Shindo Jinen-ryu Karate-do
History and Tradition of Budo
by Akihiro Omi
"It is doubtful whether the Japanese people and the country as a whole
can really be understood or appreciated by anyone without a degree of
knowledge of their martial culture." (Donn F. Draeger, Classical Bujutsu.
New York: Weatherhill, Inc., 1973)
Shindo Jinen-ryu, established in 1933 by Yasuhiro Konishi (1893-1983),
is deeply rooted in a rich tradition of Japanese warrior culture. To understand
the tradition and the philosophies that this style of karate-do represents,
we must first visit the origin of budo and trace the path on which it
1. The Birth of Japan
The land around the current Japanese islands was formed about 70 million
years ago. According to archaeologists, humans lived on the land as early
as 2.5 million years ago. During the last ice age (50,000 to 10,000 years
ago), a massive movement of the earth separated the land from the Eurasian
Continent, and the Japanese islands were formed. This geographical isolation
from the continent provided the Japanese with protection and the opportunity
to develop their own unique culture.
From 10,000 B.C through 300 B.C., the prehistoric peoples of Japan followed
a hunting and gathering way of life. Collective farming began around 300
B.C., triggering the development of irrigation systems and iron-edged
tools which increased harvests, in turn stimulating a massive population
explosion. As social hierarchies and political structures developed, competition
and warfare between villages intensified. Bronze and iron weapons were
initially obtained from the continent, but soon the Japanese were making
their own weapons such as swords, pikes, and spears. However, many of
these early Japanese-made weapons were not practical; they were used for
religious ceremonies and rituals, indicating a relatively peaceful island
nation during its early years.
2. The Unification and the Earliest Military Actions
By the fourth century A.D., Japan was unified under the imperial family
which continues to this day. The Yamato dynasty, centered around the current
Osaka area, established official diplomatic relations with Paekche (one
of the three kingdoms in the Korean peninsula) in 367 A.D. Two years later,
the Yamato dynasty sent soldiers to the Korean peninsula to defend Paekche
against its adversary, Silla. This alliance continued until 663, when
Paekche was defeated and vanquished by the powerful joint military forces
of Silla and the Tang dynasty in China.0
3. Acceptance of Buddhism and Confucianism
Although Shinto had been the indigenous religion of Japan, in 593 A.D.,
Empress Suiko declared her acceptance of Buddhism (which was introduced
through the Korean peninsula in the mid sixth century) and encouraged
the construction of Buddhist temples. In 604, crown-prince Shotoku issued
the Seventeen-Article Constitution and instituted the court ranks, the
first step in the process of establishing imperial authority, the social
order, and a moral standard. Heavily influenced by Confucian ideals, Shotoku's
constitution defined that civility, or courtesy, is the foundation of
4. The Earliest Martial Arts Competitions
The oldest documented form of martial art in Japan is "sumo." The Kojiki,
Japan's first book on history, written in 712 A.D., describes a sumo match
between two Shinto gods (Takemikazuchi and Takeminakata) on the beach
of Izumo. Takemikazuchi won the match by twisting Takeminakata's arm and
throwing him to the ground. By this victory, Takemikazuchi was awarded
the right to rule the region.
The Nihonshoki, another ancient chronicle completed in 720 A.D., documents
a sumo match held in front of Emperor Suijin in 23 B.C., where Nomi no
Sukune defeated Taima no Kehaya by kicking and breaking Kehaya's ribs.
In 726 A.D.,Emperor Seibu hosted a sumo tournament in July, which then
became an important annual palace ritual along with archery contests in
January and May. The archery contest in January was without horses, while
the contest in May involved mounted bowmen shooting arrows at targets
while riding their horses at full gallop. These earliest martial arts
competitions in Japan continued for 300 years. However, a major civil
war between the Taira and the Minamoto in the 12th century put an end
to that tradition.
