Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.

The following article (the second of three parts) originally appeared in Dragon Times, Issue No. 4 (pages 6 - 9) and is reprinted here with the permission of the author, Graham Noble. Photographs have been omitted. Copyright Graham Noble. All rights reserved.

See parts I and III of the article.


Master Funakoshi's Karate
The History and Development of the Empty Hand Art
Part II

by Graham Noble


If you look through karate histories you will often read that Gichin Funakoshi combined two styles of karate, Shorin and Shorei, to form his own system. This has been repeated so many times that it is almost established as a historical fact -- but it is not really correct. The first recorded use of the terms Shorin and Shorei was by Ankoh Itosu in his "Ten Teachings" of 1908. Itosu wrote: "In olden times two styles of karate, called Shorin and Shorei, came from China. We consider that both have distinct advantages and should not be altered or combined." The origins of the terms are unclear but it's a good guess that Shorin refers to the Shaolin Monastery and its style of boxing. ("Shorin" is the Japanese pronunciation of Shaolin). Shaolin ch'uan had been famous for centuries and no doubt something of this fame had spread to Okinawa, which had strong links with China. Even so, Itosu could only have been generally aware of Shaolin because he used an incorrect character in writing the name.

"Shorei" is more problematical. Some writers have stated that this refers to a temple in China, but this is not backed up by any research. As far as we know there is no mention of a Shorei temple anywhere in the literature of Chinese boxing. I am inclined to accept Kenji Tokitsu's theory that "Shorei" was originally a mispronunciation of "Shorin" which then became identified with a certain style of karate. Ankoh Itosu did not give any details or description of the two schools of karate but it is generally agreed that Shorin referred to the style practised in Shuri (Shuri-te), and Shorei to the style of Naha (Naha-te). Shuri-te was developed into the modern Okinawan Shorin-ryu styles, and Naha-te evolved into Goju-ryu. Fourteen years or so after Itosu wrote his precepts Gichin Funakoshi supplied a definition of Shorin and Shorei in his book "Ryukyu Kempo Karate." He wrote:

"We have many ryu-gi (schools) in Okinawa under the direction of many different teachers, but basically there are only two ryu. They are Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu. Shorei-ryu is supposed to be fitted for the bigger man while Shorin-ryu suits the smaller, lighter man. Each of these ryu has its strengths and weaknesses, but fundamentally Shorei-ryu's fault is its lack of mobility, and Shorin-ryu, though it is light and fast, lacks the power of Shorei-ryu. Those who study Karate must be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of each style."

Some experts doubt the validity of Funakoshi's division but as a description of two tendencies in karate it seems fair enough. However, Funakoshi then applied his classification to each of the 15 kata he brought to Japan. They were split as follows, (the modern Shotokan names are given in brackets):

Shorin: The 5 "Pinan" ("Heian"), " Kushanku" ("Kankudai"), and "Passai" ("Bassai").

Shorei: The 3 "Naihanchi" ("Tekki"), "Seisan" ("Hangetsu"), "Wanshu" ("Empi"), "Chinto" ("Gankaku"), "Jitte", and "Jion."

Funakoshi's general idea can be seen. Kata with varied technique and covering a wide area, such as "Kushanku" were classified as Shorin. Those with more forceful movements, such as "Seisan" and "Jitte" were then described as Shorei. Even so it is difficult to see why "Passai" and "Wanshu" say, should be put in opposite categories. Basically, the classification was arbitrary and Funakoshi himself sometimes seems to have been confused. For example, the classification of "Chinto" seems odd since it is a kata characterized by mobility and balance, and in his second book (1925) Funakoshi reclassified it as Shorin. (Or maybe it was just a misprint in the first book).

