Tuesday 1 November 2022

The Okinawan Budo Karate inherited by traditional Shotokan-Ryu

The Karate of Okinawa can be categorized in four distinct ‘ways of practice’: (1) 武道空手 (Budo Karate)—the traditional classical ‘way’; (2) Karate for health; (3) Karate as a form of ‘movement art’—which can readily be seen in Okinawan dance; and (4) sports/game karate. Today, I will focus on the karate we do: 武道空手 (Budo Karate). I will do this BASED ON DOCUMENTS THAT I RECENTLY TRANSLATED FROM OKINAWA. Concluding this process, I will confirm ‘the most advanced waza of Okinawan Budo Karate’, which has also been handed down to its pure descendants (thus and accordingly, 'inherited by/within traditional Shotokan-Ryu). ― André 


What is the 武道空手 (Budo Karate) of Okinawa?

Traditionally the karate of Okinawa was based on self-defense. In particular, the emphasis being on the ‘perfection of defense’ and the seeking of ‘one hit finishing techniques.' (Please note here) This was hundreds of years before what is now known as 'Karate' reached mainland Japan. Therefore, it was not based on the evolution of competition in the 20th Century nor based on Kenjutsu nor Kendo.

The classical/original form of Karate, therefore, intrisically possesses a fierce killing style that is technically incomprehensible to those who practice sports karate. In theory, both may seem possible, however, their practice and training are like oil and water.


Ethics whilst turning the body into a self-defense weapon

Budo karate is therefore a martial art which can both take and save lives in unprovoked life and death determining altercations. For over half a millennia it has been honed and refined by experts and passed down accordingly. This has resulted in its deepening sophistication and increased stateliness as an unarmed defensive art. Moreover, whilst the physical skills and effectiveness have continued to be advanced, Karate has been revitalized in contemporary times to also embrace human ethics; thereby, balancing its physical power—which literally turns the human body into a weapon—with a solidified and necessary moral code. While the aspect of Kobudo cannot be looked over, the essence of Karate is that of ‘having the destructive potential of a weapon’ even when unarmed. Indeed, Kobudo training can contribute to this skill, but unlike impact training and strength work, is not a prerequisite of unarmed Karate prowess.

No rules and the 'generic purpose of kata'

One distinct physical feature of Budo Karate is that there are no physical or technical restrictions in both attack and defense; that is, the entire human body is subject to attack. Accordingly, it is utterly critical to develop a perfect system of defense. The ferocity of classical attacks makes the ability to defend against them of the greatest importance, especially at a subconscious and precisely reactive level. Rigorous kata practice is needed to reach this level as defense and attack must eventually become one. It is often said that “Simultaneous activation of this defense and attack and the acquisition of kata are directly proportional to one's proficiency”. 


受技 (Ukewaza): The most advanced technique of Budo

Expanding on this point and to conclude, in Budo Karate, the most advanced ‘waza’ are the ukewaza (reception techniques) as these actions literally control the opponent; furthermore, by fluidly accepting and neutralizing an opponent’s continuous attacks, one can physically and psychologically stop an attacker. Again, this is why kata, irrespective of school always begins with an ukewaza. Allow me to recapitulate and shed a little further light on an imperative point here: ‘the ukewaza of the expert is their most advanced and therefore, most sophisticated technique, in application. That being said, the rarity of those with this capacity can be likened to a four-leafed clover.


Overall, this high-level skill highlights the Budo Karate Proverb: “Do not be struck by your opponent, nor strike them, and emerge unscathed”. This is the psychological and technical maxim amongst the masters of Budo Karate in Okinawa; furthermore, amongst the masters of the Ryuha and Kaiha which have fully maintained these traditions and propagate them on mainland Japan and, indeed, across the world. Of course, this does not literally mean one’s attacker is unscathed but, rather, that their own attack was met with a reception—which collectively establishes the level of damage that they incur. The determinants being: (a) the intensity/force/ferocity of the attackers strike; and (b) the particular response and decided level of power—in sum, ‘the kime’—used in relation to the attackers' action or actions.


I’d like to conclude by saying that what I’ve briefly explained here will be incomprehensible for most people; moreover, perceived as being ‘unrealistic in the real world’: especially in response to a violent attack. Of course, this is completely understandable as this type of ukewaza is simply not understood now. It is old ‘school karate’ which can only be kept by its constant training and the complete knowledge that underpins it.


Irrespective of this knowledge or lack of it, “…at the highest level of the Karate of Okinawa (and the traditional disciplines which have descended from it) this type of ‘uke’ still defines the pinnacle of Budo Karate expertise”.

押忍! ― AB.

© André Bertel. Oita City, Japan (2022).

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