Joined: 23 May 2014
Location: United Kingdom, England, Shropshire
Styles: Wado-Ryu , Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu (Kodokan), RyuKyu Kobojutsu
|Posted: Mon Apr 20, 2020 9:04 am Post subject:
|The Frog in the Pond does not yet know the Ocean.
Both Karate and the world of Chinese Martial Arts are vast arenas in which people with profound and deep knowledge exist. There also exist a lot of people with shallow knowledge and ignorance. Finally, the vast array of styles in each, and the various purposes each style vies to achieve makes it very difficult to make broad statements.
All I can say for myself is I prefer Karate, and despite enjoying researching Chinese Martial Arts, my passion is for the Okinawan arts. They tick all the boxes I want to tick.
|Is karate just a simplified version of Kung fu?
The Chinese Martial Arts have a profound depth of knowledge that I feel has been better communicated down the generations. Especially those systems that managed to transplant themselves to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and to an extent the West. Thus, avoiding the Cultural Revolution, which led to the extinction of many schools. The Chinese arts have largely been given to the world by the Chinese who have understood the thinking behind the transmission.
In contrast, Karate though taken to Japan by Okinawans with a deep love of their culture and appreciation of their martial heritage, was largely given to the world by the Japanese or Westerners. In Japan, Karate became a form of Japanese Pugilism to fit into the rigid classification of Martial Arts enforced by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai. Despite some trying to retain the broad, and deep, knowledge of Tode-Jutsu as a pragmatic system of hand-to-hand combat, they could not work against the current that made Karate-Do a fundamentally Japanese art in the 1930s.
We must not forget the loss of life, and knowledge, that occurred due to the Battle of Okinawa and the Pacific War in general. A generation of Karate practitioner was decimated, and again, lineages and family systems were lost to the violence of war. Karate on Okinawa itself was profoundly changed during the late 40s and 50s, as Karate instructors took on and adapted to the need to teach karate to survive. Karate-Do was effectively exported back to Okinawa in the 1950s by the Nippon Karate Kyokai and other initiatives, and this had a lasting impression on “Orthodox” karate in Okinawa. A lot of foreign students took interest in Karate due to the American Military Presence, and naturally, instructors who needed the financial benefits took on foreign students. Few who spoke Nihongo, never mind, Uchināguchi. Ultimately, with their handful of months or a couple of years’ worth of training, with a language barrier in the way, meant they at best had rudimentary knowledge. A rudimentary knowledge with which to spread karate to the rest of the world.
Finally, in the 1950s, many Japanese systems took the effort to send instructors around the world. These instructors primarily came from the Nippon Karate Kyokai, and the Wado-Kai, who spread Shotokan and Wado-Ryu. Japanese systems that were very much gestated in the Showa years, and from a Japanese perspective. The karate that got spread to the was Japanese Boxing or Rudimentary Okinawan Self-defence. That is not to say the pioneers lacked a depth of knowledge: anyone who has seen the likes of Kase, Kanazawa, Suzuki, Shiomitsu, Nishiyama, or Harada will recognise the depth of knowledge they had. However, what they taught was regimented, Japanese, karate built upon Kihon, Kata, and Kumite. Lacking the nuance of Bunkai or deeper analysis of the ideas behind Karate, and focused on success in the ruthless competition that emerged between the different systems in the 60s and 70s. That is until later in life and by then generations had passed through the systems they brought. One should also consider the remarkable students such as Joe Lewis who achieved much, but whose martial knowledge came from a lot of hard work after his studies in Okinawa.
With all that said, it is thus difficult to compare Quen’Fa and Karate and argue if one is a simplified version of the other. History shows us that the Karate the world got is not the Karate that started life in Okinawa as Tode-Jutsu. There is a depth of knowledge that karate has that I would argue is equivalent to the profundity of Chinese Martial Arts. However, it is hidden behind a time and language barrier. Because of how the arts spread, there was a time you were more likely to find deep, traditional, knowledge as passed down from teacher to student walking into a Kung Fu school than you were a karate school. That is not to say that makes a Kung Fu system more complete, effective, or relevant to self-defence. Just the culture and history is different: Chinese Martial Arts were taught to the Chinese first, and often Chinese immigrants who spoke both their native tongue and the language of where they lived. They understood the nuances of how techniques were described. Similarly, if you wanted to open a school unless you rebelled against your elders, you were expected to gain permission from your teacher. In contrast to Gendai-Budo where being a member of Yudansha is usually taken as an implied nod that you can instruct others. Thus, the Chinese arts were passed onto others in a very rigid, and controlled manner. You could usually be assured you were being taught by someone acknowledge as able by their teacher.
