History of Okinawa
Okinawa (RyuKyu), Japan is the birthplace of modern day karate and kobudo. The following is a compilation of different sources of information about the evolution of Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Karate and Okinawan Kobudo or Ryukyu Kobudo.
Historians believe that the art of Okinawa Te first originated independently of any other combat system. It is also believed that this system of unarmed combat can be traced back over 1000 years.
The island’s own disunification gave rise to many aggressive warlords, each battling for supremacy of the island. Moreover, because the islanders were not of wealthy status, weapons were scarce. As a result, there was a strong incentive for the development of unarmed combat.
By the mid-1340s, Okinawa entered into a trade relationship with China. This trade and political friendship allowed the Okinawan people to observe the different aspects of China, and they were thus exposed to the Chinese martial arts system. Furthermore, by the late 1300s, in a tributary relationship, 36 Chinese families and businessmen settled on Okinawa. These families brought with them a variety of skills, including Chinese martial arts.
Through the 1400s, the island experienced much turmoil. At first the island was unified by King Sho Hash, who destroyed the former dynasty and established his own. Soon all arms were banned on the island, in fear that the reign might be overthrown. As a result, the emphasis on unarmed fighting arts further progressed. The main villages of Okinawa are credited with the main styles that emerged from Okinawa Te. From the village of Shuri came Shuri Te. From the village of Naha came Naha Te. Finally from the village Tomari, came Tomari Te.
In addition to empty hand combat, the Okinawans also began the practice of Kobudo (Weapons). Because of King Sho Hashi’s ban on the traditional weapons (such as samurai swords), the Okinawans began using their everyday farming implements as weapons. From this practice the most commonly thought of weapons became the Bo (six foot staff), the Eku (six foot oar), the Kama (grass or cane sickle), the Tonfa (utility handle), and the Nunchaku (Horse bit, or even rice flail). However because the Okinawans never restrained the practice of survival, it is conceivable that these particular weapons might not have been the only weapons practiced. In fact, the Zen Okinawan Kobudo Renmei (Matayoshi Kobudo) and Ryukyu Kobudo Hozonkai make use of Kuwa (Japanese Hoe), the Timbei and Rochin (Shield and Dagger), as well as Nunti (Japanese spear).
These styles of unarmed and armed combat were practiced in secrecy for years. Differences between Te styles suggest the different influences of various Chinese styles. Shuri-Te seem to utilize the external system of Shaolin kung-fu . While Naha-Te incorporates the use of internal Taoist techniques. Tomari-Te appears to be a mix of both internal and external fighting systems. These variations alone are responsible for the development of the different systems into the distinct martial art styles they are today.
In 1609, Okinawa (Ryukyu kingdom) was seized by the Japanese Satsuma Samurai clan, for refusing to recognize Japan’s newest Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. As result, the Satsuma Samurai clan banned the Okinawan people from carrying weapons. This only further fueled the importance of further developing the martial arts as means of survival.
Although at this time the Japanese had banned all trade relationship with other countries. The Japanese however, still allowed Okinawa (Ryukyu kingdom) to trade with China under control of Satsuma Samurai clan. As result, around the mid to late 1700s, a Chinese diplomat named Kusanku, moved to Okinawa for 6 years. During his stay he began teaching the Chinese system of Ch’uan-Fa. As these influences became introduced into the different local martial arts, they gradually became known as To-de (Chinese hand). By the 1800s these styles were again re-named. Shuri-Te and Tomari-Te formed the basis for Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate, while Naha-Te formed Goju-Ryu Karate. Although Kusanku is often believed to be a culmination of different Chinese officers, he is often referred to as one person. As is recorded, Tode Sakugawa began studying under Kusanku-sensei. The teachings of Kusanku enabled Sakugawa to combine the essence of both Te and Chinese martial arts principles. These principles form the basis of modern day Shorin-Ryu Karate.