5. Heian Period and the Rise of the Warrior Class
Japan established its own cultural, political, and economic identity during
the Heian Period (794-1185). Buddhism flourished, and the separation of
religion and state was largely maintained. Literature and art thrived
under the aristocratic civilian government rule. Until the 10th century,
Japanese soldiers were mostly a combination of lower-rank aristocrats,
their servants, and other civilians who took weapons whenever needed.
However, the formation of specialized full-time warrior groups, consisting
mostly of skilled archers, brought about the birth of a warrior class.
In rural areas, warrior groups gained political power, and civilian administrators
could not control them. This threatened state control over lands, and
the country was headed toward anarchy and corruption. Furthermore, major
Buddhist temples recruited and trained warrior-monks for protection and
used militant force to make political demands on the government.
In 1167, Kiyomori Taira, the first warrior to become a member of the high
court, rose to dominate the court, and the Taira warrior clan controlled
the government until 1185. This signified the beginning of warrior rule
in Japan, which continued for 700 years.
6. Kamakura Period and the Rise of the Samurai
In 1185, the Minamoto clan, commanded by Yoritomo Minamoto, defeated their
archenemy, the Taira clan. In 1192, the imperial court granted Yoritomo
the title shogun (general) and gave him permission to start a government
in Kamakura. Away from the hedonistic capital city of Kyoto, Yoritomo
created a warrior society with a distinct military aristocracy. In the
Kamakura Period (1192-1333), the term "samurai" indicated a specific rank
of mounted warriors. In later years, the term came to denote all warriors.
Kamakura society exalted loyalty, honor, modesty, and frugality - ideals
that later inspired the code of the warrior, or "bushido."
A sect of Buddhism that flourished in this period was Zen. Its simplicity
and emphasis on self-discipline and meditation as the means to enlightenment
particularly appealed to the warrior class. The Zen ideal of enhancing
one's level of awareness to overcome fear of death gave much needed mental
strength to warriors who had to fight constant battles. Under the guardianship
of the Kamakura government, many Zen temples were constructed in the Kamakura
area, and Zen became the guiding philosophy for the Kamakura warriors.
In addition to refining their fighting skills, the Kamakura warriors were
expected to be proficient in calligraphy, painting, poetry, music, and
The martial arts of the Kamakura period were rugged fighting skills and
are referred to "bugei." The most important fighting skill was "yabusame,"
or archery on horseback.
10. The Edo Period
After Lord Hideyoshi's death, Lord Ieyasu Tokugawa's army won a decisive
battle in Sekigahara against the remaining Toyotomi clan in 1600. Lord
Ieyasu received the title of shogun from the emperor in 1603, and opened
his shogunate in Edo (current Tokyo). Law and order replaced chaos, and
possession and use of weapons were strictly regulated. During the Edo
Period (1603-1868), Japan isolated itself from the rest of the world,
and prospered in peace for over two centuries through significant political,
social, economic, and cultural developments.
The concept of "budo" was established in the early Edo Period. Although
Zen has been the guiding philosophy for the samurai since the Kamakura
Period in the 13th Century, the peace and social stability of the Edo
Period allowed bujutsu to be integrated with Zen. The transformation from
"bujutsu" to "budo" occurred.
The persons who played the key role in this transformation were Zen Master
Soho Takuan and Sword Master Munenori Yagyu who was the Tokugawa shogun's
chief kenjutsu instructor. Takuan wrote in his Immovable Wisdom (a series
of letters to Munenori) that the mind of a zen master is the same as the
mind of a swordmaster; "the mind that does not stop at all is called immovable
wisdom." Munenori defined his art as "the life-giving sword," and wrote
in his Family Book of Swordsmanship, "No-sword is held to be the exclusive
secret of this school."
Musashi Miyamoto also accepted Zen and wrote in his Book of Five Rings,
"Then you will come to think of things in a wide sense and, taking the
void as the Way, you will see the Way as void."
