Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.

The following article originally appeared in Fighting Arts International, Issue No. 90, 1995 (pages 19 - 23) and is reprinted here with the permission of the author, Graham Noble. The article has not been updated or edited. Photographs have been omitted. Copyright Graham Noble. All rights reserved.

See part 2 of the article.


The First Karate Books

Part One

by Graham Noble


Before this century almost nothing was written about karate. In 1905 Chomo Hanashiro put down some notes on 'karate kumite', and in 1908 Ankoh Itosu set out his 10 precepts in a couple of pages, but neither of these short texts were intended for general publication. It was not until karate was introduced to Japan that the first karate books began to appear.

The first book was 'Ryukyu Kempo Tode' in 1922. ('Tode' was the pronunciation of the characters for 'Chinese hand', the old name for karate). It was written by the Okinawan karate-ka and ex-schoolteacher Gichin Funakoshi, who had just settled in Japan a few months earlier. The 53-year-old Funakoshi had made the decision to stay in Japan to teach 'the noble art of karate', and in that initial burst of enthusiasm, he worked hard to put together this little book of just over 300 pages. As he later explained in 'Karate-do, My Way of Life' ('Karate-do Ichiro'), the book was split into five main parts: What Karate Is; The Value of Karate; Karate Training and Teaching; The Organisation of Karate; and Fundamentals and Kata. The main part of the book (pages 63 to 272) was the description of the kata (forms), and apart from a couple of pages on makiwara (striking post) training and the illustration of eight simple throws, this formed the whole technical content of the book. Karate was still an over-whelmingly kata-based art.

There are some interesting aspects to this book. For example, the number and quality of the forewords are unusually impressive for an Okinawan schoolteacher who had been in Japan for only a few months. Marquis Hisamasa, the former governor of Okinawa, Admiral Yashiro, Vice-Admiral Ogasawara, Count Shimpei Goto, Lieutenant General Oka, Admiral Kanna, Professor Higaonna, and Bakumonto Sueyoshi of the Okinawan Times - they all took the time to write a couple of pages for Funakoshi. Right from the start he had attracted the support of prominent people, much to the benefit of karate, counteracting, if only in a small way, the Japanese prejudice against the Okinawan people and their culture. The book also contained the first written history of karate - even then its origins were obscure - and of course its technical content is now of historical importance itself. This, though, is better seen in Funakoshi's second book, 'Rentan Goshin Tode-jutsu' (1925).

The reason is: photographs. 'Ryukyu Kempo Tode, was illustrated with drawings by a well-known artist, Hoan Kosugi. But Kosugi, even if he was then a student of Funakoshi, could only have had a very limited experience of karate, and his simple drawings couldn't really express the physical qualities of the art. In the 1925 book, Funakoshi posed for all the photographs, and that gives us a very clear picture of his art at that time. As I've written before (FAI No. 60), that makes it my personal favourite of Funakoshi's books. It's noticeable that the founder of Shotokan Karate was not himself practising Shotokan at this point. His style was what we would now call a version of Okinawan Shorin-Ryu; and although he is nowhere near as polished as today's experts, his kata have quite a nice appearance and he seems comfortable with his technique.

'Rentan Goshin Tode-jutsu' was a revised version of 'Ryukyu Kempo Tode', and the technical content was exactly the same: a brief description of the makiwara and some miscellaneous throws, and then full descriptions of 15 kata. Two of the pillars of modern karate - kihon (basics) and kumite (sparring) drills - were absent, and in fact they were then only in their infancy in Japan. A training structure was not really evident in these books, and it's interesting that it was today's 'Heian Nidan' (then 'Pinan Shodan') which was put first, and shown in full, in both books. It must have been some time after 1925 that Funakoshi decided that 'Pinan Nidan' was, in fact, the more basic kata and began to teach it first. Thus 'Pinan Nidan' became 'Heian Shodan' - which later served as the model for the even more basic 'Taikyoku'.

'Karate-do Kyohan', which is generally considered Funakoshi's master work, came out in 1935, and here we can begin to see the Shotokan style then emerging - although not too much, because Gichin Funakoshi was again posing for the kata and at the age of 65, he hadn't absorbed too much of the new style himself. That would have best been demonstrated by the younger generation, such as his son Yoshitaka, or Shigeru Egami. Funakoshi, however, was a kind of mid-point between them and the old karate of Okinawa, and 'Karate-do Kyohan' is quite an advance over his previous books. The main difference is the addition of 86 pages of kumite and self-defence techniques, including defences against, knife, sword and staff, and from a seated position. This emphasis on the practical application of karate techniques, rather than just the simple repetition of kata, showed the influence of Japanese ideas of budo (martial 'way') over the period from Funakoshi's arrival.

During the war years, Funakoshi wrote 'Karate Nyumon', and although this was translated into English in 1988 and published with new illustrations, I have never seen the original. (If anyone out there has a copy, please drop me a line c/o FAI).

Funakoshi's final book was the second edition of 'Karate-do Kyohan'. Its publication date is given as Showa 33, or 1958, so it must have come out shortly after his death in 1957. How much Funakoshi was involved in its preparation we can't be sure, as he would have been almost 90 years old, but he did write a foreword, and one thing that comes across is his despondency at the state of post-war karate. It's not easy to discern why, but his values had been developed in another age and he was now feeling out of tune with the modern world.

Had karate really deteriorated? From today's perspective it's hard to see how. Maybe in terms of 'spirit' something had been lost, and karate took a few years to get back on its feet after the devastation of the war, but there does not seem to be a significant drop in technical level. Shigeru Egami was the model for the 1958 edition of 'Kyohan' and his technique looks fine, pretty much the Shotokan we have today.

Some changes had been made from the first edition. The kata 'Taikyoku' and 'Ten-no-kata' were added and the sections on self-defence techniques were removed. There were a few pages on ippon kumite (one-point sparring) and here we can see a definite change in emphasis, with the use of the feet as major weapons, and some kicks delivered at jodan (upper) level. The transformation from Funakoshi's original Okinawan 'tode' of 1922 to Shotokan Karate had been made.

Funakoshi's books are unique in allowing us to see this process of development. This isn't so for a teacher like Choki Motobu, for example, whose karate never attained the popularity of Funakoshi's Shotokan. When Motobu died he never left an organised style behind him and so the karate shown in his books was probably at the end-point of its development. At least, it had proved right for him, and in that sense didn't need taking any further.

Choki Motobu was said - not least by Gichin Funakoshi - to be illiterate. Nonetheless, he somehow put together two books, and even if he had to dictate the material to a student, the books' sentiment and techniques seem all his.

The two books were 'Okinawan Kempo Tode-jutsu. Kumite-hen' (1926) and 'Watashi-no Tode-jutsu' (1932), both quite small volumes running to 58 and 100 pages respectively.

At that time karate practice was concentrated on kata. In contrast the study of applying techniques against an opponent in a fight (kumite) had been neglected. As Kenwa Mabuni noted, "A young man taught himself to fight independently - he had no sensei for this". So Choki Motobu was unusual among karate teachers in concentrating on kumite methods. Most of these were his own, and he had a lot of experience in brawls to give them a realistic underpinning. If you compare Motobu's books with, say, the second edition of 'Karate-do Kyohan' where attacks are made from long range, Motobu seems to operate much closer-in. His techniques are simple and effective, using the fist, elbow, knee, and low kicks, against the opponent's weak points. 'Okinawa Kempo Tode Kumite-hen' did not include any kata, but in 'Watashi-no Tode-jutsu' Motobu did demonstrate 'Naihanchi', the only kata he really seemed to practice. (Though he may have known others).

Choki Motobu's books are not very well known, but they do clarify some questions about his karate. For example, it has been suggested that he taught various techniques of Tui-te, the system of joint manipulations and locks that has recently come into fashion. This speculation is not supported by the books; in fact Motobu does not show one locking technique. He always hits, and that seems right considering his background of brawling in the 'red- light' districts of Okinawa, where experience would have taught him the benefits of simplicity and directness.

The other pioneers of Japanese karate, Kenwa Mabuni (Shito-Ryu) and Chojun Miyagi (Goju-Ryu), also wrote something on the art. Mabuni was the more prolific and wrote 'Kempo Karate-do. Sepai-no-Kenkyu' (1934) and 'Goshin Kempo Karate-do Nyumon' (with Genwa Nakasone, 1938). 'Sepai-no-Kenkyu', as its name implies, was a study of 'Sepai' kata. Mabuni demonstrated the kata himself and then showed its applications with Yasuhiro Konishi. This was probably the first book to analyse kata in this way, and it also contained the first publication of the intriguing old manuscript 'Bubishi'. Chojun Miyagi didn't put down too much on paper, but in 1934 he did write his well-known essay 'Karate-do Gaisetsu'.

All of the aforementioned books were written by Okinawan teachers who had come to Japan. Japanese karate-ka were still learning the art and few had the background to put together a book. One exception was Nisaburo Miki who, along with Mizuho Takada, wrote 'Kempo Gaisetsu' in 1930. Miki had joined the Tokyo University Karate Club in 1928, and a year or so later he had made the trip to Okinawa which resulted in 'Kempo Gaisetsu'.

Miki was in Okinawa for only two to three months (?) but he was able to visit some of the top karate experts, and did some good work, bringing back several kata which were then practised little (if at all) in Japan; kata such as 'Passai-Sho', 'Chinte' and 'Gojushiho'. These were included in his book, as well as other variations such as 'Yabu-no-Gojushiho' (the Gojushiho of Master Kentsu Yabu), 'Kyan-no-Passai' (the Passai of Master Chotoku Kyan), and Oshiro-no-Seisan (the Seisan of Master Oshiro). This is quite important as Miki and Takada's book is the only contemporary documentation we have of these kata. Also included were three bo (staff) forms - the first treatment in print of Okinawan kobudo (weaponry) - and a description of the various items of training equipment then in use.

The only criticism that could be levelled against 'Kempo Gaisetsu' - as in Gichin Funakoshi's 'Ryukyu Kempo Tode' - is that drawings are used rather than photographs, and sometimes there are only a few of those for each kata.

In my opinion, the best of all the pre-war books was Genwa Nakasone's 'Karate-do Taikan', published in 1938. This view is shared by two of today's leading karate historians: Shingo Ohgami describes it as "legendary", and for Pat McCarthy it's "the book of the era". It also has a rarity value as Ohgami Sensei believes the print-run for the original edition was only 100 to 200 copies. This put the book beyond the reach of most enthusiasts, but fortunately a facsimile reprint was published in 1992 and this wonderful book became more generally available.

'Karate-do Taikan' was put together by Nakasone who, although not a karate expert himself, was eager to preserve Okinawan culture and influential enough to bring together several top karate-ka for the book. The sensei (teachers) and their contributions were:

In each case the detailed descriptions were illustrated by drawings, but there was also an extensive photographic section showing excerpts from the kata. Together with illustrations of the manuscripts for Itosu's 'Ten Precepts', and Hanashiro's 'Karate Kumite', these make 'Karate-do Taikan' a work of great historical importance. This is a beautiful book.

Nothing of this quality was to be published for many years, and during the 1940s and early 1950s, few books came out. First there was a war, and after that the Japanese karate world needed a few years to pull itself together. From the mid-1950s, several books were published and although they were usually small, rather limited works, those written by veteran masters such as Kanken Toyama (1888-1966) and Yasuhiro Konishi (1893-1983) contained a lot of interesting material.

Since the 1960s the books have come in a flood, too many anyway to cover here. Some ones worth mentioning are: 'Ryukyu Kobudo Taikan' (1964) by Shinken Taira, the leading teacher of Okinawan weaponry; 'Karate-do' in two books (kata and kihon kumite) by Wado-Ryu founder Hironori Ohtsuka; the two-volume 'Karate-do Shogi' (1977) by Hoshu Ikeda, which contains some nice historical material; 'Karate-do To Ryukyu Kobudo' by Katsumi Murakami (1973); a history book, 'Karate-do-no-Ayumi' (1984) by Tetsuhiro Hokama; 'Karate-no-Rekishi' (1987) by Tokumasu Miyagi, which includes an excellent karate bibliography; Shosin Nagamine's book on past masters 'Okinawa-no-Karate Sumo Meijin Den' (1986) - and numerous technical books, many of which are superbly produced. One nice work was Ryusho Sagakami's comprehensive book of kata 'Karate-do Kata Taikan' (1978). This shows 38 kata, all illustrated in great detail, and it is something of a mystery why it has never been published in English.

One other book which must have a mention is the amazing 'Okinawa Karate-do: Sono Rekishi To Gihon', by Kanei Uechi and Shigeru Takamiyagi, put out by the Uechi-Ryu group in Okinawa in 1977. This "fantastic book" (Shingo Ohgami), which weighs almost 11 lbs. and runs to a total of over 1,300 pages, is actually composed of three separate parts. The first, which is a technical explanation of Uechi-Ryu, includes Master Kanei Uechi demonstrating the three main kata of the style. This section goes up to page 388 and then, when page numbering starts again, from pages one to 663 there is Shigeru Takamiyagi's history of Uechi-Ryu. Though much new material has since become available (especially on the style's roots in Fukien Province in China), Takamiyagi did a great job here. It's a real pity that this material has not been translated and published in English. The third part of the book, and probably just as important as the two others, is a directory of Okinawan teachers and their styles and association. Incidentally, this section has been raided for material by several authors, usually without acknowledgment.

End of Part One (See part 2 of the article.)

Copyright Graham Noble. All rights reserved.


Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.