Sepai (=eighteen) form - slow version
Development of "Karate" in Ryukyu Kingdom
by Fuyu Ifa
(Translated by Sanzinsoo)
Remarks: This is a part of the essay "koryukyu no bubi wo kosatsu shite karate no hattatsu ni oyobu" which was first published in 1932 and published again in "Works of Fuyu Ifa, Vol. 5, by Heibonsha Publishing Company in 1974 (Pages 210 - 215). In this essay Fuyu Ifa wrote "karate" in Hirakana, Japanese phonetic characters, not Kanji, Chinese characters. Fuyu Ifa (also spelled as Fuyu Iha) (1876 - 1947) is the most prominent linguist and anthropologist doing research on Okinawan ancient language and culture.
Now I would like to talk about "Karate" in Ryukyu Kingdom (= now Okinawa prefecture). My guess might be wrong, but I think "Karate" must have developed in inverse proportion to the militalistic preparation of Ryukyu. As "Karate" declare itself by its name, it is the martial arts originated in China. People used to call it "Tode" (Chinese Hand) or just "Te" (= Hand). But recently they started using Kanji, Chinese characters, for "Karate" which reminds us of "nothing in our hands". It is early in Ming dynasty Hongwu period (1368-1398) that Ryukyu Kingdom did import and export with China for the first time. So I suppose Karate was imported from China around that time. Unarmed Ryukyu men were staying in Ju-en-eki (= something like a virtually dormitory or embassy of Ryukyu Kingdom - translator's note) in Hokkien or Fujian, and doing trading business. As a self-defence, maybe they trained in Chinese martial arts. It is natural that they learned Chinese martial arts there and brought it to Ryukyu Kingdom. My grandfather also traveled to Hokkien or Fujian, China several times to learn Chinese martial arts. He told us that it was just a self-defence art. He never talked about it any further. One old man told me that in China there were few karate experts among military officers, but there were many karate experts among merchants. I understand military officers who are always armed do not need self-defence art, but unarmed merchants surely need to have such a self-defence art. However, in Ryukyu where people were forced to have fans instead of swords, not only merchants but also kingdom officials became enthusiastic about karate. Even the way of fighting had changed. And people there call "Bushi" (= warriors) for karate masters regardless of their social status or classes such as officials, farmers, craftsmen, merchants and so on. Needless to say, it is the change of meaning the word "Bushi". We can see the transition of social system with this. The class of warriors or Samurai vanished after the Shimazu Clan from Satsuma (= now Kagoshima prefecture) invaded Ryukyu Kingdom. So it is natural that the meaning of this word "Bushi" was changed to "Karate" masters from the class of warriors. Of course, this word "Bushi" is a mainland Japanese word. People in Ryukyu borrowed it from Japan. In the ancient poems of Ryukyu called "Omoro", we can find the word "Maheboshiya". "Boshiya" of "Maheboshiya" is the equivalent word for "Bushi". Even these days some Okinawan people say "Bushaa" for "Bushi". "Mahe" of "Maheboshiya" is a prefix and used as a respectful form.
Anyway, "Karate" has developed since the Shimazu Clan from Satsuma (= now Kagoshima prefecture) invaded Ryukyu Kingdom. I have another important evidence to prove it. I have ever visted four islands, Oshima, Tokunoshima, Okierabu and Kikai which form Amami Oshima Islands. Of course there is not "Karate" in those four islands. People in Amami Oshima Islands do not use their fists like people in Okinawa Islands do when fighting. They strike with using the lower side of fists. They do not know punching with using the knuckle of the fists like people in Okinawa do. In the late Kaei period(1848-1854), Sagenta Nagoshi wrote the book about people's life in Amami Oshima Islands named "Nanto Zatsuwa" (= Essay on Southern Islands". In the book, he introduced "Tsukunesu" with the picture showing a man is striking the pad (= Makiwara). Some merchants learned it recently, but it seems that it was not generally popular. Therefore, their way of fighting is completely same as people in main land Japan do. Before 14th year of Keicho period (= In 1609 the Shimazu Clan from Satsuma invaded Ryukyu Kingdom), probably people in Okinawa also must have fighted like people in Amami Oshima Islands do. After the year of Keicho 14 (= 1609 when the Shimazu Clan from Satsuma invaded Ryukyu Kingdom), Amami Oshima Islands was pulled away from Ryukyu Kingdom and became territory of the Shimazu Clan, Satsuma, Japan. Anyway, Amami Oshima Islands is the barometer or the litmus test when we make a decision whether a thing of Okinawa was made before the year of Keicho 14 (= 1609) or not. I always think of this way and keep Amami Oshima Islands in mind even I do research into ancient Okinawan language. So, from this point of view there is no doubt that "Karate" was developed after Keicho 14 (= 1609). There was no war in Ryukyu Kingdom after Keicho 14 (= 1609). But there was fighting in the street, so those who flex their muscles must have practiced it. Even children strike each other with their fists instinctively when they fight, so needless to say "Karate" spreaded throughout Okinawa Islands very rapidly. With regard to this story, I remember Okinawan Sumo wresling. How to do Sumo in Okinawa Islands and Amami Oshima Islands is differnt from Sumo in Mainland Japan. There was no change in Sumo in Okinawa Islands and Amami Oshima Islands before and after Keicho 14 (= 1609). Before and after Keicho period there was no change in Sumo, but there was change in the martial arts such as "Karate". That is because "Karate" was not the creation in Okinawa, but it was imported from outside Okinawa such as China.
The postcard from Chojun Miyagi in Okinawa to Seiji Tomikawa in Kyoto (Year 1944)
Thank you for your letter. I have read it as soon as I received. So you transferred to Doshisha University (in Kyoto). Congratulations. How have you been since then? I also thank you for your co-operation to send my message to Karate-do Club of Ritsumeikan University (in Kyoto).
As you know, we face US airstrikes. I evacuated from (Naha) to (Urazoe) to escape the air raids. You can see my new address on this postcard. Fortunately we are all fine and safe. Don't worry.
I am confused because I can't get in touch with members of the karate club. Kindly let them know my new address, and let me know addresses and names of the board members of the karate club.
Mr. Koike, the Kendo instructor of Okinawa Male Teacher University, will drop in Ritsumeikan University.
Send my best regards to Karate-do Club of Ritsumeikan University.
Translator's note: I could not translate all parts of Miyagi's postcard, as some parts are blurred, not clear and I cannot read them. This postcard was handwritten by Chojun Miyagi.
(Translated by Sanzinsoo)