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Many styles of Karate today call themselves "Okinawan" when, in fact, they are actually Japanese. While historical lineage and genealogical pedigree make little difference when it comes to combative functionality, resolving such historical issues does help put things in proper perspective.


What is Okinawan Karate?


Knowing the answer to this question may be best understood by first identifying what Japanese Karate is. When a handful of Uchinanchu [see endnote] first introduced the empty-hand Okinawan fighting art [then referred to as Karate-jutsu 唐手術] to the mainland of Japan it was, at best, rudimentary and individualistic.

Moreover, it had no established training uniform nor common standard through which to learn, practice, and teach, or evaluate the varying competencies of learners. It took the best part of a decade for Japanese Budo authorities [see endnote] to identify and set forth the criteria necessary to transform the rudimentary and individualistic practices into an accepted Japanese-like discipline. Borrowing liberally from both Judo [柔道] and Kendo [剣道], standards authorized by the pre-war Dai Nippon Butokukai [大日本武德會] included the dogi [道着], the obi [], the Dan/Kyu [/] system, and the ippon shobu [一本勝負] method of sport fighting used in Kendo and Judo. More than mere cosmetic alterations the entire fabric of its practice underwent a cultural metamorphosis thereby eliminating what if any remaining threads of Ryukyu heritage. Conforming to Japan's inflexible shikata-based [仕方] cultural ideology not only eliminated its original Okinawan identity it also produced yet another homogeneous microcosm epitomizing every aspect of accepted social etiquette and decorum. Formalities from bowing and blindly revering ones Sensei [先生] as all-knowing, to all other accepted ways of doing things, both in and out of the dojo [道場], became the benchmark of the new tradition. Lingering anti-Chinese sentiment amidst an unrelenting backdrop of military escalation, reformation and modernization, provided reason enough to find a new name with which to describe the now Japanized combative-like discipline.


In December of 1933 the Dai Nippon Butokukai ratified Japanese Karatedo [日本空手道 --- The Japanese Way of the Empty Hand] as a new martial art, arguably with the same status as Judo and Kendo. However, unlike the hands-on combative premise common in Judo & Kendo, the potential risk of serious injury from the sheer force of blows delivered in Karate reduced its application-based practices to theory as full contact fighting without protective equipment was deemed far too dangerous. To resolve this issue enthusiasts drew upon the combative theory of Ikken Hisatsu [一拳必殺], to kill with a single blow. Architects like Konishi Yasuhiro 小西康裕, and Ohtsuka Hironori 大塚博紀 [and later Funakoshi Yoshitaka 船越義豪, and Nakayama Masatoshi 中山正敏] of modern Karate reasoned that if a strike was delivered perfectly to an anatomically vulnerable structure, but without making actual contact, it could be recognized the same as scoring an ippon in Judo or Kendo. From this [untenable] theory followed the development of incongruous "self-defense" drills, [called ippon kumite 一本組手] against a multitude of implausible attack scenarios [i.e. reverse-punches, etc.] which, to this day, identifies the practice as a discipline uniquely Japanese.


If you're learning, practicing and or teaching what has just been described, irrespective of the many names under which it is presented, you're part of a Japanese Karatedo [日本空手道] tradition ---even if it's based in Okinawa [沖縄]. This is to publicly acknowledge the rarely addressed issue of Japanese Karate reverse influencing the growth and direction of local Okinawan Karate practices in post-war Japan. Excerpted from "Legend of the Fist," by Patrick McCarthy


Karatedo is a modern and rule-bound Japanese interpretation of much older and foreign fighting practices. More precisely, it's actually based upon two remnants of five older fighting arts practiced during Okinawa's Old Ryukyu Kingdom Period. A wonderful cultural recreation and a challenging sport, often referred to as 3K-Karate, after its three principal training features---Kihon, Kata, Kumite, this new and rule-bound tradition was developed by the Japanese about seventy-five years ago. [See endnote]


* Endnote: During the years between 1921 and 1933 eight individual Uchinanchu [Gima Shinken 儀間真謹, Motobu Choki 本部 朝基, Funakoshi Gichin 船越 義珍, Chitose Tsuyoshi 千歳剛直, Miyagi Chojun 宮城 長順, Mabuni Kenwa 摩文仁賢和, Uechi Kambun 上地完文, and Toyama Kanken 遠山寬賢] traveled from Okinawa to the mainland of Japan and introduced abstract interpretations of their fighting arts principally through the practice of Kata /. The subsequent influence of the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武德會 [1895-1945] upon their individualistic practices resulted in the wearing of a [Judo 柔道] gi and obi , adopting the Dan/Kyu / system [as used in Judo/Kendo] to acknowledge progress, eliminating the both Chinese prefix and feudal-based suffix ideograms, which revealed both its foreign and less than modern origins, and establishing a rule-bound competitive format [based upon the pre-existing Ikken Hisatsu 一拳必殺  theory---to kill with a single blow---prevalent in Kendo 剣道] through which to test one's technique and fighting spirit. Such conformity not only laid the foundation upon which a common standard emerged  the inflexible social mindset and omnipotent cultural landscape, through which it was vigorously embraced and delivered, lent to assimilating the unique characteristics of Japanese Budo 日本武道. In December of 1933 the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武德會 ratified Karatedo 空手道 one of Japan's new/modern martial art  現代武道. - Patrick McCarthy 


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