Charles Goodin of the Hawaii Karate Museum and Sensei Pat Nakata of the Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Karate Association presented an enlightening review of the Karate’s history. Their lecture "Karate in the Ryukyu Kingdom, Okinawa Prefecture, and Hawaii: How is Okinawan Culture Spread through Karate” was part of the Center for Okinawan Studies Lecture Series. It was held February 9, 2012 at the University of Hawaii, Manoa Campus.
Karate Development in the Ryukyu Kingdom
Over time the imported Chinese fighting style combined with native Okinawan techniques to become “Karate.” In those days the name was Tu ti, meaning “Chinese hand” or “foreign hand.”
Karate Practitioners in Old Ryukyu
Mr. Goodin presented evidence that only the gentry classes of Okinawa practiced Karate. About one third of the population then was gentry class. They had assigned duties and were paid to perform them. Learning martial arts would have been part of these duties.
Different Karate Styles for Shuri, Naha, and Tomari
Shuri castle was the home of royalty, with many foreign visitors. The Shuri-te style was therefore more refined. Practitioners could not show their calloused hands to visitors. Shuri-te named their katas, or formalized practice routines, after the names of the people who created them.
Naha, the port city, was where the bulk of the 36 Chinese families settled. So the Naha-te style more closely aligned to Chinese methods. Typical of the Chinese system at the time, Naha-te katas were named by numbers.
People in the port city of Tomari had great exposure to sailors from other lands, and many diverse travelers and fighting methods. The Tomari-te style was a mix of Shuri-te and Naha-te styles.
Karate Training Then and Now
Unlike today, classes were small. A sensei taught only a handful of students.
Training in Secret
Karate in Okinawa Prefecture
The gentry class now needed to find work to support themselves. Because of this, many karate teachers and other artisans had to perform for commoners and others to earn money. The result was that karate and other Okinawan arts became widely available to the public.
Japan also did not like the fact that Karate used the characters for "Chinese hand." So the name was changed to mean "Empty hand" to remove the Chinese reference. “Empty hand” also suggested a mysterious Zen-like quality that was more Japanese than Okinawan.
Karate’s History in Hawaii
Karate Philosophy and Okinawan Spirit
Sensei Nakata and Charles Goodin spoke of how true karate expresses the Okinawan spirit. The five principles of karate are:· have humility and respect for others
· develop one's mind through training
· always try your best
· develop awareness so that you can avoid unnecessary conflict
· develop the essence of martial character - bravery, honesty, justice, etc.
Starting postures in traditional Karate kata embody these principles. The left hand always covers the right hand. The right hand symbolizes power and the left hand passivity. By covering the right with the left, you are expressing that you do not want to fight.
A story by Sensei Nakata summed it up. Sensei was counseling a child who was getting into fights all the time. The child asked, “Sensei, when is it ok to fight?" Sensei answered, “When you are ready to die.”