Dec 13 2008

Bringing back the BEST Uechi has to offer

Bringing back the Best Uechi has to Offer:

Remember Thompson Island?

How about the ’85 Winter Camp on Okinawa, or the Masters’ first visit to the old Mattson Academy?

Maybe you were there for each of those events. Or, maybe like me, some of them exist only as old “Uechi legends” – tales the old guard talks about with friends and students after a hard workout or over a couple of beers.

When you recount these stories, how do they make you feel? Happy? Proud? Glad that you were there and “got involved”? I thought so. Me, too.

You know, the opportunity to create some new memories for your students and your school is alive and well today. Our Uechi Championships, Summer Camp and regional Exchange Workouts are just as fun and exciting today as they were 20 years ago! Just one visit will have your students psyched for the next one all year long!

And how does that benefit you? Your school? The answer is really very simple.

Getting your students involved in our traditional events keeps them motivated to continue training for months, sometimes years! Participation gives your students goals – something to shoot for other than “just another Thursday night workout”. That means students stay enrolled longer, creating a stronger, more reliable base for your dojo.

So what do you say? Encourage your students to get involved and give them the chance to create their own “lifetime legends”. Hey, it worked for us, didn’t it?


Gary Khoury

P.S. Wouldn’t you like to give a few of your students a taste of the “good ole’ days”? You can do that simply by getting involved! visit the tournament, attend Summer Camp ’99, or call an old Karate friend to work out! Let’s bring back the best of what Uechi had to offer – TODAY!

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Dec 13 2008

The Path of the Uechi-ryu Artist

The Path of the Uechi-ryu Artist:
by David Mott, Renshi

The path which we take as Uechi-ryu Artist is one of self discovery. It could be said that there are many “levels” to this self discovery but, just as each piece of a hologram contains the complete information to make the entire hologram, each “level” contains the same potential for complete growth as all or the other “levels”. We call it a path, and paths usually guide us from place to place but in reality, this path is a circle. Despite the gradual attainment of rank, which marks the development of one’s skill and knowledge, many of us will continue to discover new and ever more subtle lessons as we return again and again to what we may have thought was material already absorbed and which no longer required our attention.

Nevertheless, what is discovered along this path often reveals itself in a natural – though unrestricted order. That order is presented with the understanding that just as our effort may turn towards new directions, what has been learned must continue to be relearned and refined. Even though it is possible to learn most of the martial arts movements in a few short years, the depth and flavor of those movements will be ever changing according to one’s growth. Like these movements, the depth and flavor of one’s life will also be ever changing in the process.

Fear and Anger:

We have all undoubtedly been victims at some point in our lives whether as a child or as an adult. This victimization takes many forms, from the emotional to the physical, from the subtle to the horrific. The most basic aim in Uechi-ryu practice is for each of us to develop the confidence that we can protect ourselves. In doing so, we take a significant step forward towards removing fear from our lives and preventing the potential for any future victimization.

Anger is the complement to fear in that it often unconsciously arises in response to one’s sublimated experience(s) of being a victim. Unresolved fear and anger is frequently the unconscious motivation for the adult who makes victims out of others. Uechi-ryu schools unfortunately have their share of teachers who do not recognize this and use fear/anger in their dojo (karate school) to create an unhealthy emotional environment, thereby preventing the resolution of these two negative and debilitating emotions. Developing skill and power as a martial artist without the opportunity for personal growth is both undesirable and dangerous. A developing confidence in one’s ability as a martial artist, must be accompanied by developing the personal qualities of integrity, wisdom, humility and compassion. Recognize fear/anger as you would recognize unnecessary tension in your body. As you train and remake your body, learn to see these emotions and release them. If they cannot be easily released, channel and transform the energy into the intensity of your training.

The Yi

The mind is what moves the body. In the beginning of one’s training, the mind is fully occupied with learning how to move the body correctly with individual and sequenced movements. There is no extra mind-space for daydreaming or maintaining our habituated internal dialogue. At the intermediate and advanced levels, the mind should be applied towards attention and intention. Here there is difficulty however. The body can now move itself with only a little intention, leaving the opportunity for the mind to wander without the mind’s attention. Intention can never fully develop. This is because at the higher levels of mastery, it is intention which activates the chi (our intrinsic energy) to augment muscle strength and efficiency. The chi can only be activated by using one’s attention to discover what is at first only a very subtle feeling.

Intention requires that the mind be fully and completely engaged in each individual movement as well as the flow of movements. As one progresses, there is more and more to be discovered in the feeling and flavor of each movement. Always be attentive to the inside of the body as well as the outside of the body. Let the body and the mind become one.

The Li

If the body is weak or unhealthy, one’s external strength will be insufficient as a martial artist.Cultivate a natural desire to develop the strength needed to support your martial arts growth and practice. This must be in harmony with the totality of your development, as over emphasis on one’s external strength will also restrict one’s progress. There is an old martial arts saying that with the accumulation of excessive external strength, the “core will rot.”

Eat healthfully and with awareness of how food nourishes the body. Allow yourself the necessary sleep and rest to regenerate the body. Drink pure water and seek out pure air, breathing deeply to rid the body of the accumulated toxins of the modern urban environment.

Learned negative physical habits or restrictive patterns of body movement contradict one’s development of strength and must be unlearned. Become aware of how the body communicates the messages of the self to others.

The Jing

Developing the jing, or physical power, is more than simply strengthening the body so that one’s techniques are effective. It is learning the correct body mechanics so that the body completely supports the purpose or application of each movement. An arm which moves without the support of the body utilizes only 10% of one’s total strength. An arm which moves with the body’s support utilizes 90% (excluding the other arm) of one’s total strength. Physical power is dependent upon the centering of one’s body and the integrity of one’s stances and posture. The hands should always strike with the support of the feet; the body should root into the earth to achieve heaviness or should float like a cloud to achieve lightness.

Renew your awareness of your breath and how it empowers the movement of the body. Sink the breath for heaviness, float it for lightness. Store the breath to accumulate strength, release it to discharge strength.

Naturally coordinate the body with the senses to enable accurately timed movements without accurate timing, physical power will be either wasted or cut short. Like a tiger preparing to leap, learn to gather your energy, learn to wait and know when to move for the greatest advantage.

The Chi

As one’s body ages, it becomes more and more necessary to cultivate the internal energy to offset one’s naturally declining youthful strength. Besides aging, this cultivation comes about as the result of your Uechi-ryu Practice “reaching the right temperature”. It is not only the practice of mindful intention, it comes from the process of learning of stillness. If you can learn to let go of the internal dialogue when not moving, you can discover the wholehearted power of intention when moving.

Through meditation, whether standing or seated, discover the three stillness’s: stillness of body, stillness of breath, stillness of mind. Of course, complete and absolute stillness is impossible but as one experiences more and more of the fine and subtle through approaching a point of stillness, the ordinary limits of the mind/body become open and unbounded.

The breath is the key to life. Shift your awareness to this essential element and discover how it flows through the body without limit.

Chi requires that you allow yourself the feeling of the subtle. As you work with this awareness of the subtle, it becomes magnified and will greatly aid your martial arts practice. It will also greatly aid your intention. This carries with it a responsibility to control your intentions. How will you use this energy, to take life or to give it?

The Shen

The shen, or your spirit, must become strong, bright and clear through the regular practice of martial arts and meditation. The shen is best seen in your eyes. A powerful shen cannot be faked by making a dramatic facial expression. It should be an ever present clarity and liveliness but capable of an intense projection which some claim can even make the eyes glow in the dark. A Uechi-ryu artist should carry her/himself with a natural quiet dignity that is neither arrogant nor heavy. The eyes will register bad intentions and will carry the accumulation of such intentions with a duality of darkness regardless of their appearance. This darkness is called “bad shen” and will mark the person as clearly as if he wore a sign warning others of his intentions.

The eyes also give strength to the body movements. Without strong eyes, there cannot be strong movement.

Encourage the development of your spirit by committing 100% of yourself to every movement. If your spirit is lax, your body will be lax. If your body is lax, then your practice is empty. But if you put energy into your eyes, your spirit will miraculously rise up in even a tired body, providing you with renewed energy.

Form, Feeling, and Function

These three words alone provide the key to quality Uechi-ryu practice. To have good form, one must understand the function of each movement and must feel that function. To have feeling, one must be keenly aware of the inner quality (as though one’s eyes are gazing inward) of each movement, the outer purpose of its function, and the flow of the transition to the next movement. To have correct function, the movements must have the integrity of good form with the feeling of intention. If you practice these three things, your ability will always continue to grow. Without any one of these three things, your development will be limited.

Balancing the training

Keeping all parts of our practice in balance is important. It is true that from time to time, each of us may devote our effort primarily to one area or another depending upon our need. Still, while recognizing our strengths and weaknesses as martial artists, it is important not to avoid a part of our training which may cause us more difficulty than the others.

Martial arts master Liang Shouyu writes of this balance of training and practice and his words are adapted below:

A person who only fights is nothing more than a brawler.

A person who only practices his/her forms without being able to apply them, is nothing more than a dancer.

A person who theorizes about the martial arts without being able to demonstrate his/her knowledge is only an armchair theorist.

A person who practices all of these without applying the martial arts to the art of living misses the inner usefulness of all of this activity.

A person who practices all of these, applies it to the art of living and takes great pleasure from this effort, is a true martial artist.

Openness and the Miraculous

The ultimate goal of learning self defense is to become open. This means that through the process of becoming secure in your ability as a Uechi-ryu artist, the need to be defensive diminishes and eventually evaporates. When that happens it is possible to perceive the unity of this world without the quality of “me and other” or the perceptive boundaries of inside and outside. This is called the spiritual or the mystical. It is also called the miraculous. From this openness springs many of the legends about martial arts masters. In fact this openness, this unity, is our birthright. All young children have it and most lose it in the process of growing into adulthood. But as this is a natural process of loss, the path of the Uechi-ryu artist provides us with the means to return to this openness.

The most highly skilled masters were often able to defeat their opponents through what appeared to be only the most minimal, often casual effort. Efficiency of effort is only possible if: there is no mental gap between you and your opponent; you have an attentive and creative openness to your opponent; you have a mirror like clarity with the ability to reflect back precisely what appears in front of you; you can spontaneously command your skill with complete and extraordinary ease.

But so far we have only been talking about fighting. Most of us seldom have to fight for reasons other than training. Nevertheless, all of the principles of “walking this path” can and should be useful to everything in one’s life. One can perform even the most mundane task with wholehearted attention and intention. In doing so, Uechi-ryu mastery should become the “art of life” mastery. This means that you can live moment to moment applying yourself completely and appropriately. This provides us with freedom in that, while we can never change the things that happen to us, we can change how we respond to them. We cannot change the circumstances of our birth, but we can change the way that we live. Even so this is an active practice which can never be assumed just as even the most advanced masters still drill themselves on the fundamentals.

No doubt, every day, each of us encounters and has to respond to diverse problems. Fundamentally, this is no different than our martial arts knowing how to parry and block, side step and avoid, absorb and discharge, cut short and jam, or leap in suddenly, are techniques which are clearly available to us in our lives and interpersonal relationships as well as our Uechi-ryu. Can you act completely and spontaneously?

One final importance to being open is the possibility for insight. It is insight into our lives which provides us with the opportunity to develop integrity, wisdom, humility and compassion as people. These are personal qualities which have to be earned every day of our lives. So how do you live your life? What self discovery has your Uechi-ryu art practice led you to? Do you understand yourself and your life? Do you naturally and unselfconsciously demonstrate your openness?

If you discover the true path of the Uechi-ryu artist, you will find that you can walk that circle repeatedly without it becoming a rut, without the familiar becoming the mundane, and with endless opportunities for self discovery.

David Mott
Chief Instructor
Cold Mountain Uechi-ryu Dojo

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Dec 13 2008

Magazine Articles

Articles published by Simon Lailey


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Dec 13 2008

Renshi Dissertation

The following represents material that the author may want to publish at a later date. It is understood that those who evaluate this document may need to copy and distribute it to others who may be in a position to judge the candidate for the title of renshi. However the author requests that no other general copy and distribution process be undertaken without written permission


A document in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the title of
Renshi, Uechi Ryu Karate

William P. Glasheen, Ph.D., Godan

Uechi Karate Club at U.Va.,
Uechi Karate at Raintree,
Uechi Karate at American Family

Uechi Ryu Karate Association:
North American Chapter


This articles attempts to achieve three specific aims:

1)        It documents choreography of a set of bunkai of the hojoundo in Uechi Ryu Karate.

