The Old Okinawan Karate Toe Kick:
Part 2- Historical Introduction
By Christopher Caile
Editor’s Note: Part
this series introduced the subject of toe kicks and provided the
of how they are performed. Part 2 provides a historical introduction.
Also discussed is the author’s own introduction to toe kicks,
as well as some of the early great Shorin ryu masters who used
this kick. Targets and strategy of application are also addressed.
articles will continue the discussion of toe kicks through the
Naha lineage, and also trace their use through several other Shorin-ryu
masters. Conditioning and development of the toes will also be
in a separate article.
Most of today’s Japan karate stylists (as well as Korean style
martial artists) and tournament oriented karate-ka probably have never
seen a toe kick. They would be surprised to learn that toe kicks were
once part of the “meat and potatoes” of old style self defense
oriented karate—dangerous and deadly.
Toes can become powerful, precise weapons, able to strike with needle
nose accuracy and penetrate—causing pain, neurological incapacitation,
and internal damage to organs, nerves, veins and arteries. The delayed
effects can manifest themselves days, weeks, months or even years later
(known as DIM MAK).
They were once principal techniques within the two great Okinawan historical
traditions from which modern karate evolved – Naha-te and Shuri-te
(better known as Shorin-ryu karate).
Naha-te (Naha referring to the town of Naha and “te”or “ti” meaning “hand,” a
term used to refer to fighting arts) includes such styles as Goju-ryu,
and Uechi Ryu (major styles), as well as To’on ryu and Ryuei-ryu
(minor styles). The term also has a secondary meaning of “new things,” (1) as these arts developed around a port city known for immigrants, visitors,
and new types of imported products. Thus, the term “Naha-te” reflects
a new or younger karate, one more directly connected to Chinese roots
with less influence from indigenous arts.
Shuri-te means “Shuri hand”(after the capital town of Shuri,
the political center of the island and residence of the King and other
gentry), a name that suggests older or more developed karate. Today the
term Shuri-te, however, is better known as Shorin-ryu (Okinawan for Shaolin,
the famous Chinese center for martial arts) -- a mixture of Chinese arts, “ti” (indigenous
fighting techniques) and other influences.
There was a third Okinawan karate tradition as well, Tomari-te. It has
largely disappeared, although much of it has been absorbed by Shuri-te.
It is not discussed separately here.
Historically it was Shorin-ryu teachers who are best known for first
establishing karate on mainland Japan, although there were Goju teachers
as well. From these teachers sprang such styles as Shotokan, Wado-ryu,
Shita-ryu, Chito-ryu, Goju-ryu, To’on ryu (now headquartered in
Japan), Kyokushin, as well as many European and US based traditional
Japanese karate organizations, such as Seido Juku. Japanese Shorin-ryu
stylists also helped establish Korean karate (Taekwondo and Tang Soo
Do, etc.) in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and their kata also closely
followed the Shorin-ryu template.
Thus, if you are a Japanese karate-ka or Korean stylist, or an offshoot
of one, you can probably trace your roots and your technique to Shorin-ryu
or Naha-te styles whose masters used toe kicks. And if your style is
Shorin-ryu related, your kata once used toe kicks too -- Heian (or Pinan,
the original Okinawan name), Kanku (or kusanku), Hangetsu (or Seisan),
Gangaku (or Chinto), Enpi (or Wansu), Bassai (or Passai), Gojushiho (or
Useshi also known in some styles as Koryu-gojushiho) and others. (2)
Even if your style no longer practices this kick, it still has relevancy
for you. If you are interested in street self-defense applications, the
tip of a boot or leather shoe can be used as a powerful, pin-point and
When I started Kempo Karate we didn’t use toe kicks. Later, I
traveled to Japan and in 1961 become a student of Mas Oyama (Kyokushin
karate) in Tokyo, but again, toe kicks were not practiced. (3)
It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that I was introduced. I was living
in Buffalo and teaching Seido Juku Karate. I had decided to research
the roots of my own system and was looking to expand my knowledge. Through
a friend at the University where I taught karate, I started training
in a closed Chinese family kung fu system in Toronto. (4) It used pointed
toe and other unique kicks (wearing soft sandals) that I had not seen
One hot summer evening when I first started, I was practicing this art
in an unventilated basement under a Chinese restaurant in Toronto. Our
tee shirts and shorts were soaked with sweat. Toward the end of practice
the Sifu (a term used for teacher in many Chinese arts) separated the
students into pairs to work on their own. My partner was his nephew Lee,
and we started self-defense drills. He said, “Step and punch at
my head –Hard!” I did and “POW” – I don’t
know what happened, but as a stunned and now very humble student, I looked
up at him from the floor. Lee was laughing. “Works doesn’t
it?” he said. I had no idea what he was talking about – I
hadn’t seen the toe kick to the inside of my knee, but it had made
When we repeated the technique, Lee showed me what he had done. He had
countered me with a double arm and kick combination. In one movement
Lee had brought one arm up inside my punch to block while the other arm
moved straight toward my head, with open hand to my eyes (which is why
I hadn’t seen the kick -- in a real self-defense situation the
fingers would have made contact). At the same time Lee had brought up
a short, snapping toe kick to the inside of my upper lead leg – which
totally collapsed. I was stunned too. After this, Lee was careful only
to tap with his kicks on selected places.