The important point is that Funakoshi's categorization did not follow the usual one of equating Shorin-ryu with Shuri-te and Shorei-ryu with Naha-te. Funakoshi never studied Naha-te and in fact all the 15 kata he classified came from Shuri-te. Thus he never, as has often been asserted, combined two styles of karate in creating his own method. If anyone did that it was Kenwa Mabuni who taught all the kata of both Shuri-te ad Naha-te in his Shito-ryu.

Although a few kata fit clearly into Funakoshi' categorization -- Goju's "Sanchin" and "Seiunchin" would be Shorei, and "Chinto" and "Kushanku" Shorin -- I'm not sure it means a great deal today, and it can be misleading. It is probably best taken as a description of the two main tendencies in karate training -- a stress on power, or on speed and mobility. Funakoshi's advice would then be, not to over-rely on one particular aspect, but to combine the best elements of each approach.

Gichin Funakoshi was a man of moderate behaviour, someone who made few enemies. Yet there were people he found it difficult to get along with, Choki Motobu for example. I don't know if there was a particular reason for this, but basically Funakoshi and Motobu were contrasting personalities with different views of what karate was and how it should be practised. Funakoshi believed in correct behaviour and was interested in the study of literature. Motobu, although he came from Okinawa's upper classes was rough natured and (possibly) illiterate. And where Funakoshi was always striving to make karate a "Do" with Motobu it remained essentially a jutsu. The Motobus were a high ranking family in Okinawa but Motobu's tastes were those of the lower orders. He loved to fight and as a youth it was his ambition to become the strongest man on the island. A lot of his time was spent in the red light district picking fights and consorting with prostitutes.

Choki Motobu studied karate with three main experts: Ankoh Itosu, Kosaku Matsumora, and Sakuma. His favourite kata was "Naihanchi" (Shodan) and since this used to be the first kata taught by Itosu it suggests that Motobu did not get very far into Itosu's Shuri-te. The same may apply to Matsumora and Sakuma. I get the impression that Motobu would try and get what he could from these teachers but he was not the kind of person to remain a faithful student for years, learning one kata after another. His primary interest was the effectiveness of karate technique and his aim was to learn whatever would make him a stronger fighter. This is not to say that he lacked application or intelligence because in many respects his karate was more practical and advanced than his contemporaries. He thought a great deal about fighting techniques and trained daily; to a large degree he was a self-made karateman.

One of Choki Motobu's claims to fame was that he once beat a boxer in a challenge match. The story of that bout has been told in an earlier issue of F.A.I., and without going into the whys and wherefores Motobu showed the effectiveness of his style at the age of fifty. His main strength was in his fast hand techniques but he was adept also at delivering direct kicks to the opponent's knees and groin during fighting. Motobu would often restrain the opponent's hands, or control his body when delivering counterattacks, and all in all his style provided an effective method of self defence. He can now be seen as one of the early pioneers of kumite. Gichin Funakoshi is often given the credit for introducing kumite training to karate, sometime in the 1920s, yet in 1926 Motobu published a book entitled "Ryukyu Kempo Karatejutsu, Kumitehen" and the study of kumite -- that is, the application of techniques against an opponent -- had formed the basis of his style for many years previously.

Unlike Gichin Funakoshi he was not a kata enthusiast and his uncompromising emphasis on application led him to criticise Funakoshi's karate. There is a story in "Nihon Budo Taikei" (a Japanese encyclopaedia of Budo) about a meeting between the two men at Yasuhiro Konishi's dojo in 1929. Hironori Ohtsuka was also present. Motobu had with him a strong young 4th dan judoka, and no doubt in an attempt to put Funakoshi down, he arranged a little test in which the judoka took a firm hold on his (Funakoshi's) collar and sleeve. "Now," he said to Funakoshi, "you are so proud of your basic kata, show me what value they have in this situation. Do what you wish to escape."