2)        It documents choreography of a form or kata which teaches basic kicks encountered in contemporary martial arts.

3)        It is intended to be a blueprint of a process for acquisition of the ti tIe of renshi, kyoshi, and hanshi of Uechi Ryu Karate. This process is designed to be distinct and separate from that which is already in place to evaluate and award the ranks of rokudan, nanadan, and hachidan of Uechi Ryu Karate.


Ever since karate has been a part of the Okinawan culture, there has been an emphasis on seniority. Only in this century has there been a structure which codified this system so precisely. The purpose of such a system is to create a hierarchy which preserves and develops the body of martial arts knowledge. The process that creates and maintains this structure is the system of tests, rankings, and titles.

Ideally any administrative structure should be minimal in comparison to the body of individuals who practice karate. Such a structure cannot exist without acceptance from those who study and practice martial arts. The best guarantee of success for such a structure is to have a process that is well defined and merit ­based.

Ranks in Uechi Ryu can be broken down into two major categories: kyu ranks and dan ranks. Kyu ranks are commonly thought of as a beginning phases in martial arts training. At the first dan rank (shodan), one is considered capable of teaching, although still very much a student of the martial arts.

A separate seniority scale exists alongside the previous structure which is broken down into three major categories: student, instructor, and master. Although one is always a student of the martial arts, one is thought of being eligible for instructor or sensei status after achieving a dan rank. This title does not automatically come with the rank, however. Many fine technicians do not possess the understanding and skills necessary to pass the art of karate to others. Similarly one is eligible for master or shihan ranking after achieving a specific rank. Renshi is commonly awarded with rokudan, kyoshi with nanadan, and hanshi with hachidan. While the mas ter ti tIe comes separate with the rank, practically speaking they are awarded simultaneously, and no separate evaluation process exists to achieve the title “shihan”.

It is the opinion of the author that shihan should be awarded to those who make a significant contribution to the art of karate that they represent. The rank of rokudan, nanadan and hachidan should be necessary but not sufficient conditions for achieving the titles of renshi, kyoshi, and hanshi respectively. This thesis is intended to establish and prime a formal process to evaluate a candidate for the shihan title.


This document proposes a body of work which represents elements of the past, present, and future of practice of uechi Ryu in its surrounding element. The future is represented by an improved process which leads to the shihan title. The past and present are what the author draws from in his personal quest for shihan.

The Past

The style of Uechi Ryu originated in the Fujou province of China, and was brought to Okinawa by a single individual. Its clear at this point in time that the three main kata-sanchin, seisan, and sanseirui-represent a fuzzy snapshot of martial arts knowledge from that area of China around the turn of the century. However the trips back to China in the 1980s revealed no exact copies of these forms being practiced. Several possibilities exist which may explain this:

1)                    These forms are practiced, but contact has not been established for one of a number of reasons,

2)                    Kanbun Uechi made these forms up as a personal interpretation of his experience in China,

3)                    The strength of the Okinawans is preservation and perfection.

The strength of the Chinese is years of experience in conflict and bountiful creativity. Unlike Okinawa, the Chinese readily make up forms that are customized to the individual or group of individuals being taught. At this point in time, none of the original practitioners of the forms exist. There was no need to “preserve” specific forms when new forms from the same body of knowledge were constantly being choreographed.

The result of any of these scenarios is one where a single person brought a small body of knowledge over to a new culture, and it survived, evolved, and thrived into what it is today. It is difficult to believe that what we practice today is exactly like what was taught to Kanbun Uechi, if only in the interpretation of the forms Uechi practitioners practice. Kanbun carried one set of forms from an area where many similar styles were practiced. The system evolved into what it is today in the context of Okinawan karate, not Chinese kenpo. While this evolution has been good for the system, many subtle elements of what Kanbun practiced must have been lost or reinterpreted.

In this context, an ambitious practitioner has several sources of “literature” to evaluate to shed light on the history and content of Uechi Ryu.

1) One can search the Foujou area of China in hopes of finding the “source of the Nile”.

2)                   One can study other relatively “pure” Chinese systems that have come from Foujou province and evaluate interpretations and techniques that fit with the present body of knowledge called Uechi Ryu.

3)                   One can study other sanchin based systems and draw from the experience and interpretations of others who helped this family of systems evolve in the culture of Okinawa.

For mostly practical reasons, the author has chosen the latter two paths.

One of the truly positive things that the Naha area of Okinawa has contributed to its martial arts systems is its bunkai and yakusoku kumites. These exercises seek to offer interpretations of the kata, and they give a practitioner experience in applying these carefully choreographed interpretations with a partner. In today’s Hollywood environment of point tournaments and professional contact fighting wi th their rules that emphasize superficial drama and athleticism, these partner exercises are a precious effort to preserve the meaning and dignity of the original styles.

In Uechi Ryu, the bunkai and yakusoku kumites represent Kanei Uechi’s interpretation of these forms. In some cases, one can see where these represent uniquely Okinawan interpretations. For instance, one could argue that the Seisan bunkai interpretation of the jump as an escape from a sword attack is strictly in the Japanese context. The Chinese technique of “iron broom” wi th its double leg sweep was much more likely encountered by an average Chinese kenpo practitioner, and so the Seisan jump would be much more practical-and more likely to succeed-in that context.

The author’s first exposure to martial arts was through Japanese Shorin Ryu. After transitioning to Uechi Ryu, the author studied Okinawan Shorei Kai Goju Ryu (5): a system softer than the better known Yamaguchi interpretations of Goju. This system was taught to the author with a bunkai for every kata except Sanchin. A few of the bunkai were choreographed by the instructor, Steven King, who was formerly in the Green Beret and has years of combat experience. The author also studied the Tomiki method of Aikido from Steven King. In addition the author studied several books (1,4) and a videotape (3) of Wing Chun, a well known system from Foujou province with three forms, shallow stances, an principles similar to Uechi Ryu.

It was the author’s intention to teach the collective experience from these studies to his Uechi Ryu students. However the more efficient and practical way to convey the knowledge was to do it in the context of Uechi Ryu and its Sanchin principles. One result is the set of bunkai choreographed for the hojoundo of Uechi-Ryu.

The Present

Any art form transfixed to a new location will take on characteristics of the new culture it resides in. In the American 1990s culture, the new sport Taekwondo is king. The sport emphasis of Taekwondo has transformed that style to a more “crowd pleasing” nature. In a “typical” street fight, hand techniques, shallow stances, and grappling are common. Hand techniques to the head are routine and effective. In a Taekwondo tournament, the following rules apply:

1)                  Hand techniques to the head are illegal

2)                  Any techniques below the belt are illegal, including sweeps

3)                  Grabbing is illegal

4)                  A punch or kick to the body is worth 1 point

These rules create an environment that encourages kicks, especially high kicks. Such techniques, if they find their target, can be devastating.

A martial artist must do more than find defenses to counter his/her own offense. One must strive to develop defensive methods to counter the prevailing offensive techniques. In a Taekwondo class, one is stripped of the very best defenses that the Uechi student has against such attacks: infighting, sweeps, leg kicks, grabbing, and throws. AdditionallY, the typical Taekwondo student does not develop the leg conditioning and the falling capabilities to survive such measures, even in a controlled sparring environment. Thus the best way to develop these counter measures is to bring the Taekwondo techniques into the Uechi environment.

Doing the typical Taekwondo kicking techniques seems anathema to the principles of Uechi Ryu. The groin is often exposed. The back is frequently turned to one’s opponent. Many poorly trained Taekwondoists do “flicking” kicks. For example, a typical front kick seen outside a Uechi class starts with the knee raised to a point facing the target, and then the quadriceps muscle is contracted. This results is a motion similar to that used to kick a football; a motion inappropriate for use against a vertical surface.

Just as this Chinese style renamed Uechi Ryu changed as it progressed from China to Okinawa to the United States, so Taekwondo kicks must change as they are practiced by those who kick conservatively and with defense in mind. We learn by bringing the best of one’s opponents to the table, not by being easy victims to each other.

Much of the author’s original kicking ability was developed in Shorin Ryu karate, the author’s first style. Shorin Ryu is often thought to be the root of many modern karate styles. One is hard pressed to find real differences between the beginning forms in Shorin Ryu, Shotokan, and Taekwondo. The authors kicking ability was expanded by being exposed to talented practitioners of Taekwondo and Hapkido. Finally his portfolio was refined by work with Ray Berry, a talented Shotokan instructor with a single technique emphasis.

At one point the author felt a need to bring this kicking knowledge to his students. He took a ten kicking technique routine taught by Hiroshi Hamada and used it in his regular instruction. As time progressed, the author felt a need to introduce more kicks, more stances, and more combinations. The original Shorin Ryu techniques were supplemented by a typical Korean kicking combination: the round house and spinning hook kick. The author added these techniques to the ten technique form, added a “mirror image” section, and a one technique transition. The resultant 25 technique form was called “Two Bi ts”. After about a year of experience with students practicing the form, the author felt a need to add some stances and techniques typical to the Uechi practitioner. Sanchin, cat, and crane stances were added. Front snap kicks were added to the repertoire of front thrust kicks, and taught as two distinctly different techniques. A favorite technique of a Uechi sparring champion, Shinjo Kiyohide, was added: the spinning back/side kick. The form finishes with a Hollywood style reverse crescent/ax kick-just for fun. These new techniques were added to both mirror sides of the form. The resulting form became thirty eight techniques long. The author asked his university of virginia karate students to label the form. The students named it “Thirty Eight Special”, a reference more to a popular band of that time period than to the well known firearm.

In an effort to be certain that the karate kicks were done with an emphasis on street effectiveness and classroom precision, a series of warm up drills were added to the U.Va. class repertoire. These techniques were borrowed from Ray Berry’s instructor, master Oshima, and from some Goju Ryu karate routines. The result is a form that demonstrates quality in content and execution.


This section documents the specific techniques of the hojoundo bunkai. In order to fully appreciate the content of the individual routines, it is vital to understand a few of the underlying principles of the routines.

The author felt the need to give perspective on the actual application of the hojoundo techniques. Relying on sparring alone is inadequate as the kara teka inevi tably resorts to techniques which maximizes one’s ability to play this sophisticated game of tag. The best way to have someone assimilate these techniques as applications is to create exercises that utilize the techniques with a partner in a context more realistic than point sparring.

The author had no intention of repeating the “prevailing wisdom” in the bunkai he created. This would just give another collection of techniques that the overburdened student needed to learn-only to reinforce the same material. Whenever possible the author intentionally chose different applications for the movements being studied. This approach was not designed to negate applications from other bunkai and kumite. Rather this reinforces the idea that a good technique teaches a principle that can be applied in many unique situations.

All of the hoj oundo bunkai are designed in a II cyclical II fashion. Each of the routines returns to the starting point, and the practitioner is to repeat the routine many times in a continuous flow of motion. In the flow of techniques, one finds that every attack has an appropriate and effective defense. These features are designed to emphasize several important principles:

1)                   The continuous, repetitious sequence of techniques is designed to invoke mushin in the same fashion that the repetition in sanchin kata does. It is the author’s opinion that developing this state of mind while executing technique both aids in technique assimilation and enhances the practi tioner’ s abili ty to invoke this vi tal state of mind when performing under stress.

2)                   The complete complement of defensive motions in the bunkai is designed to emphasize the author’s Platonic ideal of a world where no harm comes of the karate practi tioner. It is a perfect world that we always come closer to, but never reach. It also emphasizes the joy of practice for two superbly trained karateka.

Everyone of the bunkai is designed to be done from both left and right starting stances, just as the original hojoundo bunkai are. This develops ambidexterity in application as in exercise. The obvious benefit is doubling the compliment of techniques that the practitioner can perform. It also gives physical balance for those interested in personal physical development.

In addition to the obvious direct benefits of ambidextrous training, some health researchers claim that those that practice doing activities of normal living (writing, eating, etc.) with both sides recover more quickly from debilitating strokes. The ambidextrous brain has a broader compliment of synaptic pathways to achieve its “rewiring” process during rehabilitative therapy. This also suggests subtle enhanced capabilities for the healthy brain.

