“It is believed that the study of a lethal skill can lead to spiritual enlightenment”. Martial Arts, the use of one’s Chi (life energy) to defend oneself from harm. The use of breathing exercises and vital pressure points for Healing.
The mystic of Martial Arts is the embodiment of Yin and Yang. Throughout history the Martial Arts were built on tradition, honor, respect and unpretentiousness. In essence there are two paths a practitioner can follow. There is the sport aspect, and the more spiritual combative nature. There can also be a blending of the two.
It is believed that in the early 6th century a monk brought Martial Arts to China from India. He was called Bodhidharma (Tamo in Chinese). Bodhidharma was the third child of King Sugandha of South India (south of Madras). The Shaolin order dates to about 540 AD and the time period of Bodhidharma’s emergence into China. Bodhidharma was not whole heartily accepted at first. Initially he was refused entrance to a Buddhist temple. He took refuge in a nearby cave where he meditated until they recognized his religious prowess. Bodhidharma mimicked the movement of fighting animals (boar, monkey, crane, tiger, and snake). At the Shaolin monastery he found his followers were physically unprepared to concentrate on Buddhist meditation and very vulnerable to thieves. His training better prepared them for their environment. This led to the introduction of Chuan fa in the 1st century AD.
Chuan fa is influenced by other indigenous fighting systems from areas surrounding China (i.e. Kicking techniques from Siam [now Thailand], grappling techniques from Mongols etc.)
Over the centuries Chuan fa became specialized into many different forms of “kung fu” or Wushu. At this time the fighting arts were tied tightly to Buddhism, a religion which connected China and India. The two countries developed very different styles, Kalaripayit, which was practiced in south India, Kung Fu in China. Many postures of Indian classical dance reflect those found in Kalaripayit. In China the teachings of Taoism influenced the Arts with the ideas of Chi and the hard soft (Yin Yang) philosophy. The existing martial arts systems of Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Indochina and Korea are all related to forms of Chinese boxing. In the 1850’s cultural exchange between Okinawa and China enabled the Chinese fighting arts to be adopted on Okinawa initially, Okinawan martial artists were either wealthy merchants or nobility who could afford to travel and live in China. Many were sent to China for health reasons and learned martial arts as part of their therapy for being “sickly”.
In the late 1800’s karate on Okinawa was simply known as Tode (Chinese for “Way of the Hand”) but as families studied budo (fighting arts elsewhere, i.e.; Fuji’s or weapons) distinct styles evolved and were named after the towns where masters had distinguished themselves, i.e.. Shuri-te, Naha-te, etc. Thus the Japanese evolved their own martial arts forms based on Chinese techniques. Karate the way of the open hand originated in Okinawa where at the time of its birth weapons were illegal, thus farming tools evolved into weapons. This style evolved from both Japanese and Chinese styles. In Korea the main styles are Tae Kwon do, Tang soo do and Hwarang do. This style also evolved in a similar manner as Karate.
Although the techniques vary, all martial arts systems rely on learning two basic premises;
1. To develop a calm mind that neither thinks offensively or defensively, but is ready for either as required. The Japanese refer to this as “MUSHIN” and Zen training & breathing becomes imperative to developing this.
2. To utilize and offset your opponents “Center” so their attack is neutralized at the same time they are placed in vulnerability.
The Chinese Influence
The Chinese styles were mostly based on animal forms. Their techniques varied greatly. Gung (Kung) Fu styles were divided into Shaolin Temple styles, non-temple styles and family styles. Some styles liked low fast kicks, while others preferred high kicks. The differences were great in the punching techniques also. The stances were carried over to the other arts. The names of these stances may have changed but their forms remain the same.
Shoalin Kung Fu
There are two divisions in Shaolin Kung Fu. The southern Temples focused on hand techniques and the northern foot techniques. The northern styles are northern Praying Mantis, Black Crane and tiger. The southern styles were White Crane, Tiger, Dragon Leopard, snake and Southern Praying Mantis. The systems were divided into low and high systems. The low systems were called such due to their movement and creatures. Some low systems features horse stances and low kicks.
White Crane Style(Hao Ch’uan)
Crane boxing also known as White Crane is from South China. It has been popular in Taiwan as Fukien for more than 200 years. Its features are light rapid footwork and evasive attacking techniques. Movements in one-legged stances are performed. Solid foothold, whipping circular arms and short steps were the backbone of this style. The masters name was Wei Tien-Ching, Fang Ch’I-Hiang and Ch’en Li-Shu.
