Tag Archive for history

Photo Friday: Legacies

I delayed Photo Friday this week so I could take some pictures at the anniversary banquet for Shihan Joseph Walker on Saturday night. The banquet celebrated his 50th year practicing the martial arts, and several of his students from the Academy of Okinawan Karate, including many of the 40 black belts he promoted during the Academy’s 30 years in operation, were in attendance.

I didn’t take near as many pictures as planned because I was running the slideshow and helping with the video presentations, but I made sure to grab a few photos of the Kamiza.

The left side of the Kamiza display

The left side of the Kamiza display

The kamiza is the highest seat in the room, often the north wall. In a martial arts dojo there is often a Kamidana Shinto shrine placed on the kamiza, and it’s the wall we bow to upon entering the dojo. In the Academy of Okinawan Karate dojo, a cross replaces the kamidana and students are encouraged to bow to what they believe in.

The right side of the Kamiza dispaly

The right side of the Kamiza dispaly

When a student is promoted to black belt, the school holds a kamiza ceremony where they formally join the other yudansha in the top spot in the dojo. The new black belt brings a bottle of sake to share with the other members of the ceremony, and Shihan keeps the bottle for use in future ceremonies to represent the other black belts. The bottles were set up at the banquet hall to represent the school’s history, and the legacy Shihan has created so far in promoting 40 black belts in the school’s 40 years of operation.

The weekend went very well, and Peoria’s Journal Star ran a nice article congratulating Shihan on his 50 years in the martial arts. The banquet was followed by a selection of seminars on Sunday afternoon, and by all accounts everyone had a great time.

I feel fortunate to be part of such a great school, and while I intend to celebrate earning my Ikkyu (first degree brown belt) rank very soon, I look forward to the day I’ll earn the right to add my own sake bottle to Shihan’s collection.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Kata: What's in a Name?

Back when I first learned the kata Naihanchi Sho, I didn’t find a lot of examples of it on YouTube. However, I recently started reading a book called Shotokan’s Secret: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate’s Fighting Origins and learned the Shotokan guys have a different name for the kata: Tekki.

I did a search for Tekki, and found quite a few examples. Shotokan is a much more well-known style than the Shuri-ryu I study, but they share similar roots. When Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan, brought karate to Japan, he changed several of the kata names from Okinawan to Japanese, thus Naihanchi became Tekki.

Here’s footage of Funakoshi himself running the Tekki Sho kata:

Our interpretation of the kata is very similar, especially given the variances I’ve seen between some of our kata and the same kata run by other schools. You can find a clearer video by a modern Shotokan sensei here. We have slight differences in the techniques at the beginning and end of the kata, but something key we share is the rotation of the hips. If you look at the video I linked previously, there is far less hip rotation in the Matsubayashi-ryu interpretation. At least there’s less by this black belt (empi/elbow strikes excepted). Of course, he displays a lot less kime, too, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

The variations in kata continue to amaze me. They seem to be very different, but at the core you sometimes find they share the same ideas and training goals. You think of tradition as being something concrete, especially given the Japanese culture it descends from, but in reality it’s very fluid, evolving with the touch of every instructor in a given lineage.

Incidentally, I’m about halfway through Shotokan’s Secret and it’s a very interesting read. The author, Bruce Clayton, gives new perspectives on the history of karate in relation to Okinawa’s political situation, particularly in the 1800s, and he cuts through a lot of the legend and mysticism associated with many of the old karate masters. If I had one complaint it’s the way Clayton seems to dismiss some of his reference material and the bias he shows toward Gichin Funakoshi (the author makes no bones about being a Shotokan sensei). He takes a brief paragraph to discuss Funakoshi’s faults, but seems to have no problem slamming Funakoshi’s contemporaries like Choki Motobu and Chotoku Kyan (full disclosure: Shuri-ryu claims Choki Motobu in its lineage).

Still, I’m very much enjoying the book, and I highly recommend it to any karateka, regardless of style affiliation. Clayton’s discussion of what he calls the Shuri Crucible and the arrival of the American Navy in 1853 are a great insight into how and why karate came to be.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

The Evolution of Kata

Something I’ve heard a lot about my new kata, Empi Sho, is that it is closely related to the kata Wansu, if not just another version of the same kata. However, the way we run it in Shuri-ryu, there are only a couple of movements they have in common. They share a block/strike combo and have a morote (double) technique near the end, but for the most part it’s hard to see why they’d be labeled sister kata.

Then I recalled some of the varations of Wansu I’ve seen on YouTube, such as this one:

The embusen, or step pattern, through the majority of the kata is almost identical to our version of Empi Sho. Now I can see why they’d call them versions of the same kata.

It’s strange that the two interpretations of Empi could diverge like that, yet the idea that they are (in essence) the same kata as Wansu would persist. I think it’s a good example of how karate as a whole is a living, breathing, evolving entity. A master dies, his students start changing things (or they remember things differently). Those guys die, and their students start changing things (or they remember things differently), and so on.

The core is there. The physical movements change, but the philosophy persists.

It’s strange when you consider how karate — and most all martial arts, for that matter — pride themselves on tradition.

Or maybe I’m still too much of a rookie to expect otherwise…

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Rockin' the Green Belt

I made green belt tonight! The official title is gokyu, which roughly translates to fifth-level student. Purple and three levels of brown belts are still ahead.

I’m eager to learn my next kata, Naihanchi sho:

It looks like a fun kata to learn and perform, but it also lets me geek out about karate history and my style’s lineage a bit. The last Okinawan in the Shuri-ryu line, Choki Motobu, felt this kata taught everything one needed to know to become a fighter. Motobu in turn learned it from Anko Itosu and Bushi Matsumura, both of whom are important names in almost all styles.

In other words, this is the first kata I learn that many other Shuri-te-related styles appear to interpret the same way we do in Shuri-ryu. Unlike the two Chinese kata I know, Anaku and Wansu, I feel like I could show up at another dojo, perform Naihanchi, and not get a bunch of funny looks from the crowd.

Cool stuff. To me, anyway.

The only killer is I probably have to wait until next week to start learning it.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.