A few years later I also took up Praying Mantis Kung Fu, which also
utilizes some specific types of toe kicks. Later in the mid-1990s when
I visited Okinawa, I made a point to visit a number of schools, among
them Uechi-ryu and Shorin-ryu dojos (schools) that taught the toe kick.
By this time I had practiced the kicks for quite a few years.
My friend and senior in Kyokushin in Japan (who also taught in Oyama’s
absence), who later founded his own style Seido Juku Karate, Tadashi
Nakamura (my teacher), found toe kicks along a different path.
It was the year before I arrived in Tokyo. Mr. Okada, one of Mas Oyama’s
senior students, arranged a meeting between Oyama and an Okinawan karate-ka
friend. Nakamura also attended. After some discussion, they decided to
compare kumite techniques.
Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura strikes
upward with a short rounded snap toe kick into the lower abdomen
as he pulls his opponent forward.
Even at the young age of 17 or 18, Nakamura was an exceptionally strong
fighter. A few years later he represented Kyokushin as part of a three
man team that traveled to Thailand to face the best of their Muay Thai
fighters (boxing type punches mixed with powerful low round kicks) and
Nakamura beat Thailand’s Light Heavyweight Champion. His technique
was tremendous – fast, hard and powerful. When we used to fight
in Japan, I would joke that it felt like his roundhouse kick had been
surgically implanted in my chest, since he had used that technique on
me so often.
Nakamura recounts that when he fought the Okinawan, he was hit low in
the abdomen by a sharp, penetrating front kick. “After that I paid
close attention to what the Okinawan was doing,“ recounts Nakamura. ”He
was a small guy, but he had his own unique kind of kumite. He used low,
short front kicks and roundhouse kicks using his big toe. His front kicks
were sort of like kekomi (thrust kick).”
This made an impression. Soon afterwards, Nakamura was conditioning
his own toes and experimenting with the kick. When Kaicho Nakamura founded
his own Seido Juku karate in 1976, the technique became part of its official
curriculum (5), but in reality this kick is now only taught to few select
students willing to spend the time to condition their toes.
Akira Nakamura Sensei,
son of Seido Juku’s founder, demonstrates a high roundhouse
toe kick while blocking a front toe kick from the author, Christopher
Caile Shihan, during a practice session at the Seido headquarters
in NYC. Historically, however, toe kicks used for self-defense
and as seen in the original versions of most kata were generally
targeted to the lower half of the body.
I didn’t realize that Kaicho Nakamura actually practiced this
kick. At the dojo one day, however, Nakamura, his son Akira and I began
discussing the topic. We found that we were all practicing the kick.
This eventually spawned the idea for this article. When I started to
research the topic, I realized that by taking up the toe kick, I was
re-establishing a historical link to the past, to the heritage of technique
and to the masters who once practiced it.
The Okinawan Toe Kick Tradition
Karate emerged on Okinawa from a history of secrecy and behind closed
door practice just as the island was entering a period of profound social,
economic and political change.
In 1850, after visiting Okinawa, Commodore Perry forced Japan to open
to the world. This event also unleashed internal political forces and
turmoil that ultimately led to the end of the feudal Tokugawa dynasty
and the emergence of a new Meiji era.
In 1872 the Meiji regime formally incorporated Okinawa into its political
realm, established a new government for Okinawa, and imposed Japanese
language, culture and education on the island’s people (the king
himself was forced into exile to Japan for safe keeping). This ended
the Okinawan feudal class structure (lords of domains). Feudal incomes
were abolished and 20 percent of the population who once were of noble
class, with lands and stipends, fell on hard times (although they did
have the advantage of access to education and some also had political
connections). Many were thereafter forced to work as common laborers.
