Kinjo Hiroshi
"Unknown but not Unknowing"
1997-2012 Copyright by Patrick McCarthy

Never having entered a tournament, wrestled a bear, made a movie, set a record for knocking people out, breaking bricks, boards or even ice for that matter, Kinjo Hiroshi (President of the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society) remains one of Japan's most revered masters of karatedo.  At eighty one years old, the master has been immersed with the study of karatedo for more than seven decades. And yet, commanding such respect in Japan, this man remains one of karate's most unpretentious authorities, virtually unknown in the Western world. Having appeared on the cover of one of the very first magazines to ever promote karate in Japan, revered as a historian and a prolific writer, Kinjo's unrelenting quest to master this art brought him into contact with some of the most prominent & early Okinawan pioneers during his youth such as Motobu Choki, Funakoshi Gichin, Miyagi Chojun, Gusukuma Shinpan, Mabuni Kenwa and Chibana Choshin.


The late pioneer of modern Shorinryu karate, Chibana Choshin, once referred to Kinjo as a "walking dictionary of karate history, philosophy and application." Echoing his words was Richard Kim, the man first responsible for introducing the Dai Nippon Butokukai to the West, who said that "few possess Kinjo's encyclopaedic knowledge." Although an entire volume might better describe the life of this remarkable man, the purpose of this presentation is to introduce a teacher whose made a significant impact upon understanding of this tradition while examining some of those convictions most central to his lifetime of experience.    

 A rare prewar photo of Kinjo Hiroshi (seated far right)
with two of his teachers Oshiro Chojo & Tokuda Anbun


Kinjo Sensei as he appeared in 1947 
on the cover of Karate Magazine



Born on St. Valentine’s day 1919 in Okinawa's old castle district of Shuri, Kinjo (Kanagushiku) Hiroshi learned his art directly under the tutelage of two legendary Uchinadi masters: Hanashiro Chomo (1869-1945) and Oshiro Chojo (1888-1935). Taking his first lessons in 1926 from his grandfather Kanagushiku Okina, Kinjo began his formal karatejutsu training while in the second grade of Okinawa's Men's Teachers College `Elementary School.'


That was a wonderful time in my life', recalled master Kinjo. "We vigorously embraced a set of standards and kind of austerity no longer valued in this generation," he often says. In retrospect, Masters Hanashiro and Oshiro are both remembered for teaching that inner-discovery through karate enhanced the value of life, and of the world in which one dwelt. They maintained that by transcending ego-related distractions, one could easily get beyond the immediate results of physical training and discover the world within.


The Old Ways

Pursuing karate under the guidance of teachers like that I came to learn more than just how to defend myself. I ultimately came to find immeasurable happiness and inner-peace through my training. I have always remained faithful to such immutable precepts and have enjoyed a modest but fruitful life. While the jutsu element defines the defensive parameters of our tradition, the inner-peace is what the do aspect of the the art represents. 


What is taught as karate today and what I learned as a youth are two completely different practices," says Master Kinjo. Karate in Okinawa's pre-war public school system emphasized physical fitness & character development through embracing kata as daily group practice. However, some of us who excelled in our training often sought out and received instruction in the old-ways from men like Oshiro, Gusukuma, Tokuda & Hanashiro etc.


Even though the nature and content of our training may have varied from one teacher to the next, practice was application-based and emphasized body contact. During those days we always observed a custom of learning one-on-one with our teachers either late at night or early in the morning because of our studies and the work obligations of the individual teacher. It was because the heat & humidity during the day was simply too intense to train hard and not so much because of secrecy. Most people in my neighborhood knew who taught karate and where. What they taught however was another question. Moreover, there was no charge to learn like there is today, students were selected or recommended by other teachers and often brought food, clothing or drink. 


