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Kinjo Kensei and Old Style Karate Training

By Kinjo Masanobu

Editor’s Note: This article was sent to me by Earnie Estrada a good friend and well known karate historian. He helped translate the article which was given to him. (1)

Osaka, Japan,June 15, 1964: This writer, a former practitioner of judo and kendo, came across a small training hall teaching a formidable martial art of Okinawan ancestry. Having never seen karate-style boxing, I became more fascinated that the teacher was also named Kinjo - Kinjo Kensei of Okinawa Prefecture. He teaches the "small-forest style" of Okinawan boxing and is the major disciple of Chibana Choshin-dai-shihan, also of Okinawa Prefecture.

Kinjo-shihan, wiry but of massive power and fighting spirit, demonstrated to this writer his "heaven to earth" punch. This unique punching method, possessing the most terrifying power I have ever witnessed, is capable of killing or tearing an average man asunder.

He continued by showing his other unique methods of continuously blocking or kicking followed by his "heaven to earth" punch. Looking closer, his hands were soft and pliant but scarred on the knuckles. His amazing kick to the stomach or leg was done with his big toe which was akin to a steel rod!

In a combative demonstration for this writer, two rather large students attempted to control the passive Kinjo-shihan through jujitsu type grappling. To no avail -- Kinjo-shihan grappled with them until they gave up out of fear... a fear that was plainly written on their faces! Kinjo-shihan never once struck them but used Okinawan style jujitsu methods to subdue them.

He later stated that he had no need to strike or kick them because, although his grappling methods are lethal, his empty handed techniques are even more so. This writer has no doubt of that truth!

Although karate boxing is common in Okinawa Prefecture, it has not reached the popularity of judo wrestling and kendo sword fighting here in Japan. I have witness karate boxing in demonstrations against judo but this was much akin to professional western style wrestling where one wins one day and then the other one wins the next day. Karate boxing of Okinawa Prefecture is different. It is a real budo as performed by Kinjo-shihan and a true cultural treasure if passed on correctly and honestly.

I have known Kinjo-shihan for seven months and now it is time that all in Osaka know of this small, penetrating individual. Of interesting note, and what truly caught my attention in regards to Kinjo-shihan was the fact that several of his senior students also possessed the budo attitude - a mirror image of their shihan. It was in talking to the seniors that I found out about Okinawan budo philosophy and the karate-boxing WAY.

It was akin to walking back through time and finding all that is only written about, alive and breathing here in Osaka! I was to find out that these students were special - they were uchi deshi (live in student), Okinawan style.

Some of the information in this article may seem odd for the average Japanese. Odd in a sense that people living today in modern Japan still adhere to the principles and traditional practices of the martial arts. If you, of the Japanese mind-set, find it difficult to comprehend what I write about because of the unique and oft-times submissive type relationship between a traditional martial arts teacher and his apprentice - please read on.

The idea of a martial arts uchi deshi is the concept of a student apprenticeship often practiced by cultural or national art forms. Japan has many of these forms but few serious artist! The difference is much akin to making modern-day fake swords for the masses or making a live blade for the very few. Those who know and who can appreciate the difference will tell you that there are still a few real makers of live blades, but you will be hard press to find them because nowadays everyone caters to the masses. In discussing this with a common man, the common man will wonder if they are still being made and when told that certain real artist are still doing this, he will wonder "why?"

Hence, karate boxing of Okinawa Prefecture is still considered a mystery art veiled in secrecy and, when demonstrated, held in awe or contempt. Outside of Okinawa Prefecture, there are very few recognized teachers of karate boxing. Kinjo-shihan, a native of Okinawa Prefecture, is one of them. A senior disciple of Chibana Choshin-dai-shihan, and holder of the 9-Dan Hanshi grade as awarded by the Japanese Martial Virtue Association.

Kinjo-shihan now describes his apprenticeship to this famous Okinawan budo-ka, Chibana-dai-shihan of Shuri City, Okinawa Prefecture.

As a young man, I was small in size and very timid. I learned to fight early because of this. Although I was often beaten by the larger bullies, they rarely came back for a second go around. This is because they also received a battering and bruising in subduing me. I was often knocked out or kicked so hard that I could not walk or defend myself. Even thrashed, I would not submit and they would eventually tire and leave me alone.

I believe that the first fight I did win was when "my victim" gave up because he had worn himself out by kicking and punching me. He had broken his hand from punching me in the head one too many times. Yes, it was an interesting "victory."