If it had not been for a number of notable martial artists who began
demonstrating and teaching karate, who promoted its adoption into the
Okinawan school system, and who later took it to the Japanese mainland,
karate may have been lost to future generations and the world.
Soken “Bushi” MatsumuraIn the 19th century the best known martial artist on Okinawa was Soken “Bushi” Matsumura,
(1809-1901), who became the fountainhead for one of the two major traditions
of Okinawan karate known as Shorin-ryu.
Scholar and bodyguard to the King, Matsumura was an aristocrat who had
traveled to China as an envoy on state affairs. While there, he is said
to have visited several schools of Chinese boxing and studied under the
Chinese teachers Ason and Iwah. It is also said that he visited the southern
Shaolin temple in Fuchou. (7)
There are earlier masters in the Shorin-ryu tradition too, although
many of their names have been lost to history. It is known that Matsumura
studied with Satsunuku Sakugawa (1735-1815), who in turn had studied
with a Chinese diplomat known as Kushan Ku (beginning in 1756) from whose
techniques was formulated several versions of one of karate’s oldest
kata, Kusanku (Kanku), which used a toe kick in its original version
(shown in Part 4). (8)
While I am not aware of any toe kick stories associated with Matsumura
himself, there are stories of his students, including Pechin Ishimine,
Chotoku Kyan, Chome Hanashiro, Anko Itosu, and Nabe Matsumura (or their
One story involves Pechin (a title relating to military and police authority)
(9) Ishimine, a minor student of Matsumura. One night he was on his way
home in the capital city of Shuri. He was climbing a hill during a drizzling
rain when he encountered a large powerful man known as Tamanaha, who
had been resting. The two struck up a conversation, and continued their
journey together. Recognizing Ishimine, Tamanaha who was obviously a
bit of a rebel- rouser, sought to provoke a fight. First, Tamanaha opened
up an umbrella and then ask Ishimine to hold it, which he did. Getting
no response, next Tamanaha ask Ishimine to hold his muddy straw sandals.
Finally angered, Ishimine threw them over a nearby hedge. Thus, a fight
was started. Tamanaha attacked with a strong punch, but Ishimine quickly
dodged to one side and ended the encounter with a quick toe kick to the
attacker’s lower rib cage. Tamanaha fell to the ground, unconscious.
Not wanting to leave him there, Ishimine then threw the unconscious body
over his shoulder and took him home. (10) Tamanaha, however, died a few
Another story involves Chotoko Kyan (1870-1945), (11) another student
of Matsumura, as well as a student of Yara Piechan whose grandfather
had also studied with Kushan Ku. A story of Kyan’s student, Ankichi
Arakaki (and later a student of Chibana) is told in Part 4. Kyan was
the teacher of many famous karate-ka including Shoshin Nagamine (Matsubayashi-ryu),
Taro Shimabuko, Eizo Shimabuki (Shorin-ryu-Shaolin) Zenryo Shimaburo
(Chubu Shorin-ryu) and Tatsuo Shimabuko (founder of Isshin-ryu).
Kyan was small and thin, very quick and evasive, and also for his kicking
ability. Well aware of the dangerous potential of karate technique, Kyan
often warned his students about the danger of actually fighting with
karate. He would say, if two young saplings are banged together only
the bark is damaged, but if two fresh eggs are rolled together they will
crack open. (12)
Nagamine, a student of Kyan (founder of Matsubayashi-ryu karate),
demonstrating a toe-kick/punch combination from the kata
Gojushiho. Jeff Brooks a Matsubayashi karate teacher (Sensei) notes
that there are several application, such as a punch to the solar
plexus or alternately gall bladder 24 (at the 7th intercostal space
below the nipple) with a flowing grab (holding the opponent in
place), and a toe tip kick used for deep penetration into a yin
as, in this case, the liver. This is a deadly force application,
Brooks notes, that should never be applied in a training setting
nor under any circumstances where deadly force is not warranted.
Shoshin Nagamine in his book “The Essence of Okianwan Karate-Do” (p.
40), comments that his teacher Kyan had mastered the secrets of karate
necessary for a small man to face a larger opponent – not to step
backward, but instead to step forward or to the side so to be able to
take offense (kick or punch) right after defending himself. To perfect
this ability Kyan used to train on the banks of the Hija River, keeping
his back to the water.