The void ("ku" or "mu") is the essence of Zen teachings. Both "immovable
wisdom" and "no-sword" indicate the emptiness of the mind. This line of
thought was further developed in the Meiji Period by Sword and Zen Master
Tesshu Yamaoka with his Muto-ryu ("School of No-sword").
Throughout the Edo Period, "bugei," "bujutsu," and "budo" coexisted. "Bugei"
was the variety of combat skill required of all samurai. Required "bugei"
disciplines included the sword, spear, pike, archery, jujutsu, horsemanship,rifle
shooting, swimming, and others, for the total of 18 disciplines ("bugei
ju happan"). "Bujutsu" were the weapons arts for combat purposes which
were more refined and systematically developed. "Budo" was the means to
improve oneself through martial training.
Beginning in the mid-Edo Period, many kenjutsu schools geared toward character
development adapted bamboo sticks, or "shinai," and protective armor,
or "bogu," to reduce injury during practice. These schools were heavily
criticized by other bujutsu-oriented schools as impractical.
In 1609, the Satsuma clan in Kyushu sent 3,000 soldiers to Okinawa to
conquer the islands. King Shonei was captured and taken to Satsuma, but
was later allowed to return to Okinawa to govern the islands. Satsuma
maintained Okinawa's relative independence to enable foreign trade with
China and Korea which was banned by the Tokugawa government. This independence
ended when the Meiji government officially incorporated Okinawa into Japanese
The arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853 ended Japan's isolation
from the rest of the world. American gun-ship diplomacy reopened Japan's
diplomatic and commercial relations with the Western world, and brought
down the Tokugawa regime, along with 700 years of warrior rule.
11. The Meiji Restoration
Emperor Meiji declared the restoration of direct imperial rule in 1868.
Feudalism was abolished, and the modernization of Japan has begun.
The Meiji Restoration significantly altered the culture and lifestyle
of the Japanese. The Meiji government's first priority was to strengthen
the national defense by organizing a Western-style military force. The
Military Conscription Ordinance in 1873 required all Japanese citizens
to serve three years of active service and four years in the reserves.
The class structure was eliminated, and the samurai class was phased out.
The traditional martial arts were deemed as useless old-fashioned fighting
techniques, and were all but abandoned.
As imperial rule was restored for the first time in 700 years, Buddhism
(and Zen) was dismissed, and Shinto became the national religion. The
samurais lost not only their privileges but also their guiding philosophy.
Some former samurai became aristocrats while others became merchants or
farmers to earn a living. Most of them abandoned the practice of martial
However, as Western sports such as baseball, gymnastics, and track & field
were introduced, the once forgotten martial arts were gradually revived
as native-Japanese sports. The Ministry of Education supported the movement
to promote physical education among the nation.
Both Tesshu Yamaoka and Jigoro Kano opened their dojos in 1882. Yamaoka's
Shunpukan was to teach kendo and Zen, while Kano transformed jujutsu to
judo and taught the art in his Kodokan. Kano promoted not only judo but
also sports in general. He established the Dai Nippon Taiikukai (Japan
Athletic Association) in 1901 which governed all sports, and became the
first Japanese member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in
1909. Kano participated in the 5th Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden
in 1912 as the head of the Japanese delegate.
The Meiji government's economic policies produced a rapid industrial revolution,
and within a short period of time, Japan joined the industrialized nations.
The Imperial Constitution, promulgated in 1889, declared the emperor "sacred
and inviolable." However, the emperor himself reigned rather than ruled.
As a result of the war with China in 1894-95, Japan acquired the island
of Taiwan and a large indemnity as well as its share of access to the
Chinese market. In 1904-05, Japan fought a war with Russia and won. Japan
gained recognition of its paramount interests in Korea, took back the
southern Manchurian leases, and acquired the southern half of Sakhalin.
Korea was formally annexed to Japan in 1910. In 1914, Japan took part
in World War I on the side of the Allies.