The individual accustomed to traditional partner exercises will find the footwork in these bunkai to be somewhat “unconventional” and difficul t to learn. Actually the author attempted to use sliding steps in lieu of the traditional full steps used in most Okinawan karate prearranged kumite. The author felt it important to introduce stepping which was more like that done naturally in actual fighting. The author also places a great emphasis on fluency in legwork. Thus new and unconventional foot work is also an attempt to broaden the students understanding of karate application. Sanseirui’s preponderance of turns, steps and varied stances is a testament to the value that the author of Uechi Karate placed on good footwork.

Finally, the author attempted to make the bunkai as similar to the original hojoundo as possible. When learning these sequences, it is important to remind oneself of this often. The goal is to reinforce existing information-not create more material to learn. There are some exceptions to this rule of thumb. These exceptions are there either because the original sequence was difficult to interpret literally or because an expansion of the concept of a particular hojoundo brought great value to the exercise.

There are 12 separate hojoundo bunkai. These are taught to a Uechi student in the following order:

Shomen Geri Bunkai Shomen Zuki Bunkai

Hazuki Uke Hiraken Zuki Bunkai Shomen Hajiki Bunkai

Sokuto Geri Bunkai Furi Zuki Bunkai

Shuto Uraken Shoken Bunkai Koino Shippo Uchi Bunkai

Hiji Zuki Bunkai

Tenshin zensoku Geri Bunkai Tenshin Kosoku Geri Bunkai Tenshin Shoken Zuki Bunkai

The partitioning of these bunkai into three separate levels is a reflection of the level of difficulty of the techniques. It also is an attempt to avoid overwhelming a student with too much procedural learning at one time. The primary value, after all, begins after the student can practice the routine without hesitation.

Shomen Geri Bunkai


The attacks in this sequence are traditional Okinawan karate attacks for a prearranged exercise. However the defense is designed to keep the practitioner in the same stance: just as is done in the actual hojoundo routine.

The beginner is encouraged to practice the defensive routine exactly as written. After comfortable with the sequence, one will find the kicks easier to place on the opponent if one does a lateral step on the first wauke defense, and a diagonal step back on the second wauke defense.



Full step forward to right sanchin, right middle punch.

Sliding step back, right lower block.

Full step forward to left sanchin, left middle punch

Sliding step back, left lower block.




Sliding step back, right wauke

Right front snap kick, go back to left Sanchin

Sliding step back, left wauke

Left front snap kick, go back to left Sanchin.


Shomen Zuki Bunkai

The practitioners will find that they are both doing the same set of techniques, but one individual will be a single technique out of phase from the other. The practitioners are encouraged to develop minimal movement wi th the blocks-particularly wi th the palm blocks.


Sliding step forward, right punch.

Sliding step back, left wauke.

Sliding step forward, right punch.

Sliding step back, left palm block.




Sliding step back, left wauke.

Sliding step forward, right punch.

Sliding step back, left palm block.

Sliding step forward, right punch.



Hazuki Uke Hiraken Zuki Bunkai

Most of the hojoundo bunkai are almost exactly like the original exercise. An original bunkai choreographed by the author proved to be awkward and of little practical consequence. The following exercise was suggested by Bruce Hirabayashi after about a year of practice of the original bunkai. Sequentially it is different from the exercise, but all of the elements are there.

Many students feel a need to be extremely physical with individual techniques in prearranged kumite. While this allows one to be competitive, it draws the student away from what a realistic exchange is like. The following sequence should be practiced with speed and fluidity, not with knockout power for each punch. The attacks should be viewed as triplets;  the defender must move quickly and smoothly from block to block. The two middle blocks at the end of the sequence are both inside, and consequently quite difficult to perform. The attacker should cooperate by throwing straight, middle area punches. The defender should use the unoccupied hand as a backup for sloppy or hooking punches.

Hazuki Uke Hiraken Zuki Bunkai


Full step forward to right sanchin,

high right punch, middle left punch, middle right punch.

Full step forward to left Sanchin,

high left punch, middle right punch, middle left punch.

Full step back to right sanchin,

high right forearm block, middle right forearm block, middle right forearm block.

Full step back to left Sanchin,

high left forearm block, middle left forearm block, middle left forearm block.




Full step back to left sanchin,

high left forearm block, middle left forearm block, middle left forearm block.

Full step forward to right sanchin,

high right forearm block, middle left forearm block, middle left forearm block.

Full step forward to left Sanchin,

high left punch, middle right punch, middle left punch.

Full step forward to right Sanchin.

high right punch, middle left punch, middle right punch.



Shomen Hajiki Bunkai

The following bunkai is actually a hybrid of the eye strike and wrist block hojoundo. Counter to the normal convention, the attacker applies the studied technique. The defender uses the chi sao or sticking hands from Wing Chun to follow the attackers’ deflection of the arms, and block when the threat to the face is felt. The irony of the sequence is that, when the defender’s arms are as long as the attacker’s, the defender finishes with the ability to deliver the very technique that he/she was attacked with.


Siding step forward, scoop partner’s hands down and towards you.

Continue circular motion to a double eye strike to partner

Sliding step back.

Yield arms softly, but maintain center and stick to partner’s arms.

As you feel the upward motion towards your face, perform a double upward wrist block towards partner’s face.



Yield arms softly, but maintain center and stick to partner’s arms.

As you feel the upward motion towards your face, perf orm a double upward wrist block towards partner’s face.

Siding step forward, scoop partner’s hands down and towards you.

Continue circular motion to a double eye strike to partner.

Sliding step back.


Sokuto Geri Bunkai

The following is a classic application of the crane system, both for the person avoiding the strike at or near the knee and for the person delivering a side kick that could be interpreted as a take-down. It is rare for a karateka to practice an application which puts the knee so much in jeopardy. This is what separates sport karate from classical martial arts.


Step forward into right Uechi horse stance, perform right middle punch.

Perform first half of seisan jump into right crane stance to remove grip from arm and avoid kick to knee.

Lower right leg into right sanchin.

Step forward into left Uechi horse stance, perform left middle punch.

Perform first half of seisan jump into left crane stance to remove grip from arm and avoid kick to knee.

Lower left sanchin.




Sliding step back, right wauke. LIGHTLY grab onto partner’s right arm.

Right Uechi side kick either to partner’s right knee to strike knee, or grazing right thigh to perform takedown.

Bring right leg back to left sanchin.

Sliding step back, left wauke. LIGHTLY grab onto partner’s left arm.

Left Uechi side kick either to partner’s left knee to strike knee, or grazing left thigh to perform takedown.

Bring left leg back to left sanchin.



Furi Zuki Bunkai

The author spent part of a year training with the Charlottesville Boxing Club in 1976. The head of the club taught a defensive technique for the roundhouse punch that he called “answering the telephone”. The author immediately recognized that the motion was similar to the raised arm position in the seisan jump. From that point on, the author chose to execute the right arm technique in a manner that reflects this defensive application. Ironically enough, the author noted that NAC began emphasizing this position fifteen years later. The author has not yet seen a similar application among other Uechi practitioners.


Sliding step forward, middle punch.

Sliding step back, left “answer the telephone” block.

Sliding step forward, right middle punch.

Sliding step back, right “answer the telephone” block.



Sliding step back, left wauke

Sliding step forward, right roundhouse punch to temple.

Sliding step back, right wauke.

Sliding step forward, left roundhouse punch to temple.


Shuto, Uraken, Shoken Bunkai

This sequence is similar to the shomen zuki bunkai in that the two partners apply the same techniques, but out of phase from each other. The original hojoundo is expanded by two techniques. The most significant aspect of the bunkai is that it applies the Uechi elbow technique like a Wing Chun elbow-up block. This sequence adds to the repertoire of sticking hand applications and offers a broader understanding of what the elbow technique means. A natural extension of the elbow block is to follow with a back fist-similar to a sequence in the Sil Lim Tao form in Wing Chun.


Sliding step back, right wauke.

Left shuto forearm block.

Left Uraken to face.



Sliding step forward, left middle punch while chambering right fist.

Right middle punch while withdrawing left arm to sanchin.

Right elbow-up block



Koino Shippo Uchi Bunkai

This bunkai applies the other three wrist movement from the wrist technique exercise not applied in the shomen hajiki bunkai. The original attack is straight out of Seisan. The bunkai emphasizes that these techniques are both blocks and strikes.


Sliding step forward, double ridge hands to temples.

Double wrist strikes down and forward, outside heel of hand finishing on inside of partner’s elbows.

Sliding step back



Sliding step back, double outside wrist blocks.

Double inside wrist strikes to throat.



Hiji Zuki Bunkai

This bunkai is similar in style to a typical bunkai in the Shorei Kai Goju Ryu system. The front elbow strike is done in the kata Geiki Sai, and the block is the “osei uke” , or 90 degree turn with palm check. The practice of creating an application where the original sequence jumps back and forth between the two partners is common for Okinawan Goju bunkai. The sequence can be done wi th great speed and power once both partners know the routine.


Sliding step forward, left middle punch.

Pivot 90 degrees to right sanchin as left arm is pulled, and “check” side of left front elbow strike with right palm.

Rotate left arm counter­clockwise to escape grab, and draw arm undernea th partner’s left elbow and across your own body. Perform left side elbow strike to partner’s ribs.

Pivot 90 degrees back to left sanchin while doing right palm block to right elbow strike and chambering left fist.

Perform left palm-up punch to partner’s ribs.

Slide back to left Sanchin.



Begin right wauke while chambering left arm for front elbow strike. Hold onto partner’s left arm with partially extended right arm.

Perform Seisan-style left front elbow strike while pulling right arm back to sanchin position and sliding into left “leaning” front stance.

As partner is freed of right grab and sets up to do elbow strike to ribs, pivot 90 degrees to right “short” front stance and block elbow strike with a left back elbow movement.

Pivot 90 degrees back to upright left front stance while performing right elbow strike to partner’s neck and chambering left fist.

Drop right elbow down in left sanchin to block palm-up punch to ribs.

Slide back to left Sanchin


Tenshin Zensoku Geri Bunkai

All the tenshin applications are single opponent applications.

While Kanei Uechi may have meant the tenshin movement to be one where the defender turns to a laterally approaching opponent, a more practical application is demonstrated by a common movement in aikido. The goal is to turn the corner on the attacker, ending up either at the side or the back of the opponent.


Full step forward to right sanchin, right middle punch.

Look to right, step forward to left sanchin, pivot 90 degrees to right sanchin while performing right low block.

Full step forward to left sanchin, left middle punch.

Look to left, step forward to right sanchin, pivot 90 degrees to left sanchin while performing left low block.

Tenshin turn to right sanchin, left wauke.

Right front snap kick partner’s side.

Tenshin turn to left sanchin, right wauke.

Left front snap partner’s side.



Tenshin turn to left sanchin, right wauke.

Left front snap partner’s side.

Tenshin turn to right sanchin, left wauke.

Right front snap kick partner’s side.

Full step forward to left sanchin, left middle punch.

Look to left, step forward to right sanchin, pivot 90 degrees to left sanchin while performing left low block.

Full step forward to right sanchin, right middle punch.

Look to right, step forward to left sanchin, pivot 90 degrees to right sanchin while performing right low block.



Tenshin Kosoku Geri Bunkai

The 270 degree turn is a necessary evil in martial arts. It is done in extreme situations, like here where the defender’s knee is in jeopardy. This move is hinted at in the kata Sanseirui where the performer turns 225 degrees from a SW facing right horse stance to a N facing left sanchin. One needs to “spot” the attacker in the same fashion that a spinning dancer “spots” an arbitrary point in space.


Full step forward to right sanchin, right middle punch.

270 degree counterclockwise turn to left sanchin, pivoting on left foot.

Tenshin turn to right sanchin while performing left wauke.

Left Uechi side snap kick to partner’s left knee, step forward to left sanchin.



Tenshin turn to left sanchin, right wauke.

Right Uechi side snap kick to partner’s right knee, step forward to right sanchin.

Full step forward to left sanchin, left middle punch.

270 degree clockwise turn to right sanchin, pivoting on right foot.



