Historical Outline Of Karate-do, Martial Arts Of Ryukyu
by Chojun Miyagi
Translated by San Zinsoo
Editor's Note: This article is
a translation of an essay prepared by Miyagi and presented to club
at the time of his "About Karate-do" lecture and demonstration
at the lecture hall on the 4th floor of Meiji Shoten at Sakaisuji, (Osaka)
on 28th January 1936. Miyagi is one of Okinawa's most famous and influential
and the founder of Goju-Ryu karate. The title of this essay in Japanese
is “Ryukyu Kenpo Karatedo Enkaku Gaiyo."
What is karate? It is the art we exercise mind and body for health promotion
in daily life, but in case of emergency it is the art of self-defense
without any weapon. In most cases we fight with our bodies - hands, feet,
elbows, etc. - to defeat opponents. However, in some cases, in accordance
with circumstances, we may also use weapons (such as Bo, Sai, Nunchaku,
Tonfa, Weeku, Kama, etc.).
People often misunderstand karate. When they see someone breaking five
wooden boards or a few pieces of roof tile by his or her fist, they think
it is a main part of karate. Of course, it is not a main part of karate
but a trivial part of karate. Like other fighting arts, the truth of karate
or Tao of karate can be understood and mastered at the ultimate goal which
is beyond teachings and impossible to describe by words.
2. How the martial arts was introduced to Ryukyu
The name "karate" is a special term in Ryukyu. Karate originated
from Chinese kung fu. We have few books on the origin of Chinese kung
fu, so we cannot conclude immediately, but according to a theory, the
martial arts originated in central Asia and the area around Turkey when
the ancient civilization was developed. And then it was introduced to
However, we still have another theory. It says that about 5,000 years
ago Chinese kung fu originated at the age of Yellow Emperor (= Emperor
Huang) who built the brilliant culture at the Yellow River basin. Anyway,
it is not difficult to imagine that the prototype of martial arts was
born by the fighting spirit for struggle which human beings possess by
nature. For example, most styles of Chinese kung fu were created by mimicking
fights of animals or birds. You can see it from the styles' names such
as Tiger Style, Lion Style, Monkey Style, Dog Style, Crane Style and so
on. In the age a little later, Chinese kung fu split into Southern school
and Northern school. Moreover, each school split into Neijia and Waijia.
The characteristic of Neijia is mainly softness, and it is a defensive
fighting art. Wudang kung fu (= Tai chi for example) is typical of Neijia.
The characteristic of Waijia is mainly hardness, and it is an aggressive
fighting art. Shaolin kung fu is typical of Waijia, which was created
at Shaolin Temple in Songshang Mountain, Henan (Honan) province. And later,
in the ages of Tang dynasty and Song dynasty, we can find many kung fu
warriors at the height of their success.
When we consider how karate was introduced to Ryukyu (=Okinawa), we have
various opinions without any historical evidence. We have not yet come
to a correct conclusion on this matter. There are three main opinions,
namely "Thirty-six Chinese Immigrants", "Oshima Notes"
and "Importation in Keicho Period". Simple explanations of each
(1) Thirty-six Chinese Immigrants: In 1392 (Ming dynasty in China),
thirty-six Chinese immigrants came to Ryukyu. At that time karate was
introduced to Ryukyu by Chinese immigrants.
(2) Oshima Notes: In 1762, the merchant ship of the Ryukyu Kingdom
was caught in a heavy storm on the way to Satsuma (=Kagoshima prefecture
now), and cast ashore on the coast of Oshima, Tosa (=Kochi prefecture
now). Shiohira Pechin, a high rank official of the ship, was an intelligent
person. He was helped by Choki Tobe, an intellectual who lived in Oshima.
Tobe wrote down Shiohira's interesting stories about the Ryukyu Kingdom.
His notes were called "Oshima Notes". The 3rd volume of "Oshima
Notes" says: "Koshankun, a kung fu warrior, came from China
to Ryukyu (=Okinawa) bringing his disciples with him." According
to the Notes, at that time people called the martial arts "Kumiaijutsu"
instead of karate. These notes are the most reliable literature on karate.