Due to my inability to survive physical confrontations, my family approached the great Okinawan budo-ka master, and family friend, Chibana Dai Shihan. The dai-shihan was a living martial arts legend even thirty-five years ago but his appearance did not acknowledge this. He was short, with a large chest, and talked like a young girl. He was full of humor and a common people philosophy. Although un-educated, he was a karate genius and regarded as the last living Okinawan warrior.

The dai-shihan was kind, well-mannered and had the intrinsic power of the gods. Formidable but approachable. Powerful and gentle. Un-educated but a genius. So many contradictions in the dai-shihan, and in life, but the knowledge... all this he gave freely, the warrior way, the only way he knew.

Although the dai-shihan had many, many students and followers, he had only a few serious practitioners or uchi-deshi. The uchi-deshi concept of Okinawa is different from the Japanese method. In Okinawa, an uchi deshi does not necessarily live with the master. Okinawa is a poor prefecture and living has always been hard. The uchi deshi would pay for their tuition with food, chores, basic skills or professions but rarely with money. This is because we had very few monies to give.

Nowadays, payment is in money but the uchi deshi also gives the special gift of their talents. The money is accepted and is used for the living expense of the teacher. That which the student, who must first petition the dai-shihan to be accepted as an uchi deshi, gives and is most treasured is that gift of themselves... their time, their skill, their respect, and their selves (loyalty in mind and spirit).

The teacher then gives back in kind - with personalize attention, knowledge and gifts of wisdom, experience and direction. The longer one stays with their teacher the more of an obligation one has for each other. Both continue to give to each other. The special student then begin to realize that the teacher is more than a teacher - at times he is a father, a mother, an advisor and even a chastiser. He imparts on you his values, his concerns and shares with you his overall personality - the personality that binds you to him and is equally abundant in the sacred training hall.

Chibana-dai-shihan used three methods in deciding who would be considered and possibly accepted as an uchi-deshi. Firstly, the individual had to possess a good character and show his worth to the dai-shihan through his training, his seriousness and his attention to detail. Secondly, the student must be mannerly inside and outside and demonstrate this quality even under stressful conditions. Thirdly, the individual must submit to the teacher and adhere to the teachings through training, teaching, learning and giving of themselves to prosper their own family, friends and the style.

Then, and only then, did the real training begin. Although there are many students and teachers just as gifted in skill and strength in the Chibana Association, few are asked to train at the personal level. As Kinjo-shihan states, "it is better to have a few good ones than many bad ones." The dai-shihan would pick a few for the hard and sharp special training but have them teach with kindness and benevolence - two completely opposite ways - one hard and one soft. The uchi deshi is later enlightened to the fact that they have superior ability but need not demonstrate it because the challenge is made against one's self and not against others.

Many times a youthful uchi deshi practitioner is asked to teach under the dai-shihan's watchful eyes and ears. No one complains even though there are numerous senior practitioners present. They know that the uchi deshi is being groomed to teach their budo knowledge and abilities at a high level and are challenged to share this special gift with them, the masses. The leader of the training is always an uchi deshi and, more than likely, more skillful and knowledgeable then even those seniors present!

The dai-shihan usually picks an uchi deshi apprentice during their second year of training - at the brown belt level. It is rare that an uchi deshi is over 35 years of age because by then they have other responsibilities and are unable to devote the necessary time to train, study, teach, learn and re-learn. Once picked, the uchi deshi apprenticeship last a total of three years. Ten years of knowledge in three years time!

The first year is specialize training in basics - everything about the basics is learned and taught, then re-taught and re-learned. This cycle continues for one year. You learn the art of teaching by teaching those that know nothing. You are challenged in all areas -- physically, mentally and spiritually. After the first year of apprenticeship training, you no longer strive to learn the system, you become the system. You begin to take on the basic characteristics, traits and behaviors of the dai-shihan. The dai-shihan and the uchi deshi become as one.

It is at this time that the ego and vanity come into play. One asks - "what is more important, the teacher or the student?" The relationship (engi or mutual interdependence) is an Okinawan concept that is difficult to understand. Without students, there is no teacher and without a teacher, there is no students. One is not greater than the other, the teacher has merely traveled further upon the DO. When one truly understands this concept, the deshi is able to see the teacher and himself in the proper perspective.

Chibana-dai-shihan was a good and kind task master. He was never loud or cranky but wore the mask of one at peace. His other mask, that of a budo practitioner was oft times frightening and filled with power and created an awe in those who watched.