Tenshin Shoken Zuki Bunkai

Kanei Uechi acquired the wrist blocks from Okinawan karate, and probably from Okinawan Goju Ryu. The Goju defense to the karateka executing the tenshin turn and attacking the temple from the side is a wrist block done on a plane to the side of the body. It is important for the individual applying the tenshin motion to realize that the timing of this application is very different from the exercise. The attacks (seikens instead of shokens for safety reasons) are executed before the practitioner fades away from the opponent. The goal is to have the body movement give a net positive as opposed to negative doppler-like effect to the strikes.


Sliding step forward, left middle punch, draw left arm back in a high wrist block in a plane parallel to side of body, step forward to right sanchin, pivot 90 degrees to left sanchin.

Sliding step forward, right middle punch, draw right arm back to sanchin position as a blocking motion, sliding step back.

Full step forward to right sanchin, right middle punch, draw right elbow back as a side area block, step forward to left sanchin, pivot 90 degrees to right sanchin.

Full step forward to left sanchin, left middle punch, draw left arm back to sanchin position as a blocking motion, sliding step back.



Begin Tenshin turn while performing left wauke, right punch to temple before executing last two steps of Tenshin turn, finish in right Sanchin.

Right wauke, left middle punch over top of partner’s right arm.

Begin Tenshin turn while performing right wauke, left punch to ribs before executing last two steps of Tenshin turn, finish in left Sanchin.

Left waue, right middle punch over top of partner’s left arm.





The core of this form is a ten kick exercise taught in Japanese Shorin Ryu by Hiroshi Hamada. The techniques of this basic exercise are front thrust kicks, side thrust kicks, roundhouse kicks with significant hip movement, and back kicks. The stances are zenkutsu dachi (front stance) and kiba dachi (horse stance).

The roundhouse, spinning hook kick, reverse crescent, and ax kick are classic Korean karate. The author picked these up from Taekwondo and Hapkido practitioners. A back stance (kokotsu dachi) is performed at the end of the ax kick to demonstrate control of weight on the rear leg and a sinking of the center to add to the kick’s power.

The crescent, spinning side kick combination is generic karate. However the intent was beyond adding two more techniques. Kiyohide Shinjo used the spinning side kick as a flashy secret weapon that drew from his kicking dexterity. This spinning technique was in an older version of the Uechi dan kumite (#3), but was replaced with a simpler and “safer” combination. This combination can also illustrate the principle of Chinese “iron broom”. The defense for this double leg kick is the Seisan jump.

Finally a set of techniques that could be done out of the Uechi sanchin stance, cat stance (nekko ashi dachi), and crane stance (sagi dachi) are done to add practical value from the offensive side for the Uechi karateka. These techniques include a front snap kick, a skipping front snap kick, a modified side thrust kick, and two different crane applications.

The practitioner must spend as much time working on the stances as on the kicks. The form has two different levels for the center of gravity. The cat, crane, and sanchin stances are at a higher center of gravity. The front, side, horse, and back stances are done at a lower center of gravity. It is extremely important for the practitioner to transition from stance to stance with the center of gravity at the same level.

Every single technique in this form has a significant hip motion. In some cases, the support leg rotates in the hip socket (front and side kicks). In some cases, the entire hip pivots on the support leg (roundhouse, crescent, and spinning kicks). In some cases, the hip has significant translational motion (skipping front kick). In some cases, the individual drops the level of the hip (ax kick). It is very important for the practitioner to study where the hip motion contributes to the power, form, and execution of each and every kick. In essence, this is like applying principles of sanchin to kicking, as sanchin teaches us how to deliver whole body power to arm strikes, blocks, steps, and turns.

Warm ups are very important for both execution of and improvement in this form. All standard lower body stretching routines are appropriate. It is important for the practitioner to learn stretches that work all the different degrees of freedom of motion for the back, hip, knee, and ankle. Rotational and lateral motions are as important as the linear and major motions.

The author strongly recommends that the practitioner learn a stretching technique called proprioceptive neuromuscular facili ta tion. For obvious reasons, this is abbreviated as PNF stretching. The practitioner first gets into a stretch position with good form. Then the person contracts the muscle in an isometric fashion wi th maximal effort for six to seven seconds while breathing as normally as possible, or slowly exhaling. This is followed by ten to twenty seconds of rest in the stretched posi tion. The sequence can be done two or three times if time permits. This type of stretching can be done alone, or with a good partner. This technique gives the practi tioner an active (as opposed to merely passive) range of motion. It serves to both stretch and warm the muscle. Anecdotally speaking, the author finds this type of stretching to be less likely to produce the tendon soreness that normal stretching can cause when done intensely.

The author also recommends a set of exercises which warm up and develop the thrusting focus technique. There are two for the front kick, and two for the side kick. Each can be done up to ten times per side.

In the first front kick exercise, the person lies on his/her back with head, arms, and legs off the floor and the entire spine touching. Then the person does a series of thrusting motions with the legs that resemble a staccato-like back peddling.

In the second front kick exercise, the person stands on one leg and holds the other knee to his/her chest. The leg is thrust forward with the foot travelling parallel to the floor, and held out for a second before returning to the tucked position. It is important to rotate the support heel in on the leg extension, and rotate it back out when drawing the leg back. The practitioner should have the feeling that the support leg rotation drives the leg extension (and not the other way around). This hip motion is very kind to the kicking knee, and brings great power to the kick.

In the first side kick exercise, the person starts with feet parallel. After taking a step forward with the left leg, the right knee is brought up to touch the chest (if possible). A side thrust kick is then executed down to the side and held for a second. The knee is then brought back up to the chest, and the person then steps back to the starting position. This should be done on both sides.

In the second side kick exercise, the person stands on one leg and holds the other knee to his/her chest. The leg is thrust out to the side while leaning back away and rotating the support leg 90 degrees until the support heel faces the extended leg. The foot must travel parallel to the floor, and should appear to travel in a perfectly straight line when viewed by a recipient of the kick. The leg is then drawn back to the tucked position while rotating the support leg back so the heel is facing behind the person. The practitioner should have the feeling that the support leg rotation drives the leg extension (and not the other way around). As with the front kick exercise and technique, this hip motion is very kind to the kicking knee, and brings great power to the kick.

Start facing N in musubi dachi.
Slide left foot N into left zenkutsu dachi, facing N.

draw right foot back,
slide right foot NE into kiba dachi while turning face to NE.

2    Step left foot NE behind right leg,
draw right leg back,
return to kiba dachi.

3    Turn head CCW to SW,
step right foot SW behind left leg,
draw left leg back,
return to kiba dachi.

4    Turn head CW to SE,
draw right leg back,
step right foot SE and face NW in zenkutsu dachi.

5    Execute RIGHT ROUNDHOUSE KICK to NW opponent,
draw right leg back,
step right foot NW into kiba dachi while still facing NW.

6    Step left foot NW behind right leg,
draw right leg back,
return to kiba dachi.

7    Turn head CCW to SE,
step right foot SE behind left leg,
draw left leg back,
return to kiba dachi.

8    Turn head CW to W,
extend right hand out half way as a lateral target,
execute LEFT CRESCENT KICK to right palm,
step left foot towards Wand rotate CW on ball of foot,

9    spin body CW and face W,
step right foot W into right zenkutsu dachi.

10   pivot body on right foot CCW to E
and LIFT LEFT KNEE into sagi dachi,
lower left foot into left sanchin dachi facing E.

11   Execute RIGHT SIDE THRUST KICK while both arms defend to E,
draw right foot back and lower it into right nekko ashi dachi.


12   Step right foot forward,
lower right foot back down to right nekko ashi dachi.

13   Pivoting on right foot, turn body 270 degrees CCW to S,
draw left leg back,
step S into left zenkutsu dachi.

draw right leg back,
step S into right zenkutsu dachi.

step left foot forward and pivot CW,
spin body CW to S and execute RIGHT SPINNING HOOK KICK,
draw right foot back to left zenkutsu dachi facing S.

17   Turn head CCW to N,
draw left leg back while spinning body CCW,
finish in left offensive sagi dachi facing N.

lower left foot down to left sanchin dachi facing N.

19   Start executing right reverse crescent kick,
when leg reaches its apogee, execute RIGHT AX KICK,
finish in right kokotsu dachi facing N.

draw left foot back,
slide left foot NW into kiba dachi while turning face to NW.

21   Step right foot NW behind left leg,
draw left leg back,
return to kiba dachi.

22   Turn head ew to SE,
step left foot SE behind right leg,
draw right leg back,
return to kiba dachi.

23   Turn head eew to SW,
draw left leg back,
step left foot SW and face NE in zenkutsu dachi.

24   Execute LEFT ROUNDHOUSE KICK to NE opponent,
draw left leg back,
step left foot NE into kiba dachi while still facing NE.



25   Step right foot NE behind left leg,
draw left leg back,
return to kiba dachi.

26   Turn head CW to SW,
step left foot SW behind right leg,
draw right leg back,
return to kiba dachi.

27   Turn head CCW to E,
extend left hand out half way as a lateral target,
execute RIGHT CRESCENT KICK to left palm,
step right foot towards E and rotate CCW on ball of foot,


28   spin body CCW and face E,
step left foot E into left zenkutsu dachi.

29   Pivot body on left foot CW to W
and LIFT RIGHT KNEE into sagi dachi,
lower right foot into right sanchin dachi facing w.

30   Execute LEFT SIDE THRUST KICK while both arms defend to W,
draw left foot back and lower it into left nekko ashi dachi.

31   Step left foot forward,
lower left foot back down to left nekko ashi dachi.

32   Pivoting on left foot, turn body 270 degrees CW to S,
draw right leg back,
step S into right zenkutsu dachi.

draw left leg back,
step S into left zenkutsu dachi.

step right foot forward and pivot CCW,

35   Spin body CCW to S and execute LEFT SPINNING HOOK KICK,
draw left foot back to right zenkutsu dachi facing S.

36   Turn head CW to N,
draw right leg back while spinning body CW,
finish in right offensive sagi dachi facing N.

lower right foot down to right sanchin dachi facing N.


38   Start executing left reverse crescent kick,
when leg reaches its apogee, execute LEFT AX KICK,
finish in left kokotsu dachi facing N.
Draw left foot back to musubi dachi. Bow.


Any creative or ambitious instructor will find unique ways to convey information, crystallize new information, or respond to perceived shortcomings or open paths. Usually this is manifested in the form of a special exercise or set of techniques done for one or several classes. When these techniques prove to be of value for instruction or personal practice, a form or routine may be choreographed. The author has developed these forms for regular use in his teaching of karate.

The thirty-eight special, while a long and somewhat difficult form, is taught at about the same time that kanshiwa kata is taught. The individual kicks and stances are drilled over a period of a month, and then the form is taught in one or two lessons.

The hojoundo bunkai are taught in three different sets of four. The first four are taught during kanshu kata training. The second four are taught during seichin kata training. The final four are taught during seisan kata training.

One never gets good results with students unless one tests the students for what they have been taught. The U.Va. Uechi club has been testing for thirty-eight special (or its precursors) for over a decade. The hojoundo bunkai have been taught and tested for about eight years.

The students uniformly love the thirty- eight special form, and consider it one of the author’s better creations. The author, in turn, finds greater value and significance in the hojoundo bunkai. The biggest complaints for the thirty- eight special comes from those wi th limi ted range of motion, but the anger is usually directed within. The biggest complaint from the thirty-eight special comes from those who have problems learning new routines. However the author noted great strides in classical sparring ability from those that took the time to learn, practice, and perfect these routines.

A criticism could be made that more routines pollute a relatively simple and concise system, or take the creativity away from the practitioner. The author, who is Director of Health Care Assessment at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Virginia, finds many of these same complaints come from physicians who resist practice guidelines in medicine. The analogy is apt. One needs as many tools and guides as possible to accomplish the task of teaching martial arts or practicing medicine. There is plenty of room for creativity as each individual student or patient is unique. However not taking advantage of work that has proven results is like practicing in automatic pilot. The results are left up to chance, and the die isn’t always cast in our favor.

The author is not prepared to suggest that these forms should be adopted by all (or any) other Uechi schools. Rather each instructor must draw from whatever resources are made available. Just as there are regional medical practice guidelines due to unique geographic and socioeconomic needs, so the same holds true to different martial artists teaching in different environments. However the author is more than willing to share his own work with others if it will advance our understanding of Uechi Ryu.