As Kenji Tokitsu (who translated this account for the French magazine "Bushido") observed, this was a somewhat ridiculous demonstration since it opposed a small, sixty year old karate teacher against a bigger, stronger, and younger judoka. Moreover, it immediately put Funakoshi at a disadvantage by allowing the judoka to take hold at the outset. To his credit, Funakoshi went ahead and tried to disengage himself with soto-uke and uchi-uke (outside and inside forearm blocks). This had no effect and he was lifted up and thrown against the wall of the dojo. Motobu then encouraged Ohtsuka to try. Ohtsuka had trained in jujutsu from his youth and was able to throw the judoka without too much difficulty.

That is the story. How much truth there is in it I have no idea, but it doesn't show Motobu in too good a light. And maybe we shouldn't feel too sorry for Funakoshi, because in a way he had the last laugh. His teachings formed the basis of one of the major modern karate styles and his followers today number in the tens of thousands, all over the world. In contrast when Motobu returned to Okinawa in 1939 his Japanese group collapsed. When he died a few years later he left almost nothing behind him.

Choki Motobu was generally correct in saying that Funakoshi's original (1920s) style overemphasized kata and neglected kumite, although since kumite development was then in its infancy that was probably true of most karate training of the period. However, by the next decade, with an influx of fresh blood and new training methods this imbalance was largely corrected. Motobu had his own, strongly reasoned views, but he failed to appreciate the underlying strengths of Funakoshi's karate or its appeal to many people. Like Funakoshi, Motobu once had a karate club at Waseda University. However, the students found his training methods -- work on kumite techniques and repetition of "Naihanchi" kata -- too limited and the club lasted only two or three years. Shotokan has always been able to keep the three elements of karate training -- kihon, kata, and kumite -- in balance and I think there must have been something in Funakoshi's teaching that led to its successful growth. Although essentially conservative its structure was such that it was able to incorporate new developments in the art and spread worldwide. In contrast, although Motobu had many valuable insights his legacy is limited to a few techniques and influences in other styles. My impression is that Choki Motobu's style was essentially a personal way of using karate techniques, something he had developed over the years and which arose out of his own unique experience and no-nonsense approach to the art. This personal character enabled him to apply techniques in a natural forceful way in combat, but at the same time made it difficult for him to pass on a "system" to pupils -- who anyway may have lacked his temperament, ability, and particular mind for martial arts. Motobu is in many ways an attractive figure, but judged historically Gichin Funakoshi's style showed the greater potential for development, and in terms of popularity soon outstripped the Motobu school.

I believe Funakoshi had some kind of disagreement too with Kanken Toyama when Toyama began teaching in Tokyo, though I have no details on this. With the founder of Shito-ryu, Kenwa Mabuni however, I imagine he was on good terms. In many ways the two men thought alike. Even if there had been any potential for disagreement Mabuni lived some distance away in Osaka so the two pursued their separate paths. Kenwa Mabuni was born in 1889 in Shuri, Okinawa. He was a weak child but he was inspired to become strong by stories of his ancestor Keiyu Oshiro, who had been a famous warrior many generations back.

Mabuni began karate training with Shuri-te's Ankoh Itosu at the age of 13, and later, when he was 20 he was introduced by his friend Chojun Miyagi to Naha-te's Kanryo Higaonna. After he graduated from school and finished his national service, Mabuni joined the Police Force and eventually became a police inspector. All this time he continued his study of martial arts and the travelling involved in his police work allowed him to study with other experts such as Aragaki and the kobudo weapons experts Tawada and Soeishi. Mabuni Sensei often used to say that his karate training had been useful in his work as a policeman, but unfortunately we don't seem to have any examples of this. No doubt it gave him confidence in carrying out his duties and helped in restraining or arresting suspects.

Kenwa Mabuni's son Kenei wrote, "In his younger days many people would challenge my father to 'kake-dameshi' (challenge match, or exchange of techniques) after they heard that he was practicing te. He accepted these challenges and would choose a quiet corner of the town for the match. Each contestant would bring a second. There were no special dojo like there are today; we used to train and fight on open ground. There was no street lighting so after dark we used to fight the challenge matches by the light of lanterns. In this dim light the contestants fought, and then after a period the seconds would intervene and stop the fight. They would then declare who was the winner and who needed more training. Such challenges were often made to my father, and he frequently acted as a second at others. He pointed out though that people might easily get a wrong impression from these events."