"The Japanese reorganized our native practice into a budo during the early part of this century, after which the practice reflected a different culture, language and values from whence it had originally evolved," said Kinjo. It is true that Grandmaster Itosu revolutionized our art when he took it out from behind the closed doors of obscurity and into the public eye, however, it still  maintained its unique Okinawan flavor.


After it was introduced to the mainland  Karate adopted a common Japanese-style practice uniform, the belt and dan/kyu grading standard, became systematized into various signature practices, took on a different name and evolved as a rule-bound competitive recreation with new & innovative training methods not previously known in Okinawan karate circles.


Form vs Function
While it may be true that the modern competitive phenomenon and its subsequent commercial exploitation has revolutionized the practice & purpose of karate, we must not overlook the imbalance it has also brought about.

The fact that I am and have always been a big supporter of sport karate is besides the point. Anyone who understands the unabridged history of this practice can attest to how influential the competitive element truly is and what it has done internationally to popularize our native art. However, such popularity also has its drawbacks and has necessitated a myriad of eclectic interpretations so great that the older practices are on the verge of vanishing altogether.


The old kata, and those training methods which link them to their corresponding defensive themes and application principles, the unabridged history of karate, its moral precepts and introspective practice have all been overshadowed by modern competitive interests and utilitarian outcomes unlike those originally known. I fear that too few understand what karate actually represents, mused Kinjo.  Even when I talk to young Okinawan instructors today few seem to have any idea what the original defensive themes represent or that modern "Okinawa" karate is nothing like the training once embraced in Okinawa's old Ryukyu Kingdom.


I cannot honestly say that the karate athletes of today are inferior to those of my day, in fact, quite the opposite is true: Today's athletes are incredibly superior to say the very least. However, in the same breath I must also confess that such modern methods never existed in my youth and no where on our tiny island was there ever the kind of fighting contests which exists today. Actually, old-school training methods are defensive by nature and our teachers historically intended to prepare us to be able to respond effectively against the acts of violence that we could not avoid. By virtue of its defensive nature, karate training was never meant to address mutual confrontation. If and when two stalwarts felt the need to settle an issue they arranged to meet each other and tested their skill & spirit through kake-damashi: (A practice not unlike sticky hands where two opponents cross arms and try to best each other.)


Up until the war generation Okinawan culture was unlike it is today. Despite our laid back ways, there existed  an island placidity which is unknown in the thriving metropolis of modern Okinawa. Being born and brought up in Shuri, no where did I never experience the kind of violence that is so common today. It's no wonder that karate has changed so radically understanding that the character of our culture is diametrically different. Today people seem too self-centered and stressed out ready to fight at the drop of a hat.



Front row (L-R) Yagi Meitoku, Nagamine Shoshin, Kinjo Hiroshi, Chibana choshin, Higa Seiko, HigaYuchoku. Middle row (L-R) Fukuchi Seiko, Uechi Kanei, Miyahira Katsuya & Jokei Kushi Back row (L-R) ?,?,?, Nakazato Shugoro, ?,? & Toguchi Seikichi



Kinjo Sensei with Oyama Masutatsu 
at his residence in post-war Japan



Kinjo Sensei with Izumigawa Kanki at the Kyoto Butokukai   


Mas Oyama, Mukai san, Richard Kim & Higa Yuchoku 
at the Pilot House in Yokohama 
Photo by Kinjo Hiroshi


Kinjo Hiroshi 
Master of Koryu Uchinadi

   [L-R Standing] Gusukuma Shimpan, Chitose Tsuyoshi (?) Chibana Choshin, Nakasone Genwa
[L-R Seated] Kyan Chotoku, Yabu Kentsu, Hanashiro Chomo, Miyagi Chojun
 Kinjo Hiroshi & Richard Kim in post war Japan    Patrick McCarthy with Kinjo Sensei 
at the Fujisawa Koryukan
 Patrick McCarthy with Kim Sensei  Kinjo Sensei during WW2  Patrick McCarthy with Kinjo Sensei  Richard Kim & Mas Oyama
The Voice of Experience 
by Patrick McCarthy 


The following presentation is a synthesis of an interview I conducted with O-sensei Kinjo during his inaugural visit to Australia in 1997 and his recollection of karate in post-war Japan. Part of this material appeared in issue #11 of Gajumaru Tsushin and I'd like to thank Kinjo Sensei for permitting the Society to publish his work in the Koryu Journal.