In 1930, when Kyan was around age 60, while he was giving a demonstration
of karate on the island of Taiwan (now The Republic Of China, known as
free China), a Judo instructor from the Taipei (the island’s capital)
Police Headquarters, Shinjo Ishida, issued Kyan a challenge. Kyan reluctantly
accepted. He was concerned that he would be gripped by his uniform’s
jacket and thrown, so he wore only a vest. Ishida himself was also apparently
wary of Kyan’s striking techniques – so the two sized each
other up, keeping their distance. At some point, however, Kyan quickly
moved in, shot out his arm and thrust his thumb into the side of his
opponent’s mouth. Gripping his opponent’s cheek, Kyan then
kicked Ishida’s knee, which downed him, and Kyan finished with
a knelling punch into the solar plexus. While the type of knee kick is
not mentioned, a toe kick to the inside of the thigh just above the knee
is known to collapse the leg, which is exactly what was reported. Anyway,
it is a good story. (13)
Another student of Matsumura was his grandson, Nabe Matsumura, who in
turn taught only one student, the famous Hohan Soken (1861-1972 and founder
of Matsumura Seito Hakutsuru Shorin Ryu Karatedo & Kobudo). Soken
ultimately became an Okinawan legend and one of the most respected teachers
of his day. Only after 10 years of study, however, did Nabe begin teaching
Soken his hidden family style, the White Crane kung fu style within a
In rare 8 mm film footage, Soken is seen (left)
doing a technique from his family’s Hakutsuru, or White Crane kata.
At right Soken demonstrates this same technique against his student
Fusei Kise. He moves almost effortlessly off center while lifting
his arm like a wing to ward off and lift upward a punch. This opens
a path for the accompanying toe kick. The technique as performed
seemed soft, pliable and almost effortless as compared to the usually
much harder, ridged looking karate technique. (Complements of Charles
Garrett & Jessy Hughes)
Like many other former Okinawans of Noble class, Soken teacher Nabe
had been reduced to working in the fields. Soken emigrated abroad in
1920 to find employment (he also refused to learn the new Japanese language),
and ended up in Negro, Argentina where there was an Okinawan trading
colony. There he worked as a photographer, and on a limited basis he
taught karate. (14) When he returned to Okinawa in 1952 many considered
his kata and technique “old style” (in the interim Okinawan
karate had evolved). When Soken began teaching, he taught a few students
privately in his home, but also sometimes visited classes run by his
student Fusei Kise, conducted on the nearby Kaneda Air Force Base.
It is often said that Soken taught an “Old Man’s Karate” not
because it resembles what an old man would do, but rather that it would
take many years of practice. Thus a student would be an old man by the
time he mastered it. He used subtle redirection of attacks, precise timing,
body movement, and control of distance, combined with knowledge of where
to strike and the use of simultaneous technique. Overall he was very
fluid as opposed to the more rooted and hard technique of some Naha-te
styles such as Goju-ryu and even Anko Itsou’s Shorin-ryu (see Part
Soken taught kata, but also kata applications and torite techniques
(grasping and restraint techniques he used as part of block and counter),
including those from his White Crane. His grabs, holds and attacks (often
using a toe kick) were targeted to pressure points.(15) Several students
recounted Soken showing them an old hand printed rice paper book handed
down from Nabe showing pressure points and technique. (16)
Roy Suenaka Sensei, a long time student of Soken, demonstrates
one of Soken’s White Crane torite techniques – moving
forward, off line, while executing a simultaneous parry, the same
hand also controlling the punching arm while countering with a
combination finger strike to the neck and toe kick to the knee
area. White Crane
techniques always used open hands. (17)
In December 1994 I visited Okinawa with Roy Suenaka Sensei, my aikido
teacher who also teaches Matsumura Seito Hakutsuru Shorin Ryu Karatedo).
Suenaka was a private student of Soken from 1961-1972 while serving in
the armed forces and based on Okinawa.
Soken’s favorite toe kick, according to Suenaka, included points
on the inside of the upper leg, the arm pit (if the arm was captured),
solar plexus, ribs, up under the arm (in certain situations if the arm
could be immobilized), the abdomen, and the floating ribs. Another student
of Soken notes that Soken would often say “No kick groin” (his
English was very limited) and instead would aim the kick into the inside
of the upper leg or calf area (virtually never higher than the pelvic
Phillip Koeppel (founder of his own international karate organization
and Director of the United States Karate-Do Kai), who has studied with
Fusei Kise, Yuichi Kuda and Kousai Nishihira (19), students of Soken
who continue the Soken Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu tradition, agrees with
these targets, He adds that Soken also liked to press or stab his big
toe down onto the top of the foot near the big toe. This can be very
surprising and also painful.