The series of war victories promoted national pride, and the Meiji government
decided to use martial arts as physical educational tools to improve the
health of school-age children. Behind this decision, there was persistent
lobbying by Tesshu Yamaoka and Jigoro Kano. In 1895, the Dai Nippon Butoku-kai
was established as the governing body for all budo.
12. Yasuhiro Konishi and The Introduction of Karate to the Japanese
Yasuhiro Konishi was born in 1893 on the island of Shikoku. He started
studying Muso-ryu jujutsu at age 6, kendo at age 13, and Takenouchi-ryu
jujutsu at age 15. Konishi moved to Tokyo in 1915 and enrolled in the
elite Keio University. He was a captain of the varsity kendo club, and
after graduation was appointed the university's kendo instructor.
While in the university, Konishi was renting a room in a jujutsu dojo
and earned living as bodyguard or bouncer. Just before his graduation,
a junior member of the kendo club, Tsuneshige Arakaki, an Okinawan native,
demonstrated at a club party a dance that he called "Kushanku dance."
Konishi was intrigued by this exotic looking art from Okinawa. Konishi
opened the Ryobu-kan dojo in 1923 and started teaching kendo and jujutsu,
while learning karate from Arakaki.
Gichin Funakoshi (1870-1957) came to the Japanese mainland in 1917 for
the first time to give a demonstration of karate at Butokuden in Kyoto.
By the invitation of Judo-founder Jigoro Kano, Funakoshi returned to the
mainland in 1922 to perform another karate demonstration at Kodokan in
Tokyo. For this demonstration, Funakoshi hand-stitched white uniforms
for himself and for his partner Shinkin Gima, an Okinawan native and a
member of Kodokan.
The demonstration was attended by over 350 people, including newspaper
reporters, and was a huge success. This demonstration by Funakoshi and
Gima marks the starting point of modern-day karatedo. The newspaper articles
on the demonstration raised public interest in the art and generated massive
number of requests for additional karate demonstrations and instruction.
Funakoshi postponed his return to Okinawa, and started teaching karate
in Meisei-juku, a dormitory for Okinawan students in Tokyo.
In 1924, Funakoshi, accompanied by his senior student Hironori Otsuka
(founder of Wado-ryu), came to see Konishi at the Keio University and
asked for Konishi's permission to use the kendo dojo during off-training
hours for karate practice. Konishi not only granted his permission but
also invited Funakoshi to come to his Ryobu-kan dojo to teach him karate.
The Keio University Karate Club was established on October 15, 1924.
In addition to training at Funakoshi's Meisei-juku dojo, Konishi received
karate instruction from Choki Motobu and Kenwa Mabuni (founder of Shito-ryu).
While Konishi respected Funakoshi's personality and Mabuni's technical
refinement, he was most impressed by Motobu's fighting abilities. Motobu
was by far the best karate fighter of his time. Konishi, a successful
bonesetter and a real estate investor, provided financial assistance to
these and other Okinawan karate instructors.
Konishi continued his kendo training under the instruction of legendary
master Hakudo Nakayama, who was called "kensei," or kendo god. Nakayama
suggested to Konishi that karatedo had the potential to become "empty-hand
Konishi also studied Aikido under Aikido-founder Morihei Ueshiba. Under
Ueshiba's guidance, Konishi developed a series of Taisabaki kata. The
footwork, the body movement, and the applications ("bunkai") in these
kata are based on both Karate and Aikido principles.
Ryobu-kan was the place-to-be for all serious budo-ka in Tokyo.
On the recommendation of Morihei Ueshiba and Shinto scholar Danjo Yamaguchi,
Konishi named his style of karate "Shindo Jinen-ryu Karate-jutsu" in 1933
which was later renamed as "Shindo Jinen-ryu Karate-do." "Shindo (godly)"
was a common prefix for many kenjutsu styles. Konishi used this prefix
to indicate that his karate properly succeeded the heritage of traditional
Japanese budo. "Jinen" (also pronounced "shizen" meaning "natural") indicates
his natural approach to the art. Because Konishi studied under many renowned
karate masters of the time, his Shindo Jinen-ryu Karate-do included cross-sections
of kata and basics from many different styles. However, the most influential
styles were Shotokan, Shito-ryu, and Motobu-ryu.
