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Japanese Martial Art - Info or Lie?
Original text by Mr. Bernard Bordas
translated by: Michel Grandmont
Juny 6, 2000 © Iron Magazine Online L.L.C.
During my first martial art study visit in Japan in 1990, while I was still at Narita's airport, having been out of the plane for only a few minutes, I had a very revealing conversation with the officer in charge of visas and passports control:
-"Good day, what is the goal of your visit in Japan?"
-"I am here to study Japanese martial arts..."
-"Which Japanese martial arts?"
-"Karate is not a martial art, more over, it is not Japanese. Jujutsu and kenjutsu are Japanese martial arts, but not karate."
-"But what is karate then?"
-"A combat sport."
With these words, he handed me back my passport and, looking at me in a condescending way, wished me a good stay and good luck in my study of "Japanese martial arts".
A moment like this one stays imprinted in your mind forever. That was 10 years ago and I still remember it like it was yesterday.
I then felt growing in my mind something akin to the feeling of having been mystified for years. And, even while that expression had not yet been invented by the team known as "Les guignols de l'info" (translates loosely into "the information clowns", it is a french humor group), I could have then proclaimed, right in the middle of the airport : "But then, I have been misled without my own free will's knowledge!" (Loose translation of a popular misspelling joke from "Les guignols de l'info").
Because then again, if after 12 years of intense karate practice, (As champion of both kata and combat divisions) I had turned my attention to contact sports (American and English boxing), it was to further my martial research and knowledge (Even though it was only as a sport back then).
If I had abandonned the practice of Yoseikan Budo a few years before, after more than fifteen years of assiduous study, it was because this martial art was turning itself towards the practice of sporty competition.
So, if I had actively devoted myself to the study of master Hatsumi's Bujinkan kobujutsu and was in Japan, it was because my non-stop research and sincere practice had led me there.
So I wasn't overly surprised and the officer from Narita's airport had only confirmed my suspicions that Japanese martial arts had never left Japan.
All in all, that was good news because, if I had just been through 18 hours of plane flight, it was well and truly in search of the true martial art, the one used by the battlefield combatants and not the ring combat sport where we're nothing more than a fake gladiator of fortune who is there to fatten the betters who are screaming at the top of their lungs all around us, amidst the smoke and alcoholic vapors, in between two rooster or dog fights.
What then is karate?
Without taking into account the fact that it was offered to American soldiers occupying Japan as a "Japanese martial art", which tells a lot about the "gift", What are the historical facts?
What is a martial art? "A combat art destined for people who trade is to fight. Training consists of learning the most effective techniques usable in a battle, which has no other issue than life or death. The teachings must form warriors capable of efficiently using a weapon to protect themselves as well as their clan and lord."
This martial art is taught by a master certified by the ryu (hanshi, menkyo, Menkyo kaiden, etc.)
The Ryu is composed of one or many Jutsu, in other words we say that the school teaches techniques for one or many weapons. For example:
-Kurama ryu ken jutsu (sword technique of the Kurama school)
-Hyoto Nitten ichi ryu ken jutsu (sword technique of the Hyoto school using two swords)
-Jikishin kage ryu ken jutsu (sword technique of the Jikishin school)
-Jikishin kage ryu naginata jutsu (naginata technique of the Jikishin school)
-Yo ryu ho jutsu (firearms shooting technique of the Yo school)
-Takagi yoshin ryu jutaijutsu ("yawara" (yoshin) style hand-to-hand technique of the Takagi school)
-Kukishinden ryu yoroi kumiuchi (armor wearing hand-to-hand combat technique as taught by the Kumano (Kuki) sea privateers)
-Katori shinto ryu ken jutsu (sword technique following the shinto teachings of the Katori school).
However, the word "karate" (empty hand), as a traditional Japanese martial art (Jutsu), means nothing.
We know that the Japanese people didn't want to give a traditional school (ryu) belonging to their sacred heritage to the Americans.
More over, the word "karate" as we know it today (empty hand) dates back only to 1936, that is to say 69 years after the interdiction of martial arts teaching in Japan, which happened at the end of feudalism and at the dissolution of the varying clans Meiji era).
Is it a Do? Hard to believe when we look at the competitive practice, publicity and trade surrounding this sport.
More over, the Do have been created from the traditional Japanese Jutsu during a peace period while, at the same time, adding an inward dimension that came from Zen Buddhism.
The Do are relatively recent: Kodokan Judo coming from various Jujutsu schools in 1882 with Jigoro Kano, Kendo coming from various Kenjutsu schools in 1900 with Abe Tate, Aikido coming from Jujutsu, Aikijutsu and Kenjutsu in 1931 with Morihei Ueshiba.