Kenwa Mabuni recalled, "A young man taught himself to fight independently -- he had no sensei for this. He attempted to prove himself by challenging many famous sensei. Of course these sensei all refused his challenge. So he returned home feeling proud that even famous teachers were afraid of him. He did not understand that they refused for his sake!"

Mabuni taught karate in his garden and also at the Okinawa Police School and Okinawa School for Fishing. He was also one of the karate experts involved with the Okinawa Karate Kenkyukai (Karate Study Group), established in 1918, and the Okinawa Karate Club, a few years later.

In 1928 Mabuni Sensei moved to Japan and settled in Osaka. Presumably his wish to devote his time to budo -- he once wrote a poem containing the line "Nothing in my mind, except to row to the Island of Bu" -- could not be satisfied in Okinawa and this was why he moved to Japan with its long, deep tradition of martial arts. He may also have been encouraged by judo founder, Jigoro Kano. In 1927 there was a conference in Okinawa for judo yudansha (black belt holders), attended by Kano. Mabuni and Chojun Miyagi demonstrated and explained the kata of karate, and afterwards Kano told them how he had enjoyed their performance. He expressed the opinion that such an excellent budo should be spread throughout Japan. Kenei Mabuni believed that it was this conversation which persuaded his father to make the move to the Japanese mainland.

He established his dojo at Nishinari in Osaka and later named his style Shito-ryu. In choosing this name Mabuni commemorated his two teachers Itosu and Higaonna. The characters for Itosu's name can also be read Shi-shu and for Higaonna's, To-on-na, so Mabuni took the first character of each name to give "Shi-to."

I have always liked the appearance of Kenwa Mabuni's kata; of all the experts of that time he seems to me to have the best style. His techniques are neither too long nor too short, and although his form is always correct, at the same time it remains easy and natural, without the exaggerated attention to form we often see today.

People like Hironori Ohtsuka and Yasuhiro Konishi regarded Mabuni as exceptionally knowledgeable in kata. He certainly knew a very large number of kata and could demonstrate them in good form and in this respect he may have been the leading kata expert of the day. He was perhaps unique in teaching the full range of both Shuri and Naha kata. The Shuri kata he could have learned direct from Itosu. As for the Naha-te kata, he certainly studied with Kanryo Higaonna but I think a lot of instruction must have come from his friend and senior Chojun Miyagi. Some Goju-ryu sensei have said that Mabuni did not complete the full Naha-te system with Higaonna (perhaps because of periods of ill health), but the real give away is that Mabuni's kata follow so closely the Miyagi style. (The kata of Higaonna's other senior student Chuhatsu Kyoda show certain differences). Mabuni also taught kata, such as "Tensho," which we know were created by Miyagi.

What is clear is that Mabuni Sensei had a love of karate technique. Not only did he fully research Shuri-te and Naha-te but he also trained in Kobudo (traditional or old budo) and studied the te of Master Aragaki, an expert about whom we know almost nothing except that he taught three kata "Niseishi" ("Nijushiho"), "Sochin," and "Unsu". I am not sure about this but it may have been through Mabuni that these kata entered the mainstream of modern karate. That is certainly the case with the "Nipaipo" kata now sometimes seen at karate tournaments. (It is the special kata of Wuko Womens' World Kata Champion Mie Nakayama). Although this is now modified from its original Chinese form, Mabuni learned this kata from the White Crane expert Go Ken-kin, a Chinese who made his living as a tea trader in Naha.