The future direction of development for the author will be in the area of throws and falls. Uechi Ryu is an in-fighting system wi th many opportunities for grabbing and throwing. Many aikido techniques are a natural extension of techniques executed in Uechi. Probably the single most important reason why more is not done in this area is because most Uechi students are not trained to fall. The author has implemented a program of falls in his Uechi schools, and is drawing from his aikido and Goju expertise to develop some throwing routines that may be practiced safely on most surfaces.


– – –


1.   Lee, J. Y.: Wing Chin Kung-Fu. Los angeles, CA, Ohara Publication, Inc., 1972

2.                  Mattson, G. E.: Uechiryu Karate Do. Brockton, MA, Peabody Publishing, Co., 1974.

3.                  Tan, L.: Wing Chun, The Science of In-Fighting. Hollywood, CA, World Video Enterprises, Inc., 1982.

4.                  Ting, L.: Wing Tsun Kuen. Hong Kong, International Wing Tsun Leung Ting Martial-Art Association, 1978.

5.   Toguchi, S. : Okinawan Goj u – Ryu. Publications, Inc., 1976.

6.                  Westbrook, A., Ratti, 0.: Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere. Rutland, VT, Charles E. Tuttle, 1970. 

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Dec 13 2008

Intrinsic Concepts in the Teaching of Classical Okinawan Karate

Intrinsic Concepts in the Teaching of Classical Okinawan Karate

by Anthony DiFilippo


The roots of Asian society lie in the careful attention given to reflective thought on the needs of all society and in the conscious development of effort as a process of spiritual awakening or enlightenment (kaigan) for everyone, working in relationship and harmony (wa). This is embedded in the East and is particularly visible in Japanese culture.

Traditionally, the teaching of classical Okinawan karate also integrated the principles of kaigan and wa and was imparted through close one-to-one care, attention and guidance given to a student by a master teacher. This was central to the teaching tradition of the old karate masters and formed the core of the karate Program.

Master Teacher Defined

As with many words, common use of the term teacher has steadily robbed it of any depth of meaning. It pays to examine it more closely, and in particular to go beyond the term teacher and understand what lies hidden in the further term master teacher. The simple definition of a teacher is that he (or she) instructs another in one or several subject matters. A teacher has achieved fluent control of their area of expertise and they have established an effortless relationship with the materials, processes and outputs of their chosen field and are able to communicate this to others. A master teacher is something more. A true master teacher has progressed beyond this to a deep understanding of humanity itself so that he/she is able to see what needs to be nurtured and at the same time deeply understands and can guide the learner through the process of struggle, learning and growth that yields maturity. He can grow future teachers and indeed future master teachers. The result of a teacher’s work is output. The result of a master teacher’s work is people.

Whereas a shogakusha, beginning learner of classical Okinawan karate sees the art as a practical means of self-defense and as a method to condition the body, a master teacher understands that classical karate is a path of life and philosophy that both teacher and learner pursues in the search for enlightenment. In Japanese this is referred to as michi.

The master teacher strives at his art, for it to always carry the light. He strives at himself, for his virtue to be capable of the task. His teaching is a calling.

Master teachers carry this practical philosophy in two ways. Firstly there is a dimension of sacrifice evident in their teaching, sacredness both in process and product (Latin: sacrificio – to make sacred) so that it definitively carries life’s meaning. Then there is evident in themselves a powerful ascetic self-control. They work a long way beyond being self-centered. (Latin: virtus – strength. Virtue – to have the clarity of soul, the strength of soul, to hold to what is right and not let go.)

Essence of Classical Okinawan Karate

Classical karate is an art that embodies physical practice, theory, and ethics (moral philosophy and spiritual foundation). In the initial stages, most classical karate instruction concerns itself with physical practice and theory, with ethics being revealed in time, under the careful guidance of a master teacher.

Physical Practice and Theory

The physical practice and theory involves learning and integrating a broad range of fundamental physical skills as well as the underlying physiological and psychological principles upon which the self-protection arts rest.

The physical practice and theory of classical Okinawan karate encompasses a core curriculum designed to ensure that the learner achieves the highest level of skill for its intended utilitarian purposes i.e. the simple yet effectively brutal self-defense, while at the same time nurturing the active direction of attention to the philosophical and spiritual aspect of the art.

While the immediate output of physical practice and theory is effort, it always has internal as well as external results. Dedicated training requires internal effort, developing the self-control necessary to master a skill for instance, which results in the internal competence to be able to apply that skill. In all growth processes the internal stages occur unseen – below ground – and a master teacher will nurture that process, feeding the roots. What flowers comes later are of its own accord, i.e. the internal always precedes the external, and patience is essential because time is the true judge.

While physical practice and theory provides for technical competency, it should not be seen as an end in itself. The core mission of physical practice and theory is to provide a conduit in which human growth occurs and where the meaning of all things is seen in the context of the whole and thus each thing is done for its intrinsic value, a process in which both the master teacher and learner express themselves, listen, absorb, respond, and find themselves incrementally enlightened through their relationship.

“One of the most significant features we find in the practice of archery, and in fact of all the arts as they are studied in Japan and probably also in other Far Eastern countries, is that they are not intended for utilitarian purposes only or for purely aesthetic enjoyments, but are meant to train the mind; indeed, to bring it into contact with the ultimate reality. Archery is, therefore, not practiced solely for hitting the target; the swordsman does not wield the sword just for the sake of outdoing his opponent; the dancer does not dance just to perform certain rhythmical movements of the body. The mind has first to be attuned to the unconscious.

If one really wishes to be master of an art, technical knowledge of it is not enough. One has to transcend technique so that the art becomes an ‘artless art’ growing out of the Unconscious.”

Zen in the Art of Archery

Moral Philosophy and Spiritual Foundation

In modern times, far too commonly, there is no explicit discussion of the philosophical and spiritual foundation alive in karate practices, leaving the learner inarticulate about the effect this has on ones life. There is much to be gained by the conscious prompting of discussion in this area in view of the fact that karate’s origins dealt not only with conflicts restricted to situations resulting in physical aggression but sought to confront internalized conflicts so that the learner could strive to overcome their fears, doubts, and inhibitions.

What was true in the beginning is still true today, i.e. that the development of the inner self develops personal humility, respect and tolerance for all things of the universe and it is through this austere training that the learner is able to avoid life’s obstacles and overcome insurmountable odds in order to live happily and without conflict. This is the true pursuit of classical Okinawan karate study. The roots of this practical philosophy lie in the Japanese concept of Shugyo, the dynamic interplay of patience and humility.

Stages of Development

In classical Okinawan karate learners go through three phases of development. This development is a protracted endeavor which many people never achieve, and which master teachers would say repeat and never end. The processes of growth are slow and the phases of development have to be nurtured over time. The three phases of development are known in Japanese culture as Shu Ha Ri.

While starting from Confucian roots teaching in Japan has been substantially shaped by Zen practice. In particular the teaching of classical Okinawan karate is structured through the shu ha ri cycle of minute attention to detail, the development of complete technical fluency and then an alert responsiveness to circumstances very analogous to Zen learning emphasizing the closeness and subtlety of the master/student relationship and its longevity, through repeating cycles of action and reflection over time, in a three-fold learning process.

Shu ha ri as a learning process which goes from superficial to profound to superficial, so that there is first a external understanding based upon learning rules by rote; the second stage involves expanding the learning to various applications and situations, in order to deepen; and the final stage is superficial again, as one reaches the ultimate phase all attachments are severed and one is completely emancipated. This emancipation, however, leads one back to the beginning and the foundations of his education. The final phase brings one back to the first steps of learning the rules, but now the rules can be understood from a perspective of freedom, in that they are applied not through unquestioning replication but through an understanding of their inherent wisdom.

In this context, the responsibility carried by the master teacher for formative guidance – for care and respect for the person being guided – and the responsibility of the student to try to give life to the guidance of the master teacher – a reciprocal caring and respect – is tangible. But so is the Japanese view of life as a learning process of growth towards aware maturity, in which activities are always worked at for their spiritual content.


The heightened empathy, seeking out the root causes of things, and realizing its potential for good, is at the heart of classical Okinawan karate. These building blocks are central to the teaching of classical Okinawan karate. Sensitivity to the detail of circumstance has to be combined with the observations of others captured from their experience and passed on as advice. Out of the struggle of this combination process comes enlightenment. In all this the experience is primary, as much of what the master teacher is passing on can only be passed on in context. Competence cannot be developed in abstract. It cannot be taught in a handing over information in a classroom sense, because it is not abstract information. It is a set of dynamic skills, alert sensitivity and well-honed responses to circumstances that has to be developed in guided practice.

This provides a framework for the master teacher to impart and teach classical Okinawan karate. Specifically, it highlights the real responsibility of the master teacher as an archetype and catalyst, not simply as a custodian of information.

The following quote captures the spirit of teaching classical Okinawan karate very effectively:-

It is as though the master had said to him, “I can tell you there is something you need to know, and with my help you may be able to learn it. But I cannot tell you what it is in a way you can now understand. I can only arrange for you to have the right sorts of experience for yourself. You must be willing, therefore, to have these experiences. Then you will be able to make an informed choice about whether you wish to continue. If you are unwilling to step into this new experience without knowing ahead of time what it will be like, I cannot help you. You must trust me.”
Author unknown

About The Author:
Anthony R. DiFilippo is the owner and director of the Ryukyu Kodokan Dojo/Silk Road Enterprise . He has been a student of the martial arts for over thirty years and holds Yudansha grades in Okinawan Shorin Ryu karate and Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu and is the Africa Shibucho for the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society and Africa Region Style Head for Koryu Uchinadi Kenpo Jutsu, under the auspices of Hanshi Patrick McCarthy.

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Dec 13 2008

Musashi: His Life and Writings

Review: Tokitsu K. Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings . Boston : Shambhala Publications, Inc. 2004, ISBN 1-59030-045-9, $34.95. (20% discount available by ordering from website:

I got my first Musashi “hit” when, following class way back in 1957-58, my original karate teacher Ryuko Tomoyose, used Musashi legends to reinforce a particular karate technique’s importance or to emphasize a lesson in morality. As an impressionable nineteen year-old, I could almost visualize Musashi’s remarkable feats as Sensei described them while the two of us sipped green tea following a grueling four hour class.

The massive novel Musashi by Yoshikawa Eiji, based on his Japanese newspaper series, eventually found its way to the West and refueled my interest many years later as well as generated the super hero image of Musashi that now exists throughout the world.

When Shambhala Publishing sent me this book exactly one year ago, I began reading it and thought, “Wow, what great insights into the writings of Musashi, interpreted through the mind of another martial artist.” In scanning the chapters, nuggets of fascinating bits of information kept jumping off the pages, as though written for someone like myself. Tokitsu’s work includes an annotated translation of Musashi’s Gorin no sho ( Book of Five Rings ). The text translated by Tokistsu comes from the most common 1942 edition based on the text handed down in the Hosokawa family edited by Takayanagi Mitsutoshi. The author compared it to different versions and different transcriptions of modern Japanese. Where versions differ significantly, he gives notations.

Since Musashi wrote of abstract concepts in brief sentences, his work is very difficult to understand, especially for the Western non-martial artist. It may prove difficult for even the most patient and eloquent martial artist to describe technique and theory clearly. Based on his own experiences as an active and knowledgeable martial art practitioner and teacher, Tokistsu attempts to demystify the text and offers many new views of Musashi’s work.

Although I do not consider myself in the same martial arts category of a Musashi, I can relate, as a modern martial arts teacher, how difficult it is to describe the sometimes mind-blowing experiences that occur during a workout to those not present, even if they train. As an occasional writer, I am always trying to find ways to document or preserve something very physical, with words. Although keeping a journal of my personal physical experiences helps me relive those memories and perhaps may even have some value to another martial artist, for a non-marital artist, my words would, for the most part, be wasted. I can relate to the difficulty Musashi had attempting to define, explain, and preserve his art with words and, therefore, can value and appreciate Tokistsu’s challenge and contribution in writing this book.

I have read different translations of Gorin no sho , and while I found each interesting, earlier translations of Gorin no sho left far more questions for me as a martial artist than answers. Tokistsu’s translation makes the Gorin no sho more “user friendly” for the martial artist through his familiarity with the subject and efforts to understand the mind of Musashi. He does not simply reproduce the word structure from Japanese into English, an impossible task in any translation.