KJ: Sensei, first of all I'd like to welcome you to Australia and ask you what's your impression of karate students here? 


KH: Well, my trip has been fairly brief despite the fact that I have visited many cities, however, I must say that my first impression is positive as I found all students very enthusiastic and bent upon resolving “the mysteries of kata.” 


KJ: Sensei, the Australian seminar participants are meeting you for the very first time during this trip and know little about your background, may I therefore ask you to speak a little bit about your two principal teachers, Hanashiro Chomo and Oshiro Chojo?

KH: O-Sensei Hanashiro could always answer any question from any angle about kata and loved to discuss defensive themes & application principles because he was such a fanatic. Beyond that, he was quite modest. He virtually had studied all the time. He deeply emphasized this concept in his teaching and I want to reinforce that message to Society members both here & abroad. Hanashiro was the best student and Shihandai of Itosu Soke. Yet, at no time during his life did O-sensei ever take advantage of his position. He did not boast of his skill or knowledge and never spoke badly of others, despite a few envious teachers who often tried to discredit him for self-serving purposes. I never ever heard him once say, "I am 'a' or 'the' Shihandai of the founder of modern karate (Itosu.) In fact, I only ever learned that he was Master Itosu's top disciple from others who told me how fortunate I was to have learned from him. Master Hanashiro always focused upon physical conditioning, understanding the application of kata and modesty. 


Twenty years younger than O-sensei, Master Oshiro Chojo's convictions were different. Oshiro sensei was an incredible bujin (martial artist) who favored bojutsu (Yamaneryu) and loved boxing. He maintained that if a bujin mastered Uchinadi they could defeat a boxer without using kicking technique despite the speed and conditioning of the pugilist. A boxer uses gloves and trains to compete in a rule-bound arena the bujin does not. Judging by brutal and unimpeded application principles I learned from Oshiro, I never doubted him for a moment.


Hanashiro & Oshiro were both students of Itosu who also trained with Bushi Matsumura, however, they studied at different times and therefore were taught in different ways. Let me offer this explanation. An artist may paint a wonderful picture during his twenties and yet the way the same picture is painted during his sixties is usually completely different. People today usually do not take under consideration such changes when addressing the teaching/learning issue, however, it is paramount to understanding the nature of change.


KJ: Sensei may I ask you to elaborate upon the significance of individual research in karate as an adjunct to better understanding the art and personal growth? 


KH: Grandmaster Itosu used to say, "Mastering Karate meant establishing inner-peace:" (Peaceful Mind.) Young people care little for this kind of talk, as they are too immature to understand its value. In light of this knowledge old-school teachers have always exploited this opportunity to develop athleticism and manners in their young students. Providing one has good instruction, the learning spectrum from youth to adulthood should be imbued with developing good learning habits, understanding protocol and developing a sense of both morality and integrity while forging a powerful physical delivery system. Only in maturity can a bujin truly embrace patience and genuinely recognize the benefits of inward searching. This path guides a learner to external pursuits, comparative study, illumination and personal independence: this is the way of Toudi (karate.) 


KJ: Is this the course that you have followed throughout your life?


KH: I’ve learned to fit into society through following this path. Although, in truth, I must admit that I have often veered off of the path. However, in retrospect, I believed that this too is part of the way as it only serves to fortify previous convictions. From such experience we reap more than just knowledge, we gain wisdom.


KJ: I remember the important lesson I learned under you about Japanese “Tatemae (Surface motives) and Honne (one's true intentions.)[1] However, it was not until I connected it to the Omote (Surface intention) and Ura (Back or 'that which one cannot see': i.e. Secret) of kata bunkaijutsu that its full meaning revealed itself to me. Is this what you mean when discussing the value of independent research? 

