Perhaps a historical fact many of these Japanese Karate-Do Masters do not know is that the fighting system they now call ‘Karate-Do’ was originally a traditional Chinese martial art! The story begins in the Ming Dynasty – which was founded by the emperor ‘Hongwu’ (洪武) whose real name was ‘Zhu Yuanzhang’ (朱元璋). He ruled between 1368-1398 CE – and was a highly skilled martial artist who fought his way from village peasant to the Dragon Throne (overthrowing the ‘foreign’ Yuan Dynasty in the process)! In order to assist the people of ‘Liuqiu’ (琉球) [Ryukyu] with their social construction - Hongwu instructed that the people of Fujian province be chosen as trusted representatives of a) the Ming Dynasty and b) Chinese culture. This was a plan to extract (in its entirety) an already prosperous, highly skilled and economically developed population in China from around the Fuzhou area of Fujian province (comprising of hundreds of men, women and children representing thirty-six distinct name-clans) and reconstructing this entire community in a designated (and previously ‘empty’) geographical area of the ‘Liuqiu’ island (situated near the seaport of Naha City)! The ‘Liuqiu’ people would first refer to this settlement of Chinese people as ‘Tang Ying’ (唐營) or the ‘Tang Encampment’ - but in 1650 CE the name was changed to ‘Tang Rong’ (唐榮) or ‘Tang Glory’! Following the Japanese invasion and annexation of the island, a process which began in 1609 CE with the Satsuma Invasion, and 1879 CE with the Imperial Japanese Army – this place was renamed ‘Kume’ (久米) Village – or the place of the ‘Long Rice’.
The thirty-six Fujian families brought shipbuilding and ship-navigating skills, as well as a general and specific knowledge of carpentry, engineering, roadbuilding, housebuilding, farming, animal husbandry, Chinese medicine and Fujian martial arts! The purpose of their relocation was to teach the local ‘Liuqiu’ people every skill and art that they knew to facilitate their development as a distant part of the Chinese cultural milieu. The immediate issue was one of defence regarding the attack of the island by Japanese pirates – or seaborne criminal marauders believed to be based on the Mainland of Japan! At this time, the official attitude of the Japanese government toward China was one of respect and there is no evidence in the 1300s of a covetous attitude toward the ‘Liuqiu’ islands. Indeed, Japanese pirates were considered as a much as a problem to the Japanese themselves, as they were to the Chinese at this time! The Ming Dynasty emperor wanted to establish regular sea lanes operating between the East coast of China and ‘Liuqiu’ - with the ‘Liuqiu’ ships being able to defend themselves from attack and the crew able to fight off any attempts at being boarded! This ‘self-defence’ ability had repercussions regarding the development of militarising the island’s borders and effectively resisting and repelling any attempts at invasion! This was achieved by the Fujian martial arts practitioners studying the indigenous fighting arts of the ‘Liuqiu’ people and combining these techniques with the fighting systems they had brought from the areas surrounding Fuzhou. This fusion of fighting styles generated a new combat system known as ‘Chinese Hand’ (唐手 - Tang Shou)
As ‘Tang Hand’ (technically ‘open-hand’) was considered to be very potent and particularly deadly, dangerous and powerful, the learning of this martial art was limited only to dignitaries and certain ‘select’ individuals! To facilitate the learning of ‘Tang Shou’ a special martial arts school was established which only recruited from the island’s ‘warrior’ caste families! Just as China’s political power waned in the subsequent centuries, the power of neighbouring Japan increased. This culminated in the 1879 annexation of the ‘Liuqiu’ island and the changing of its name to ‘Okinawa’. This led to the ruthless suppression of the pro-Chinese ‘Liuqiu’ aristocrats and the outlawing of all Chinese cultural activities! Many ‘Liuqiu’ people who practiced Chinese martial arts fled to China at this time to escape from this Japanese attack upon their culture. It is said that a substantial number of ‘Liuqiu’ martial artists arrived in Fuzhou around this time and settled down studying local Fujian martial arts from established Masters. This meant that the ‘Tang Hand’ that they already knew was augmented by Fujian martial arts styles they now studied closer to the source of authentic Chinese culture. This process of refinement established an even deadlier type of ‘Tang Shou’!
One outstanding member of the ‘Liuqiu’ warrior caste who came to Fuzhou around 1879 was one ‘Higaonna Kanryo’ (东恩纳宽量) - a well-known practitioner of ‘Tang Shou’! Higaonna Kanryo was once a ‘Liuqui’ nobleman! After studying ‘Tang Shou’ for three years, he later came to China seeking further advice. Higaonna Kanryo was taken as a disciple by ‘Xie Chongxiang’ (谢崇祥) - a renowned Master of Fujian White Crane Fist (白鹤拳 - Bai He Quan). Higaonna Kanryo studied very diligently under Xie Chongxiang and learned all the technical nuances of the White Crane Fist – integrating this new knowledge into the ‘Tang Hand’ he already knew and eradicating a number of its shortcomings. This process made Higaonna Kanryo a formidable fighter in his own right! Indeed, after Higaonna Kanryo returned to what was now the ‘Okinawan’ area of Japan – he promoted ‘Tang Shou’ wherever he went to great admiration and respect! Due this popularity, Higaonna Kanryo opened a large number of Tang Shou training halls throughout Okinawa! He was assisted in his efforts by his foremost disciples – Miyagi Chojun (宫城长顺) and Mabuni Kenwa (摩文仁贤和) as well as many others. Later, modern Karate-Do (空手道 - Kong Shou Dao) was developed when the disciples of Higaonna Kanryo stratified outward and away from the Chinese influence and integrated their Chinese martial arts with the existing traditional fighting systems of Japan. For instance, the founders of the four major modern Karate-Do styles were all disciples of Higaonna Kanryo! The names of these styles are written in traditional Chinese script – but are pronounced in the Japanese language. These styles are:
1) Goju Ryu (刚柔流 - Gang Rou Liu) - Hard-Soft Lineage
2) Shito Ryu (系东流 - Xi Dong Liu) - literally ‘Itosu-Higaonna Lineage’ - taking the first ideogram from each surname of: a) ‘Itosu Yasutsune’ (系 - Shi) and b) ‘Higaonna Kanryo’ (东 - To)
3) Wado Ryu (和道流 - He Dao Liu) - Harmony-Way Lineage
4) Shotokan Ryu (松涛馆流的 - Song Tao Guan Liu) - Shoto’s House Lineage
All the four major styles of modern Karate-Do were all disciples of Higaonna Kanryo – therefore Higaonna Kanryo is the father of modern Japanese Karate-Do – which is premised upon various Chinese martial arts and Okinawan indigenous fighting arts! As this is the case, it is strange that genuine history links modern Japanese Karate-Do to ancient Chinese martial traditions, and yet contemporary Japanese Karate-Do teachers and students are taught to have such a blinkered grasp of the past and a complete disrespect for the present! Of course, it is the same old story that the false belief is put around that only flowery hand and embroidered legs are left in China – but it is interesting that every time a challenge match is offered, accepted and victory attained – it is never reported in these foreign lands! Perhaps it is because reality has no place in the propaganda that has its origins elsewhere and is designed to separate Asian people from one another! Yes – Japanese Karate-Do has become an Olympic Sport – but this is the success of Chinese martial arts in another country! What must not be allowed is for Chinese martial arts to be ridiculed and demeaned by forces unseen – this is a sadness we cannot afford as a nation!