Temple Boxing Tode Shuri-te Various styles
(Fukien, China) (Okinawa)
“Modern Kobudo is merely so many weapons, dances, and sport Karate is not much better”
Horoku Ishikawa (Shito-ryu)
This form of fighting has different believed origins. One of these was the need to defend oneself from the Samurai’s sword. With it came a journey of self-enlightenment. Through this journey the art encompasses the Yin / Yang and the body and mind are molded into a precise weapon. Excessive degrees of conditioning where used to tone the human form into this dedicated tool. Development of a calm mind was also a focus. This mind must be able to except death without any hesitation. In the end all of this is done to come to a realization that one should not fight or take a life. To get to this level, it would often involve the practice of Zen. The master fighter, the incredible killing machine is nothing more than a humble Monk. A Samurai who could defeat a man without drawing his sword is a great man indeed. When mastery is achieved the art is now complete. You can defeat anyone no matter what style, be it Judo, Aikido, Gung (Kung) Fu or Jujitsu. The style is not important just the ability of the person who practices. We all use some of the same principles and philosophies, and they all work. Karate the empty hands art does involve the use of weapons in most systems. Most of these weapons were derived from farming implements;
Sai-Found in India, China, Indo-China, Malaya, And Indonesia. However Indonesia may have been its place of origin. In ancient Indonesians civilizations on Sumatra and Java it was seen in the form of the Trisula.
Nunchaku- This weapon originated as a Asian agricultural flail (used to crush beans).
Tonfas/Tuifa- (Handle) used to operate millstones when grinding rice
Kamas- (Sickle) Farming Sickle
Bo’s- used to carry buckets of water (etc.)
Today Karate like many other arts is used in the world of sports. The world of Sports has produced many great Martial Artists. In sports the focus is on making point, and there are rules. At some of the unprofessional level competitions, it becomes a game of tag. However there is a degree of danger when an inexperienced participant takes Sport Karate to the streets in a real situation. A place where there are no rules and it is not a game of tag. Here only the winner lives to see another sunrise.
Hollywood’s representation of Martial Arts is an Image of violence. This is the Show world of the Arts. This is the world some confuse with reality. To some Karate is only a tool for combat. The original pursuit of self-defense may be lost and the road to enlightenment may never be considered. Recognition and Status are sometimes the goals. However there are still those who stay true to the original philosophy of the arts. The hidden jewels are in the desert. We may all start down the same path but end up in different places, but how many find the road to enlightenment, the longest road?
Tatsuo Shimabuku, the founder of Isshinryu Karate, was born in Okinawa in 1908. He started his karate studies the hard way. He had to walk twelve miles to his uncle’s school in Shuri, a small village twelve miles from home. At first, his uncle did not want to accept him as a student and sent him away several times before finally accepting him. Shimabuku, who was only eight years old at this time, had to do many little chores around the dojo before he was permitted to study. He studied Shuri-te for four years.
Chotoku Kiyan who was already very famous throughout Okinawa was Shimabuku’s next instructor. Here he trained in Kobayashi-ryu. He also studied Goju-ryu under Chojun Miyagi. Shimabuku was to become his most outstanding student. He then went back to his study of Kobayashi-ryu, this time under the teachings of the legendary Choki Motobu. Desiring to increase his knowledge Shimabuku also studied the traditional weapons. >From the two great masters Yabiku and Taira Shinken he learned about the Sai, the short sword with the pronged handle, the Bo, a long wooden staff, and the Tonfa, a short wooden weapon with an offset handle.
Shimabuku studied both Goju-ryu and Shorin-ryu for thirty-two years. He excelled in both styles and found many parts of each very useful. He linked the power of Goju-ryu and the speed and grace of Shorin-ryu, but he was never completely satisfied with the total concept of each style. His dissatisfaction led to the obvious. This was to make a combination of the best parts of each into one system. Of course the traditionalists were, as always, furious. They would not accept this new system. They did everything in their power to thwart his attempts to perfect his new style. He was ridiculed and bothered in every possible manner. After many years, he noted that even the finest fighters did not rotate their fist punching. A technique they so diligently practice. To do so was actually awkward. It looked good in Kata but was not actually used when sparring. He believed the vertical punch was much faster and stronger. It could be focused at any point up to and including the fully extended arm that the other styles were so proud of.
In order to help propagate his new system, which he officially organized soon after World War Two, he gave free lessons to U.S. Servicemen at Camp Hansen and Kadena Air Base. Master Shimabuku gave the birth date of Isshinryu as January 15, 1956.
Overcoming every possible obstacle Mater Tatsuo Shimabuku lived to see his one time “maverick” style accepted in many branches throughout the world. He remained the active head of the Isshinryu system until his death on May 30, 1975.
There is now a bust of the Master in the Isshinryu World Headquarters in Guishikawa-City. This statue was a gift from the Isshinryu Karateka of Indianapolis, Indiana in the United States.