The History of Okinawa Kenpo Karate’
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History of Okinawa Kenpo Karate’
The first known record of organized training in unarmed combat techniques is found in Ancient Greece and was called Pancration. It was a sport, which had ceremonial religious overtones, and though it was a sport it was very serious. It was common for these matches to be fought to the death. Some texts indicate the possibility that Alexander the Great brought back some combat techniques from Asia that originated in the temples of India and that these techniques influenced Pancration. This is speculation, though possible, if true there was no influence on Pancration of the philosophy of any eastern martial art. I have yet to see convincing evidence to support this theory.
The birth of Karate’ lies in it’s philosophical principles, not in the ability to injure, maim or kill. Man has been learning that since the beginning of time, and it is in man’s genetic nature. Today this is known as the “fight or flight response”. As the society of man evolved he realized that there was a “moral imperative” to control violent behavior and the society of man developed a sense of right and wrong and established a code of moral conduct. In order to accomplish this, man developed religion to explain this code of morality, among other things. Though western religions address when combat, of any kind, is right and wrong, it is in the east that this “Moral Imperative” directly influenced the manner in which one fought.
Okinawa Kenpo Karate’ inherited it’s “Moral Imperative” from the Buddhist religion. That is not to say that other religions don’t have the same or similar views. If you took the philosophical content of all of the major religions and compared just the philosophy of what is right and wrong you will see that they are nearly identical, but this is not an academic dissertation on religious philosophy. The Buddhist faith originated when Prince Sarvaartha Siddha (563 BC to 483 BC) attained “Enlightenment” and forsaking his Royal Heritage began teaching what developed into the Buddhist faith. He became known as Siddhartha Gutamma Buddha and is the first Buddha in a lineage that still exists. In all of his teachings his most important lesson or Prime Dharma is “Hurt No one”.
The 28th Buddha, most commonly known as Bodhi Durhama is credited with actions that directly resulted in the development of all Asian Martial Arts. He is known by several names most of which are derivatives of each other, or are translations of another. Bodhi Durhama was an Indian Buddhist monk named Da Mo Or. Brahman by birth, he was born in Kanchi the capitol of Pallava, which is a kingdom in Southern India. Da Mo was the third child of King Sugandha the ruler and as such was a member of the warrior cast “Kshatria”. Da Mo grew up in the Buddhist province of Conjeeveram, which is south of Madras. His religious teacher was Dhyana Master Prajnatara. Da Mo, now Bodhi Durhama, was considered a Master in the art of Dhyana or Zen. A member of a warrior cast, Bodhi Durhama was proficient in the combat art Kalaripayat. This art included the use of weapons but also had weaponless techniques. Kalaripayat is part of the Astanga Yoga “Eightfold Path of Discipline”.
On his deathbed, Master Prajnatara asked his student Bodhi Durhama to go to China as he felt the principles of Buddhism were in decline there and that the dhyana (Zen koans) should be taught to the Chinese monks.
Around 520 AD Bodhi Durhama met Emperor Wu in the Province of Wei at Chin-ling, now Nanking, and was asked, “What is the holy ultimate truth?” Bodhi Durhama’s answer was “It is emptiness itself and there is nothing holy.” The worldly Emperor Wu didn't like this answer as he took it to be an evasion of the question. He then asked “Who then is the one at present stands confronting me?” Bodhi Durhama’s answer “I know not.” is now considered to be an allegory used to explain certain Zen tenets. This dialog upset Emperor Wu as he believed that Bodhi Durama may be a threat to his authority but Bodhi Durhama successfully maintained his convictions with out giving cause to be called treasonous. Bodhi Durhama had developed a significant following and Emperor Wu was unjustifiably concerned that Bodhi Durhama was developing a power base that could become rebellious.
Bodhi Durhama went to a Shaolin Temple in Honan Province where he found that the monks were in very poor physical condition. He then went into a cave on the out skirts of the Temple to meditate, and according to some sources was in isolation for 9 years to ponder the problem. Upon his emergence he wrote I Chin Ching (Muscle/Tendon changing classic) and Hsi Sui Chin (Marrow Washing Classic). The basis of these works were the physical drills that came to be known as “Eighteen Hands of the Lohan” This was used to teach the monks how to gain health, and become stronger. His Sui has been lost in time and I Chin Ching has been translated and rewritten so many times the original text is lost, though the original intent and philosophy is still there it’s unknown how much of the original document has been modified. Bodhi Durhama never intended for the “Eighteen Hands of the Lohan” to be martial in nature however it developed into a Martial Art Form probably because at that time all physical training was developed for martial purposes and with Bodhi Durhama’s Kalaripayat back ground it seems natural that he would develop something from what he knew.
Approximately 40 years after Bodhi Durhama’s death Outlaws attacked the Shaolin, the monk’s suffered severely but a monk known as “The begging monk” attacked the brigands with a furious display of hand and foot techniques which killed some and drove the rest away. So inspired were the rest of the monks that they asked him to teach them. This art was later referred to in documents as “Chuan-fa”, and was used by the monks for self-protection. Over time this developed into what is now known as Kung fu or Shorinji Kempo in Japanese at the time.