Patrick san, you lived in Japan for much of your early adult life and are better able to grasp elements of Japanese culture that evade those who have never resided in my country or only visited for short periods of time. Budo, of which karate is an integral part, is a miniature representation of our homogeneous culture and therefore permeated by ancient rituals & customs, social ideology and profound spiritual conviction: All paths of all budo are paved with physical conditioning, moral philosophy and spiritual introspection and teach the same message.  


KJ:  Sensei, how do you feel about such teachings being handed down to the next generation?


KH: Well, at nearly eighty years old I have pursued Uchinadi all my life and cannot imagine what life would be like without it. However, I cannot expect everyone to think as I do. Yet, what I would like to say to Society members is that Uchinadi is not only technique, not only physical, but a body of principles that when learned systematically provides a remarkable conduit through which daily life can be lived to its fullest.


KJ: Sensei, yesterday you were speaking about an open karate exhibition in post-war Tokyo, may I ask you to reflect upon your recollection of that time?


KH: Although my memory is getting a little vague these days, fortunately, I still have the newspaper article and poster from the 1948 Okinawan open karate exhibition to help me remember. It was 4 years after the war was over when Japan was running desperately short of supplies. Despite the fact that the war had come to an end and peace prevailed, life was terribly difficult and Japan was still under the control of General MacArthur. That year we witnessed the hanging of former Butokukai chief and Prime Minister, General Tojo Hideki (1884-1948) along with the execution of 7 others convicted as war criminals. If that was not enough, the Minister of Finance Hirasawa Sadamichi was also sentenced to death, Mr. Kurusu was arrested in connection with the Shoden Scandal and there was also the passing of Okumume Omo.


What little good news I remember that year was the Japanese Housewives Association being established, the introduction of maternity record books, the remarkable Hibari Misora making her national singing debut and the birth of my oldest daughter.


There was much change as I recall with MacArthur ordering educational & agrarian reform, the dissolution of plutocratic nepotism and the prohibition of martial arts. Fortunately karate was not among the prohibited list of martial arts and continued to be publicly taught at universities and elsewhere. However, the majority of Japanese people didn’t even have suitable houses to live let alone the luxury of recreation as everyone was so busy trying to earn their daily bread. Few took very much interest in the general practice karate or other cultural recreations for that matter.


However, life for tertiary-level learners was a completely different story and karate clubs rapidly gained enormous popularity. Life & training opportunities for university students were simply far better than those of the general working stiff. I know it's probably hard to believe these days but I can remember when there were only about five actual karate dojo in Tokyo. The Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto & Kobe) district wasn't much better during the post war years either despite Mabuni Kenwa's diligent efforts to improve it. 


I remember during that time that in an around the Kanto district (Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama, Ibaragi, Gunma & Tochigi) there were several Okinawans who gained success teaching Uchinadi. Of course everyone recalls that the great Funakoshi Gichin continued teaching despite losing the Shotokan in Mejiro during the war. Toyama Kanken built a kindergarten in Meguro where he established a dojo he called the Shudokan. Izumikawa Kanki opened the Senbukan in Kawasaki where he taught Gojuryu. Akamine Shosuke lived just beside him and usually taught bojutsu there. Shimabukuro Kosuke resided in Yokohama's Tsurumi Ward and taught karate out of his garage while fellow countryman Higaonnna Hiroshi opened a dojo down in Zushi. Gyokue Hiroyasu, an Okinawan we were all so proud of because he was decorated by the Emperor himself, established a dojo up in Gunma Prefecture and later became an executive officer in the All Japan Karatedo Federation.