Not all historians believe Musashi deserves the accolades bestowed on him as either a scholar or swordsman. The author sites a number of them in his book. As an example, in the epilogue to his modern work on the Gorin no sho , Takayanagi Mitsutoshi criticizes Musashi’s writing skills and method of organizing his knowledge of the sword, offering a non-complimentory reason for the text being difficult to understand, in contrast to the author’s point of view:

• That the Japanese language has evolved so much since Musashi’s time.

• The limited role language and the written word plays in the martial arts.

• The fact that martial arts is transmitted through direct teaching, not the written word and that when used, the written word for the most part was simple enumerations of technical terms.

• The difficulty of communicating techniques of the body and mind in writing.

The author continues to address this issue by saying that Musashi’s critics:

… seem to have based their remarks on a distortion of the sense of Musashi’s work. They consider it a literary work, the entire sense of which is meant to be communicated by the use of words. In my view, Musashi’s text should be understood by seeing its connection to those to whom it was addressed, his students, and by understanding the role its author intended it to play for them – a guide to be used as a complement to shared practice

Despite Musashi’s reputation as one of Japan ‘s most famous duelist, the author discovered many historians who question Musashi’s reputation with the sword:

Naoki, a famous writer of samurai novels, triggered the polemic by writing that Musashi did not achieve excellence in the sword until a few years before his death. His view is that in his youth Musashi was no more than an expert in publicizing himself and that his strength in the sword was not extraordinary. He takes as his proof Musashi’s duel against Sasaki Kojiro, in which Musashi used a wooden sword so as to have a sword longer than Kojiro’s; moreover, he deliberately delayed the time of the fight in order to disconcert his adversary.

Harada Mukashi, another detractor, offers another of many conflicting accounts of this battle. Particularly noteworthy to me, however, was the statement where Harada writes: “Musashi won the duel, but contrary to general opinion, it was not an honorable victory.”

Harada relies on the Text of the Numata Family , which in his opinion, is the most faithful to reality, and on the Bugei shoden , which is close to it. Also based on this book, Mukashi developed a truly “original interpretation,” by claiming that in the duel Kojiro did not die from Musashi’s blow. Rather he speculates Kojiro was killed either by Musashi’s students or retainers of Hosokawa which he believed hid on the Island during the duel. This version attempts to provide some credibility for the claim that Musashi fled the Island after being chased by Kojiro’s students who learned of their teacher’s assassination.

Tokistsu presents a number of conflicting accounts of this duel, along with his own explanation as to why or why not the description is valid. In the end, Tokistsu gives the highest credibility to Harada’s interpretation of the duel and events following the fight.

As the Editor noted in reviewing this, Harada contradicts himself. If “students” or “retainers” killed Kojiro, what were Kojiro’s “students” doing at the time? If Kojiro’s students “chased” Musashi, where were his “students” and “retainers?” Furthermore, the island is tiny; Musashi would have no reason stay, and the “straw students” and “retainers” would certainly have encountered one another. Finally, Harada fails to account for the consistency between competing versions that have Musashi dispatching Kojiro. Harada merely chose two complimentary sources that support the version of Musashi he wished to sell. Unfortunately, Toketsu does not recognize these contradictions.

Regardless of which version of the battle one elects to believe, according to the author, this duel was a turning point in Musashi’s life, one in which Musashi gave up seeking individual duels. To support this point, the author examines the following passage from the Gorin no sho :

At the age of thirty, I reflected and saw that although I had won, I had done so without having reached the ultimate level of strategy. Perhaps it was because my natural disposition prevented me from straying from universal principles; perhaps it was because my opponents lacked ability in strategy. I continued to train and to seek from morning till night to attain a deeper principle. When I reach the age of fifty, I naturally found myself on the way of strategy.

Tokistsu explains with repeated examples how Musashi’s skills may have neither been universally recognized nor respected during his lifetime. He recognizes in an era where losing meant death, Musashi was, on the score sheet of life, a survivor and, therefore, a winner. There may have been times when Musashi’s youthful and energetic need to test himself and his skills ran counter to the rituals of fighting that prevailed during that era. However, what evidence for these rituals really exist? On the contrary, evidence exists against such in opponents of Musashi. In the final duel in Kyoto , his opponents intended to ambush him. Perhaps like chivalry, these rules exist more in the minds of those who wish to imagine a better past than actually existed. Whether or not duels during this era were actually steeped in such convention, Musashi would have none of this, considering victory to be the only objective. In this regard, he was considered to be the very best of his time, based on his success and survival, not necessarily on his methods.

Have not the martial arts in general experienced the same fate? Beginning as a brutal method of self-protection with no rules, evolving into a physical fitness activity with rules of engagement and rank based on style, accuracy and other fighting traits but lacking the life or death mindset that truly tests the art and the artist? As the author points out:

In the beginning, the nature of the sword was obvious. The blade was the main thing – it killed in a bloody way. Spirituality had little place in the practice of the sword. In the next phase, the sword continued to be there, but it was in a scabbard. It killed less frequently, almost not at all. Sword practice was more a matter of technique, and it coexisted with spirituality. The notion of do developed in association with the consciousness of one’s duty toward the ruler.

Continuing with this thought, the author sees the conception of the way ( do ) developing as a natural progression of budo , as the warriors disappeared and weapons were prohibited.

The author attributes much of this “practice for art sake” to the fact that once warriors were not fighting for their lives on the battlefield or in duels, their practice changed from a purely practical and physical necessity to one that incorporated the “mind” and “art.” I might add that in the process simple, powerful, and effective techniques became stylized and structured studies in movement. However, Musashi eschews such when discussing technique in his Gorin No Sho . Indeed, he stresses practical application to the point of confusion for the non-martial artist. Harris gave up in his translation, stating that the reader would have to study kendo to understand Musashi! Thus, while Musashi may have made the “practical” an “art,” he insisted in keeping the art practical.

Tokitsu unfortunately demonstrates a major deficiency in critical thinking when he claims mystical powers on the part of Musashi . He writes that Musashi demonstrated in his later fighting “no touch” or “no action” to win duels. This is especially interesting, since this phenomenon continues to be used by modern “masters” of martial arts and attributed to a mysterious energy force developed by these “masters’ . I do not recall an example of Musashi claiming this in Gorin No Sho . Out-thinking your opponent, developing intuition, doing more than one action at once . . . yes! Not this! Leave aside the lack of actual evidence for such paranormal feats on the part of Musashi; the author describes this phenomenon in a manner that gives credibility to something that any magician or scientist could debunk. I mention this because at the 2000 SummerFest that I host, we were actually able to invite one of these “masters,” who was willing to submit to a scientifically validated, double blind test where these powers were absolutely shown to be a function of the participants’ controlled-mind rather than any power or skill on the part of the “master.” To date, no one has successfully shown evidence of such phenomenon under properly controlled conditions. The laws of physics remain intact.

Rather than consider more terrestrial explanations, Tokitsu accepts the fanciful stories without critical examination. This is not history. Tokitsu describes a number of instances where Musashi uses this “mind” device to overwhelm his opponent and further claims this ability is used by modern Kendo and other martial art masters to dominate their opponents without any apparent movement. The Editor and the Nobel Committee would welcome any documented case of a legitimate match won by such nonsense. Not surprisingly, Musashi himself never claims this ability, and his Gorin no sho certainly does not mention it. On the contrary, his work stresses the very practical aspect of fighting.

Here is an example of one of Toketsu’ claims:

Musashi’s combats during the years of his maturity recall what is known today in kendo as kizeme , literally “ ki offensive ,” at its highest level. Toward the end of his life, Musashi fought his duels by dominating his adversaries without striking a blow. This way of defeating an adversary would in the future become the ultimate goal of the Japanese martial arts, in the form they acquired during the Edo period.

The author goes on to further claim in his “One Life, One Art” section of his book that, “Toward the end of his life, a unique approach to combat became second nature to him: to defeat the adversary without striking a single blow.” The ability to fly would also be a “unique approach.” The author continues: “Defeating the adversary without striking is a paradox that develops in the realm of awareness. The person who is defeated without having been struck is in reality struck by a sensation of energy that overwhelms him and makes him have a sense of an inner void.”

As the Editor reminds, and I can attest, the martial arts abound with mythic founders. Believe some of the stories of my style’s founder, and he achieves perfect Sanchin just as he died of kidney failure! Perhaps we want our founders to be superhuman. This detracts from the humanity and real achievements of such men.

That flaw aside, this remains a book you will take your time reading. Every page brings a new perspective to the life of Musashi. Aside from possibly disagreeing with a couple of Tokitsu’s suppositions relating to Musashi’s actions , martial artists will be especially impressed by Tokitsu’s new view of the man and his ideas. The author has examined and includes all of the conflicting information, dates and stories in his work and provides compelling evidence for what he considers to be the most reasonable explanation for the conflicting stories, dates and names.

Also of interest is the author’s coverage of:

  • The main periods in the history of Japanese swordsmanship.
  • Musashi’s childhood and his first duel.
  • The founding of Musashi’s School of Two Swords.
  • Musashi’s influence on contemporize practice and
  • The evolution of budo, or martial arts practiced for self-cultivation.

Musashi was also a respected artist, and the book contains color reproductions of his own calligraphies and paintings, supplemented by commentary from the well-known art historian Stephen Addiss. Of particular importance to the martial art student are the very excellent Appendixes, Notes, Glossary and Bibliography, each worthy of its own review.

No matter how many books you’ve read on Musashi, if you are a martial artist, you should add Tokitsu’s to your library.


Harada Mukashi. Shinsetsu Miyamoto Musashi (The Truth about Miyamoto Musashi) Fukuoka : Ashi shobo, 1984

Morenski JD, Glasheen WP. An Empty Force: (, 2000.

Musashi M. A Book of Five Rings: the Classic Guide to Stategy. Harris V, trans. New York : The Overlook Press, 1982.

Takayanagi Mitsutoshi. Gorin-no-sho . (Edited with commentary). Tokyo : Iwanami, 1942; rev. ed., 1969.

George E. Mattson
International Uechi-ryu Karate Federation
POB 217
Mount Dora , FL 32756

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Dec 13 2008

Advanced Stick Fighting (book)

Review: Masaaki Hatsumi. Advanced Stick Fighting. Appleby B, Wilson D. trans. Tokyo :
Kodansha International, 2005, ISBN 4-7700-2996-9, $35 (US: Hardcover).

Many of you will, no doubt, be familiar with Stick Fighting by Masaaki Hatsumi and Quintin Chambers. First published in 1971, the book is older than a great deal of its readership, yet has a very “modern” feel to it. The A6 sized soft cover version, in particular, with its no-nonsense approach to the Kukishin Ryu techniques, gives the impression of a training manual. Hatsumi’s new book, Advanced Stick Fighting , is quite a different beast, although comparisons are inevitable.

One of my criticisms of the original was its complete absence of technique against an armed attack. The introduction tries to explain this,“… to be able to acquit yourself without injury when attacked by armed assailants requires a degree of skill that is achieved by few,” but my own need for that feeling of “fair play” was not satiated: “So, members of the jury, the defendant claims my client grabbed him by the wrist, at which point the defendant proceeded to bludgeon him over the head with a cudgel.”

Advanced Stick Fighting takes us back to the original purpose of Kukishin Ryu – use of the staff on the battlefield. Almost every single situation covered in the technical section of the book is bo against the katana. And here is one of the paradoxes – that by looking at the original practical techniques against armed attackers, we can see their lack of practicality in the modern world – I rarely leave home carrying a 2-metre length of solid oak.

Which is not to say they could not be improvised, as strongly endorsed in the first book, with broomsticks, umbrellas, or what-have-you. Hatsumi implies this need in the text, illustrated by the famous duel between Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro, but never actually says it directly.

On this duel, Hatsumi claims that Musashi’s skill in using the Bo, as opposed to his swordsmanship, is what brought him the victory. He provides some rationale for this theory, but no hard evidence.

