Category Archives: Okinawan Culture

Who's This Stuff For?

It is always a good exercise to take account of our motivations as karate teachers and practitioners. Why do we continue on, year after year, teaching and practicing karate? Yes there are a lot of easy, canned answers: cultivation of character, preserving the traditions of the past, to learn to be able to defend oneself, to confront our responses to violence, force of habit. I am sure I am leaving many out.

I don’t think most people scrutinize this carefully. For a variety of reasons, answering this requires us to consider who makes up the community of people to whom we are responsible towards. When the answer is ambiguous it becomes nearly impossible to understand the extent of our responsibilities, and thus what it is we should be doing. The ‘why’ question becomes easier to address when we are clear about what we are doing, and equally important, about what we are not/ should not be doing.

There are those who regard themselves as hard-core ‘traditionalists’ for whom preserving tradition seems to be the ultimate objective. To these people the most important obligation is to ones predecessors in these arts. Of course it is useful and proper to give credit where it is due. We have an obligation to make sure our historical claims are accurate, but that seems like the extent of our obligation to the dead.

Many times in the thirty-plus years I have been involved with martial arts, I have seen abusive and insensitive behavior justified by appeals to tradition.

As a younger black-belt level instructor, I remember struggling with ethical dilemmas that should not have been complicated, however, my judgment was clouded by the imagined relevance of some mumbo jumbo associated with tradition.

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Linked Article: The significance of the Matsuyama study group

Garry Lever has posted an excellent discussion on the roots of Goju Ryu over at the Goju Kenkyukai blog. This is one of the more sober looks at the history of any karate group out there. Karate in general suffers from the effects of unnecessary myth-making and mysticism; as a result the histories of different practices and individuals are badly garbled and left open to some pretty silly stuff.  I think Garry hits this one head on- forget trying to pin down direct sources and secret transmissions; it’s more likely that Goju Ryu has it’s roots with a bunch of guys who knew a few things about fighting skills, getting together in the park to train. Hmmm…now why does that seem so familiar?

Check it out there

2010 Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden

If you watch closely you will see two short clips from the TKRI demonstrations at the Missouri Botanical Gardens this year. Nice job guys.

More on Bettelheim: Gospel Translations, Rubbings of Original Monument

Last year I posted a link to a research piece on Dr. Bernard J. Bettelheim, the crazed European missionary and troublemaker extraordinaire who spent several years living in Naha, Okinawa. In that piece, I mentioned that Bettelheim spent considerable time translating the canonical Gospels into katakana and phonetic script of the local Hogen dialect.

Although Bettelheim records his success in translating the Gospels into katakana and the native Hogen, we can only speculate upon what he was actually able to get across in these attempts.

While looking online for more of Bettelheim’s diary, I came across copies of his translation of the Gospels of Luke and St. John, digitally archived at the University of Hawaii’s Japan Collection:

Treasures of Okinawa, Frank Hawley Collection

Some time after the Doctor’s departure from Okinawa (something that the Ryukyuan government tried to arrange from the moment he set foot on the island), a monument was erected in his memory by a group of foreign and Japanese Protestants. Like many, many other historically significant artifacts, this monument was destroyed in the bombardment of Okinawa during World War II. While looking at the link above I came across a digitally archived rubbing of the original monument, hosted by the university of Hawaii’s Okinawa Collection:

Sakamaki Hawley collection, Hakutokurei Kinento Takuhon (Rubbing of Monument to Bettelheim). It’s the 4th item down.

Traditional Karate: Stumbling Block, or Useful Distinction?

Note: I would like to acknowledge the enormous contributions of my teachers and training colleagues to my thinking on this matter: most notably Robert Miller in his essay “Modern Karate: A Reconsidered Pedagogy”; Dr. Gillian Russell’s essay “Epistemic Viciousness in the Martial Arts” and David Campbell for providing a solid sounding board for my inchoate, all-over-the-place musings.

“Traditional Karate”: A Problem of Definitions

Over the past couple of years, an increasing level of conversation has developed amongst karate practitioners about what karate is. As practitioners of the fighting arts learn more about each other via books and the internet, and the rise of mixed martial arts has provided a yardstick for the superiority of this technique or that, the standard answers are becoming more and more inadequate. This process of reckoning is acutely noticeable on online discussion forums.  If you throw the question of “what is karate?” onto a discussion board, the replies will cover a very broad range of interpretations and practices. Some replies will take all facets of training and the contingencies of fighting into account and evaluate them carefully, while others will staunchly defend this major brand name or that as “the” keepers of correct tradition.” In an age where ideas and methods can be accessed at the click of a button and information is more available than at any other time in history, many karateka still insist on wearing blinders. Some who engage in these conversations become very distraught at the suggestion that their school of choice is not recognized by all as being the best (epistemic viciousness at its best), while others actively pursue new perspectives.

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Recommended link: Okinawa HDR

I followed a link from one of our visitors to a site called Okinawa HDR. The site features some gorgeous HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography of Okinawan landscapes, people and culture. There are some jaw-dropping, vibrant and haunting images here, and it’s easy to spend and hour or more getting lost in them.

Check out Okinawa HDR here

This link takes you to the photos

Okinawa Survey

Click here to help out with an online survey about overseas interest in Okinawa.