When kicking, Soken did not seemingly use much hip power (the hips were
not extended forward into the kick). He would often punch first, letting
the defender become involved in trying to block this technique, then
let the toe kick come up under it, unseen (not telegraphing it with a
body shift of hip movement). He also liked to use his knees to strike.
When performing the toe kick Soken sometimes used a triangle of his
big toe, second and third toe, and at other times he just kept his toes
in natural position, squeezed together, remembers Suenaka.
As to Soken’s torite techniques, Suenaka notes that when Soken
performed these techniques, he didn’t get too close to the opponent
(outside grappling range). “The opponent was always kept at a distance,
at arms length, but controlled,” says Suenaka. And while many torite
and countering punch techniques used an extended knuckle (rather than
just a regular fist), White Crane techniques always use open hand finger
counter techniques (such as demonstrated by Suenaka above).
Soken also practiced a number of parry/counter type combinations, says
Suenaka, which he summarized in the saying, “Uki Ti Boom” (Uki
being the Okinawan pronunciation for “uke,” a term indicating
the person initiating a technique in a two man drill and who would be
on the receiving end of the counter, and “ti” the pronunciation
for “te” meaning hand). When an attacker used a straight
punch, for example, the punch was slightly deflected by one arm (combined
with a small shift off line) into the grasp of the second while the first
continued onto target without any visible hesitation in the forward block/counter
punch arm. The technique is very sophisticated, fast, simultaneous and
powerful –letting the forward momentum of the attacker run into
the counter—doubling its power.
Here the author demonstrates Soken’s
torite as taught by Suenaka, a simultaneous parry combined with
a nukite finger
tip strike into the opponent’s neck which would strike not
only the central bundle of nerves leading to the arms (brachial
plexus) but also the carotid sinus, which helps control blood pressure
likely producing unconsciousness)(21) Using this technique Suenaka
prefers to follow-up with an arm bar. The author demonstrates an
alternative (photo right), a toe kick to the opponent’s back
leg and back-hand strike (reminiscent of one found in the original
versions of both kanku/ kusanku and the pinan series). An arm break
can be added. (22)
Karate-ka should also note that the technique demonstrated in these
photos almost exactly follows the arm movement in a basic inside block.
This illustrates how some advanced applications can be hidden within
basic movements of kata.
One toe kick option found in Old Okinawan karate such as that of
Hohan Soken, as well as many Chinese arts, is to capture an extended
arm and then kick upwards (ankle bent) with the toes to the inside
of the upper arm. The target is the axillary nerve (part of the brachial
plexus). A direct hit can paralyze the arm, stun or even cause unconsciousness
(this is a very dangerous technique since it directly targets a nerve,
which if damaged can cause permanent incapacity). An alternate target
is to strike up into the armpit which targets the bundle of nerves
leading from the neck down into the arm (higher up into the brachial
plexus) which can disable the arm, but also cause unconsciousness,
even death. (23)
Another application of the toe kick to the groin
is when an opponent's
kicking leg has been captured. The target can be the testicles,
but more often the target was a point behind them, the kicking
upward. The opponent's leg can also be lifted
to unbalance or to throw the opponent backward.
Author’s Note To Readers: This article series represents the author’s
personal experience. While I have added historical references and information,
it does not claim to give a full representation of any specific art or
karate style’s strategy or technique. Likewise, some styles and
masters have undoubtedly been overlooked. More coverage is given to styles
and teachers about which there is personal knowledge. The goal is not
to provide a full historical accounting of toe kicks, but to provide
accounts, information and anecdotes that together will give the reader
a fuller appreciation of the place of toe kicks within the historical
context of karate.
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. The intent
of this article is to provide information on the historical roots of
the technique and practices related to the development and methods of
early karate and related arts. It is not the intent for the content of
this article, or techniques demonstrated or discussed herein to be practiced
or adopted within the curriculum of present day martial arts practice.
The techniques described and illustrated may seriously harm an opponent
or training partner and readers are not encouraged to use or practice
them. If the reader wants to perform any martial art technique he or
she is advised to do so only with proper supervision and training of
a qualified instructor or teacher certified within the art to be practiced.