In 1934, celebrated boxer Tsuneo "Piston" Horiguchi joined Ryobu-kan,
and studied karate and kendo under Konishi. Horiguchi also received hands-on
instructions from Choki Motobu at the Ryobu-kan dojo. A few months later,
Horiguchi won the Japanese Featherweight Boxing Title.
13. Transformation of Karate in the Early Showa Period
The Keio University Karate Club was the first to change karate (China
hand) to karate (Empty hand) in 1929. However, the substitution meant
much more than a mere cosmetic change. One of the founding members of
the Keio University Karate Club, Goro Shimokawa was a member of the Enkaku
Temple in Kamakura (thegarden of which contains a monument commemorating
Funakoshi with the inscription written by Zen master Sogen Asahina which
reads "There is no first attack in karate"). After studying Zen at this
temple, Funakoshi was persuaded by his students at Keio to change the
character to Kara (Empty or Void) which contains profound meaning in the
The adaptation of Zen signified that the Chinese/Okinawan fighting art
of karate had transformed itself into a Japanese budo. "Karate-do" was
Konishi was one of the first group of students who received Dan ranks
from Gichin Funakoshi. However, Konishi knew that if karate were to be
respected by the budo community, it had to be a part of the Dai Nippon
Butoku-kai. Konishi used his political influence, as well as the fact
that he was already a senior member through kendo, so that the Butoku-kai
would recognize karate as a legitimate Japanese budo and would issue official
ranking certifications. This became reality in 1935, when the Butoku-kai
awarded Konishi the title ("shogo") of Karate-do Kyoshi for the first
time. By 1941, the Butoku-kai awarded the Kyoshi title to Yasuhiro Konishi,
Chojun Miyagi, and Sannosuke Uejima; and the Renshi title to Gichin Funakoshi,
Kenwa Mabuni, Hironori Otsuka, Takeshi Shimoda, Gigo Funakoshi, and 18
As Japan prepared for an upcoming war with the United States, public interest
in budo ballooned. Along with other budo masters, Funakoshi, Motobu, Mabuni,
Otsuka, and Konishi instructed in military schools. However, in the age
of modern-day warfare, budo was primarily to give solders the strength
to face fear of death, much like what the Kamakura warriors looked for
14. The War
After only 15 years of Emperor Taisho's reign, Emperor Showa (known to
Westerners as Emperor Hirohito) acceded to the throne in 1926 at age 25.
However, increasing right-wing movement and military intervention into
politics pushed Japan to gradually move away from democracy and parliamentarianism
toward militarism, totalitarianism, and expansionism. By means of assassination
and intimidation, the Japanese military took control of the parliament.
In 1942, the military regime took over the Dai Nippon Butoku-kai and restructured
it as a military-dictated national budo organization. However, the new
Butoku-kai (also referred to as "Tojo Butoku-kai") failed to obtain the
support of individual budo federations, and expansion of the War made
it impossible to hold seminars or competitions.
To escape the U.S.-lead economic sanctions and to establish military dominance
in Asia and the Pacific, the military-lead government of Japan attacked
Pearl Harbor in December 1941 to destroy the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The War
came to an end with the blast of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki
in 1945. Japan's unconditional surrender brought an end to World War II.
15. Post-War Japan and Budo
The Allied Occupation directed by General Douglas MacArthur pushed through
a sweeping series of reforms including the disarmament of the military,
a new constitution, land reforms, the dismemberment of zaibatsu (plutocracy),
and major changes in legal codes. The Dai Nippon Butoku-kai was ordered
to dissolve, and all martial arts were temporarily banned, with the exception
Konishi and Ryobu-kan survived the War which destroyed most of Japan and
killed many devoted martial artists. As post-war chaos was replaced by
rapid economic growth, Konishi worked hard to revive both kendo and karatedo.