The main text contains a mish-mash of topics of various levels of relevance to the title. Possibly because of the absence of a native English-speaking co-author, the text lacks a certain sense of cohesion. Take, for example, the sub-chapter on Musha Shugyo. Over half of the space is taken with a paragraph on how a “Ninja diet” helped get his blood sugar levels back to normal. Other parts deal with esoteric numerology and others go on to criticize Go Rin No Sho and Hagakure as demonstrating that, “… they did not reach the highest level in the martial arts, and their experiences and writings are mere illusion.” One can only assume then that Hatsumi has reached the highest level.

The technical section differs little from the original book, although the explanations are much briefer–again, the absence of Quintin Chambers?–sometimes the entire explanation for a series is less than the commentary from a single photo from the first book.

The photographs are of better quality than in the first book, and there are a number of pictures of different bo-type weapons and their usage, including the naginata and staves with weighted chains. Unfortunately, many of these are not captioned, and sometimes appear at the end of one of the technical sequences, when appearing separately would be far more helpful and possibly less confusing. Furthermore, a number of somewhat superfluous photographs have been included (Hatsumi posing with Zulus, a certificate from a former Pope, statues of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune), as well as overly “posed” or stylized ones (some where a smoke machine has been employed).

The original Japanese text is included in the back of the book, but it is, of course, of little use to non-readers of the language.

Overall, I was a little disappointed with the book. The quality of the original had given me high expectations. With a jacket price of 3500 or $35 US, I feel that if you’re not a Hatsumi fan or actively studying bo techniques, you would be best waiting for it to appear in your local library.

Andrew Smallacombe, B.A., Dip. Ed., Nidan, Aikido

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Dec 13 2008

A Grateful Nation Rejoices (book)

A Grateful Nation Rejoices

Review: Nowlin B, Prime J. Blood Feud: The Red Sox, the Yankees, and the Struggle of Good versus Evil.Cambridge: Rounder Books, 2005, ISBN 1-57940-111-2, $16.95.

Massarotti T, Harper J. A Tale of Two Cities: The 2004 Yankees–Red Sox Rivalry and the War for the Pennant. Guilford: The Lyons Press, 2005, ISBN 1-59228-704-2, $14.95.


I mean hate, like hatred, like that bad quality in human beings to hate. I hate them. I hate Yankee fans. I hate their team. I am filled with rage.

Michael O’Malley, Reverse the Curse of the Bambino

Any Sox fan that tells you they thought they were going to come back and any Yankees fan that they thought it was possible, at that point, is lying through their fucking teeth.

Denis Leary, Reverse the Curse of the Bambino

I walked down the street like I was Sparticus! As a Red Sox fan living in New York it’s a wonderful thing, because you get to see Yankees fans struggling with their new identity, which is, “Ah, the Greatest Chokers in the History of Sport!”

Paul Sullivan, Reverse the Curse of the Bambino

As the overused yet true cliché reveals: There is nothing constant except change. Nevertheless, we strive for permanence, something familiar, certain, and solid in the rushing chaos of time. For many in the more fashionable corner of Our Great Red Sox Nation–and parts of Canada, with some recent prospects escaped from Cuba, not to mention Japan–this permanence promised that, eventually, the Noble House Red Sox falls to the Evil Empire of the City of New York. Or as the foul knaves that infest a wretched backwater known as “the Bronx” belch, “1918.”

Much has been said, written, and filmed about the rivalry between the Noble Boston Red Sox and some team from New York. More will certainly arrive as the aftershocks fade from the Event: the sudden cataclysm of last fall that threatened the fabric of the Universe. This Editor shall not dwell on the controversy between various theologians as to whether or not the Event signified a coming eschaton, but He will note that physicists from MIT have been described as “very concerned.” String theory calculations performed in 2003 demonstrated that the impending World Series between the Sox and the Chicago Cubs would have either resulted in a simultaneous Series defeat for both teams, the collapse of the entirety of space-time into a quantum singularity, or George Lucas formulating an original idea. However, until the Event, this heralded rivalry has proved about as valid as “Wrong Said” Freddie Mitchell’s rivalry with Rodney Harrison, or with, well, anyone. When one side of a “rivalry” has zero World Championships and the other has twenty-six, when one side has lost more than the other has had opportunities to either win or lose, then who is kidding whom?

The reality of the situation means little to its victims, of course. True or not the New York Yankees seemed to succeed where the Sox failed. The Yankees seemed to obtain the “best players,” often from the Sox. While the Yankees obviously never beat the Sox in a World Series, this Editor is certain someone can find some way to blame them for Johnny Pesky “holding the ball,” Danny Galehouse, Ted Williams having a bad post-season, and even Bill Buckner. They were playing in New York after all. Belief often develops from such simplistic and erroneous explanations: Pesky did not “hold the ball,” Buckner did not blow the lead, nor did he lose the seventh game of the ’86 Series. Even Bucky “F-in'” Dent did not destroy the Sox’s fourteen game lead.

Grady Little did keep Pedro in that extra inning.

Yankees fans can point to disasters, not all of them named Ortiz or Schilling. They have coped with horrible seasons, even bad decades, but 25+ Championships provides quite a psychological cushion. While Sox fans have created a rivalry, Yankees fans have nurtured it: “No matter how bad it gets,” they rationalize, “we ultimately beat the Red Sox.” Misery loves company, particularly if it is even more miserable. They could always taunt “1918” while Sox fans could only whimper a weak “2000.” Yankees fans in moments of despair could look back on what has been, while Sox fans could only look back on what “coulda” been. Sox fans could not even gain solace in the misery of others. As one friend well-versed in the lore of The Curse proclaimed, “at least the Sox will win a World Series before the Patriots ever win a Super Bowl!” It has been a tough decade for him.

With the Event comes a flood of books seeking to exploit the Joy of Our Fair Nation and the Misery of the Evil Empire–and some inhabitants of a small town in the Mid-West. This Editor was fortunate to find two that are not just hype-driven pulp. Both compliment one another by serving two different purposes. The first examines the history and meaning of the rivalry while providing an honest history of the Red Sox. The second examines the 2004 season from the perspective of a Boston and a New York sportswriter.

Blood Feud should stand as one of the best basic and honest histories of a sports organization. Extremely well-written and organized, it opens with a fiery introduction from Bill “Spaceman” Lee and concludes with a touching assessment from Johnny Pesky who really does not hate the Yankees. Lee does. While the authors proclaim proudly their bias towards the Sox, they actually give a fair treatment with criticisms of the Sox and even recognition for New York. Yankees fans may disagree, but the opinion of losers really does not matter.

The authors open their story with a detailed and devastating description of the first three games of the 2004 American League Championship Series, guaranteed to leave any reader in the same state as all of the Great Nation were left when A-“F-in'” Rod, Jeter, Matsui, and the Yankees batboy finished decimating the Sox in their home: suicidal. For Sox fans, it was not bad enough to have watched Bucky “F-in'” Dent “bloop” disaster or Aaron “F-in'” Boone do the same after a blown lead, this final indignity lacked even the honor of a “decent try.” There is really no way to put a “positive spin” on a 19 to 8 violation capping a 3 to 0 ALCS lead other than to hope it fatigued the Yankee batters. As this Editor groused to Yankees haters at the time, “the Red Sox will be lucky to have the opportunity to lose the seventh game!”

The authors then explore a number of issues of Red Sox history. Where they succeed is in organization. Some fan love statistics. They care that on Tuesdays of the third week of a month in which the President warns of “nuculer threats” David Ortiz hits such-and-such against Democrat pitchers. The authors separate the statistics into sections so those who care may enjoy and those who do not may skip without losing the flow. If the reader is interested in reviewing the debate over “who benefited more” in Sox-Yankees trades, there is a chapter devoted to it. How did Sox players who became Yankees players fair other than they won a few more rings? The authors provide the statistics in a separate section. They also provide humor such as an application to transfer loyalty from the Yankees to the Sox which asks how many times the Yankees have won a World Series in the last decade, century, and millennia. Hint: the answer is the same.

Other topics include reviews of past horrors of failed Series, how Sox and Yankees loyalties divide in New England, and even interviews with families divided. They reveal islands of Sox Fans in New York and expose traitors in Boston. Their treatment of The Curse of the Bambino rivals the same titled work of Dan Shaughnessy. The authors review the actual history and correct some of Shaughnessy’s critics. For those unfamiliar, The Curse refers to the belief that the sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees cursed the Red Sox to failure. While even Shaughnessy contends, despite what his critics claim, that it is just a way to bring meaning to unfortunate circumstances and excuse errors of the Sox own making, events such as the ’86 choke and the 2003 ALCS loss may challenge even the most skeptical. They cheerfully review some of the more bizarre attempts to remove The Curse from hunts for a sunken piano to Fr. Guido Sarduchi’s attempts to bless Fenway Park. Ironically the “Official Salem Witch,” Lori Cabot, gave up her efforts to remove The Curse just prior to the 2004 season. Score one for rational thought.

While certain that more knowledgeable fans may find errors, this Editor could only find one: They misquote comedian Steven Wright by combining his words with another from the wonderful HBO documentary Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino. In other words, there are no significant criticisms. The book provides a fantastic introduction to Red Sox history, the feelings of their fans, and the meaning of it all. In paperback, it is well-constructed and appropriately priced. One can obtain it from the publisher and other on-line booksellers at a reduced price. This itself places the work above far more expensive and superficial hardcover efforts. After presenting the pain that is Red Sox history compared to the joy that was Yankee history–just how does a team blow a fourteen game lead?–with both humor and empathy, it concludes with the proper transformation of tragedy into comedy.

A Tale of Two Cities serves as a good companion because despite its titled intent to examine the Sox-Yankees’ rivalry, it does not contain the same information. The book consists of the observations of a Red Sox reporter, Massarotti, and a Yankees reporter, Harper, on the 2004 season. While touching briefly on the foundation of the rivalry, they provide more “in house” detail of the season. The book opens with the season’s true beginning: the Aaron “F-in'” Boone home run that sent both teams to their traditional fates. They detail off-season efforts of the likes of Theo Epstein to correct weaknesses. As they note, the most obvious first change was the sacking of Grady “Just One More Inning, Pedro” Little. The efforts of the Sox to secure Alex Rodriguez serve as a good example of such efforts. While many members of the Great Nation have granted Rodriquez with a middle name previously bestowed upon Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone, the authors remind that it was not A-“F-in”” Rod’s fault his trade to the Sox failed; the Player’s Association refused to allow the player to accept the required pay-cut. That Steinbrenner produced the funds to acquire A-Rod could only irritate Sox fans and management. Meanwhile, Manny Ramirez sat on wavers.

Derek Jeter, who has thus far avoided elevation to the “Red Sox Honor’s List,” serves as another example. He should serve as the focus of Sox hatred; as the authors note, he is even good looking. They compare the admiration Sox players developed for Jeter when he injured his face diving into the stands to make a play with their reaction to the behavior Nomar Garciapara. Jeter could have ended his season if not career. Sox players actually applauded. They, management, and fans had to wonder about Nomar, who would not play when asked, and whose arcane “rituals” required him to sit alone in the dugout while his teammates cheered and tried to rally. While they note Nomar would argue he simply followed his known “rituals,” others had to wonder if Nomar refused to risk himself for the team prior to becoming a free agent.

The “inside gossip” has a purpose; it attempts to explain the motivations of players, management, and fans. In describing the excruciating violation that was the first three games of the 2004 ALCS, they reveal how Sox frustrations spilled over to their spouses. Harper gives an interesting perspective on Steinbrenner and Joe Torre’s success working under him. Apparently, Steinbrenner’s brief experience with college football causes him to approach baseball as if it could be played like football. According to Harper, Steinbrenner often demands his management to devise “plays.” While the difference may seem obvious to most readers–just how does a pitcher “pump fake” and can batters “blitz” the pitcher?–Harper explains some of the actual strategy in baseball. Torre has the ability to let such distractions pass through him while previous managers allowed the frustration of such meddling to build. This discussion compares well with Massarotti’s discussion of Terry Francona and Theo Epstein’s understanding of “stratometrics” which runs counter to “tradition.” Fact remains pitchers do fatigue after a personal number of pitches, a fact lost on Grady Little. Ironically, Francona challenged these statistics by keeping Pedro Martinez in over his number to disastrous results! As with Blood Feud, the authors succeed in presenting the statistics without dryness or tedium.