(1) Dan Smith a high ranking Seibukan karate
who lived and studied on Okinawa for many years gives this representation
(of Naha-te and Shuri-te)
as one often used on Okinawa. His style traces its lineage to Chotoku
Kyan through Zenryo Shimabukuro, whose son, Zenpo Shimabukuro how heads
the organization based on Okinawa. Just as Shuri-te became better known
as Shorin-ryu, Naha-te also became widely known as Shorei-ryu, but this
author has used Naha-te within the article. Both names (Shorin-ryu and
Shorei-ryu) appeared in a report written by Anko Itosu in 1908 which
described Okinawan karate for the Okinawan government. Kanryo Higaonna
(see part 4), however, might have been the first to use the term (meaning “The
Style of Inspiration” in one translation). He probable he wanted
to call attention to his style’s Fujian origin (notes John Sells
in his book, “Unante-The Secrets of Karate, 2nd Edition”,
p.47.), for in the Bubushi (a White Crane martial arts manual that was
much valued among early Okinawan karate practitioners) mentions Shorei-ji
(the southern Shaolin temple) – see the articles “Enter The
Bubishi, Part 1 & 2” by Victor Smith in FightingArts.com’s
Reading Room under “History And Historical Influences. A translation
of this book, titled The Bible of Karate: Bubushi”, Translated
with commentary by Patrick McCarthy also appears in FightingArts.com
E-store under “Books” in the Category of “Karate.”
(2) In the Pinan series toe kicks were used
in Pinan 2 and 4 (where Japanese styles now do a backfist or tettsui
along with a simultaneous
In Pinan 3, where many Japanese styles do a front kick or crescent kick
from a horse stance following a backfist, this kick was originally not
part of the kata, but instead it was considered an optional technique.
Pinan 5 has a crescent kick. In all the kata, however, many techniques
include the option of using a toe kick, such as when in a back leaning
or cat stance. Also in Pinan 1 or 2 (depending on the style), where the
practitioner does a series of steps doing either a middle punch or upper
block, toe kicks were also an option. Many of the original movements
in the Pinan kata, such as toe kicks, have been changed or modified.
The Pinan kata too seem to be modifications of earlier kata. Although
Anko Itosu is credited as the creator of this kata, many trace them to
an earlier kata, or series of exercises known as Channan. See the article, “Channan:
The "Lost" Kata of Itosu?” by Joe Swift in FightingArts.com’s
Reading Room under the Category “Kata And Applications.” Ernie
Estrada, the well known Shorin Ryu stylist and historian, also suggests
that Pinan 1 and 2 can be traced to Bushi Matsumura.
(3) Kyokushin is a hard style stressing powerful
technique and contact free fighting. In his home Oyama had a small
desk and behind it was a
bookcase crammed with martial arts books from Japan and some from China.
When, at times, I was invited to his home after practice, with his wife
and daughters we would sit around a table (round with a warm comforter
type cloth that could be draped over your legs and a sunken place for
your feet) where we would eat and then discuss many things – technique,
karate, history, etc. It should be noted that Oyama’s English was
poor and my Japanese worse, so discussion was difficult. He showed me
pictures in some of these books and asked what I thought. Some of these
thoughts and research, I think, were later seen in his book “Advanced
Karate.” In his style, Oyama added circularity to his blocks and
adopted low Thai style round kicks to the legs (excellent for freefighting).
He also created kata and modified others too (even adding what I see
as an aikijujutsu technique to Pinan 2). But while Oyama was thus innovative
in his thinking and willing to adopt technique that worked, toe kicks
were never discussed or used. During the months that he was working on
taking photographs for his book, “This Is Karate,” I spent
several evenings a week working with him on the photo sections, and many
photos were taken of our choreographed freefighting. In between he would
often ask me to attack him this way or that, or we would lightly trade
techniques – and while he used many techniques and kicks, I never
saw a toe kick.
(4) See the article, “Kata As The Foundation Of Practice” by
Christopher Caile in FightingArts.com Reading Room under the category “Kata
(5) See Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura’s book, “Karate –Technique
and Spirit.” On page 82 he shows the toe technique executed on
a student. In class, however, the toe kick is not taught.
(6) Japan imposed Japanese as the official language (rather than the
previous local language, known to many a Hogan, meaning dialect, but
which is more precisely known as Uchinada Guchi). New schools were opened
to teach Japanese both as a language and culture. Chinese culture and
education which once predominated was now marginalized. At the same time
Okinawans were for the most part very poor, most were illiterate, and
Okinawa itself was considered by most of the outside world as a marginal
entity with few natural resources.
