Article by Emanuel Giordano
The culture in modern Karate is often ignored, forgetting the fundamental principles according to which physical training should proceed together with the cultural and spiritual one. The principle of "Bun bu ryo do" (文武両道), the union of the cultural path (bun 文) with the martial one (bu 武), finds perfect correspondence in the western saying "The pen and the sword"! However, fortunately there are still those who read, translate, research and find out about the origins and whys of their martial art. Among the most popular books there are, without doubt, the texts written by Funakoshi Gichin sensei, sometimes also present on the shelves of the average karateka's home. Today we will focus on the information present in one of these texts, to be precise on what is now known as "Karate-jutsu" or "Tode-jutsu" (唐手術), but which in the 1925 edition was called "Rentan goshin Tode-jutsu”(錬膽護身唐手術). The 1925 edition was the direct evolution of "Ryukyu kenpo Tode" of 1922, of which only very few copies remain today (comparing the text of the pages relating to the subject in question, I noticed how it is identical in both editions) , and gives us a very important information: Funakoshi taught modified kata from the beginning of his stay in Tokyo. The well-known master had actually arrived in 1921, just a few months before the publication of "Ryukyu kenpo Tode"...
Cover of Rentan goshin Tode-jutsu
Why this statement? Let's take a few steps back. As many have already had the opportunity to read or observe, it is clear that current Shotokan and Shotokai have retained little of what Funakoshi sensei taught. The kata, positions and techniques have been modified moving further and further away from the original, and the practice has been distorted, abandoning many fundamental exercises typical of Okinawan Karate, and adopting new practices such as jiyu kumite, competitions, etc. Just compare the above styles with the Shorin-ryu style schools still present today to have a vague idea, but also simply with the photos of Funakoshi himself! From this comparison, a very clear fact emerges: Funakoshi's Karate has more in common with the Shorin-ryu of Okinawa than with the current Shotokan and Shotokai (and it is not surprising, since he himself was mainly a practitioner of Shorin-ryu / Shuri-te)! Often the blame for these changes and the "Japaneseization" of Karate from Okinawa in "mainland" Japan are placed on three main characters: Funakoshi Yoshitaka / Gigo, Nakayama Masatoshi (JKA) and Egami Shigeru (JKS).
Sostieni il progetto / support the project: https://ko-fi.com/shorinryuitalia
The truth, however, is another. As has already been explained and demonstrated several times, Funakoshi Gichin was the first to make changes to his Karate, inserting typical aspects of Japanese martial arts reformed after the Meiji Restoration (and transformed into sports or spiritual training paths. The famous transition from " jutsu” to “do”) to make it more palatable to the Japanese public, and to make it enter the modern Japanese budo. Funakoshi also went so far as to eliminate joint manipulations and throwings, to better distinguish Karate from Judo and Jujutsu, thus offering a martial art that was not present in Japan, that is, an art based mainly on kick and punch techniques. These changes, however, date back to the early 1930s, and are fairly well known among those who have documented themselves on the subject. What sometimes escapes, however, is that Funakoshi modified the kata almost immediately after his arrival in Tokyo, or perhaps already in his first years of teaching in Okinawa, for example by inserting some jumps in the kata...
Pinan godan in Rentan goshin Tode-jutsu (1925)
Wanshu in Rentan goshin Tode-jutsu (1925)
In “Ryukyu kenpo Tode” Funakoshi describes the various kata, including Pinan godan and Wanshu, now known in Shotokan with the Japanese names Heian godan and Enpi. Well, in the description of the various passages a jump in both kata already appears in the 1922 edition, a jump that shouldn't exist ... In fact, comparing the aforementioned kata with the Okinawan originals, the addition of Funakoshi is evident. In fact, in no version of the Pinan godan or the Wanshu is the jump present.
It is curious to note that the applications of those two steps replaced with the jump are, in reality, two techniques of throwing. The description of the techniques made by Funakoshi in the aforementioned book leaves no room for interpretation, since a jump in Pinan godan is explicitly mentioned, and a jump "as if you wanted to throw the opponent" in Wanshu. Why these changes? There is no real answer to this question, but only many hypotheses. However, what appears evident is that this fact makes us understand that Funakoshi immediately modified his Karate, which opens the way to a question: given that the kata illustrated in the book have some differences (sometimes minimal) with the versions practiced in the Shorin-ryu, which of them are due to the different sources, and which are the result of its modifications?
Thank's to Matteo Muratori for his collaboration, and to Maurizio Barattieri for his help in understanding the texts in Japanese.
For more information you can read:
- "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata 2" (here)
- "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata" (here)
- "Shorin-ryu Karate: The legacy of the bodyguards of the king of Okinawa" (here)
- "The legend of the masters of Okinawan Karate: Biographies, curiosities and mysteries" (here)