In, what is now, modern day Japan there is a chain of islands called the Ryukyu Islands, the largest of which, Okinawa, is less than 70 miles long. This island was perfectly situated as a crossroads for major trade routes. First discovered by the Japanese it soon became the hub for southeastern Asia, trading with Japan, China, Indo China, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
The indigenous closed fist fighting in Okinawa was known as Te, which means Hand and was weaponless with an emphasis on hand, fist and arm techniques. Due to weapons bans by the authorities, weaponless or empty hand techniques were refined and foot techniques were introduced. This was Kara, which means empty, and Te, which means hand. Though a different Kanji (symbol) is used the word Kara also means China, which is where the previously mentioned refinements came from. This lead to much discussion and confusion over the years but was ultimately resolved by Master Gichin Funikoshi in a most diplomatic manner.
Over the years Te developed separately in the thee major cities of Okinawa, Shuri developed Shuri-te, Naha developed Naha-te, and Tomari developed Tomari-te. Collectively the styles of fighting in Okinawa were known as Okinawa-te or To-de’. Okinawa Kenpo Karate descends from the classical styles of Shuri-te and Naha-te, Master Shigeru Nakamura studied both and Katas from each are found in his original 12 Katas.
Because these cities were few miles apart the art of each was not very different from another. Ultimately developing along two paths, the art around Shuri and Tomari developed into Shorin-ryu, and the art around Naha became Shorei-ryu. Shorin-ryu was quick with natural breathing and Shorei-ryu stressed steady, rooted movements, while breathing in synchrony with the movements. Chinese Kung Fu also has two main schools whose differences closely follow this definition.
In 1609, the Japanese clan of Satsuma, who had been exiled from Japan, invaded the island led by the Daiamo, Shimazu. The reigning King of the dynasty raised an army for repelling the invasion and the Ryukyuan warriors achieved some early success due to their bravery and skills, however an unexpected landing by Shimazu’s forces resulted in defeat and the Sansura clan of Japan took control of Okinawa. An edict banning weapons was promptly reissued.
A Chinese military officer named Kusanku arrived at the Okinawan Palace as an envoy, though occupied by Japan some Chinese attachés were permitted to come and go, no doubt due to the economic benefits that trade brought. Kusanku taught Chinese fighting to a guard there named Sakugawa. The Royal Classes were permitted to study To-de’ as were their guards. Sakugawa traveled many times with Kusanku to China and eventually combined Chinese Ch’uan fa with Te’ and formed Okinawa Te’ or To-de’. By this time To-de’ was his nickname. Two high level Katas were named for Kusanku, Kusanku Sho and Kusanku Dai. Obviously named in his honor from techniques he used, as he taught no Kata. These were modified versions of one Kata known just as Kusanku, which is very long and very difficult.
The origin of weaponless martial arts in Okinawa is much more complex than it was in China and can not be attributed to a single individual. Many people are legitimately credited for bringing a martial influence to Okinawa. Much of the historical data has been lost over time. Also over the last 530 plus years the Okinawa Martial Arts have evolved, as in any art form the practitioner is an artist and his personal style and philosophy influences his art. Practical concerns also influence an art, such as there is no longer a need to have techniques designed to dismount assailants on horseback. Okinawa Kenpo Karate can trace it’s roots back to 1472 to Nahabushi Sakiyama, however I’m sure the style as taught then would be different than what we do today. What worked was improved upon and what didn't would eventually be discarded. What remained though was the “Moral Imperative” that fighting was only for defensive reasons.
In 1472 Master Naha”Bushi” Sakiyama was appointed as head of the system that became known as Okinawa Kenpo Karate’.
In 1522 Master Wakudano Sakiyama was appointed as head of the system.
In 1574 Master Kuniyoshi Senkeigi was appointed as head of the system.
In 1623 Master Kamare Sakiyama was appointed as head of the system.
In 1676 Master Tokeishi Miagi was appointed as head of the system. Yes there was a Mr. Miagi, as a mater of fact there were several of them. The well known movie character was a fictionalization of an actual family line that was prominent in the development and practice of Karate’.
In 1724 Master Seiguro Nakamurawa appointed as head of the system.
In 1778 Master Togen Tsusha was appointed as head of the system.
In 1823 Master Tsusuki Miagi was appointed as head of the system.
In 1871 Master Toyei Tsuha was appointed as head of the system.
In 1925 Master Shigeru Nakamura was appointed as head of the system. He was born in 1894 and lived in Nago, Okinawa. His first exposure to Karate’ was from his father who taught him the basics of Te’. When his father died Master Nakamura was only 10 years old but he continued studying under his Uncle and his Uncle’s friend Choki Motobu. From Motobu he learned “Free Fighting“ and the Kata “Naihanchi”. He then went to the Icchu Middle School (Prefectural Number One School) in Shuri where it was part of the curriculum under the instruction of Kanryo Higashionna, Kentsu Yabu, and Chomo Hanashiro. Master Yastune Itosu also visited the school periodically. Later when he went to the Prefectural Teacher’s Training College he studied under Master Itosu.