(3) Importation in Keicho Period: In 1609 (14th year of Keicho
period), the Shimazu clan of Satsuma (=Kagoshima prefecture now) invaded
the Ryukyu Kingdom, and they prohibited possessing weapons by people of
Ryukyu. Some believe that karate was created spontaneously due to the
cruel oppression by Satsuma. The others insist that karate was not a domestic
creation but was imported from China. I think it is reasonable to consider
that karate was a fusion of martial arts from China and "Te,"
a native martial arts which had already existed, so karate was developed
remarkably and even today it is still improved rationally and developed.
We have a few different opinions on origin of karate, but they are popular
misconceptions and not worth listening to.
As mentioned above, so far we do not have any definite and convincing
opinion yet. Anyway, karate has been developed, modified and improved
for so many years.
3. Karate circles in the past
We also do not know the origin of the name "karate", but it
is true that the name "karate" was made recently. In the old
days it was called "Te". At that time people used to practice
karate secretly, and masters taught a few advanced kata out of all the
kata only to his best disciple. If he had no suitable disciple, he never
taught them to anyone, and eventually such kata have completely died out.
As a result, there are many kata which were not handed down.
In about middle of the Meiji period (1868-1912), prominent karate masters
abolished the old way of secrecy. Karate was opened to the public, so
it was soon recognized by society. It was the dawn in the development
of karate. In accordance with the rapidly progressing culture, karate
was also recognized as physical education, and it was adopted as one of
the teaching subjects at school. Therefore, at last karate has won social
4. How we teach karate at present.
According to oral history, in the old days, the teaching policy of karate
put emphasis on self-defense techniques. With just a motto of "no
first attack in karate," teachers showed their students the moral
aspects. However, I've heard that in reality they tended to neglect such
moral principles. So gradually the teaching policy was improved with the
change of the times.
Now we have discontinued and abolished the wrong tradition of so-called
"body first, and mind second", and we have made our way toward
Tao of fighting arts or the truth of karate. Eventually we have obtained
the correct motto "mind first, and body second," which means
karate and Zen are the same.
Those who are engaged in teaching karate in Okinawa prefecture and outside
Okinawa prefecture at present are as follows (in random order):
In Okinawa prefecture:
Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Anbun Tokuda, Juhatsu Kyoda,
Choshin Chibana, Jinsei Kamiya, Shinpan Shiroma, Seiko Higa, Kamado
Nakasone, Jin-an Shinzato, Chojun Miyagi
Outside Okinawa prefecture:
Gichin Funakoshi, Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni, Masaru Sawayama, Sanyu
Sakai, Moden Yabiku, Jizaburo Miki, Yasuhiro Konishi, Shinji Sato, Mizuine
Mutsu, Kamesuke Higaonna, Shinjun Otsuka, Shin Taira, Koki Shiroma,
5. About karate styles or Ryu
There are various opinions about Ryu or styles of karate in Ryukyu (=Okinawa),
but they are just guesses without any definite research or evidence. With
regard to this matter, we feel as if we are groping in the dark.
According to popular opinion, we can categorize karate
into two styles: Shorin-Ryu and Shorei-Ryu. They (traditional view) insist
that the former is fit for a stout person, while the latter for a slim
person. However, such an opinion proved to be false by many studies. In
the mean time, there is only one opinion we can trust. It is as follows:
In 1828 (Qing or Ching dynasty in China), our ancestors inherited a kung
fu style of Fujian province in China. They continued their studies and
formed Goju-Ryu karate. Even today, there still exists an orthodox group
which inherited genuine and authentic Goju-Ryu karate.
6. The features of karate
Some good points of karate are as follows:
(1) A large place or a spacious area is not required for practicing
(2) You can practice karate by yourself. You can also do it together
with other karate members by forming a group.
(3) You don't have to spend many hours in practicing karate.