It was around that time that Uechi Sakae, of the Okinawa Youth Federation, asked me if I would support & participate in a three-day open Karate exhibition to be held at the Tokyo open-air theater in Shinjuku's Kabukicho. The principal demonstrators at the exhibition were Toyama Kanken, Izumikawa Kanki, Akamine Shosuke, Shimabukuro Kosuke, Maeda Yoshiaki, a couple of young fellows whose names and faces I can no longer remember and myself.


As Karate was not so well known at that time, I remember making a small brochure for the audience so that they would better understand its history, theory & application. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of that brochure anymore. Agreeing to perform tameshiwari (lit. a test 'of breaking') I remember using my own pocket money to purchase some boards. At that time an average man’s salary was about 2,800 yen. In order to make some money, I went out and sold the material which my father sent me from the USA to make suits. I collected about 12,000 yen and used the money to purchase the materials necessary to put on the demonstration. 


When I received the poster for the event, which read "WELCOME TO THE Tobiiri-style ("on the spur of the moment:" meaning that participants did not have to register for the event, it was open to anyone) Exhibition, I remember thinking to myself "Wow! The organizer is promoting an open-exhibition and has not listed any rules.  I wonder if he is aware of the dangers and ramifications of such an advertisement?"  Actually, in my honest opinion, I felt that the poster was poorly made anyway, as it had several blatant spelling mistakes. Looking back at those youthful days and our naivete, most of the participants that I knew were easily provoked by such invitations anyway. With so much chaos going on during that unsettled post-war era and the horrific destruction my home (Okinawa) suffered there was a kind of patriotism flowing through our veins that made many young Okinawan men of my age jump at the opportunity to defend our cultural heritage without really thinking.


As I was experienced at this kind of challenge, I thought it important to settle upon certain rules for the safety of all involved. As I was not aware of the intentions of the other participants I decided to bring two sets of kendo gear with me that I had been using in daily practice. By using the protective equipment a safety measure could serve against the damage that my opponents or I might incur from the damage that unimpeded techniques might cause.


On the day of the exhibition I noticed that the stage area upon which to perform was quite shabby and we were all concerned about our getting splinters in our bare feet. However, after a closer inspection I discovered that it would be suitable if we were careful and worked around the problems. I also noticed that a handful of Takushoku University students, gi's in hand, were lined up to enter the exhibition. Despite the fact that the exhibition did not attract a full house the MC, Mr. Uechi Sakae, got the event under way and we all enjoyed the moment. The details of the exhibition were even published in the Okinawa Shinminpo newspaper: Toyama Kanken demonstrated his powerful Gojushiho, Izumikawa Kanki performed a brilliant Suparinpei, Shimabukuro Kosuke & Maeda Yoshiaki did their individual interpretations Kusonkundai, Akamine Shosuke presented his flawless Bojutsu and I demonstrated Seisan. Maeda and I also handled the tameshiwari and broke an endless supply of boards with various kicking and punching techniques.


In the end the karate students from Takushoku University did not participate for reasons which I do not know and decided to leave on the second day of the exhibition. There was not much of an audience to start with and it diminished significantly on the second and third days as participants finished their demonstrations. I know that there was substantial time & money put into promoting that exhibition but do not believe that the organizer was pleased with the turn out or the returns.


Regardless of how hard I try these days I cannot remember why or how the exhibition was organized. Most of the participants have all passed away now, except Uechi. Perhaps I should drop him a line to ask him if he remembers. I do, however, remember that we were all volunteers. None of us received anything over the course of the three days, not even food, lodging or transportation allowance. We were young and never complained and happy to be a part of the early karate movement and saw ourselves as trailblazers of sorts. I know that in my case I worked hard during that era to help introduce & support the concept of safety equipment for those of us who were interested in testing our skills and spirit in mutual combat. It was because of ideas like this that training methods have been altered to meet different outcomes.


KJ: Sensei thank you for providing Koryu Journal with such valuable information. We all look forward to reading much more from you.


KH: It's my pleasure.


1 Tatemae~Honne dichotomy "Surface motive & true intentions."

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