Those Do transformed Jutsu, because they were now obsolete, followed the way opened by Kyujutsu (bow shooting) when it transformed in a Do (way of inner perfection) during the XVII:th century after firearms were introduced to Japan, thus making the study of bow shooting insignificant to the battlefield as a decisive effect.
Gichin Funakoshi, native from Okinawa (a Japanese colony since 1879), had called the Chinese style of empty hand combat he had brought to Japan in 1922 (he was then 54 years-old), the Ryu Kyu Tode jutsu, meaning: "The Ryu Kyu islands' Tang's hand technique".
It is essential to note that "Tode jutsu" can also be read as "karate jutsu". The Okinawa people, being from a Chinese culture, trained in this art (coming from China) wearing nothing but a loincloth or short pants, bare chested, and most often outside (on the beach for example) like we can see on the era's documents like the "Bubishi".
It is a historically known fact that the Ryu Kyu islands, vassal to China, received immigrants from that land officially and on a regular basis. From early in 1392, in the region of Naha (the principal city of the island of Okinawa), in the village of Kume, an important group of immigrants called the"36 families"practiced a combat art named "Nahate" (the hand of Naha).
During five centuries this art was reserved to the inhabitants of the village of Kume. Around 1830, the techniques were shown to the inhabitants of nearby villages.
Japan officially discovered this art coming from their far away colony in the spring of 1922, when Gishin Funakoshi was sent to Tokyo to present the "Okinawan Kenpo" (the boxing practiced on the island of Okinawa) to the Japanese during the national exposition of physical education.
The story of this "boxing from far away colonies" could have stopped there if it hadn't been for the fact that a representative of the sports ministry, who happened to be there, had asked Gishin Funakoshi to prolong his stay in Japan. This person without whom karate would have remained unknown was no less than Gigoro Kano, Judo's inventor.
The following May 17th, Gishin Funakoshi offered a demonstration of his art at the Kodokan (recently opened), the famous "temple" of Judo. For this special occasion he had created, for both himself and his assistant, Shinkin Gimma, two "karategi", which were both lighter and more flexible, so better adapted, to the practice of Okinawan Kenpo than the already existing Judogi (Judo kimono).
Noting the success of his demonstration, Gishin Funakoshi decided to stay in Japan to teach his art, for which he abandoned everything: his job as a teacher in Okinawa, his wife and his kids. At 53 years old, he found a job as janitor in a pension for Okinawan immigrants (Meisei juku) and obtained permission to use the conference room (35 square meters) as a place to teach his art.
Karate was on its way and, little by little, the way to teach it is copied on the way to teach the Budo, which came from the Bujutsu and therefore from the Japanese warrior tradition.
The white kimono of the noble Japanese warrior caste replaced the short or loincloth of the Okinawan peasant. The dojo's way of training with all its rituals (coming from Zen) was included in Karate's teaching. Karate, like any new immigrant from the colonies, is looking for an identity (remember for example the "black feet" of Europe in 1962).
However, if it is tradition in China that one and all (monk, peasant or noble) can practice the martial art (Wushu) and so aspire to perfection by practicing (Kung-fu Wushu), such is not the case in Japan.
As a matter of fact, only the privileged Buke (Bushi and Samurai) caste was permitted access to martial arts and weapon studies (Bujutsu) in Japan.
History thus proves us that Karate is not a martial art (Bujutsu), besides, it doesn't figure on the official list of "Bugei juhappan" that were to be studied by the Buke.
Therefore it is really a Chinese boxing imported from the colonies (Ryu Kyu).
Some may argue that Okinawa had been declared a Japanese colony 43 years before Funakoshi exposed the Tode to the Japanese, and therefore that the Okinawan Tode could be considered as Japanese.
To those who would say that I'd answer that they had better not make such a claim to a Japanese of pure origins, even if the origins of that Japanese person were not of the most noble descent.
Could we pretend that "Biguine" or belly dancing are French dances, that couscous is a French culinary tradition just like Nem and spring rolls under the pretence that France has invaded and annexed Algeria, some far away islands, Indochina and Tonkin?
We make an easy thing out of adoption, if we are not to say appropriation and colonization by the strength of weapons, when our military and political power permits it (I would even dare to say: when the absence of military and political power of the countries to be conquered permits it).
Why this "transformation"?
Gishin Funakoshi, who has been a student to Anko Asato and Anko Itosu (both students of Sôkon Matsumura), did not invent Karate (as G.Kano had invented Judo from many schools of Jujutsu), but created his own style from what he had learned from his Masters (and maybe also in accordance with what the Japanese people of the era wanted, one has to eat after all...).
