Interesting words by Nakaima sensei
On December 3, 1978, at the Okinawa International University, the 1st All Okinawa Karatedō Championship sponsored by the Uechi-ryū Karatedō Association was held. In the tournament’s program can be found the congratulatory address of Nakaima Kenkō, Chairman of the Ryūei-ryū Karatedō Kobudō Hozonkai (Preservation Society) that we have translated below.
The above photo of Nakaima sensei was used in the program. However, it was originally published in the 1977 book “Okinawa Karatedō – History and Techniques” by Uechi Kan-ei sensei.
Congratulating you on this event, I humbly would like to address the following message.
A secret martial art of self-defense for common people known as “Tī”, karatedō in Okinawa was developed, nurtured and inherited in the historical, geographical and social specific environment of Okinawa. In the midst of its development process, we cannot denied the possibility that it was influenced by Chinese kenpō. As an evidence, today still, some systems still inherit Chinese martial arts.
When the Japanese feudal system and the Ryūkyū dynasty system collapsed, martial arts that prospered as the main accomplishments of Bushi also temporarily declined. However their value was once again recognized, and they were introduced in the military, police and school education, so called kendō, judō, etc. They came to the light again as practical methods, a way to improve the quality of the youth, a physical and mental training, and a path to character building.
In the shadow of other martial arts, karate did not easily surface socially. However, after it was registered as a martial art of the Dai Nippon Butokukai at the beginning of the Shōwa era (1), it began to stand side by side with other martial arts as “karatedō”. As the birthplace and origin of karatedō, Okinawa is proud that karate is a part of the Japanese martial arts history.
The Manchurian Incident of 1931 triggered the Chinese Incident (2) and Japan eventually entered WWII. The world became a place of truly turbulent disturbances. “If you don’t have the same level of national power or more, you shouldn’t go to war.” This is the ABC of the Art of war. However, a reckless war was started and even the traditional expressions “Uchi shite yaman” and “Ichi oku gyokusai” (3) were lost in vain.
Among the many generals, General of the Army MacArthur was a unique figure as he researched the Japanese spirit. He stressed that it was the “Yamato-Damashī” (4) that defined the mental attitude of the Japanese who started a war although Japan’s national power was disproportionate to the one of the United States. As this spirit was rooted in Japanese martial arts, thus he banned martial arts completely. Particularly, kendō and jūkendō (5) were strictly prohibited. However, he didn’t mind about karatedō as he knew the virtue of this martial art seeking peace in which there is no first attack.
After the end of the war, all martial arts achieved a 180 degrees turnaround transformation and re-started a a sport, and became as prosperous as they were before the war. Especially, in the case of karatedō, it seems better to say that its flourishment was amazing. Japanese people have a genius ability to take in, assimilate and master the excellent things of other countries and ethnic groups. On the mainland, “Sun-dome jiyū-kumite” and “Bōgu-tsuke jiyū-kumite” (6) were quickly devised. Although there was some controversy over the pros and cons of jiyū-kumite for a period of time, it became popular without people having the time to discuss metaphysical and physical issues. Promoted as “This is Japanese karatedō”, jiyū-kumite spread not only in Japan but also in Western countries and conquered the world. Four karatedō world championships have already been held since (7).
Up to this day, the karatedō world in Okinawa has never though too much about this issue. However, I have heard that some styles already practice free sparring, and that other schools are doing their own research. The Okinawa Prefectural Senior High School Physical Education Federation has been using “free-kumite wearing an armor” for several years and the All Japan Senior High School Karatedō Federation is using both “armor-wearing” and “armor less” sparring methods. It seems that it is no longer the time of objecting to karatedō becoming one of a sport. While some people may be worried, if we misunderstand its philosophy and method, then I fear that karatedō, which is a world-famous cultural heritage of Okinawa, will be transformed into something different and that is not worth to be named karatedō.
The Christ said, “If salt loses its taste, it loses its purpose”. In addition, Chinese calligraphy grand master JAHANA Unseki (8) who was born in Okinawa said, “No true calligraphy art can be born without going back to the original calligraphy of Wang Xizhi.” I think that these teachings mean that in both religion and arts, the spirit and origin must always be kept in mind. I believe that the original martial art qualities of karatedō can be deepened through the harmony of karatedō’s “traditional” and “modern” aspects. Therefore, I think that “kata” and “jiyū-kumite” should be the two sides of the same coin, and complement each other like the wheels of a car. I think that if there is a tendency toward either one or the other side, it will result in a loss of the original nature of karate.
Now, in view of the international and historical trends in which this jiyū-kumite is generalizing, it is important for the Okinawa karate world to cope with this issue, decide on a direction based on a though principle and develop this free sparring matter. I believe that we are standing at a critical crossroads. Which direction should we pursue?
I think that the 1st All Okinawa Karatedō Championship sponsored by Uechi-ryū held this fall, is a landmark in the history of Okinawa karatedō, a great wake-up call, and a touchstone.
I would like to extend my deepest homage to the hard work and great dedication of all concerned parties, and pray for the success of this tournament and the brave fight of all players.
Ending my message, allow me to congratulate this event once again.
(1) Shōwa era: 1926 to 1989, period of the reign of Emperor Shōwa also known as Hirohito.
(2) In Japanese “Shina jihen” or “Chinese incident”, it is one of the Japanese names of the Sino-Japanese War at that time.
(3) Wartime Japanese slogans. The first could be translated as “I will not stop firing” or “Stop the battle after crushing the enemy” while the second could be translated as “100 million crushed jewels”, meaning One hundred million people die for the glory in fighting against enemy forces rather than surrendering.
(4) Japanese spirit or soul. It is written with 大和 for Yamato and 魂 Tamashī and pronounced damashī.
(5) The Japanese art of bayonet fighting.
(6) Respectively “Non-contact free-kumite” and “free-kumite wearing an armor.”
(7) 1st time in 1970 in Japan, 2nd time in 1972 in France, 3rd time in 1975 in the USA, 4th time in 1977 in Japan.
(8) Jahana who lived from 1883 to 1975 studied Chinese calligraphy in China and became one of the most famous calligraphers of Okinawa.