That is no longer true due to the explosion of people’s knowing of Quen’Fa in the 70s. Plenty of people has masqueraded as experts in Chinese Martial Arts as they have any other since then. However, Japanese Arts did get an unfortunate start in people with sub-par knowledge teaching and starting their own systems. Not necessarily their own fault in that they only had the opportunity for limited training, and they returned home to a desert of where they were the lone exponent of their discipline. It was either get creative and steal from others where you could or stop training and teaching. The shame falls on those who continue to do so out of egoism and opportunism for profit in the modern age where necessity no longer demands it.
Ultimately, the short version is that international Karate was simplified for many reasons: some incidental, and some purposeful. In contrast, Chinese Arts were largely not, there are exceptions, and so the depth of knowledge as passed on was greater. Wushu, as propagated by China now, is rigidly controlled for quality by the Chinese Government, so there is strict quality control on the Arts as they come out of China. Especially in contrast to the lackadaisical regulation martial arts of all origins have in the rest of the world.
Tode-Jutsu, the origin of Karate, owes a debt to Chinese Martial Arts but to say it is a lesser descendent ignores other influences. Nippon Bujutsu as introduced by the Satsuma Clan, specifically Jigen-Ryu Tenshi Hyoho, practised by important forerunners such as Matsumura Sokan had an influence on Tode-Jutsu long before the 1920s. We can make educated assertions that Siamese Boxing influenced Tode-Jutsu based on trade records from the 1600s, and techniques found in both Muay Boran and Tode-Jutsu are explained more easily by mutual influence than the phenomena of parallel development. We must also remember the native arts of the Ryukyu Kingdom that existed prior to the 1400s and the influence of China, from which Tode-Jutsu developed.
Finally, our perspective of Quen’Fa and Karate is skewed by recent developments, and the fact Tode means Tang Hand quite literally. The individual known to history as Ryū Ryū Ko' taught numerous notables of Okinawan Martial Arts in the 1800s: Higaonna Kanryō (teacher of Goju-Ryu founder, Miyagi Chojun), Arakaki Seishō, Norisato Nakaima (founder of Ryūei-ryū), Sakiyama Kitoku, Kojo Taitei, Maezato Ranpo, and Matsuda Tokusaburo. His teachings essentially became a cornerstone of what we know as Naha-Te, and in turn had an influence on Shuri-Te and Tomari-Te, as practitioners came to together in the later half of the 19th century and the turn of the 20th to study together. Similarly, Sakugawa Kanga, who first identified his Art as Tode primarily gained his knowledge from Kwang Shang Fu, an ambassador and martial artist from modern day Fujian province. Sakugawa was the teacher of Matsumura Sōkon, who is considered the root of modern Shuri-Te. One cannot get away from Chinese Martial Arts as an influence on Okinawan Martial Arts. However, I would argue that Karate is its own creature, with its own profound knowledge, born from the creativity of the Okinawan people. It owes a debt to the Chinese Arts, but it is not a lesser or simpler version of one of its influences: it is its own thing.
I will say this. As far as we know, it was the Chinese that innovated the practice of Taolu, not shadow boxing or pre-rehearsed movements for which we have evidence of both being practiced in ancient Egypt and Greece, but sophisticated routines at least. We also know that tradition credits most Kata as having their origin in Chinese Martial Arts. No Chinese influence would likely mean no Kata, or Kata as we know them, and thus no Karate as we know it. That is a huge debt and should be acknowledged.
|Is karate more “straight to the point”?
I have a working theory that most Okinawan Kata are based on applications from Chinese Martial Arts and other sources, rather than having a direct origin in a parent system. There are numerous kata we cannot find analogues for in China suggesting Okinawa is the origin point. Though we can argue that the Taolu they are based on went extinct elsewhere, however, we would expect that considering the many versions that came to exist on Okinawa that we would see many versions exist in China or at least in Historical Hokkien China.
The oral traditions for certain kata support this notion, though I will not hold them up as indisputable proof. Reportedly, Sakugawa based Kusanku Kata on the teachings of Kwang Shang Fu: it is not credited as a form or Kata of Kwang Shang Fu. Suggesting Sakugawa systemised the techniques and tactics he learnt into an original kata. A similar version of the origin tale of Chinto kata exists, with Matsumura developing the kata from the combat methods he learnt off of the possibly semi-mythological Annan. More recent examples exist with Kyan Chotoku and Miyagi Chojun. Kyan likely developed Annanku Kata from martial arts he saw and researched during his time in Taiwan. Miyagi likely developed Kururunfa from his experiences of Praying Mantis during his journey to China in search of Ryū Ryū Ko. All of this is based on oral traditions, and several different versions do exist, however, the trend appears to be that Okinawans developed the kata from Chinese Martial Arts rather than adopting and passing on Taolu.
