Welcome to the House of Okinawa


Musings of a Seeker

By Tom Spellman


Origins of the Ryukyu Way:

When numerous elements of human creativity, varying cultures and philosophies mingle with the ancient Jomon hunting rituals acted out at the campfires in the mists of time, a spirit was created that was to mature into the art the world knows today as Karate. In this, and future articles we will explore the rich elements of the circumstances, actions, and contributions made by various players that shaped karate’s formation into a fighting art that sought to balance the body, mind, and spirit of its practitioner. To borrow a thought from Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature, in his grand work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell described the basic narrative pattern as follows:

‘A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

To grow and transform one-self through trial. To transcend what he or she thought they could do or be in this life has been the dream of many aspiring karate-ka in their pursuit of mastery of the art we love. Welcome to the House of Okinawa.

Contributing Elements of the Karate-Ka (part one)

 Okinawa is the largest of the 150 Ryukyu islands that comprise the Japanese prefecture in the East China Sea half-way between Taiwan and Japan's mainland. Evidence of human existence on Okinawa has been discovered as far back as 32,000 years although their ultimate origins are still contested, and the research is ongoing.

After many prior years of strife, rivalries, and amalgamations in the 12th century the Hokuzan, Chuzan, and Nanzan Okinawan kingdoms located in the North, Central, and Southern regions of the Island became firmly established. Beginning in 1372 Chinese Ming court representatives began to apply refined pressure to King Satto of Chuzan to establish a tributary relationship with China thus following in the footsteps of many other East Asia countries.

The three kingdoms eventually became one under the leadership of Chuzan’s King Sho Hashi and sustained the tributary arrangement with China which continued to prove both culturally and economically enriching and non-intimidating. Thus, began the “Golden Age of Trading” of Okinawa in 1429 expanding its role as a centrally located hub of trade in the Pacific region. Keep in mind that Ryukyu’s tributary relationship with China was primarily of a diplomatic and commercial nature as opposed to a political one. However, this exchange of cultural and economic influence ushered in Chinese and some Korean migration in maritime expertise, ship building and, cultural practices.

As to the nature of Okinawan religious and spiritual practices George Kerr wrote in his Okinawa- The History of An Island People – “The Okinawans had only a mild interest in religious forms and virtually none at all in religious and philosophic speculation. The majority were content to support the noro (community priestess): they treated the spirits of the groves and hills, sea, and sky, wells, and springs with suitable respect, but they did not enquire deeply into these mysteries. They were much more exacting in their treatment of the dead, and in respectful display of concern for the welfare of departed parents.” In contrast to the rest of Japan, Buddhism and Shintoism did not have a great influence in Okinawa. (However, there are some temples and shrines.) As mentioned previously there is, however, a strong influence of the native belief in ancestor worship. The interactions between China and Okinawa had significant and enduring effects. The introduction of Confucianism became extremally influential in Ryukyu, especially when traditional Okinawan ancestor worship made it conveniently adaptable. The diverse requirements of ritual correctness acted as a powerful incentive for the Ryukyu rulers to conform to Confucian doctrine and thus earn the respect and favor of the Chinese officials. Furthermore, this conversion was facilitated over the many months the highly educated civil officials occasionally spent in Ryukyu interacting with court officials and scholars while awaiting favorable seas for their return home.

The Ryukyu Kingdom educational mainstay of the Pechin were the Chinese Classics, which included the writings of Confucius. The Pechin were an upper rank in Ryukyuan society who were thought of as scholar-officials- warriors serving in administrative positions in the Okinawan government.  As scholar-officials, they often served in administrative positions in the Ryukyuan government. This class had many of its fraternity amongst the lists of great Karate masters, the warrior/ scholars recorded in the future annuals of their history.

The feudal system of mainland Japan and its feudal domain system (Han) of the samurai and its committed loyalty, to the death, to their Lord was the domain of the Japanese warrior, the samurai. In essence, a Feudal society is a military hierarchy in which a ruler or lord, offers a unit of land to work or control in exchange for a military service.

Okinawa’s government, following the Japanese Satsuma clan’s invasion and conquering in 1609, was transformed into a han (a feudal domain) of the Japanese Tokugawa Era’s reign under Satsuma control which lasted until 1879. Concerning this period George Kerr penned:

“The government’s primary functions at this time were reduced to the collections of taxes and supervision of the public peace. The Okinawans had little to do with the conduct of foreign affairs. The nature of some of the office solemnly established and staffed at Shuri suggests that a secondary function of the government was to find ways and means to provide offices, titles, and income for relatives of the royal family, for descendants of the anji (Okinawan Lords), and for the gentry. All government organization was held together by an elaborate network of ceremonial relationships prescribed by Confucian standards. As new economic activities developed new importance, new offices were created to supervise them.” (Note the mention of, “all government organization was held together… by Confucian standards”)

To Confucius, the main objective of his teachings was to educate the people to live with integrity. Through his teachings, he strove to instill the traditional values of benevolence, propriety, and ritual in (Chinese) society.

The Main Beliefs of Confucianism

Chung - Loyalty to the state, etc. Li - includes ritual, propriety, etiquette, etc. Hsiao - love within the family, love of parents for their children, and love of children for their parents. Jen - benevolence, humanness towards one another (the most important Confucianism virtue.

 Confucianism, the teachings of Confucius during 500 BC, has played an important role in forming Chinese character, behavior, and way of living. (Eliot 2001; Guo 1995) Its primary purpose is to achieve harmony, the most important social value. Confucianism is often characterized as a system of social and ethical philosophy rather than a religion. In fact, Confucianism built on an ancient religious foundation to establish the social values, institutions, and transcendent ideals of traditional Chinese society.

A valuable example of Confucian significance can be found in Patrick McCarthy’s masterful translation of The Seven Precepts of Bu written by Matsumura Soken on page 20 of his stellar work, Legend of the Fist vol #1:

The preface to the seven Precepts:

“Through resolve and relentless training, one will grasp the true essence of the fighting traditions. No less interesting is the fundamental similarity between the fighting traditions and that of the literary study. By examining the literary phenomenon, we discover three separate elements: 1. The study of Shiso 2. The study of Kunko and 3. The study of Jukyo.”

“The study of Shiso refers to commanding words, communitive skills and seeking position for wages.”

“The study of Kunko refers to a comparative study of documents and teaching a sense of duty by example.”

“The third study of Jukyo is significant in content and message,

 “It is in the study of Jukyo (Confucianism) that we can find the “Way”. In finding the way we can gain a deeper understanding of things, build strength from weakness, and make our feeling more sincere. Become virtuous and even administer our own affairs more effectively, and in doing so make our home a more peaceful place. A precept which can also apply to our country or the entire world. This then is a complete study and it is called Jukyo.”

The article continues on page 21 with the translation of the Seven Precepts of Bu:

“Budo no Bugei (the genuine method) are never practiced without conviction and participants cultivate a serene wisdom which knows not contention or vice. Fostering loyalty among family, friends and county, a natural decorum encourages a dauntless character.”

“With the fierceness of a tiger and the swiftness of a bird, an indomitable calmness makes subjugating any adversary effortless. Yet, Budo no Bugei 1) forbids wilful violence, 2) governs the warrior, 3) fortifies people, 4) fosters virtue, 5) appeases the community, 6) brings about a general harmony and 7) prosperity.”

Matsumura Soken concludes by writing, “Hence, the way of Bun Bu (literally philosophy study and the fighting traditions often described as the pen and the sword) has mutual features. A scholar needs not Gakushi (a psychological game of strategy, not suitable for fighting) or Meimoku no Buge ( purely physical in form, aiming only at winning) ; This is where you will find the way. This indomitable fortitude will profoundly affect your judgement in recognizing opportunity and reacting accordingly, as the circumstances always dictate the means.”

Matsumura Sokon (1809-1889 Yamagawa Village, Shuri, Okinawa) Matsumura was born Kiyo Sokon and was of noble birth and, as was traditional, was skilled at literature and the Chinese classics as well as military arts.  The name Kiyo changed to Matsumura when he entered the service of the 17th King of the Ryukyu Sho dynasty, King Sho Ko followed 18th and 19th Kings of Ryukyu, King Sho Iku and King Sho Tai, respectively. In 1826 and received the title Chikudon Peichin, a gentry rank and later became the bodyguard to the Okinawan King Sho Iku himself.

 During his life, Matsumura continued to expand his skill sets with trips to China and two trips to Japan. In 1832, upon Matsumura’s return from a China journey King Sho Iku stated he desired a bodyguard with sword skills, so Matsumura was sent to Satsuma, Japan and stayed there for five years.  Matsumura returned to Okinawa from Japan in 1837 bearing a menkyo kaiden (certificate of full proficiency also known as Unki, light among clouds) in the Jigen Ryu style of swordsmanship, the vary art that made the Satsuma swordsman so invincible!

If we were looking for a prototype model for the quintessential Okinawan Karate master certainly Matsumura Sokon could be at the top historically. Masterful karate and sword warrior, versed in the Chinese Classics, especially Confucius’s benevolent guidelines for individual persons and nations and do not forget long lived, loyal service to his monarchs and country.  Is this not a worthy example of unifying the body, mind, and spirit?

End of Part one, See you soon in Part two.

Musings of a Seeker

By Tom Spellman

 Sensei’s admonitions resounded in my head in the still of the night as I followed the path to his home, “Expand your senses, feel the ground beneath your feet. Use you nose to seek out human and animal scents and knell down occasionally to look up and check for silhouettes against the stars. Make the night your friend as you come to your nightly lesson with me.” Stories such as these abound in America and around the world that share tales of ancient Okinawan students secretly training in TI( Karate) by night due to prohibitions perpetrated by the invading Japanese Satsuma samurai which forced empty handed self-defense arts secretly underground while also confiscating all weapons of war from the population.

In Part one of this series I wrote about a portion of Okinawa’s history, and culture, that will prove relevant to our study of Okinawan Karate, while touching on the political, economic, and philosophic contributions that helped form the martial Masters themselves.

In Part two we shall explore the control of weapons in Okinawan society and the development of Karate and by whom.

Welcome back to
The House of Okinawa

 Origins of the Ryukyu Way: Part Two

The issue of the ownership of personal weapons in Okinawa during the Satsuma occupation and the consequent ban of their possession by the Japanese has long been a source of debate amongst Okinawan Karate practitioners, their instructors, and assorted historians, both native and foreign. Interwoven within the narrative has been the subsequent forcing of karate practice underground due to karate, itself, being banned as well. In addition to this is the repeated supposition that the common folk practiced the art in secret in order to protect themselves from their Japanese oppressors using their bare hands as their sole defense and had eventually developed simple weapons from common tools to add to their defensive arsenal. In this second House of Okinawa offering I will delve into these two subjects so you can be better informed about them.

As to the issue of a ban and confiscation of weapons. Andeas Quast, in his book, A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History, writes on page 30, “In 1509, celebrating the expansion and beautification of Shuri Castle’s main palace, the ELEVEN ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE AGE eulogizing the achievements of King Sho Shin’s reign (1477-1526)  were inscribed in Chinese characters on the balustrade situated in front of the main palace. This is called the Momourasoe Rankan no Mei, or the Inscription on the Balustrade of the Momourasoe Hall.

Quast further notes that Article 3 describes the expedition of one hundred warships to the Yaeyama islands to chastise them for not bringing tribute. This took place in the year 1500 and proofs the increasing military strength of the country.

Article 4 of the list reads All cut and thrust weapons, bows and arrows, etc., were accumulated as sharp weapons for the purpose of national defense. Additionally, Article 5 describes the completion of a royal government organization.

Quast go on to write, “From an early misinterpretation of article 4 by Iha Fuyu (considered to be the father of Okinawan study) one main theory on the origin and development of unarmed combat arts(karate) was deduced.” In 1955 it was also reinterpreted by Nakahara Zenchu thus, “Fourth, brocade and embroidered silk are used for garments, gold and silver are used for utensils. Swords, bows, and arrows are exclusively accumulated as weapons in the protection of the country. In matters of finance and armament, this country excels other countries.”

However, these three articles clearly describe the military expansion of the kingdom under Sho Shin (article 3), the accumulation and consolidation of arms and armor under royal management, i.e. the completion of the national defense organization of the Hiki [the Military Defensive Organization of Shuri and Naha] (article 4), and the completion of the government organization to establish law and order throughout the country (article 5).

George Kerr further explains in Okinawa The History of An Island People, “First of all, Ryukyu did not produce iron, and second, Sho Shin’s fifty-year reign minimized chances for their use. However, it was the nature of the ruling class that was of particular significance. Ryukyu’s ruling class was a hereditary gentry not dependent upon armed might for their status unlike the contemporary samurai rulers of Japan. (Page 544)

Furthermore, Kerr went on to state, “No evidence can be found to suggest that the Okinawans at any time contemplated an attempt to throw off Japanese controls; nevertheless, in1669 Satsuma saw to it that the Shuri government’s swordsmithy was abolished, putting an end to the manufacture of swords for ceremonial use, and in 1699 forbade the report of weapons of any kind. A new police inspectorate was created, and a new Japanese garrison post was established in the eastern quarter of Naha. (page 178-9)

In addition Quast states (A Stroll Along Ryukyu Martial Arts History) “ Due to the fact that military protection was provided by the Satsuma domain since 1609, Ryukyu’s former military was transformed into a system of security functions consisting of various levels of policemen, guards , and feudal inspectors in royal government service, as well as a local grassroots security organization based on semiofficial groups of local authority extending over the whole geographical area of the kingdom. The catchphrase here is domestic security, which must be seen as another reason for the unmilitary form of classical Ryukyuan combats arts.”

A Quast concludes:

 The described accumulation of weapons under government administration and the establishment of law and order throughout the country strongly suggest that the military equipment and personnel were placed under the administrative and operative responsibilities of the royal government organization of the Hiki. In other words, the actual meaning of the said disarmament was that the Anji were indeed stripped of the military jurisdiction over their individual troops and military equipment, but these were transferred and centralized under the jurisdiction of Shō Shin’s newly organized military government structure.

From the above we can see that all claims of a primordial form of unarmed Karate as having developed as a result of King Shō Shin’s alleged weapons ban is a completely untenable historical fallacy. Even worse: It appears to be fictitious, artificial and wishful thinking.”

Consequently, these facts point to the reality that the Okinawan monarchy and government, themselves, had first confiscated the weapons of the Okinawan people at least 100 years before the invasion of Okinawa by the Satsuma Clan of Japan to put these weapons under the control of the Hiki, as stated by Quast.

Now let us explore the questions concerning the commoners secretly practicing Karate underground to protect themselves against their cruel Japanese oppressors.

To begin with, the popular German author, Shotokan practitioner and Japanese translator Henning Wittwer endeavored to address the questions of accurate Japanese translation of various historical martial arts text such as Master Gichin Funakoshi’s autobiography. The 1956, 1976, and 2004 English version Karate-Do My Way of Life by Master Funakoshi inconsistencies were found. Mr. Wittwer writes in his article published in Classical Fighting Arts Vol 3, #4 “An especially widespread and popular concept that Karate must have been a forbidden fighting art at one time. Found in the chapter “Losing the Topknot”, traces of the are to be found. The current English translation reads,” At that time the practice of karate was banned by the government, so sessions had to take place in secret and pupils were strictly forbidden by the teachers to discuss with anyone the fact that they were learning the art.” He goes on to write in his translation,” At that time one could not learn karate in public.” (oyoke) He goes on to say, Seemingly the Japanese word oyake (‘public”) became “government” in the English edition. So, the source text no more and no less states that one “could” not learn karate publicly. Prohibitions or even prohibitions ordered by the government are not mentioned at all. On the contrary, and in reality, the Royal Government encouraged the practice of karate at the end of the Edo period (1867). In this case we have to clearly differentiate the two aspects “secret practice” (fact) and “karate was forbidden” (historical nonsense).”

The fact that the Okinawan Government encouraged Karate practice, in modern times (1904) is born out in author and historian Andreas Quast’s article in his Ryukyu Bugei Article, The Invention of Karate :

The last and probably most important book by Kinjō Hiroshi (2011) has the clear tenor of an “Invention of Karate”. Yes, I just said that. It is about as follows:

In 1904, Itosu Ankō (1831–1915), commissioned by and under the guidance and supervision of the Okinawa Prefecture Department of School Affairs and by its designated purpose as a school education, selected and modified a  number of kata from Suidī (Shuri-te), and in addition invented a number of kata of his own, and in this way determined a framework of kata for physical education. In 1904/1905, karate was taught for the first time as a compulsory subject of physical education at the Okinawa Prefectural Middle School. It should be borne in mind that this was not unaltered Suidī (Shuri-te) in its original state. This is expressed in Article I of Itosu’s Ten Maxims, “The quintessence should be, by word of honor, to never injure human beings by means of one’s fists and feet.”This was a turning point for Karate in being made available to the masses in Okinawa and beyond.

Prior to this time Karate, and its various earlier incarnations, had a different story.

First off, let us review the Okinawan Social hierarchy according to Kerr: briefly, in three parts, they are first, the Royal Family of Sho, secondly, the privileged class (shizoku), third, the common men (heimin).  After the royal family were the hereditary ranks of the shizoku which were the anji descended from territorial lords who moved to Shuri during and after the reign of Sho Shin. A lesser degree of nobility bore the titles uekata or oyakata.

These families were founded by men who had earned permanent rank and distinction through meritorious service to the state, or by men who were younger sons of the hereditary anji and royal princes.

 Below the nobles stood a gentry class divided by a system of titles into three principal grades, each with a junior and senior rating. These were the pechin, satonushi, chikudun, descendants of the king’s soldiers and retainers, the soldiers and retainers of the anji, and scholars, priests, and commoners who earned the gentry status through meritorious service.

Upon examination of many of the historical characters in Okinawan history we see a pattern of the haves and have nots. The commoners had a dawn to dust lifestyle of farming and/or fishing. Kerr, on page 106 masterpiece recorded, “Each maintained his (anji) men-at-arms, officers, and servants. And drew his economic support from the labor of hard-working serfs who cultivated his lands or fished in nearby waters. The common people were not free to move about but were expected to remain on the land unless summoned to work at Naha or Shuri in their Lord’s interest.” So, basically, they had not the money, the energy, the freedom, nor the time to spare on the pursuit martial arts interests. That about covers the third portion of the Okinawan Social Hierarchy, the Heimin or Common men.

We are left with the first and second parts of the three-tier listing, the Royal Sho family and the shizoku, or privileged class.

Who, then might some of these upper-class persons be?

Soken Bushi Matsumura (1809-1899) Pechin Class Great-grandfather of Karate lineages, Matsumura Seito Karate-Do named after him
“Tode” Sakugawa (1786-1867) “Te” master
Choki Motobu (1885-1944) Aji class  Goju-Ryu Karate
Choshin Chibana (188-1969) Aiji Class  Kobayashi-ryu (Kobayashi Shorin-ryu) style of Karate
Chogi Yoshimura (1866-1945) Royal lineage Studied various Karate systems but taught no one. Beginners mind.
Kentsu Yabu (1866-1937) Shizoku Class Shorin-Ryu master
Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952) Aji Class Founder of Shito-Ryu Karate
Kanken Toyama (1888-1966) A noble or descended from one Shudokan Karate
Shinken Taira (1897-1970) A noble or descended from one Kobudo Master (Ancient Weapons)
Shinpan Shiroma (1890-1954) A noble or descended from one Shorin-Ryu/ Naha-Te master
Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) Shizoku Class Founder of Shotokan Karate

This is a short list just to demonstrate that Karate, Ti/Te, Toudi/Tode was the property of the haves in society prior to the fall of the Okinawan Kingdom with the Annexation of Okinawa by Japan in 1879. Later this would include those successful individuals in commerce who had the money and time to pursue their interests and travel to other lands such as China, Thailand, and elsewhere to broaden their experience. Even to migrate to the West, as we shall see next in Part Three of this series.

​​​​​​​​​​Musings of a Seeker

By Tom Spellman

The Ryukyuan people of Okinawa lived as an independent kingdom until the Satsuma Clan of Japan invaded and subjugated them into vassalhood in 1609. As we found in our previous articles, Okinawa, China, and the Satsuma maintained a profitable financial/cultural existence until the Ryukyu islands were officially annexed by Japan, during Japan’s Meiji Reformation Era, in 1869 and became the Okinawa Prefecture, Japan’s largest minority group. They are now Japan's largest minority group, with 1.3 million living in Okinawa and 300,000 living in other areas of Japan. (The adjustment of administrative relations between Shuri and Tokyo had been a matter of concern from the moment Shimazu surrendered his feudal privileges.) In seeking to appreciate the changes that occurred during this period in Okinawa it helps to understand the transformations within Japan’s governmental, cultural, societal institutions in conjunction with the Reformation and the shift from feudal dominions rule to a constitutional government, a legal system, and the societal apportionment of its citizens. In this third installment of the House of Okinawa’s story, we will be delving into the monumental change to the Japanese mainland, its governmental and financial structure, and thereby, the nation of Okinawa, its citizens, and the effects of the fledgling Meiji Era of Japan had on the art of Karate and its practitioners at the close of the 1800s and early 1900s in Okinawa.

Welcome to The House of Okinawa

Change, A Nature of Being: Part 3

The Meiji reformers began with measures that addressed the decentralized feudal structure to which they attributed Japan’s weakness. In 1869 the lords of Satsuma (and Okinawa), Chōshū, Tosa, and Saga were persuaded to return their lands to the throne. (Others quickly followed suit. The court took steps to standardize the administration of the domains, appointing their former daimyo as governors. In 1871 the governor-daimyo were summoned to Tokyo and told that the domains were officially abolished. The 250 former domains now became 72 prefectures and three metropolitan districts, a number later reduced by one-third. In the process, most daimyos were eased out of administrative roles, and though rewarded with titles in a new European-style peerage in 1884, were effectively removed from political power.​

The Britannica Encylopedia states: The Meiji leaders also realized that they had to end the complex class system that had existed under feudalism. Yet, it was difficult to deal with the samurai, who numbered, with dependents, almost two million in 1868. Starting in 1869 the old hierarchy was replaced by a simpler division that established three orders: court nobles and former feudal lords became kazoku (“peers”); former samurai, shizoku, and all others (including outcast groups) now became heimin (“commoners”). The samurai were initially given annual pensions, but financial duress forced the conversion of these into lump-sum payments of interest-bearing but non-convertible bonds in 1876. Other symbolic class distinctions such as the hairstyle of samurai, as well as the Okinawan topknot, and the privilege of wearing swords were abolished. ​

Many former samurai lacked commercial experience and squandered their bonds. Inflation also undercut their value. A national conscription system instituted in 1873 further deprived samurai of their monopoly on military service. Samurai discontent resulted in numerous revolts, the most serious occurring in the southwest, where the restoration movement had started, and warriors expected the greatest rewards. An uprising in Chōshū expressed dissatisfaction with administrative measures that deprived the samurai of their status and income. In Saga, samurai called for a foreign war to provide employment for their class. The last, and by far the greatest, revolt came in Satsuma in 1877. This rebellion was led by the restoration hero Saigō Takamori and lasted six months. The imperial government’s conscript levies were hard-pressed to defeat Saigō, but in the end superior transport, modern communications, and better weapons assured victory for the government as it did on the European Continent and America during the 1800’s Industrial Revolution. In this, as in the other revolts, issues were localized, and the loyalties of most Satsuma men in the central government remained with the imperial cause. Many former samurai lacked commercial experience and squandered their bonds. Inflation also undercut their value. A national conscription system instituted in 1873 further deprived samurai of their monopoly on military service. Samurai discontent resulted in numerous revolts, the most serious occurring in the southwest, where the restoration movement had started, and warriors expected the greatest rewards. An uprising in Chōshū expressed dissatisfaction with administrative measures that deprived the samurai of their status and income. In Saga, samurai called for a foreign war to provide employment for their class. The last, and by far the greatest, revolt came in Satsuma in 1877. This rebellion was led by the restoration hero Saigō Takamori and lasted six months. The imperial government’s conscript levies were hard-pressed to defeat Saigō, but in the end superior transport, modern communications, and better weapons assured victory for the government as it did on the European Continent and America during the 1800’s Industrial Revolution. In this, as in the other revolts, issues were localized, and the loyalties of most Satsuma men in the central government remained with the imperial cause.

Noted Japanese translator Noah Oskow offered this on the Charter Oath of the new Japanese Emperor Meiji -

This proclamation set forth the general principles by which the young emperor intended to rule Japan. The oath went as such:

The Charter Oath

By this oath, we set up as our aim the establishment of the national wealth on a broad basis and the framing of a constitution and laws.
Deliberative assemblies shall be widely established, and all matters decided by open discussion.

All classes, high and low, shall be united in vigorously carrying out the administration of affairs of state.

The common people, no less than the civil and military officials, shall all be allowed to pursue their own calling so that there may be no discontent.

Evil customs of the past shall be broken off and everything based upon the just laws of Nature.

Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule. 

The constitution was formally established as law in 1889, and elections for the lower house were held to prepare for the initial Diet (Kokkai), which met in 1890. The constitution took the form of a gracious gift from the sovereign to his people, and it could be amended only upon imperial initiative. It also ended the revolutionary phase of the Meiji Restoration. With the new institutions in place, the oligarchs withdrew from power and were content to maintain and conserve the ideological and political institutions they had created through their roles as elder statesmen (genrō).


Equally important for building a modern state was the development of national identity. True national unity required the propagation of new loyalties among the general populace and the transformation of powerless and inarticulate peasants into citizens of a centralized state. The use of religion and idealogy was vital to this process. Early Meiji policy, therefore, elevated Shinto to the highest position in the new religious hierarchy, replacing Buddhism with a cult of national deities that supported the throne. Christianity was reluctantly legalized in 1873, but, while important for some intellectuals, it was treated with suspicion by many in the government. The challenge remained how to use traditional values without risking foreign condemnation that the government was forcing a state religion upon the Japanese. By the 1890s the education system provided the ideal vehicle to inculcate the new ideological orientation. A system of universal education had been announced in 1872. For a time its organization and philosophy were Western, but during the 1880s a new emphasis on ethics emerged as the government tried to counter excessive Westernization and followed European ideas on nationalist education. In 1890 the Imperial Rescript on Education (Kyōiku Chokugo) laid out the lines of Confucian and Shinto ideology, which constituted the moral content of later Japanese education. Thus, loyalty to the emperor, who was hedged about with Confucian teachings and Shintō reverence, became the center of a citizen’s ideology. To avoid charges of indoctrination, the state distinguished between this secular cult and actual religion, permitting “religious freedom” while requiring a form of worship as the patriotic duty of all Japanese. The education system also was utilized to project into the citizenry at large the ideal of samurai loyalty that had been the heritage of the ruling class.

​​The Okinawan kingdom retained a degree of autonomy until 1879 when the islands were officially annexed by Japan as the Okinawan Prefecture. Now we will shift our focus to Okinawa and how the changes occurring on the Japanese mainland affected this new Prefecture. Okinawa and how the changes occurring on the Japanese mainland affected this new Prefecture.

Recorded in George Kerr's great book, Okinawa The History of An Island People:

(Page 382)-

March 27, 1879, King Sho Tai abdicates, Tokyo decides to abolish the han, end the monarchy, and Okinawa Ken(province) is established. On March 30 King Sho Tai withdraws from Shuri Castle and for the first time in five hundred years, the place ceased to be the seat of authority and the symbol of Okinawan nationhood.

In April of the same year, Tokyo announces that with the exception of three favored families- Sho, Te, and Nakijin- all Okinawan nobles and gentry would become commoners, dependent henceforth on their own resources. The Okinawan outcry forced, in December, a receding of the original order, and stipends and pensions were scheduled. Inexperience, poor management, and lack of opportunity lead to many pensioned families on the verge of bankruptcy. A craft workshop was established at Shuri to give them opportunities for work, and by 1885 this was subsidized by as much as thirteen thousand yen.

.  (Page 397)-

This could be only a temporary relief measure. Under the pressure of increasing poverty, the members of old aristocratic families began to take a more liberal view toward residence elsewhere in the islands and toward intermarriage with families, not of their own rank and class in court society.

(Page 398)-

As the lower ranks of the government and of commercial management on Okinawa began to be filled, however, the newcomers began to be drawn from less well-educated classes and from the ranks of unemployed and restless men who had not fully adjusted to the new order in Japan proper. For many years Kagoshima (home of the Satsuma Clan) men dominated all private and public activities on Okinawa. A high percentage were men who had failed to find permanent employment after the abortive Satsuma Rebellion (1877) and now drifted into the police force and lower administrative offices of Okinawa.

Kerr further remarked that “Political relation, for slanderous attacks on the Okinawan government, by Satsuma upon Okinawa affected principally the gentry of Shuri and Naha, but general conditions of economic hardship in the mid-century placed a growing burden on everyone.” A margin of surplus in foodstuffs or trading goods upon which the government could draw in meeting crisis needs. Material resources were exhausted, the normal formalities and organization of social life began to disintegrate. The formal ties of marriage, family, and the village life and of administrative order began to mean little in the presence of elemental privation. Rebellious unrest, political turmoil, and serious inflation then followed and shook the economy.

As these conditions continued the Gentry class or as we referred to them as the “haves” had to adapt to their changing conditions.

 For some the field of education beckoned.

According to an article Tom Ross wrote for Fighting Arts.com wrote “Itosu began to study the martial arts under the watchful eye of Nagahama Chikudon Peichin. After taking and passing civil services exams he became a clerk for the Ryukyu government. (Itosu continued to serve as a secretary to the last king of the Ryūkyū Kingdom until Japan abolished the Okinawa-based native monarchy in 1879). It was through the assistance of his good friend Anko Azato that he would rise to a position of prominence in Ryukyu governmental administration. For some the field of education beckoned.

 For men like Master Itosu, armed with a solid curriculum, the time was right when Itosu brought Karate from the shadows and into the light of public study. In 1901 he began instructing at the Shuri Jinjo Primary school (Iwai1992, Okinawa Pref 1994) and then on to the Dai Ichi middle school as well as the Okinawa Prefectural Men's Normal School in 1905 (Bishop 1999, Okinawa Pref. 1994, 1995). Itosu wrote: ”The reason for stating all this(in a letter to the Prefectural Education Department concerning the introduction of karate to all Okinawan school system) is that it is my opinion that all students at the Okinawa Prefectural Teachers Training College should practice Tode so that when they graduate from here they can teach the children in the schools exactly as I have taught them. Within ten years Tode will spread all over Okinawa and to the Japanese mainland. I hope you will carefully study the words I have written here. Signed Anko Itosu, Meiji 41, Year of the Monkey(October 1908) For men like Master Itosu, armed with a solid curriculum, the time was right when Itosu brought Karate from the shadows and into the light of public study. In 1901 he began instructing at the Shuri Jinjo Primary school (Iwai1992, Okinawa Pref 1994) and then on to the Dai Ichi middle school as well as the Okinawa Prefectural Men's Normal School in 1905 (Bishop 1999, Okinawa Pref. 1994, 1995). Itosu wrote: ”The reason for stating all this(in a letter to the Prefectural Education Department concerning the introduction of karate to all Okinawan school system) is that it is my opinion that all students at the Okinawa Prefectural Teachers Training College should practice Tode, so that when they graduate from here they can teach the children in the schools exactly as I have taught them. Within ten years Tode will spread all over Okinawa and to the Japanese mainland. I hope you will carefully study the words I have written here. Signed Anko Itosu, Meiji 41, Year of the Monkey(October 1908) 

Kanryo Higaonna

Another karate-ka who entered the teaching field was Grandmaster Kanryo Higaonna (Higashionna was the original Okinawan pronunciation) of the Naha-Te tradition, who was born on March 10, 1853, in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa. His father, Kanyo, worked as a merchant sailing between the small islands of Okinawa, trading everyday goods. He, therefore, was able to travel to China for martial arts study, and coupled with his study, which began in 1867 with Aragaki Seisho of Monk Fist Boxing, Higaonna grew in skill and knowledge. In time, the first occasion on which the previously secretive art of Naha-te "opened" to society in general, occurred in October 1905, when Higaonna began teaching at the Naha Commercial High School.

When teaching, Higaonna was an extremely hard taskmaster. However, in his everyday life, he was a quiet and humble man and one who was renowned for his virtuous character. He was a person who had no need or desire for worldly things. He led a simple life that was devoted to the study and practice of martial arts. 

Shinpan Shiroma-

Still another master was Shinpan Shiroma who upon completing his military service he returned to train with Itosu and teach at the Shuri Dai Ich Elementary school.

Chotoku Kyan -

Some masters, such as Chotoku Kyan, had the resources to learn and later teach the arts they loved so deeply. Master Chotoku Kyan was born in 1870, to a very wealthy family in Shuri, Okinawa, the cradle of Karate. At the tender age of five, he was taught the empty hand art of self-defense he received from his father Chofu Kyan, and his grandfather. Being born into a rich family he was able to devote all of his time studying the martial arts and was sent to the best Okinawan Karate teachers available. After completing his apprenticeship under six of the most famous Okinawan Shorin-Ryu masters, Sokon Matsumura, Matsumora, Pechin Maeda, Pechin Oyadomari Kokan , Yara of Chatan , and lastly Tokumine, Kyan began teaching the art at his home. In the 1920’s Kyan traveled to mainland Japan to promote the art. And on his return, he visited Taiwan on a martial arts exchange tour of Okinawan and Chinese Martial Arts. ​

Yet for others many turned to government service-


As was mentioned in our earlier Okinawan House writing, one such prominent Karate Master who had served the Okinawan King was MATSUMURA, Sokon (1809-1893) who was born in 1809 in Shuri-Yamakawa village, Okinawa. His Chinese name was Bu Seitatsu.  It is believed that he was trained by Sakugawa who agreed to train him in order to fulfill a promise made to Matsumura’s aging father.  Matsumura was famous for his intellect and courage as a result of his hard training.  He was the chief bodyguard for the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth kings of the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa). Matsumura was the Ryukyuan King's bodyguard up until his death at age 85. 

​ Yabu Kentsu-Yabu Kentsu (1863-1937) was Itosu's senior student, assistant, and was also originally a student of Matsumura. In Yasui, Homer”s (2006) article: The Last Samurai. Karate Master Kentsu Yabu, in: Classical Fighting Arts, Vol. 2, No. 11 (Issue #34) He quotes Yabu, Kentsu as writing “It was not satisfactory whether the three major obligations of the (Japanese mainland) people, military service, tax payment, and education, were being fulfilled in Okinawa. Education was also compulsory, but Okinawans were afraid of it. Okinawa was the only place with a special tax law. For military service, military conscription was not yet in effect in Okinawa. Therefore, all three obligations were incomplete in Okinawa. Under these circumstances, I believed that the people of Okinawa could not win their rights as a nation. This is the reason why I chose to go into the military field, which my seniors, friends and others did not. After that, everyone who went to the Kyōdōdan recommended it to their friends back home, so the number of applicants for the second round was 17 (amongst those early volunteers was also Master Chomo Hanashiro, Yabu Shuri-Te dojo mate).” Both were noted as having exceptional physiques in the 1891 Japanese army draft's medical exams when they joined the Japanese Army. Because Yabu was a volunteer, the Japanese Army sent Yabu to a school for prospective noncommissioned officers. Upon graduation, he received promotion to sergeant. He was then sent to Manchuria, where he saw service during Japan’s 1894-1895 war with China (Kim, 1974, 64-65; Noble,1988, 32; Yasui, Sep. 6, 1998). Before getting out of the army, Yabu received promotion to lieutenant. Apparently, he was the first Okinawan to do so in the modern Japanese army, and there is a story that his uniform and sword were subsequently kept in Shuri Castle (Kim, 1974, 64-65; Noble, 1988, 32; Yasui, Sep. 6, 1998) Master Yabu became a prominent teacher of Shōrin-ryū karate in Okinawa from the 1910s until the 1930s and was among the first people to demonstrate karate in Hawaii. Yabu Sensei was a pioneer in instructing karate in the school system in the first decade of the 20th century, and also taught Tote in military schools. He was also present at the famous Oct. 25th,1936 meeting of Okinawan Masters. At this meeting, attended by the greatest masters of the time, the name "karate do" was officially adopted over "Tote Jutsu".

Another popular occupation for these Karate masters to pursue was law enforcement.

Shoshin Nagamine-

One of the newer generation masters was Shoshin Nagamine (July 15, 1907-Nov 2, 1997), Soke of the Matsubayashi-Ryu. He entered the police force (1931) and stationed at the Kadena Police for four years followed by study at the Metropolitan Police Academy at Tokyo in 1936. His long-term efforts eventually earned him the position of chief of the Motobu Police Station in 1961.

Another notable Karate master who chose law enforcement as his path (for a time) was:

Kenwa Mabuni-

 Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952), who, like most of Karates’ old masters, was descended from Okinawas’ warrior class Bushi (Onigusukini -Yukatchu) family and an aristocrat. The Encyclopedia Britannia Bio records Mabuni as being  a 17th generation descendant of the famous warrior Uni Ufugusuku Kenyu.[1] Mabuni Sensei  began his instruction in his home town in the art of Shuri-te (首里手) at the age of 13, under the tutelage of the legendary Ankō Itosu (糸州 安恒, Itosu Ankō) (1831–1915), One of his close friends, Chōjun Miyagi (宮城 長順, Miyagi Chōjun) (founder of Gojū-ryū Karate) introduced Mabuni to another great of that period, Kanryō Higaonna (東恩納 寛量Higaonna Kanryō). As a police officer (in Okinawa), he taught local law enforcement officers and at the behest of his teacher Itosu, began instruction in the various grammar schools in Shuri and Naha. In an effort to popularize karate in mainland Japan, Mabuni made several trips to Tokyo in 1917 and 1928. Although much that was known as Te (Chinese Fist; lit. simply "hand") or karate had been passed down through many generations with jealous secrecy, it was his view that it should be taught to anyone who sought knowledge with honesty and integrity. In fact, many masters of his generation held similar views on the future of Karate: Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan), another contemporary, had moved to Tokyo in the 1920s to promote his art on the mainland as well. By 1929, Mabuni had moved to Osaka on the mainland, to become a full-time karate instructor of a style he originally called Hanko-ryū, or "half-hard style". The name of the style changed to Shitō-ryū, in honor of its main influences. Mabuni derived the name for his new style from the first kanji character from the names of his two primary teachers, Itosu and Higaonna (also called Higashionna). Mabuni later spent many of his early years with Koyu Konishi, a friend and sometimes student who later founded Shindo-Jinen-Ryu karate.

These are but a few stories of the times. For many of the upper class or previously mentioned “haves” that possessed the knowledge of Karate were forced to seek employment wherever it could be found. For instance, they resorted to teaching,translation, and accounting by employing their education skills when possible. Many of the jobs that had been hereditary in the past now were filled by Japanese Mainland bureaucrats of commerce. The system went from benefiting the feudal Japanese Satsuma Clan and the Okinawan Kingdom to now pouring into the coffers of the Japanese State as a principality.​

As to the art of Karate, its traditions of formation, transmission, and survival in this environment, and the metamorphosis it went through entering the 20th century will be explored in the next installment of the House of Okinawa Part 4. In addition, we will touch upon the changes and effects of private discipleship practices evolving to the public transmission of the art in public schools, clubs and the machi dojo. This also became the time of the establishment of Karate styles and research societies in an attempt to codify them in accordance with the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai offices in Mainland Japan. We will also touch on the eventual migrations throughout the world of Okinawan citizens seeking a better life and fleeing the tumultuous times at home while taking their culture and art with them.


End of Part Three, see you soon with part Four.