exploringkarate

I've been a keen karate student for 16 years, Shukokai and Shotokan, but there still seems to be no shortage of things to learn and explore. I'm hoping this blog will allow me to share my experiences and hear other martial artists thoughts.

Archive for Naha-te

Searching for Shukokai (2) – Mabuni and the best of two towns?

I was chatting to Sensei David and another Sensei, also called David (so no possibility for confusion there then :-)), after training last night and we touched on Shukokai’s relationship to the Shotokan style. Now I’m not entirely sure why but for some reason my early assumption was that Shotokan was a parent style to Shukokai.

In one of my early posts, Following the footsteps of masters, I mentioned the geneological tables in Robin L. Reilly’s ‘Complete Shotokan Karate’ that showed that Shukokai is more of a sibling to Shotokan. The founder of Shukokai Chojiro Tani was taught by Kenwa Mabuni and Miyagi Chojun. Miyagi Chojun was taught by Kanryo Higaonna (and he followed Higaonna’s path in spending some time studying fighting styles in China) and Kenwa Mabuni by Higaonna and Anko Itosu.

Certainly before I started to learn about the history of Karate I saw it more as a Japanese martial art. Learning more about Okinawa’s  geographical and historical relationships with Japan and China has given me a better understanding of Karate’s evolution and it’s influences.

When I read about the personal histories of Higaonna, Mabuni, Chojun and Tani I find it interesting to see how their studies exposed them to the different styles of Chinese and Okinawan martial arts. We’re told Higaonna was a master of the Naha-Te style of Karate and Itosu the Shuri-Te style. Reilly provides the following characteristics of the two styles.

Naha-te

  • combined Chinese hard and soft techniques
  • used rational, dynamic movements
  • emphasised breathing, flexibility and strength

Shuri-te

  • an exoteric system
  • emphasised speed
  • combined techniques with rational (practical) movements

In ‘The Essence of Karate’ Gichin Funakoshi writes about the styles using their later names Shorei-ryu (Naha-te) & Shorin-ryu (Shuri-te) and discusses what he sees as their strengths (which I’ve written about in ‘Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.2′). Which brings me in a round about kind of way to the title of this post (Naha-te and Shuri-te were named after the Okinawan towns from which they originated). That, in a very crude sense, Shukokai is actually more of a step sibling to Shotokan as it enjoys the influence of both the Naha-te style, through Mabuni’s and Miyagi’s studies with Higaonna, and Shuri-te, through Itosu’s teaching of Mabuni.

In my search for what the Shukokai style is all about it’s interesting to be learning more about key figures in it’s development. I know the history behind the martial arts we study, and the insights it can provide, is valued to differing degrees by it’s students and I’m not making any kind of judgement on whether one way or another is best. Personally I am interested to find out more about the masters who have shaped Karate and in particular the Shukokai style to get a deeper idea of what the style I study is all about.

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Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.3

Funakoshi starts by talking about a number of masters who had skills enabling to achieve great feats. Like the fantastically named Makabe the Birdman who he recounts could leap, from a seated position, and plant a kick on the ceiling 8 foot above. He recognises that everyone has natural strengths but he regards a focus on practising feats of skills they enable an avocation, a distraction or diversion, from the true meaning of martial arts. Which I suppose raises the question of what is the true meaning? In this Chapter Funakoshi doesn’t address it explicitly so it’s left for us to ponder.

That feels like a question that we could all have a very different answer for based on our experiences. If practising feats is a distraction, and the practise of feats isn’t something you see mentioned in the lessons or texts of masters or indeed practised in your own clubs then is it a logical step to say that true meaning of martial arts has it’s roots in the training we do, basics, kata, kumite etc. I think so.

So what have I found so far in such training. Well initially it’s a challenge to the body and mind in learning the techniques. Developing the strength, flexibility, stamina, body awareness and muscle memory etc. to execute techniques individually, in combination and in response to opponent’s movements. Developing the mind to overcome the bodies weakness to keep executing when fatigue starts to set in and developing the resolve to keep refining techniques. Then developing the thought processes to move beyond being a student who lets his sensei drive his learning to be somone who searches for his own understanding.

I think that’s were the true meaning lies, in working to perfect the mind and body and gaining so much more than the ability to deliver a strong punch or kick.

One of the stories he tells is of the master Matsumura and his wife Tsurujo. He explains how they met from her being a truly great martial artist and challenging him as she sought to test her own skills. I wonder why he includes this story. I think Funakoshi wanted to provide an equally strong female role model to show that Karate is for everybody.

The story of Matsumura and Tsurujo also mentions the towns of Shuri and Naha. He describes how the redlight district of Naha was the place were young students would go to test their new fighting skills. I’m intrigued why the karate styles of Shuri and Naha differed, see Essence of Karate No.2. Perhaps the reason why will reveal itself.

What do you think? What’s your true meaning of martial arts?

Funakoshi’s Essence of Karate No.2

Funakoshi mentions two styles of Karate in the first chapter, Shorin-ryu & Shorei-ryu. He describes how Shorei-ryu sought to be supple in body and strong in mind with Shorin-ryu strong in body and supple in mind.

In Chapter 2 he looks again at these two styles. He felt the Shorei style with fine technical skills and agility was superior fighting at a distance while Shorin was stronger close in particularly taking hold of an opponent.

Robin L. Reilly’s Complete Shotokan Karate also mentions the terms  Naha-te, Shuri-te & Tomari-te and it appears the terms Shorei-ryu and Shorin-ryu came from these. It looks like the founders of todays modern karate styles were influenced by masters of both Shorin and Shorei. For example Anko Itosu, who taught Funakoshi, is refered to as a master of Shorin-ryu/Shuri-te and Kanryo Higaonna, teacher of Chojun Miyagi and Kenwa Mabuni, Shorei-ryu/Naha-te.

That said having studied both Shukokai and Shotokan it certainly feels like each style is influenced to this day by one of these old styles. Shukokai does feel more agile and supple through it’s slightly higher stances like Shorei-ryu while Shotokan feels more muscular like Shorin-ryu. As Funakoshi states, Karate should have a combination of both of these styles, and I certainly feel I’m a better karateka for experiencing the approaches of both styles.

It seems to make sense to me that to be a more complete student of karate I’d want to be able to combine flexibility, agility and precise techniques with strength of body and a capability to control and manipulate an opponent.