When he came to Japan, he presented his style as "Ryu Kyu Kenpo Karate", therefore as a boxing style (Kenpo) of Chinese origins (Karate = Tang's hand) which came from the far away colonies of Ryu Kyu (Okinawa is situated at close to 1700km from Tokyo).
So, it was at first an "exotic" style with its own identity as well as its own cultural past, which was offered to the Japanese public. After two years spent in Japan, Funakoshi described the style he was teaching as "Renkan goshin karate jutsu", which means: "An energetic strengthening and a self-defense technique by the practice of the Tang's hand".
But such an attachment to this cultural identity becomes a bulk when an ultra nationalist wind sweeps the country in the 30's, in a Japan that is getting ready to invade China again.
Funakoshi, who is an immigrant of Chinese cultural origin and then 62 years old, chooses to change the Kara (Tang, China) ideogram for Kara (Void, emptiness of Zen Buddhism).
In 1935, he publishes a book titled "Karatedo kyokan" (a text on the teachings of Karatedo). By adding "Do" to Karate, Funakoshi urges to search for inner perfection by the practice of empty hand combat. More over, by stating that his art is a Do, he places it at the same level as the other Do of Japanese origin. From there, Karate will be "Japanised".
More over, the Karate that was developing at that time got more and more violent and aggressive. Assaults that were more or less of a sporty nature was frequent. Funakoshi then realizes that he is losing control over the art, which he imported from Okinawa. The practitioners don't respect the "Kyokun" anymore, which are the safeguards of its practice.
At the age of 70 years old, in 1938, Funakoshi opens a Dojo which he will name Shotokan (the name under which he used to write), with the donations from his students. 7 years later (March 1945), this Dojo shall be destroyed by a bombardment of the American aviation on Tokyo.
We can now better understand how this Chinese boxing, which came from the Ryu Kyu islands got assimilated as a Japanese Do.
In it's pure form, Do is not looking for efficiency in a fight since there is no opponent but oneself.
This is a better status for Karate, because if the authentic Budo came from the Bujutsu which were reserved to the warrior caste, and which were oriented towards efficiency on the battlefield, such is not the case with Karate.
The Bujutsu were created to defend the territories and so, with warlike assaults in mind, wearing weapons and armor. No warrior would have the stupid idea of going on a battlefield wearing nothing but shorts and being bare-chested and barefoot, while knowing that thousands of warriors wearing armors and being armed to the teeth are about to charge while slashing, slicing and dicing anything within their reach.
In his excellent book entitled "histoire du karate-do" (history of karate-do), Kenji Tokitsu (7th Dan in Karate) quotes the "wu-bei-zhi" (encyclopedic treatise on war and the arts of combat), which was published in China under the Ming dinasty (1621). This quote is very revealing:
"The art of empty-handed combat has no use in battle, but is the foundation of every weapon training. It is a point of view, which we must keep in mind to ponder the evolution of Chinese martial arts. Most empty-handed techniques were developed with efficient weapon use in mind. They were developed by themselves only when the use of armed battles disappeared.
The logic of evolution is the same in Japanese martial arts (Bujutsu). For example, Jujutsu, the empty-handed combat technique, developed as a complement to the sword art..."
Empty-handed combat had it's very specific purpose: When you accidentally find yourself unarmed on a battlefield (broken weapon, etc.), you must disarm the opponent who is attacking you and turn his own weapon against him (mutodori) and thus keep on fighting with this borrowed weapon.
When on a mission of keeping watch or one of body-guarding in a sacred place (temple, imperial apartments, etc.) one must be able to restrain an opponent without killing him and without any bloodshed (thus without the use of your weapon).
Hand-to-hand combat techniques were created with that very specific kind of event in mind, (Yawara, Taijutsu, Kumiuchi, Kogusoku, Wajutsu, Jutaijutsu, Yoroi kumiuchi, etc.) and they had more to do with some forms of wrestling to immobilize an opponent than with ring or octagon fighting where adversaries spill their blood for a title and a lot of money.
To complement these wrestling schools, there existed schools of striking techniques of Chinese or Korean origins like Kosshi justu (fingertip striking on the nerves and tendons) or Koppo jutsu (shock-wave provoking strike which reaches the very heart of the bone).
These percussion techniques can also be used with short non-cutting weapons (folded tessen, jutte, tambo, war truncheon, etc.) as well as long weapons (bo, jo, cane, etc.), and even against multiple opponents if need be.
