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
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
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),
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
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
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
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
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."