Ryukyu Martial Arts Research 琉球武道研究

The bond between Karate and Kobudo

The bond between Karate and Kobudo / by Itzik Cohen
The article discusses the historical and technical relations between Karate and Kobudo, both arose and developed over several centuries in Ryūkyū (Ryukyu) Islands. A glance at the timeline suggests that the Ryūkyūan martial arts were influenced by some other foreign combat systems in the region such as Chinese martial arts and later the Japanese ones.
    For further historic and practical perspectives please refer to the book: Karate Uchina-Di 沖縄手, I also refer Ryūkyū-di (The predecessor of Okinawan karate) to the old Siamese one.

However Ryūkyūan karate and kobudō (kobudo) have unique characteristics in its approach, atmosphere, method of study and practice as well as technique and usage of weapons. In fact this uniqueness exists in every field.

Before the beginning of the 20th century, the Okinawan martial arts had no defined name and the locals gave it various nicknames such as “Di” 手 (Japanese: “Te”, Uchinaguchi: “Di”) "Hand" meaning "Local Hand". Concurrently the name Todi 唐手 was used, meaning "Tang Hand" that is the Chinese Tang dynasty, which marks the Chinese Golden Age in literature and art. This name was used for the Chinese combat in the islands e.g. Kushanku.
Parallel to the Chinese knowledge, the local “Di” or simply local Jutsu 術, was developed. We also witness to the influence of Japanese Jutsu 術 since the beginning of the 17th century, a little after the invasion of Satsuma to the islands in 1609. Ryūkyū –di was developed as a result of two main factors.
First and most was the necessity for to protect Ryūkyū Kingdom from outside as well as to secure the king and the Royal family, official events, diplomats, delegations, trade ships and the local merchants overseas etc.
An additional factor was the banning of carrying and using weapons. This ban accrued several time across history. In some scenarios the Ryūkyūan security staffs was required to missions when conventional weapons such as swords were not allowed to be used. In that case the special force of combatant had to make use of both bare-hands and alternative weapons. In addition we know from some historical documentation that there was a locked weapons warehouse on Ryūkyūan ships, for times of trouble such as pirate attack. We also know that the Ryūkyūan combatant used Bō/Kun for training, as replacement to weapons such bayonet or spear. Such training existed at all times, in all places and in all armies. The Japanese samurai used a wooden stich instead of Katana while practicing with his colleagues. Today, sophisticated simulators are used instead of live ammunition.
However we know from historical records such as the one of “Joseon Wangjo Sillok” that the Ryūkyūan forces were equipped with weapons including advanced ones such as firearms and even heavy cannons.

The evolution channel of Ryūkyū-di and Ryūkyū- kobudō is one.
Keeping in mind those same skilled official combatants of Ryūkyū Kingdom developed and used Ryūkyūan combat that means Ryūkyū-di and Ryūkyū- kobudō concurrently, so here we have the initiate practical connection of Ryūkyū-di and Ryūkyū-kobudō.
This fact certainly explains the technical common field between both arts that actually had been one in old days. The advantage and disadvantage of this fact are of course open to discussion.
    I thoroughly discuss this topic in the book: Karate Uchina-Di 沖縄手.

A connection that developed in later period, from the end of the 19th century and especially in the early 20th century, was on a less formal channel that is the civilian channel. Local fighting has taken on different character as a result of various environmental changes and needs. Now the fighting has evolved in self-defence context in civilian environment. The karate Sensei kept in touch with his colleagues (Many time with close friends) and exchanged experiences and information. Usually in addition to karate, the disciples also practiced with number of weapons. Sometimes they even acquired the same weapon from two different teachers. Worthy to note that unlike today, every weapon was taught and practiced in independent frame. That is, a particular practitioner was taught for example, Bō -jutsu from two different Sensei(s) and Sai-jutsu from additional Sensei.
Nowadays it is customary to teach and practice the use of various weapons in a single frame. In many places the weapons accompany the karate framework and are not practiced as a separate skill.

Technical relations between Karate and Ryūkyū Kobudō:
Weapons give another dimension to positions, movement, body mechanic and technique.
Closer examination of parameters such as griping the weapons, timing, varies ranges of different instruments, which are sometimes similar and sometimes very different from empty-hand combat. The range of weapons presents us with a variety of challenges: Long tools like the "Roku-shaku Bō" Which is operated at the basic level with two hands on the weapon. Its length creates a leverage that does not exist in other weapons in the Okinawan martial arts repertoire. The "Sai", for example, is much shorter than the "Bō" but it’s heavy and made of metal. In order to operate "Sai" quickly and powerfully, a unique skill of mechanics and awareness of what is done with the body is required.
The use of proper stances as well as the transitions between positions constructs significant component of understanding the mechanics of movement in depth and the way of generating power.

Kobudō practice sharpens many principles found in karate. The feedback with weapons is much noticeable. Each weapon requires a different coordination, even if the pattern of movement is similar. The same goes for ranges and timing, as I mentioned. The practitioner should address several connections or relations. The first one is with the tool of course. Then there is relation between the practitioner and his/her partner from two aspects: partner's body and the instrument used by the partner. Another aspect is motion in space. Fundamental feedback is the relation between the practitioner and the weapon he operates. Even the "kamae"構え(kamaete構て) with weapon sharpen proper standing and basic principles such as the centre of gravity, the waist angle and tan-den. Of course there is a difference among instruments as well as between weapons to bare-hand combat. However the common exceeds the difference. It is interesting to notice the nuances that sometimes seem negligible to the beholder albeit in practice it makes the essential difference between simple “technique” and “art”.

In the following photo we see Gishin Funakoshi and students, another photo presents Chojun Miyagi with practitioners, a third photo with Shinken Taira and Akamine Eisuke Dai-Sensei and in the fourth photo we see Soke Akamine Hiroshi, who currently heads the Ryukyu Kobudo Shimbukan.

weopon Funakoshi Sensei weopon Miyagi
weoponTaira and Akamine Sensei weapon-Akamine-Hiroshi Sensei

Itzik Cohen

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