When Kiyoshi Yamazaki joined Ryobu-kan in 1956 at age 16, there were approximately
50 adult students practicing kendo and karatedo under Konishi's instruction.
Yamazaki, who also studied Shoto-kai style karate during his college years,
left Japan for the United States in 1969 to spread the art to the rest
of the world.
Like Aikido Master Morihei Ueshiba, Konishi emphasized that budo training
is to build one's character and create harmony between the body, the mind,
and the technique. Although bujutsu aspects still coexisted, Konishi's
karate became distinctively budo, which is for building physical and mental
strength through the study of the martial principles.
The 17th Century Zen Master Takuan determined that "Kendo and Zen are
one and the same." Konishi applied this philosophy to karate; "Karatedo
and Kendo (therefore Zen) are one and the same." The sword and the mind
disappeared into void, and karatedo became "Empty-hand Kendo," as Kendo
Master Hakudo Nakayama had foreseen. Konishi wrote the following poem
which describes the principle of his karate:
Not to hit someone
Nor to be defeated
It is to avoid trouble
Konishi was one of the greatest budo masters of all time. He was also
a successful businessman, an educator, and a political activist. He worked
tirelessly to bring respectability to karatedo, and his effort and patronage
moved karatedo forward.
Yasuhiro Konishi died in 1982. His son, Takehiro succeeded Ryobu-kan,
and is currently directing Shindo Jinen-ryu as Yasuhiro Konishi II, assisted
by Kiyoshi Yamazaki, the International Director of the Japan Karate-Do
In April 1987, the Budo Charter was established by a committee consisting
of representatives from all major budo disciplines. The Charter defines
the object of budo as "to cultivate character, enrich the ability to make
value judgments, and foster a well disciplined and capable individual
through participation in physical and mental training utilizing martial
techniques." The tradition of budo lives on.
The history of karate-do did not begin in Okinawa. It goes back much furtherin
time. Although karate-do's technical origin clearly exists in China, its
philosophical origin is the tradition of budo in Japan.
Actually, Taoism and Zen also came from China, so one can say that everything
came from China. However, the idea of budo is unique to Japan. Emphasis
is different in Chinese arts.
Note that, by all means, bujutsu is not a lesser art. It just has different
objectives than budo. Japanese word "gei-jutsu" means "art." Karate-jutsu
(karate as bujutsu) is definitely an art with cultural significance, and
it must be preserved as such.
Karate-do is becoming safer and, therefore, technically simpler. You can
call it either progress or destruction. However, it is moving toward its
objective: perfection of character.
Karate's Olympic participation would, most part, benefit karate-do, but
it might be destructive to some karate-jutsu schools because they might
lose students. Commercial karate dojos would slowly disappear as karate-do
becomes popular. Karate-do would be mainly taught in the high school and
college levels. However, I believe that is what Senseis. Kano, Funakoshi,
and Konishi intended. These visionaries have foreseen the educational
value in karate-do.
There is a good reason that Dr. Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, actively
promoted sports in Japan, supported the IOC, and encouraged Japan's participation
in the Olympics. He would have loved to see judo being an Olympic event.
Unfortunately, Dr. Kano passed away (on his way back from an IOC meeting
in Europe) long before judo's inclusion in 1960.
Dr. Kano was Sensei Funakoshi's mentor. Until his death, Sensei Funakoshi
always removed his hat and bowed deeply everytime he passed in front of
Kodokan, even when he was riding a bus or a train. Although Sensei Funakoshi
never approved of karate competition, he never stood in the way. He would
probably do the same about the karate's Olympic movement.
Japan Karate-Do Ryobu-Kai of Northern California
"But one who speaks in a borrowed tongue should be thankful if he can
just make himself intelligible."
- Inazo Nitobe