When an uchi deshi taught, Chibana-dai-shihan would always criticize - never in private but in the open for all to hear and see. While many outsiders may be defensive at this type of open criticism, a budo student would say, "thank you dai-shihan for allowing me to look into myself, to look at my needs, and work on my perfection of character through enlightened training, learning and teaching." A real student looks for criticism in order to help himself grow. Criticism from one's teacher shows that the teacher truly is concern about this growth!

The dai-shihan would only criticize because he deeply cared about his uchi deshi and he wanted them to be the best that they can possibly be - a real budo practitioner of the "small forest school." The dai-shihan never criticized an individual to make them feel bad or inferior. Making a student, or anyone, feel inadequate only makes that teacher look bad and calls out to everyone that he has a weak character.

The dai-shihan has always seen this method of open criticism as a way to better improve a student's character through controlling of the ego and vanity. It was the dai-shihan's way of paying back his teacher by challenging an uchi deshi to improve themselves through teaching and self control. Okinawan poetry often relates "that when an animal dies, it leaves behind its skin. When a man of character dies, he leaves behind his name and his works."

Kinjo-shihan is truly an impressive and fierce warrior of Okinawa. There is no doubt to this but what is truly amazing is his ability to see everything - every detail, and every movement is taken in and scrutinized. Nothing is ever missed or discarded or taken for granted. Once again, Kinjo-shihan states that this is the Okinawan budo way - a method of survival, learned through experience and reinforced by Chibana-dai-shihan. Everything that he has learned and everything that has made him what he is today comes from the dai-shihan - in this strong belief, Kinjo-shihan shows his strong character and his humility.

A Japanese proverb states "that a tree is known for its fruit, so is a teacher known by his students." Kinjo-shihan is truly an amazing individual. His penetrating eyes can only give one a glimpse of his awesome and formidable power. His fierceness and frightful fighting attitude weakens even those who watch. If this Japanese proverb reads true, the dai-shihan must be truly amazing and probably unappreciated as Kinjo-shihan is. This is due to the fact that common people are uneducated in budo attitude and training. They see this budo art and are frightened much like all dung eating animals.

Kinjo-shihan will continue to teach in Osaka but his sacred training hall will always be small and filled with a living budo spirit. The sacred training hall will turn out formidable students in the Okinawan budo tradition.

Kinjo-shihan is also quick to say that "budo karate is not for everyone. Budo style karate is reserved for only those individuals that are of a serious nature who wish to explore the depths of their selves through hard training on a live blade reality."

Without this reality, Kinjo-shihan adds, that "you are not doing Okinawa-style boxing, you are doing masses boxing filled with dung and water!" A statement that he and his special students can back up but also a statement that will never be challenged in the open!

These are the principles that Kinjo-shihan's strives to pass on to his special students. His teacher, Chibana-dai-shihan continues to teach in the tradition of his teacher and of his teacher's teacher. Neither, Kinjo-shihan or Chibana-dai-shihan has or will ever vary from the path of the WAY.

Kinjo-shihan ends by explaining this philosophy: "It is easy to follow one's principles when your stomach is full and your bills are paid. But when you don't compromise your principles by accepting money from people who you know will never adhere to the philosophy of budo karate, you become a follower of parlor karate."

As an outsider looking in, I also see this view of philosophy. It is evident that budo karate is not for everyone and this is plain as the nose on my face. Kinjo-shihan, who may disagree, does teach two methods of karate boxing in order to keep the training hall active. One group is the common student who trains and progresses at a slow but steady rate. The other group is much smaller and noticeably different from the commoners -- they are intense and hard as a river bed rock.

They receive the personal instructions from Kinjo-shihan and then pass on these teachings to the commoners. Kinjo-shihan simply states that these are his uchi deshi - his "special budo students."


(1) Here is Estrada’s note to me about the article. “I received this small article from Miyahira Katsuya, Shorinryu Hanshi 10-Dan, in 1996 when he came to visit my dojo. He received it from one of his Japanese students from the Osaka area. This article was to be published in sports newspaper in 1964. He doesn't remember if it ever was published but he gave it to me because of my questions and interest in the esoteric practice of Okinawan martial arts. His student, Iha Seikichi, Shorinryu Hanshi 10-Dan, helped with the translation (well, actually, did all of the translation - I took the notes) and added much to the interpretation of the culture and ways of thinking in the practice of Okinawa style karate.

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