(7) The existence of a southern Shaolin temple
is much disputed. Even though many make reference to it, its physical
ruins have yet to be located.
The name Shaolin, however, was famous from its association with the Northern
Shaolin temple (the birthplace of Zen under the Chinese monk Bodhidarma)
from which many Chinese martial arts trace their origin. Thus, the attribution
of Shaolin (or Shaolin temple) to a style was often used to enhance prestige.
One source suggests that the southern Shaolin temple was a central temple
in Nansoye, a little to the south of Fuchou, and the term Nansoye Shaolin
temple was actually a cover for a secret society who had fled persecution
in the North. See: Mark Bishop in his book “Okinawan Karate,” 2nd
(8) Satsunuku Sakugawa (1735-1815) is best
known as “Tode” Sakugawa
(“to” being an Okinawan term referring to the Tang period,
meaning China, and “de” another pronunciation for “te”,
a term meaning hand or fighting art, which we now call karate). Sakugawa
first studied with Peichin Takahara (1683-1760), who had also studied
in China while acting as an official of the Shuri government and mapmaker.
In 1756 Sakugawa met and then started studying with a Chinese diplomat
Kushan Ku (or Kung Shang Kiung) and learning Chinese kempo. Kushan Ku’s
techniques are said to be embodied in one of karate’s oldest and
best known kata, Kusanku, or Kanku. It is also said that Matsumura studied
with a ship wrecked Chinese sailor from which studies he devised the
kata Chinto. Before these masters, there were undoubtedly many others
going back several hundred years, but their names have not survived.
Some historians suggest that Kusanku actually taught kumiuchi-jutsu,
which means fighting or grappling arts. One source suggests that Kusanku
introduced the concept of hikite, meaning pulling or drawing hand to
Okinawan. See: John Sells, “Unanate –The Secrets of Karate,” 2nd
Edition, p. 25.
(9) In the old Okinawan kingdom the noble class
was structured into levels. On top was the king and extended family,
under them were
local lords (originally known as anji), and below this level of princes
were influential political retainers known as Oyakata (ministers and
other high ranking government posts) which in turn were subdivided – the
king’s Council (Sanshikan) at top, then a series of ranks relating
to magistrates, attaches, constables and bodyguards collectively known
as Peichin (military and civil police authorities). See: Jophn Sells. “Unante-The
Secrets of Karate (2nd edition), p. 9
(10) Bishop. Bishop reports that Ishimine is today little
remembered on Okinawa, but some sources suggest that he was actually
Ishimine Peichin, who had at one time been a student of Matsumura. Today
on Okinawa there is a style, Ishimine-ryu, headed by Shinyei Kaneshime,
which is named after him.
(11) Kyan’s father was the steward to
the last Ryukyu (Okinawan) king Sho Tai and accompanied him into exile
in Tokyo. Chotoku also lived
in Japan, where he was educated. Returning to Okinawa he studied with
several teachers including Matsumura (from whom he learned the kata Sesan,
Naihanshi and Gojushiho). He learned the Kusanku (Kanku) kata from Yara
Peichin, the grandson of Yara Chatan (a contemporary of Sakugawa who
had also studied with Kushan Ku), from which lineage came Yara Kusanku,
a unique version this kata. Kyan also learned several other kata from
Tomari-te stylists. Thus, Kyan while often classified as a Shorin-ryu
stylist had Tomari-te influences as well.
(12) “Okinawan Karate,” ( 2nd Edition) by Mark Bishop, p.
74. Nagamine in his book “The Essence Of Okinawan Karate-Do”(p.
40) notes that the Kyan family with the Meiji political reform had also
lost their economic support and social privilege and had to struggle
(13) As recounted in part 2 of a three part
article titled “Masters
of the Shorin-ryu” by Graham Nobel with Ian McLarenand and Prof.
N. Karasawa which appeared in Fighting Arts International, Issue No.
51, Vol. 9, No, 3 1998 p. 33. Others, however, question the use of the
toe kick in the story. Dan Smith a high ranking member of Seibukan which
descended from Kyan, discounts the use of a kick altogether. This only
shows the conflicting nature of the oral tradition of karate that exists
on Okinawa today.