Essentially, I think Okinawan Kata are shorter and more dynamic is because they are about combat techniques. The movements represent what were once very specific combat techniques, or self-defence tactics against specific attacks.
To contextualise this, I need to talk a little about Chinese Martial Arts, and the use of language in the arts. I am not an expert by any stretch, however, I have some years’ experience in Simplified Yang-Style Tai Chi and Sun Style, if mostly for exercise. Plus, my first art was a heterodox system of Kenpo which did incorporate Hung Gar and White Crane.
Most movements in Taolu have a phrase to describe them, and a lot of movements in Taolu are interesting for one factor: You will find movements that start differently but end of the same, or start the same but end differently. Looking at the descriptive phrase then often has a similarity but a subtle difference. Each movement is also described as a form in of itself.
A great example from Tai Chi is Parting the Horse’s Mane and Pat the Horse’s Mane. The foot movement is similar in both, as is the scissoring movement of the hands, but one starts with the hands high and low, and the other with both hands high. Functionally the same movement but applied to a different target area. Throughout Tai Chi, horse is used to refer to motions of foot work where you go from a long, straddled stance, to a narrow step with one foot off the floor. In Animal Styles, if an animal is mentioned it appears to mean a specific motion relating to the tactics associated with that animal. For example, if it mentions a dragon it seems to indicate one should use the characteristic Dragon Stepping to enter into the application. This can be seen in observing the two man sets that survive in several systems.
I suspect Chinese Taolu are longer and more complicated because it repeats movements that are similar but adjusted to stand for different applications. In Bunkai we often take one movement and give it several applications, however, I suspect this is reversed in Chinese Taolu. All the applications are represented even if the base movement is the same.
This, I have seen when I have watched Chinese Artists show applications. If someone asks what if the attacker does A instead of B, the Sifu has responded then move as in “Name of this Form” instead of using this “Form” in contrast to Karate. In Karate, in response to that question, we often say you perform the movement this way instead of done exactly in the kata. We adjust the kata movement to fit the situation. We do not have a grab bag to just say “Do that form instead” which Chinese Taolu seem to have.
Admittedly, much of this thinking does come from looking at the development of the Technique Forms of American Kenpo, and also how Japanese Paired Kata seem to work in principle. Ed Parker developed Short and Long Forms 3, and Long Forms 4, 5, and 6 from the self-defence techniques he had been teaching as part of Kenpo Karate. Each movement in these forms relates to a self-defence technique found in the system. Ed Parker also devised the concept of extensions for these self-defence techniques: extensions are basically ways you can take a technique further, or how you can transition into sequences found in other self-defence techniques. Essentially, he built the forms up from the techniques he wished to impart. If this was done in the modern age, and it fits the oral narrative we have about certain Okinawan kata, I think it is a compelling example of kata coming from techniques.
In Japanese paired kata, your often end up in the best position in relation to your foe. If anyone is familiar with the Kihon Kumite of Wado-Ryu, you can discern how you always end up in a position to take greatest advantage. Although you might not feel the kata is a fight ender, you do end up in the position to do great damage. This pattern occurs in almost all Bujutsu traditions where there is paired kata. Aikido, Judo, Kendo from among Gendai Budo, and it is descended from the practice in Koryu. You go from a position of disadvantage or readiness, to a position of advantage. This does also happen in a lot of Chinese Paired Forms where the winner takes the initiative or succeeds in reclaiming it.
My hypothesis, now, is that language barriers and time has changed how Okinawan Kata developed from Chinese Taolu. I believe Okinawan kata come from self-defence techniques, but the “optimum” pathway has been chosen to be represented. Whereas Taolu have all the redundancies and variations the creator could produce. Another possibility is that the Kata creators had an incomplete knowledge of the tactics they were codifying in the Kata, and thus the techniques held are simply fewer than found in Chinese Taolu. Personally, I feel we can counter that by pointing out that a lot of movements from Okinawan Kata can be found in Chinese Taolu, but not the exact same form. I feel the Okinawans often likely took what they felt was useful, and codified it in their own tradition, while leaving out what they felt was superfluous.
In that sense, yes, I believe Karate Kata are more straightforward, and I personally prefer them. However, in this case, straightforward does not necessarily mean a better source of knowledge. Perhaps more efficient, in that allows more creativity thus fitting the chaos of violent confrontation, and means less time spent on the movement drills alone. As proposed by the gentleman mentioned in the video. How true that assessment is, however, is like an individual matter.
R. Keith Williams
A Rarely Used Blog:
An Uncertain Path