It is very interesting to note that in Europe, during the XV:th century, the arms master Hans Tailhoffer described in his fencing treatise of 1459, many techniques of grabbing with the free hand (the one which didn't hold any weapon) as well as techniques to unbalance the opponent or to disarm a dagger or sword-wielding adversary when you happened to be empty-handed. There is even a "backwards sacrifice" (tomoe nage) technique then named "Egyptian throw" in this study.
What should you think of this study?
If there has been a mystification, who mystified who?
Have the Japanese taken the creation of Karate as theirs while in reality its history dates back many centuries on the island of Okinawa, many millennia in China and maybe even more in India?
What is certain is that Karate has been presented to the occupational American army as a Japanese martial art even though not a single samurai could have, historically or geographically, known of its existence and even less have practiced it.
The Americans fell for it and Europe (the new American colony since the Ialta accords in 1945) has naturally followed in its wake.
If we make a quick revision of the life of the man who brought Karate to the Japanese in 1922, then known as Ryu Kyu Kenpo, then Tode and later named Karate in 1936, we can clearly see that Gishin Funakoshi never really received any reward for his efforts.
Already old and with a family, a house and a job as a civil servant in Okinawa, he has abandonned everything to find himself as a janitor in an immigrants' pension so he could teach his art in Japan.
However, he has received no title of glory, no distinction, no rank nor menkyo ni Okuden from his masters.
Only a few months after the death of the man who wanted the art he had named Karate to become a way of inner perfection, the first Japanese Karate tournaments took place.
One of his Japanese students, Hironori Otsuka, the founder of the Wado style and only Karate master of non-Okinawan origin at the time, received the distinction of national treasure when he still alive.
But he was Japanese and a descendant of the Buke caste from his mother's side. Furthermore, he had received a Menkyo from the Yoshinryu school (Jujutsu and Kenjutsu) and thus, had practiced the Bujutsu.
Today, we can say that what is now practiced in the many Karate dojo is neither a martial art (Bujutsu) nor the practice brought In Japan by Gishin Funakoshi (Okinawa's Kenpo).
If it was a martial art, Karate would be reserved to the military (Defence ministry) or, reserved for the police (Interior ministry), which is not the case.
If this art was efficient empty-handed, it would then be considered dangerous and thus forbidden to civilians, which is not the case.
If it was a Do, we would find Karatedo under the govern of the Cultural ministry, just like Yoga and Zen, as a cultural or religious practice, which is not the case.
Karate finds itself at the Sports ministry, just like boxing, wrestling, football and cycling, even though it isn't even recognized as an Olympic discipline.
It is hard to be known for what you really are, because there exists a real karate somewhere, no?
Hatsumi sensei says that the Bujutsu aren't sports, nor religions, but defense techniques which are incredibly effective since they have no other goal than that.
Why do we do karate nowadays then?
-To be effective in front of a weapon? You had better buy an automatic pistol then!
-To find the way? It is better to do Zazen in a monastery, because in the Way, we are not looking to fight, we live on compassion, non-violence and being of service.
-For health and a healthy dose of sweating between friends? It is better to ride your bike in nature than to be in a closed space with someone hitting and hurting your shins. And if you want to sweat, there are saunas and Hammans just for that.
-To build a strong body? There are weight lifting studios for that.
Why then spend time doing Karate? If we ask today's kids, they'll answer (when they are honest) "It is to do like Bruce Lee or Van Damme!".
In the end, it simply all comes down to (when we look a little into it) the old rituals of seduction or basic mammal intimidation.
The fights not being real, the risks being minimized and the appearances maximized, you have a good occasion to look good and to let yourself be manipulated by your hormones.
See it for what it is, don't be afraid or ashamed! What is missing in today's combat sports without any real contact is sincerity towards oneself.
Like Hatsumi sensei used to say: "With the habit of pretending, we lose all our efficiency in combat and we then risk being killed in a real encounter."
It's the famous saying "He who kisses too much, poorly embraces" (loose translation of a French proverb).
In the logic of things (but then again, one has to look at the truth): It is as stupid and foolish to practice a Do in the hope of being efficient in a real fight as it is to opt for a Jutsu to reach enlightenment.
Do has no other opponent than the ego and no other goal than the betterment of the inner self for a greater availability and a greater efficiency in the service of others.
The Jutsu for his part, has no other goal than efficiency in a fight to the death, or being the first to kill so as not to be killed. But such violence is inadmissible for one who is looking for the Way which, in its core, respects all forms of life and would rather sacrifice his own self rather than take other lives (killing).