(14) Ernie Estrada, the respected Shorin-ryu
practitioner and karate historian, conducted a series of interviews
with practitioners who trace
their roots of Soken in Argentina. When he emigrated Soken had been given
private lessons in Matumura Karate by his uncle, Nabe Matsumura, but
he was not a member of an organization, nor had he been extended rank.
According to Estrada’s research, in the Argentine community karate
was taught in a community dojo; various people taught, with Soken among
them. After he left, his few students were absorbed by others still teaching.
Photos of his demonstrations in Argentina, it should be noted, still
(15) Soken would strike to vital points using
both hands and feet. He also often demonstrated to visitors the use
of his thumb to strike these
targets “which were very painful,” recounts Ernie Estrada,
the well known Shorin-ryu teacher and karate historian, who conducted
a series of interviews with Soken over the years. The techniques, taken
from old Okinawan “ti”, are reminiscent to those used by
Sean Connery in the 1988 movie “The Persidio” where he plays
Lt. Col. Alan Caldwell. Caldwell investigates a murder on his air base,
and in the process ends a number of physical confrontations using just
his thumb for a weapon.
(16) One account was given by Charles Garrett
who studied with Soken on Okinawa over a period of two years. The name
of the book in
not known. It could be a copy of the Bubushi, but Garrett thinks that
the book originated with Matsumura himself who passed it down to Nabe
Matsumura. Roy Suenaka who studied with Soken longer than any other foreign
student also remembers a similar book – rice paper pages filled
with characters and diagrams with points. Suenaka says that Soken rarely
showed this book to others and over 10 years he had only been shown it
a couple of times.
(17) The forward movement seen above is also
characteristic of karate kata and is optimally suited to self-defense
control of the initial technique is the goal. Student’s of Seido
Juku might also recognize a parallel with Seido strategy. A similar strategy
of entry is also shared by other martial arts. It is often used in aikido,
notes Suenaka, as well as other jujutsu arts, although in aikido the
technique is continued differently into a joint manipulation or throw.
The use of atemi is also different.
(18) Interview with Charles Garrett. Garrett
who studied with Soken for during the 1970-1972 time period. “He also used his back
leg for these kicks,” adds Garrett, and “just before contact
he would tighten his body (but not his leg) in order to extend power
through the leg.”
(19) Koeppel (10th dan, and a famous early
karate pioneer) has produced an excellent tape series detailing his
Matsumura kata experience.
It was originally produced for senior students, but is now offered to
the public. See: Matsumura Seito Shorinryu: Secrets Of Kata Video Series
(6 videos) in FightingArts.com E-Store Video category under “Kata
and Applications.” It is one of the most educational tape series
now available. Koeppel was this author’s first teacher beginning
in 1959 in Peoria, Illinois. Originally Koeppel taught Kempo Karate,
and later became associated with Robert Trias. Interested in the roots
of karate, he later visited Okinawa and adopted the Matsumura style,
which he has now taught for many years under the tutelage of Fusei Kise,
Yuichi Kuda and currently Kousai Nishihira.
(20) Interview with Charles Garrett.
(21) Although I have never studied karate with Suenaka, I have been
his aikido student of his since 1990 (first studying with Shihan Mike
Hawley in Buffalo, New York). During seminars, winter and summer camps
I have prompted him to teach torite and other hand techniques, those
which he learned from Soken. He has been very obliging, thinking that
learning to punch is also important for his aikido students to learn
(22) There is also a secondary technique hidden
within the above sequence. If the defender moves in slightly closer
to the body of the opponent
while doing the backhand/toe kick counter, another technique can be added.
The opponent being off balanced by the kick while his head is snapped
back responds automatically – the body’s reflex mechanism
kicking in – and the arms straighten and extend in an effort to
regain balance. With the captured arm positioned across the defender’s
chest, if the stomach is flexed outward against the elbow, the elbow
can be easily damaged or broken.
(23) See the article “What's The Point? Speculations On
the First Move From Pinan Kata Two, Pressure Points And The Reality Of
The Death Touch” by Ronald van de Sandt in FightingArts.com’s
Reading Room under the category “Pressure
About The Author:
Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of
FightingArts.com. He has been a student of the martial arts for over
43 years. He first started in judo. Then he added karate as a student
of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and
then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama
and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed
Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th
degree black belt in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience
includes judo, aikido, diato-ryu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo,
boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying mantis, Pak
Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term
student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is
a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture
Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International
Chi Medicine Association. He holds an M.A. in International Relations
from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively
through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and
Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and
tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper
journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.