okinawan and Japanese martial art in its own right.
Unfortunately, many Okinawans and Japanese would consider what I have just written as blasphemy. Having lived in Japan for eight years, this doesn’t surprise me in the least as Japan is one of the most Confucianism countries in the world. Veneration of ancestors and the past is an important part of Japanese culture. Hence a connection to these elements is very, very important and is usually expressed in the karate world as an unbroken lineage stretching back to China.
But there are teachers and researchers in Okinawa and Japan who do not take this perspective and see karate’s development in a very diﬀerent and eclectic light. These would include: Tokashiki, Hirakami, Otsuka and possibly Kinjo.
I am going to stick my neck out here a little, but what I find frustrating in the West is that there is such little information in English available on karate-do history. In the case of Goju-ryu the vast majority of this information has come from one source, Higaonna Morio sensei. I have met Higaonna sensei, and read his research. Besides being an outstanding teacher of Goju-ryu, his research is excellent. However, it represents only ONE THEORY.
Unfortunately, since they do not have access to competing theories, many Western karateka take this as gospel. It would be nicer to have more information out there so that the reader can form his or her own opinion about the facts at hand.
I honestly feel that people, for one reason or another, need to feel connected to something. Something larger than themselves. Having an unadulterated lineage provides this connection. Hence the idea that Goju-ryu (or any other system) can be traced back to the founder. This is even more so for the Japanese and Okinawans whose identity is very much dictated by group dynamics and group relations. Severing these by stating that there is no real connection would be like a form of solitary confinement. The political and social repercussions in the karate world would be severe IMHO.
Good luck in your training and in your research
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