Aragaki, Ou (1840-1918)
His real name was Aragaki Seisho, and he was born in 1840 ("Ou"
simply means "old man", which is a term of respect in Japan
and Okinawa). Aragaki also had several nicknames, including Aragaki Maaya
(Aragaki the cat), which is his most common name in Okinawa, even today.
He was also known by the name Aragaki Kamadeunchu ("kama-de"
means "sickle hands" and "unchu" was the name of a
kata he was famous for, sometimes called Unsu or Unshu today).
It is said that he died in May of 1918*, although some history books
will quote a death date of 1920. Very little is actually known about this
man; even his place of birth is in question. He was born either in Kumemura
village, Okinawa, or on the nearby island of Sesoku. No photos or film
of him are available, but since he died in 1918 and photography and film
were possible at the time, there is a small chance someone will discover
these in the future. The only known likeness of him is a sketch drawing
of Aragaki, or, more likely, a relative who closely resembled him.
Aragaki held the title of "Chikudon Peichin", a title conferred
upon commoners who were officials of the royal court in Okinawa, similar
to a Samurai rank in Japan. He was fluent in Chinese and acted as an interpreter
for the court. He was even petitioned to travel to China for his interpretive
duties; there is a record of him being petitioned to go to Beijing in
September of 1870. This interrupted his instruction of a young Higashionna
Kanryo, sho himself became very famous for Tote instruction some years
It is well known that Aragaki was highly sought after for Tote instruction
near the end of his life, and was definitely one of the primary Tote instructors
of the 19th century (Tote: literally meaning "China-hand" and
refers to any martial art passed from China to Okinawa, and more commonly
refers to an eclectic blend of many Chinese styles). Some of his other
students included Higashionna Kanryo (mentioned above and teacher to Miyagi
Chojun, the Goju-Ryu founder), Funakoshi Gichin (Shotokan founder), Mabuni
Kenwa (Shito-Ryu founder) and Uechi Kanbum (Uechi-Ryu founder). These
renowned karateka sought Aragaki for training, though none of them regarded
him as their primary teacher. He was also Chitose Tsuyoshi's very first
teacher, the first who contributed to the developmnet of his art.
Aragaki was a stern taskmaster, and training under him was quite difficult.
In a time when training consisted almost entirely of kata, Chitose Tsuyoshi
noted that he was taught only one kata, Seisan, for his first seven years
of training. Chitose Tsuyoshi always attributed the idea for the name
Chito-Ryu to Aragaki because during a conversation they once had, Aragaki
said that Tote had its inception 1000 years ago in China during the T'ang
(To) era. In Japan, the word "To" signified things Chinese,
and Chito-Ryu means 1000 year, China style.
In Chito-Ryu, several of our katas still carry pieces of what Aragaki
taught to Chitose Tsuyoshi, including Shihohai, Niseishi, Seisan and Sanchin.
All of the kata were modified by Chitose Tsuyoshi into their current forms
or were influenced by other instructors during Chitose Tsuyoshi subsequent
training. Some are now significantly different from their original versions.
Aragaki's Tote was developed from teachings of Chinese martial arts masters.
It's unknown exactly what school of gungfu he trained in, but historians
generally say that he probably trained and taught Monk Fist gungfu (Arhat
Boxing). The only Chinese master mentioned in association with Aragaki
is someone by the name of Wai Xinxian (or Wai Shinzan), a famous gungfu
master in Fuzhou, a city in Fukien province, China, although there were
Not only was he a renowned Tote expert, but Aragaki was also a superb
weapons master, leaving behind several bo and sai kata including Aragaki-no-kun,
Aragaki-no-sai and Sesoku-no-kun which has about 200 techniques used against
the sword. Aragaki's weapons katas are thought to be long and beautiful.
Aragaki has many family members still practicing karate in Okinawa today,
but his descendants are primarily associated with Goju-Ryu, a style with
roots similar to Aragaki's Tote. Despite his fame as a Tote master, and
his many descendants, Aragaki left no style behind. All that remains of
this famous master's legacy are techniques and kata scattered throughout
a number of modern karate and kobujutsu styles.
Very little documentation about Tote has been preserved from the 19th
century, but there is one written record (a program schedule) of Aragaki
Seisho performing weapons and Tote demonstrations for a Chinese ambassador
to Okinawa in Shuri City (Okinawan Capital) on March 24th, 1867. Aragaki
demonstrated weapons, pre-arranged sparring and the kata Seisan. This
says a lot for Aragaki's stature as a Tote master, as this was an age
of Tote giants. Itosu Anko, Azato Anko and the most famous Tote master
of all time, "Bushi" Matsumura were all active and very well
known, yet, for whatever reasons, it was Aragaki Seisho performing a Tote
demonstration for an important foreign guest. We are fortunate to have
such a master in our history.
* This has been changed from October 18th, 1918 as orginally published.
Author: Travis Cottreau (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada) is a martial arts
historian and researcher who has been active in Chito-ryu karate since
trains at the Atlantic Karate Club, Nova Scotia's Chito-ryu Hombu
dojo, run by Sensei Michael Delaney, Godan, Shihan.
"Bible of Karate - Bubishi", Charles E. Tuttle, fourth printing
1997. Translated with commentary by Patrick McCarthy.
Colling, Michael, "The Chito Ryu Legacy", Furyu Magazine, issue
#7, Tengu Press, 1997.
Higashi, Shane: "Chito Ryu Karate", Canadian Chito Ryu Karate
Do Association, 1984.
Sells, John: "Chito Ryu Karatedo, the Legacy of Chitose Tsuyoshi",
Bugeisha Magazine, issue #2, March 1997. Maai Productions Inc., PA, U.S.A.
Sells, John: Covington, Kentucky seminar, October, 1997.
Sells, John: "Unante, the Secrets of Karate", John Sells and
Hawley Publications, 1996.
Published with persmission of Travis Cottreau. (Edited for punctuation