Mabuni must have passed on his love of kata to his students because study of kata remains something of a speciality in today's Shito-ryu dojo. Chojiro Tani in his work "Tani-ha Shito-ryu Mokuroku no-Kata" lists 45 kata in his school, and Ryusho Sakagami in "Karate-do Kata Taikan" (1977) details a selection (not all his kata are included) of 38. Sakagami in fact has brought in more traditional kata such as "Matsumura Passai" and "Ishimine Passai" to further enlarge his teaching. Mabuni sensei died in 1952. His students included his son Kenei, Manzo Iwata, Kosei Kokuba, Ryusho Sakagami, Chojiro Tani, Ken Sakeo, Kangei Uechi, Takeshi Ueno, Ryusei Tomoyose, Teishin Tsujikawa and Muneomi Sawayama.

Hironori Ohtsuka, the founder of Wado-ryu, was not exactly a student of Mabuni, but he did get some instruction from him. This was mostly in the "Pinan" kata, and the Wado-ryu and Shito-ryu "Pinan" are quite similar. I think Ohtsuka also learned something from Choki Motobu since there are similarities o Motobu's style in certain Wado hand positions and blocking techniques. Some of the Wado-ryu "Naihanchi" kata is said to come from Motobu although going by photographs, the two versions of the kata are not identical.

However, by far the larger part of Ohtsuka's karate instruction came from Gichin Funakoshi. He was one of Funakoshi's first students, back in 1922, and acted as one of his assistant instructors throughout the 1920s. Ohtsuka had been aware of karate for some time and planned to visit Okinawa to research the art when he heard of Gichin Funakoshi's demonstration of June 1922. He looked up Funakoshi at the Meisojuku and found him "Surprisingly open and frank, innocent even." Ohtsuka was fascinated by Funakoshi's description of karate and resolved to master the art. Funakoshi explained that he taught 15 kata of karate and that it would take someone 5 years to learn them. However, he added, a person with previous martial arts experience could expect to learn the kata in a year and a half.

That "year and a half" sounds a little odd, considering that Funakoshi always said kata was a lifelong study, and once wrote that he had spent 10 years working on the three "Naihanchi." Probably he meant that the kata could be learned (but not mastered) within that timescale. He may also have realised that the pace of learning would have to be speeded up in Japan. Whatever the reason, it seems that Ohtsuka did learn the kata within a couple of years and became an important assistant to Funakoshi as the latter expanded his teaching.

Hironori Ohtsuka was 30 years old when he began studying karate. That was rather a late start but he was able to pick the art up quickly because he himself was an expert in martial arts; only a year before he had received his teaching licence in Shindo Yoshin-ryu Jujutsu, an art he had begun studying at 13 under Tatsusaburo Nakayama.

Ohtsuka's first couple of years with Funakoshi would have been spent in learning the karate kata but once he gained a measure of proficiency in the art he began to look a little deeper. Initially he had seen something in karate -- a comprehensive system of striking and blocking -- that was generally lacking in Japanese budo, but inevitably his experience in those budo led him to think of ways in which karate technique might be developed or enhanced. He had an independent mind and a long-standing ambition to make his living as a martial arts instructor, so a parting of the ways with Funakoshi was always in the cards. Yasuhiro Konishi remembered an occasion at the Meisojuku when Funakoshi remonstrated with Ohtsuka in front of the students for introducing certain jujutsu elements into the training. From an early point too Ohtsuka began to think of ways of introducing more kumite into the art, and especially something like the randori (freeplay) of judo. Ohtsuka had probably worked out the larger part of his ideas by the late '20s but the split with Funakoshi didn't occur until 1930/31. In 1934 his teaching was recognized as a separate karate style ("The Dai Nippon Karate-do Shinko Club," according to "Wado World--magazine"), although the name "Wadoryu" was not registered with the Butokukai until 1939.