After Middle School Master Nakamura returned to Nago and continued his training with Master Shinkichi Kunioshi. Master Kunioshi was the successor to the now legendary Naha “Bushi” Sakiyama.
In 1955 Masters Shigeru Nakamura and Zenryo Shimabuku formed the “Okinawa Kenpo Renmei” (Okinawa Kenpo Association) to support the promotion of the practice of Karate’ through sport competition and to unite all Okinawa Karate. It was his desire to raise its status to the same level that Japanese Kendo and Judo shared. Master Nakamura is known for his development of “Bogu Gear” which is protective gear used in contact sparring.
Upon the death of Master Nakamura in 1969 The Okinawa Kenpo Renmei disbanded, though his students retained the name Okinawa Kenpo. We are those students.
Two years later, in 1972 Master Seikichi Odo took over as head of the system and instituted the Kobujitstu Arts (Okinawa Weapons) into the style. This is something that Master Nakamura had not wanted to do.
One of Master Nakamura’s students, Master Hideka Nakayama, continued to teach Master Nakumura’s Okinawa Kenpo Karate’ having brought it to the United States at the request of the United States Air Force where he opened a dojo in Cheyenne Wyoming with a student of his. There he took as a student Master James M. Lloyd. Master Lloyd was promoted to Sho dan on the 8th of August 1973, by Master Nakayama and San dan George M. “Micky” King.
All research seems to indicate that there was a split in the style of “Okinawa Kenpo” upon the death of Master Shigeru Nakamura. Master Odo included in the style the teaching of Kobujitsu and making weaponry required training. And Master Nakayama continuing to teach only “Empty Hand” techniques. Details of this division are not available and reasons can only be surmised. The political implications are probably not Karate’s finest hour. Master Odo did not change or loose any of Master Nakamura’s art but he did expand upon it. Many very good things came from Master Odo’s influence on the style and the inclusion of the Kobujitsu Arts is a matter of perspective. Master Nakamura was a practitioner of both Karate’ and Kobujitsu but believed they were of a different philosophy, apparently so different that if combined into one style each would detract from the other. One of his main goals was to raise the status of Karate’ to that of Kendo and Judo through competition. Sparring with weapons would be dangerous and was impractical. The addition of Kobujitsu took the style into a different direction. Master Nakayama continued with the same philosophical direction that Master Nakamura intended.
Master James M. Lloyd studied under Master Nakayama after training with several people for relatively short periods of time. Master Nakayama provided a complete formal foundation upon which Master Lloyd built and excellent and accomplished career. He continued to be a student of Master Nakayama until Master Nakayama retired and moved back to Okinawa. Master Lloyd competed successfully for several years and was sought after as a draw for tournaments frequently in his prime. Master Lloyd established dojos in Wyoming, Colorado, California, and Florida. His students have then spread his work through out the entire country, passing on Master Nakamura’s and Master Nakayama’s dream.
Hanshi Jeffrey L. Riggs, Ryoko dan of Iwatana do Okinawa Kenpo Karate’ in Rockledge Florida, started learning martial arts in the military and after the war (Viet Nam) as a police officer. The techniques he learned were designed to win at all costs or to establish control over a suspect. There was no balance of philosophy or systematic approach to the training. Though he was able to adequately use these techniques, he was a S.W.A.T. team member and a counter sniper; they were flawed in that the training was incomplete and they were from multiple styles. In 1986 he got hurt while arresting a violent suspect. Believing that his training was deficient he sought out a style of martial art consistent with his personal philosophy. He found Master James Lloyd, Shishi dan of Okinawan Kenpo Karate’ and Lau Hau Kenpo Karate’ in Rockledge Florida. Jeff Riggs soon became an honored student and while he learned from Master Lloyd, Master Lloyd was studying with Grand Master Tan Loeng Keng of Loeng Choo Kempo where Master Lloyd learned many of the ancient Chinese healing techniques. Master Lloyd prided himself on running one of the toughest dojos in Florida and as Sensei Jeff Riggs trained and subsequently taught, he continued that tradition. He knew, having actually seen combat and fighting violent felons, the one thing you can never do is quit, unless you want to die.
Upon Master Lloyd’s retirement in 1999 he went on to work exclusively on Lau Hau Kenpo and Master Riggs rose to the position of Mejin or Head of Okinawa Kenpo Karate and established the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Renmei. Master Riggs is currently studying Toyama Ryu Batto do, a Japanese sword art and is furthering his knowledge through his association with the American Martial Arts Renmei.
This “History” is an on-going project, research is continuing and I am attempting to be as accurate as possible. Where you see factual information, I have at least 2 sources. However, and this is a big however, due to the length of time involved, the nature of the history, and the fact that if information was recorded at all it was recorded in several different languages and all languages loose something in translation. Much information has been lost over time. People attempting to preserve information have been known to fill in the gaps with less reliable or unverified information. This allows for inconsistencies and conflicting information. One thing I have noticed is that the integrity of the martial arts has been maintained, and regardless of the history, what we teach still has great value.
Iwatana-do Okinawa Kenpo Karate' Martial Arts School
1104 Hermosa Dr.
Rockledge, Fl. 32955 Brevard