In the same manner, practicing a Do or a Jutsu in the hope of winning medals, honors and/or the medias' recognition doesn't make any sense: it is both contrary to the serenity, deprivation and humility necessary to the practice of the Way (Do), and as opposed to the discretion required for military and political operations used in the Jutsu, as well as for the secret of the Waza teachings (technical principles) and the transmission of the Ryu (particulat style of the school). No, champions are neither Sensei nor warriors.
If Funakoshi Sensei didn't want Karate to become a sport, he must have had his reasons, and they were certainly very valid. But if he wasn't followed, maybe it is because he did not transmit his art in its entirety to the Japanese and that these latter, ignorant of it's hidden richness, limited themselves to making nothing but a very disciplined combat sport.
Even if karate was offered to us as a "samurai" martial art for over forty years by masters who were more or less Japanese themselves (most of them originated from the Ryu Kyu, others were Korean like Oyama (Young I Choi) or low-class Japanese), close friends to the Japanese right wing extremists (those who deny war crimes) and their Yakuza friends, it was still a well calculated mystification.
For those who still doubt that the Japanese have mystified the Americans, I have the pleasure of presenting you an excerpt from Mr.Georges Bousquet's study on Japan. This document dates back to the end of the XIX:th century :
"The dissimulation that we can remark in all Asians could be the result of a social organization which is all false and of a universal restraint under oligarchic despotism. Maybe it attests of a form of turn of mind, the skeptism of men who, not much inclined towards truth, because they can't recognize it's absolute, voluntarily make good business of it.
If the Japanese lied only by interest, by politics or by fear of an earned punishment, there would be nothing there to distinguish their speculators, their diplomats or their criminals from others around the world. But everybody has noted very special categories of lies from the region we are talking about.
Such are, by example, the reverential lie, that is made instead of contradicting a superior, to keep from expressing an opinion or a fact that could hurt; the official lie, which the authority imposes on a given subject to all it's civil servants; the premonitory lie, that is made without an immediate goal, but to prepare, just in case, the naive listener to believe another lie that will be made later (just like, for example, how a domestic servant will name a list of family members which he doesn't have, so he can make them die one by one, having a day off for each) ; the conventional lie which, when presented with a legitimate grievance, a false and even ridiculous answer is given, which the offensed party will pretend to believe instead of resorting to violence; the derisory lie, when for an uncalled-for question a ridiculous answer is given to make you understand that you have gone where you shouldn't have; the solemn lie, when in a diplomatic or other type of conference, a fact contrary to reality is announced before all; all will be safe in the event that, after the fraud has been discovered, the official and solemn announcement has to be made that there had been an honest mistake.
We also lie for the fun of it, by thoughtlessness, for exercise, by disdain, by anxiety, by shyness, by training, so much in fact that we get to lie by habit." (Le Japon de nos jours (Japan in our days), tome 1er, pp.61-62)
From the start, some of Funakoshi's students (like Shigeru Egami) understood the inner dimension of the original Karate's teachings as a technique to develop internal energies (Ki) as well as a practice of mental peace (Heihô).
As for me, I think that this Way has more to do with the taoist energetic work than with the way of Buddhism (even though Zen includes both these doctrins).
On another side, some Karate teachers of today turn themselves towards the direct teachings from Okinawa, and thus go there to find the original Karate under traditional Masters who have never left the island.
As for Kenji Tokitsu, he is trying to get done with the spiritual dimension of Karatedo, for the search of a practice that would bring the individual to fulfill himself. He too had to conduct his researches in Okinawa, and has even gone in China, to Shaolin, to look for, among other things, the origins of the Kata practiced today.
Kenji Tokitsu doesn't practice the "wooden tongue" and, during a seminar in Saintes (France) in 1992 (city where I live) when he saw some karateka salute at the gym's door in which the participants had reunited before the seminar, he asked them: "Your religion is basketball player?". Seeing the dumbfounded look of the karateka, he added: "because here, there is no altar, no kamiza, no master's picture, so what are you saluting? The baskets hanging on the walls? Because I don't see anything else here. Try to think to what you are doing and why you are doing it, it will be a good beginning for the seminar, don't act like robots, your entire practice must have a precise sense which you should know."
It is each person's job to discover to what point he has been mystified in his practice. Which rituals still hold a sense today and are still necessary, and which ones only serve to mentally subdue us and to rock us (put asleep, hypnotize) in an exotism which is not indispensable to the art's practice.
Note (from the translator): I am in no way a professional translator. I only wish to share with you some French texts which I find to contain wisdom, information and a good dose of questions. I am in contact with the original author, Mr.Bernard Bordas, and have had his permission to translate his texts. Do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments.