Karate Basics, Terminology and Okinawa History

Learning Karate is not only about the art itself, but the disciples must also learn about its culture. Karate originated from Okinawa, an island in between mainland China and Japan. The Okinawan people, however, speaks Japanese as the native tongue therefore many of the terms and history of Karate are Japanese. For the first time beginner, as a Karate-ka, let’s involve yourself into this exciting lesson about one of the most famous martial arts system world wide…

Japanese numbers

We count our exercises in Japanese, so you will hear these words often!

English Japanese Pronunciation
one: ichi ee-chee
two: ni nee
three: san sahn
four: shi/yon shee/yohn
five: go goh
six: roku doh-koo
seven: shichi/nana shee-chee/nah-nah
eight: hachi ha-chee
nine: ku/kyu koo/kyoo
ten: ju joo

Karate Terms

Karate: empty hand or the art of fighting empty handed.
Karate-do: the traditional way of karate.
Dojo: place or school where karate is taught.
Hanshi: a karate instructor holding a rank of 9th or 10th degree black belt
Shihan: a karate instructor holding a rank of 4th degree black belt or above
Sensei: a karate instructor usually holding a rank of fourth degree black belt or above
Sempai: an assistant karate instructor, usually between the rank of first and third degree black belt.
Kobudo: the use or practice of traditional Okinawan weapons (farm tools).
Gi: uniform worn by a karate student while training.
Obi: a belt worn to signify one’s rank in karate.
Kyu: a rank below black belt.
Dan: degree or rank of black belt.
Karateka: a student that practices the art of karate.
Kata: a series of moves performed at various angles against numerous imaginary opponents.
Kumite: fighting another student either with weapons or empty handed.
Kenshin Kan (Heart Fist Place): a place to train in karate-do for the good of humanity
All Okinawan Shorin-ryu Karate and Kobudo Federation (A.O.S.K.K.F.): the federation that links this dojo to the main dojo in Okinawa, Japan. This federation is headed by Grandmaster Fusei Kise.
Shihan Ni Rei: (sen-say knee ray) “bow to Shihan”
Kioski: attention
Rei: bow
Kamai: set
Yoi: ready or prepare
Onegai Shimasu: (Said at the beginning of class) “please teach me”
Domo Aragato Gozaimashita: (said at the end of class) “thank you very much”
Ohayo Gozaimashita: “good morning”
Konnichi Wa: “good afternoon” or “good day”
Konban Wa: “good evening”
Mata Ashita: “see you tomorrow”
Sayonoara: “goodbye”

Okinawa History

Click the image to open in full size.

It is estimated that probably 90% of American karateka know little, if anything, about their art other than the physical aspects. Most of those karateka seem content merely to practice karate and have little interest in studying the origins of their art. While we enjoy the physical aspects of Shorin-ryu, we should also have a burning desire to learn the history and the origins of our art.

Generations of secrecy have shed a veil of mystery around the history and origin of Okinawan karate. To a certain degree this veil of secrecy still exists. This, coupled with a general lack of written records, has created a void of information on the early years of RyuKyu martial arts. What little information we have has come to us

through scattered bits and pieces that somehow have come into the possession of modern karate historians or from an Okinawan Shihan. Nevertheless, any attempt to write on karate history will leave “many stones unturned,” and the following attempt is no exception; a lot of questions are left unanswered. Perhaps one day we will have more information.

Early History of Okinawan Karate
Early Okinawan karate or Tode (Tuidi) as it was called owes it’s origin to a mixture of indigenous Okinawan fighting arts and various “foot-fighting” systems and empty hand systems of Southeastern Asia and China. The Okinawans, being a seafaring people, were in almost constant contact with mainland Asia. It is quite likely that Okinawan seaman visiting foreign ports of call may have been impressed with local fighting techniques and incorporated these into their own fighting methods. Interest in unarmed fighting arts greatly increased during the 14th century when King Sho Hashi of Chuzan established his rule over Okinawan and banned all weapons.

Click the image to open in full size.
King Sho Hashi

More rapid development of Tode followed in 1609 when the Satsuma Clan of Kyushu, Japan occupied Okinawa and again banned the possession of weapons. Thus, Tode or Okinawan-te, as the Satsuma Clan soon called it, became the only means of protection left to the Okinawan. Thus it was this atmosphere that honed the early karate-like arts of Okinawa into such a weapon that they enabled the island people to carry on a guerrilla-type war with the Japanese Samurai that lasted unto the late 1800’s. So, Tode or Okinawan-te developed secretly to keep the Japanese from killing the practitioners and the teachers of the deadly art. Tode remained underground until early 1900 when it was brought into the Okinawan school systems to be incorporated into physical education methods.

Development of Styles and Systems of Karate-Do
Chatan Yara was one of the early Okinawan Masters of who some information exists. Some authorities place his birth in about 1670 in the village of Chatan, Okinawa; others place his birth at a much later date. In any case, he contributed much to Okinawan karate. He is said to have studied in China for 20 years. His techniques with the Bo and Sai greatly influenced Okinawan Kobudo. His kata, “Chatan Yara no Sai”, “Yara Sho no Tonfa”, and “Chatan Yara no Kon” are widely practiced today.

Click the image to open in full size.
Peichin Takahara

Most modern styles of karate can be traced back to the famous Satunuku Sakugawa (1733-1815) called “Tuidi Sakugawa”. Sakugawa first studied under Peichin Takahara of Shun. Later Sakugawa went to China to train under the famous KuSanku. KuSanku has been a military attaché in Okinawa. Upon Master KuSanku’s return to China,Sakugawa followed him and remained in China for 6 years. In 1762 he returned to Okinawa and introduced his Kempo; this resulted in the karate we know today. Sakugawa became a famous Samurai; he was given the title of Satunuku or Satonushi; these were titles given to Samurai for service to the King. Sakugawa has many famous students; among them were:

1. Chikatosinunjo Sokon Matsumura
2. Satunuku Nakabe (nickname: Mabai Changwa)
3. Satunuku Ukuda (Bushi Ukuda)
4. Chikuntonoshinunjo Matsumoto (Bushi Matsumoto)
5. Kojo of Kumemura (Kugushiku of Kuninda)
6. Yamaguchi of the East (Bushi Sakumoto)
7. Usume (aged man) of Andaya (Iimundum)

Sakugawa contributed greatly to Okinawan karate; we honor him today by continuing many of the concepts he introduced. Sakugawa’s greatest contribution was in teaching the great Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura.

Bushi Matsumura (1797-1889) studied under Sakugawa for 4 years. He rapidly developed into a Samurai. He was recruited into the service of the Sho family and was given the title Satunuku, later rising to Chikutoshi. At some time during his career Bushi Matsumura was sent to China to train in the famous Shorinji (Shaolin Temple). He is alleged to have remained in China for many years. Upon his return to Okiriawa, Matsumura established the Shuite or Suidi that later became known as Shorin-ryu. Shorin-ryu is the Okinawan-Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese writing characters called Sholin in China. In both languages Shorin or Shaolin means “pine forest”. Ryu simply means “methods handed down” or methods of learning such as those of a school. Bushi Matsumura lived a long and colorful life. He fought many lethal contests; he was never defeated. He was the last Okinawan warrior to be given the title “Bushi”. He contributed greatly to Okinawan Karate. He brought the “White Crane” (Hakutsuru) concept to Okinawa from the Shorinji in China. He passed on his menkyokaiden (certificate of full proficiency) to his grandson, Nabe Matsumura.

Click the image to open in full size.
White Crane form

Nabe Matsumura brought the Old Shorin Ryu secretes into the Modern Age. His name does not appear in many karate lineage charts. He was alleged to be very strict and preferred to teach mainly family members. Not much information on him is available; his date of birth and death are unknown. He must have been born in the 1850’s and died in the 1930’s. He was called “Old Man Nabe” and is said to have been one of the top karate practitioners of this time. He passed on his menkyokaiden to his nephew Hohan Soken

Click the image to open in full size.
Nabe Matsumura

Hohan Soken was born in 1889; this was a time of great social changes in both Okinawa and Japan. The feudal system was giving way to modernization. This aristocracy was forced to work beside the peasants. Hohan Soken was born into a Samurai family; at an early age he chose to study his ancestors’ art of Shorin-ryu under his uncle, Nabe Matsumura. At the age of 13 young Soken began his training. For 10 years Hohan Soken practiced the basics. At the age of 23, Soken began learning the secrets of Hakutsuru. So proficient did Hohan Soken become in the art that his uncle, Nabe, passed on the style of Shorin-ryu Matsumura Seito Karate-do to him. In the 1920’s to 1945 Hohan Soken lived in Argentina. Upon his return to Okinawa the Matsumura Seito Karate-do style returned also. Soken saw that karate had greatly changed; sport karate had all but replaced the ancient methods. Soken did not change; he valued himself as the last of the old masters. He refused to join some of the more fashionable karate associations. He stayed with the old ways and did much to cause a rebirth of interest in Kobudo and the old Shorin ways. Master Soken retired from karate in 1978. For many years he was the oldest living and active karate master. One of Grandmaster Soken’s top students is Master Fusei Kise.

Click the image to open in full size.
Hohan Soken

Master Fusei Kise was born on May 4, 1935. He began his study of karate in 1947 from his uncle Master Makabe. In 1955 Master Kise became a student of Master Nobutake Shingake and received his Shodan. In 1958, Master Kise began studying under Grandmaster Zenryu Shimabuku and received his Yondan. In 1958, Master Kise began studying Hohan Soken the third successor of Matsumura Seito Karate-do. In 1960, he was. a student of Grandmaster Shigeru Nakamura, Okinawan Kenpo Karate-do Federation. At that time Master Kise taught and practiced Shorinji-ryu Karate-do; also during this time he was studying Shorin-ryu under Grandmaster Hohan Soken. On January 1, 1967 Master Kise passed the examination for 7 Dan under Grandmaster Hohan Soken, Shorin-ryu Karate Matsumura Seito Karate-do Federation. Shortly after this Master Kise switched completely over to the Shorin-ryu Matsumura Seito (Orthodox) Karate-do.

Click the image to open in full size.
Fusei Kise

On January 3, 1972 Master Kise qualified to the hanshi title by passing the 8 Dan examination held by Grandmaster Hohan Soken and Master Makabe.
On September 1, 1976Grandmaster Soken promoted Master Fusei Kise to 9th Dan. In 1977, Master Kise founded the Shorin-ryu Kenshin Kan Karate & Kobudo Federation. The definition of Kenshin Kan is as follows:

Ken: Empty hand or the Loochoo (RyuKyu) art of self defense.
Shin: The truth, reality, human nature, humanity.
Kan: A place, mansion or palace.
Kenshin Kan: A place in which to study karate-do for the essence of human nature or humanity.

Master Shigaru Tamae promoted Master Kise to 10th Dan on October 25, 1987.

Thus we have Shorin-ryu Kenshin Kan Karate-do, a karate system that evolved from the ancient teachings of Sakugawa and Bushi Matsumura, a system led by Master Fusei Kise, one of the very few karateka to have been taught the complete secrets of Hakutsuru (the White Crane).

Some of you may ask, why is Shorin-ryu Kenshin Kan so special? The answer is in its unique history. First of all, the system is a direct descendant of Shorin-ryu
Matsumura Seito. This system escaped the changes made in Okinawan karate in the 1930’s (by the Japanese who prefer sport karate) because Grandmaster Soken was living in Argentina. Secondly, the unique techniques of the White Crane have provided the influence to the style that gives us the “body change” concept and other concepts that make a very efficient system of self-defense. These secrets were taught to only a very few people – Master Fusei Kise is one of those very few people. Therefore, we have a unique system.

(matsumuraorthodox dot com)