Ryukyu Martial Arts Research 琉球武道研究

Parallels between Ryukyu-di and Close Combat / By Itzik Cohen

Ryukyu-di, the ancestral precursor to Okinawan karate, bears significant parallels to practical close combat, reflecting its historical origins and technical lineage. Modern Okinawan karate often emphasizes personal development, including power generation, body conditioning, focus, mental discipline, and self-improvement. Yet, a historical analysis reveals that many of its foundational techniques were originally tailored for high-level professional security and combat needs, underscoring the martial art's deep connection to pragmatic, real-world fighting.
Okinawan Karate's roots can be divided into four main streams:
1. Close Combat: Ryukyu-di, known for its techniques geared towards immediate, efficient neutralization of threats, aligns closely with modern concepts of close combat. It integrates open-hand, grappling, quick throws, and attacker control techniques suitable for personal and professional security. Techniques encapsulated in kata like Passai, Kushanku, and Useishi (Gojushiho) demonstrate strategies and movements that are fundamentally combat-oriented.
2. Tegumi (Grappling/Wrestling/ Seizing): The traditional Okinawan grappling style, Tegumi, influenced karate by providing various holds, locks, and takedowns. It ensured that karate practitioners were not solely focused on striking but were also capable of transitioning to close-range control when needed.
3. Foreign/external sources particularly from China, Japan and even Siam, which have been substantiated through various forms of historical evidence. These influences are not merely incidental; they are deeply embedded in the techniques, forms (kata), and philosophical underpinnings of the martial art.
4. Tradition: Beyond pragmatic combat application, Okinawan karate also embodies traditional and cultural elements, linking it to historical practices and the broader martial arts heritage.
With Akamine Sensei in Okinawa With Akamine Sensei in Okinawa
A detailed analysis of early kata reveals a wide array of techniques that align with principles of practical close combat. For example, concepts like Toide/Torite (seizing), Tegumi 手組 or Mutō 無刀 / 武当 (grappling), and Kaishu 開手 (open hands) offer insight into the martial strategies intended to control or subdue opponents swiftly. By studying these techniques, particularly through backward simulation and historical examination, one can discern how these methods could be adapted to fit the requirements of modern personal security teams or other professional security roles. Such investigation highlights that Ryukyu-di, while often presented as the distant ancestor of contemporary karate, is essentially a form of close combat suited to real-world defense scenarios.
The diverse influences are reflected in the katas, which serve as repositories of martial knowledge, demonstrating not only combat techniques but also strategic principles and body mechanics. For instance, the kata Passai (known in some styles as Bassai), which includes techniques resembling Chinese blocking and striking methods, along with dynamic footwork that could be linked to Southeast Asian fighting styles, showcases the amalgamation of external martial influences into Okinawan karate.
With Akamine Sensei in Okinawa With Akamine Sensei in Okinawa
Thus, the development of Okinawan karate is a prime example of martial syncretism, where local fighting techniques were significantly enriched and diversified through sustained cross-cultural interactions. This blend of styles and techniques contributed to the formation of a unique martial art that is both reflective of its eclectic origins and distinct in its emphasis on effective close-range combat.

Further reading sources:
An evolutionary progression of karate is thoroughly discussed in the book: The book Karate Uchina-Di 沖縄手 - An Exploration of its Origins and Evolution. History, Methodology, Culture, Philosophy, Ethics, Legacy, Official Combat Force and Civilian Discipline, Continuity and Change in Practice.

Technique’s evolution, explanations and analyzes are in the books: Pathways of Karate Development: From Ryūkyū -di 琉球手 & Tou-di 唐手 Via Okinawan-te 沖縄手 to Karate 空手.

And more detailed sequel book: Karate’s genetic code - Ryūkyū-di 琉球手 - The pragmatic facet, Perceptions of techniques over time.

Itzik Cohen
About the author: works, operational background and research

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