(4) You can choose Kata suitable for your physical strength and
practice it regardless of age and gender.
(5) Without spending much money, you can practice karate with
simple equipment (such as Makiwara) or without it.
(6) Karate is very effective as a means of health promotion. There are
many karateka who are healthy and live long.
(7) As a result of training in mind and body, you can cultivate
your character and acquire indomitable spirit.
7. The future of karate-do
The days when karate was taught secretly is over, and the new age has
come in which we practice and study karate publicly and officially. Therefore,
the future of karate-do is bright. Taking this opportunity, we should
stop advertising karate as if it were a mysterious and magical fighting
art on a small island called Ryukyu.
We should open karate to the public and receive criticism, opinions and
studies from other prominent fighting artists. In the future, we should
invent complete protectors for a safe karate tournament like other fighting
arts, so that karate can become one of the Japanese fighting arts.
Nowadays karate-do has become popular all over Japan, where many people
study karate-do very hard. Even outside Japan, karate-do is popular. There
is a man who graduated from university in Tokyo. He is now propagating
and studying karate-do in Europe. In May 1934, I was invited to propagate
and teach karate-do in Hawaii, U.S.A. by Okinawans there and a newspaper
company. Karate clubs have been established in Hawaii since then. As mentioned
above, now karate-do has become not only a Japanese martial art but also
an international martial art.
8. The teaching method of karate
As each person has his or her distinctive character, the muscle development
is different depending on his or her muscle use. Therefore, at first,
we do "Preparatory Exercises" to develop our muscles so that
we can practice karate exercises easier, and then "Fundamental Kata",
"Supplementary Exercise", "Kaishu Kata" and "Kumite
Training." We teach karate in this way.
Each outline is as follows:
(1) Preparatory Exercises: We exercise each muscle of our body
in order to enhance its flexibility, strength and endurance, and then
we practice the fundamental Kata, namely Sanchin, Tensho and Naifanchi.
We do these preparatory exercises again after practice of kata to relax
our muscles. And we take a breathing exercise and take a rest quietly.
(2) Fundamental Kata: Sanchin, Tensho and Naifanchi are the fundamental
kata. Through practicing them, we can develop correct posture. We can
inhale and exhale correctly. We can adjust increasing or decreasing
our power harmoniously. We can develop a powerful physique and the strong
will of a warrior.
(3) Supplementary Exercises: These exercises enable us to learn
and perform Kaishu Kata well. We exercise each part of our body with
a particular movement. We also practice with various equipment to enhance
our outer whole strength and particular part strength.
(4) Kaishu Kata (=Kata except Fundamental Kata): Nowadays we
have about twenty or thirty kinds of kata, and their names vary depending
on their creators. Kata has techniques of defense and offense which
are connected appropriately. It has various directions of the movements
and it is something like gymnastics. We should perform Kata by using
power of the mind and body in accordance with its technical purpose
so that we can learn the principle of untying and tying.
(5) Kumite Training: We untie Kaishu Kata which we already learned,
and we study techniques of defense and offense in Kaishu Kata. Understanding
its technical purpose, we practice the techniques of attack and defense
with fighting spirit like a real situation.
I summarize as follows:
We develop the interaction of mind and body from the fundamental Kata,
Sanchin, Tensho and Naifanchi. We develop the spirit of martial arts by
acquiring fighting techniques through practicing Kaishu Kata and Kumite
This document was posted with permission of the translator,
About The Translator:
San Zinsoo is a 4th dan Okinawan Goju-Ryu karate-ka who studied with
one of the direct disciples of Master Seiko Higa of Okinawan Gojuryu
and Master Shimpo Matayoshi of Kobudo (=Okinawan classical weaponry).
He has also studied kobudo. Since his teacher passed away a few years
ago he has been studing kata and kobudo on his own. An amateur translator,
San Zinsoo has translated a number of historical karate related documents
and interviews and posted them on various on-line talk groups. He now
resides in Osaka, Japan.