Actually, I'm not too sure on the exact dates of the Funakoshi/Ohtsuka split. It may not have been as abrupt as we tend to think, and the two men seemed to remain on speaking terms. There are many photographs of Ohtsuka demonstrating techniques in Funakoshi's 1935 edition of "Kyohan" (although of course we don't know when these were taken) and Ohtsuka is in a group photograph of karate experts taken at Funakoshi's house, dated 1935.

Mitsusuke Harada had heard stories that it was actually Yoshitaka Funakoshi who had expelled Ohtsuka from the Shotokan group. On a recent (1987) trip to Japan he asked about this and was told the background information. It seems that Hironori Ohtsuka, while within Funakoshi's group, was always trying to go his own way and introduce his own ideas to the teaching. This was not appreciated by many of Funakoshi's followers. Ohtsuka did break away, but the break was not clean. Gichin Funakoshi himself would not expel Ohtsuka, mainly because he did not want to cause any unpleasantness. If he met Ohtsuka he would still greet him and talk to him.

Unfortunately, this only built up more resentment among Funakoshi's followers, and Genshin Hironishi told Yoshitaka that for the good of the Shotokan group Ohtsuka should be expelled. Thus it was that Yoshitaka forced Ohtsuka out. I believe this may have been the time that Yoshitaka replaced Ohtsuka as instructor at Waseda Karate Club. Harada Sensei explained to me that he had thought deeply about this, and he stressed that Yoshitaka did this, not because of any personal animosity towards Hironori Ohtsuka, but because it had to be done to preserve group unity. Harada said that he himself realised the problems of just such a situation when a split occurred in his own Shotokai organization -- and a similar clean break had to be made.

Ohtsuka kept the kata he had learned from Gichin Funakoshi but made certain changes. The "Pinan" showed Mabuni's influence and Ohtsuka added his own ideas to all the kata. For example the chudan (middle area level) inside and knife-hand blocks of Funakoshi's kata appear as jodan (upper-level) blocks in the Wado forms. The Wado-ryu kata differ from the modern Shotokan forms in having a lighter, less forceful appearance. In some respects the techniques of the kata are quite close to Funakoshi's original (early 1920s) method, but I think that most of the distinctive, economical character of the Wado forms must have come from Ohtsuka. He believed in fast, economical movements which avoid a direct clash of forces. There is a story that following a demonstration around 1924/5 Ohtsuka's reputation began to exceed Funakoshi's at least in some quarters. If true this can partly be explained by the age difference -- Funakoshi would have been almost sixty and partly because Ohtsuka showed a style of movement that other Japanese experts could appreciate. Such opinions are subjective and, for what it's worth, my own view is different. Going from photographs of the two men I prefer Funakoshi's kata to Ohtsuka's.

Although "Pinan," "Naihanchi" and the other traditional kata were transmitted to Ohtsuka, his own ideas are better represented by the set of kihon kumite techniques he created. These could be considered the "kata" of Wado-ryu in fact. Ohtsuka originally devised 24 of these kumite forms but over the years this was whittled down to the 10 now practiced. In their principles of distancing, timing, taisabaki (body evasion), and simultaneous parry and counter, they show Ohtsuka's approach clearly: flexibility, technique, and body movement rather than a reliance of physical force. Ohtsuka himself was of slim build and this was probably one reason why he always placed technique above force

A while ago, when I had the chance to talk to Tatsuo Suzuki he told me of a shiai (contest) he remembered from years ago. It was between Wado-ryu and a group of Tatsuo Yamada students. Yamada was a tough-guy type of karate teacher who stressed body conditioning and hard technique. As the two groups faced each other the Yamada students took off their gi jackets to reveal powerful, muscular torsos. When the Wado fighters saw this they grew apprehensive. Yet as the first round of matches progressed one Yamada student after another was knocked down or knocked out. (These were the old days of Kokan-geiko). When the second round of fights was due to begin none of the Yamada group came forward.

Copyright Graham Noble. All rights reserved.


Hawaii Karate Seinenkai.