Senshin: The Enlightened Mind

Martial Arts Blog

normrobitza On May - 12 - 2013

shuri1Gichin Funakoshi is known as the Father of Modern Karate but he did not create the martial art that has spread around the World from the small island of Okinawa.

Funakoshi is the founder of Shotokan Karate but he never named the style himself. The name Shotokan was applied to the style by his students. In 1935, Funakoshi’s students started to gather funds and by 1936 their mission was completed. They had constructed a dojo for their Master. When the dojo was completed, they placed a sign above the door with the word, “Shotokan” on it. Shoto was the name that Funakoshi used when writing poetry. Kan means school. So the name Shotokan actually means the “School of Shoto.”

So if Funakoshi didn’t create karate, where did it come from? Funakoshi was taught the art of karate from two men, Yasutsune Azato and Yasutsune Itosu. These two men were friends and colleagues. They were well renowned martial artists in Okinawa. They were both Samurai. Now before you start to have visions of beautiful armor and razor sharp swords, I would tell you what the word Samurai actually means. Samurai were men who worked for the Japanese royal families. Samurai literally means to serve. A samurai could be a soldier, a civil servant or even a cook. The Ryukyu Islands, which Okinawa was part of, was not official part of Japan. The island chain was occupied by China and Japan. Okinawa was an important port of call. It lied between the two powerful nations.

Azato and Itosu worked for the Royal Family of Okinawa. Itosu served as the Personal Secretary of the king. He would spend his days very close to the king and his family. Azato worked as the Military Attache and Foreign Affairs Minister.  Their jobs would have them within meters of the king and his heads of state. Why?

Azato and Itosu were not the creators of Karate either. They were taught by a legendary martial artist. A man who also served the king of Okinawa. Sokon Matsumura served the king as the Minister of the Military. Matsumura was such an amazing martial artist that he was given the name Bushi which means warrior. Matsumura’s roll was to lead the military and protect the king and his family. Things are becoming clearer.

Matsumura was taught karate by the man that is reputed to have created karate, Kanga Sakugawa. Sakugawa was a master of the Martial Arts. He took Chinese fighting arts and brought them to Okinawa where he combined the Chinese style with the Okinawan method of self defense. This combination was the birth of karate. Sakugawa was given the name, Tode or Chinese Hand. Sakugawa worked as a mapmaker and surveyor for the Royal Family.

Now we have a group of men who all served the Royal Family of Okinawa over many decades. Men who, because of their jobs, spent almost every waking moment near the king and his family. Each of these men were amazing martial artists. Why did the Royal Family have a long standing tradition of employing martial artists? Well it is simple. These men served as personal bodyguards to the Okinawan Royal Family. Who better to protect the king but the people who were by his side on a daily basis? What a surprise it would have been for an unsuspecting attacker if the Royal Surveyor put an end to a would be attack.

One of the biggest historical moments in Okinawa was when Matthew Perry arrived on the island from the United States. He demanded the Japanese borders to be opened to the outside World. The Okinawan king didn’t have control over this but he met with Matthew Perry. Perry wrote many books about his adventures and has block cut prints in the books. There are a few images that you could say are of Matsumura. The man was said to have strange eyes that could look right through you. There are prints that show Perry sitting with the Okinawa king and his court. One of the men in the prints features match the description of Matsumura almost to a tee.

In today’s World, martial artists are employed to act as protection to the rich and famous all the time. I myself worked with a security company that provided security for major musicians, athletes and actors. I have stood within feet of some of the biggest names in the music industry. Was my training part of the reason that I moved through the company so quickly? The tradition continues.

Today, not many people know the secret history of karate. That the forefathers of karate, the men that came before Master Funakoshi, were secret agents! They were taught the art of karate to prepare them for their position. A position that could see them spring into action in a moments notice. To lay down their very lives in the service of their king.

The book, Shotokan Secrets: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate’s Fighting Origins, by Bruce Clayton goes in depth on this topic. Click here for more information on the book .

Categories: Teaching/Training

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