This Editor has one serious criticism. The authors do not reliably identify who is contributing to which chapter. Sometimes it is obvious: Harper will refer to his counterpart by name, for example. Where irritating confusion enters is from the curious changes in type. One would assume each writer has a different type. This is not the case, which makes the changes more inexplicable and distracting. This does not ruin the work, but it remains an unnecessary irritation. Otherwise, the book is well-constructed and very reasonably priced. As with Blood Feud, one can obtain it reduced prices through on-line bookstores.

One might wonder if asked, “which book should I choose if I could only get one?” how this Editor would reply. He would simply recognize the question as puerile ignorance and have Staff work-over then cast the simpering questioner into the darkness inhabited by Chicago fans. While he did not expect or intend both books to compliment one another, they do. Besides, since few truly extraordinary historical events occur, the 2004 Red Sox Season and the 2004 Yankees Choke deserve to be savored, revisited, and hallowed. As far too many cretinous Yankees fans claim, it may be another eighty-six years before we can do so again.


Roy G, Bernstein R, Producers, Roy G, Director. Reverse the Curse of the Bambino. Home Box Office Sports, 2004.

Shaughnessy D. The Curse of the Bambino. New York: Penguin Books, 2004.

J.D. Morenski

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Dec 13 2008

Greater Nowheres (book)

Greater Nowheres
Wanderings Across the Outback
Dave Finkelstein and Jack London

First off, let me tell you that both David Finkelstein and Jack London are lifelong friends of mine.

When I heard that they were going on an extended trip to the Australian Outback, my first thoughts were “They will kill one another!”

Picture the original “Odd couple”, Felix and Oscar (Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon), spending the better part of a year trekking through the wilds of the Australian Outback, searching for the elusive Salt Water Crocodile. (The original purpose for going on this journey). London, the “laid-back”, writer with perennial writer’s block, always up for a beer and tall tale, teamed up with his Birkenstock clad “Felix”, fascinated by the thought of “interviewing” “Ladies of the Evening” for the purpose of discovering what “place in the future of Kalgoorlie does the whorehouse play” and, of course, to have a purely innocent “heart to heart” with the “madam” and you get some sense of a potentially volatile relationship, but an exceptionally warmhearted, winning formula for an adventure.

I don’t think the book started out to be a delightful and humorous narrative starring dozens of Damon Runyon characters, each with his or her fascinating stories of adventure, hardship, love and death in the untamed Outback region; but to the benefit of the reader, this aspect of their book adds a dimension to the travelogue segments that is truly fascinating.

When I first read Greater Nowheres, back in the 80s, it was released as a hardback book. David sent me a copy which I brought with me to Okinawa and China on one of my karate trips. I really enjoyed it, as in some weird way, their experiences paralleled mine while I was touring some of the primitive “outbacks” in parts of China.

I was fully expecting to see the book shoot up the New York Times list, but for some reason it didn’t get either the publicity or acclaim it deserved.

At the 2003 SummerFest, David was honored by being the recipient of Uechi-ryu karate’s “master’s” degree. Beside all his other accomplishments, David is an eighth degree black belt. He also was honored by Lyons Press; learning that they were going to re-release the book as paperback. True to his word, David sent me another copy, which I just completed. This time I would like to shout to the world that this book should be on everyone’s must-read list.

For those of us who know Jack and David, the book offers a belly laugh with every page. For those who don’t know them, you will, after a few chapters, come to know and love them while appreciating their enjoyable experiences and wincing at those times when life in the Outback reminded us all of the many faces of Mother Nature.

Get online and contact or and order your copy today.

George E. Mattson
Eastern Arts & Humanities Center, Inc.


“Delightful… Finkelstein and London write well. Their account is filled with engaging descriptions of beautiful, forbidding landscapes, the tough bush boys they meet and the lore of the Godforsaken town…[Their] trip is not for every traveler. But their book is.”
—Chicago Tribune

“The reason to read this book is the myriad brief encounters, many of which are hilarious.”
—Los Angeles Times Book Review

“…a fine volume in the literature of unpleasant but enlightened travel.”
—Outside Magazine

“Always exciting, sometimes hilarious… The perfect gift for the armchair traveler.”
—Travel & Leisure

“A vivid book…bound to attract attention.
—Toronto Globe and Mail

“… gives us a rare view of the bush and its extremes of weather, of distance, and of character. You’ll enjoy it even if you don’t get there yourself.”
—New York Post

“A pleasure.”
–The New York Times Book Review

Talk about classic returns. Dave Finkelstein and Jack London’s immensely popular, wildly funny, and critically acclaimed book GREATER NOWHERES: WANDERINGS ACROSS THE OUTBACK, which was first published almost two decades ago, is back—this time in paperback and with a new introduction by Dave Finkelstein—to give delight to a new generation of readers. The book is a must for those with a penchant for exciting adventure tales, as well as for armchair travelers and lovers of humorous “on-the-road” stories–in this case, off-the-road, “bush-bashing” stories–here brilliantly and poignantly told by two oddly compatible traveling companions, one the Irish romantic, the other the Talmudic rationalist.

Driving a Toyota 4-wheel-drive truck and armed with snake boots, an “esky” full of beer, and an insatiable appetite for adventure, intrepid journalists Dave Finkelstein and Jack London set out into the Australian bush in pursuit of the fearsome saltwater crocodile, a huge, notoriously dangerous reptile with an equally insatiable appetite for humans. Though the “salties” prove elusive, in their travels the authors stumble upon a diverse and outrageously entertaining cast of dinki-di Australian characters—sun-hardened men and strong-willed woman–eking out an existence in the croc’s hardscrabble, primordial habitat: stockmen, aborigines, “roo” hunters, bushrangers, latter-day pioneers, escapists, and outright lunatics.

In ramshackle pubs along desolate stretches of dusty track, shantytown settlements in the middle of nowhere, and million-acre cattle stations hundreds of miles from their nearest neighbors, they experience an Australia rarely seen by the average traveler: dwarf-throwing contests, cold spaghetti sandwiches, even a regional rash called “Karumba rot”—the inevitable souvenir of a visit to the forbidding Gulf of Carpentaria, with its swelteringly oppressive tropical climate. Yet, like no other observers before them, in their celebration of the Outback and its inhabitants, the authors (described by one reviewer as “at least as amusing as the extravagant characters they meet”) get to the heart and fiber of the Australian soul, to the very essence of what makes Australia the unique and marvelous country it is.

As author Jim Harrison says, “GREATER NOWHERES is an absolutely wonderful book… a classic of travel literature. It’s unthinkable that anyone would go to Australia without first reading this book.”

Rich in the history and geography of a vast, fascinating continent, GREATER NOWHERES (Lyons Press, $14.95 Trade Paperback, April 15, 2005) is also an exploration of solitude, mateship, contemplation, and adventure.

DAVE FINKELSTEIN, a graduate of Harvard Law School, had a legal career distinguish-ed only by its brevity—one month. Fluent in Mandarin, he went on to become a Chinese interpreter for the U.S.Department of State–the first language student of his generation to qualify for that position–then the Ford Foundation’s first China specialist. Now a freelance writer, he has written about political and wildlife issues throughout the world. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including The New Yorker, New York Times, and Washington Post. A flamenco guitarist and avid fisherman, he also holds an 8th degree in Okinawan karate. He lives in New York City.

JACK LONDON’S work has appeared in Audubon, Sports Afield, the Miami Herald, and The London Observer. A former English professor, he lives in Key West, Florida.

Greater Nowheres
Wanderings Across the Outback

Dave Finkelstein and Jack London
With a new introduction by Dave Finkelstein
Foreword by Philip Caputo
$14.95 Trade Paper
$21.95 in Canada
320 Pages
5.50 X 8.5
ISBN: 1-59228-396-9
April15, 2005

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Dec 13 2008

The Lone Samurai (book)

Review: Wilson WS. The Lone Samurai: the Life of Miyamoto Musashi. Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd., 2004, ISBN 4-7700-2942-X, $24.00.

All you need for a founding figure is a name and a place.

–Prof. Jonathan Z. Smith, as quoted in Mack.

One really does not need much to build a mythic character. Take a man, a place in time, and start telling stories. The stories spread and change with repetition. The figure gains attributes both positive and negative as the story grows depending o the needs of the teller and the wishes of his audience. As a figure and his legends grow, more and more want some connection to the figure even if it is known the figure is actually mythic. Greater and greater deeds become assigned to the figure. This process applies to real historical individuals. As Prof. Smith’s observation implies, that a real figure existed has little to do with the development of the stories. If one adds up all of the places “Washington slept,” he would have missed the American Revolution. Glastonbury, England, boasts to not just the tombs of Arthur and Genievere, but Joseph of Arimethea’s staff-turned-tree. Churchill never observed that the “grand traditions of the Royal Navy” were “rum, sodomy, and the lash,” but he did admit he wished he had. A town in Iowa voted itself the future birthplace of James Tiberius Kirk, future scourge of Klingons and alien females. As Yogi Berra actually stated, “I really didn’t say everything I said!”

For some figures with little historical documentation, this process is understandable. Tellers make up a story to cover the gaps. Some, like Hammurabi, contributed directly to their myth. Supporters of Vespasian claimed he could raise the dead. A storyteller never lets something so minor as facts get in the way of a good story. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart is William Wallace, even if his Battle of Stirling Bridge lacked a bridge, Wallace’s father lived longer in real life, “Longshanks” outlived Wallace, et cetera. Historical documentation does help, but one has to research and present the evidence, and the audience must care. Traditions may become so strong facts cannot stand in the way.

Thus with one of the great martial arts characters: Miyamoto Musashi. He is the invincible swordsman, peerless artisan, and wisest of writers of unfathomable yet life-changing books. As with all popular legendary characters, we know his story: killed his first opponent at the age of thirteen; fought and won over sixty duels, often using whatever was available at hand such as a stray cat; declared at the age of thirty he knew nothing of swordsmanship; commenced study and mastery of all arts, including calligraphy, sculpture, ink painting, and rhythmic gymnastics; never bathed, never took a wife; finally retiring to a mountain to dictate the greatest text on strategy which has influenced martial arts ever since and the size of cupholders in Toyota cars. Yet, was he not defeated by some monk who hung him upside down until he experience a revelation? Did he not have a woman following him from chapter to chapter and movie to movie? Are there not stories of “the one guy who” bested him in a duel at “such and such a place?” At least three different locations claim his birthplace. One of the powers of legend is its ability to contain conflicting, if not contradictory, details. All are true.

Wilson’s work offers something rare in martial arts histories: actual history. History consists of opinionated science; the historian marshals what facts he can and tries to interpret them. Other historians can judge his interpretations by evaluating his facts and reasonable inferences. Some interpretations prove more obvious and objective than others, but ultimately the credibility of the work depends on the quality of sources and the historian’s use of them. Scholars use primary sources when available. One will not find any record of George Washington’s assault upon a cherry tree, but one will find the book that started the myth. Too often, martial art historians merely parrot stories taken from secondary sources without seeking the basis for them. Part of this results from an understandable language and distance barrier. If only we all had the luxury and ability to learn the languages and travel the countries. Wilson enjoyed both through virtue of his studies of Japanese language and culture, his previous translations, and his visitations of important sites.

Historians have to exercise care to avoid “cherry picking” data that supports the figure they want. This is especially true for martial arts historians. Who does not want a founding figure to have killed a tiger and a few score bandits with his bare hands? Rational examination of historical figures does not diminish them. Which is more inspirational: a George Washington “who never told a lie,” or a shrewd man who could act to inspire dissatisfied officers to prevent them from overturning the country they defended? Wilson recognizes this in his description of Yoshikawa Eiji’s influencial novel: ” The problem for the reader is the tendency to believe that Yoshikawa’s Musashi is in fact the historical Musashi. Endlessly entertaining and instructive, it is a story we want to believe is true.”

Wilson promises a history from the onset to the end. A quick skim shows a list of his primary sources, a map of events in Musashi’s life, including conflicting birthplaces, all the way to extensive appendices and bibliography that includes depictions of his life in film. In the Preface, he identifies the inspiration for his current work as his translation of The Book of Five Rings–Go Rin No Sho–for Kodansha: “The project turned out to be an intensive course on the very core of what might be called the Musashi myth, and on how that myth came to be.” The final point is most important. It is one thing to show that a favorite aspect of a life is a legend, it is even better to show how the legend arose. He gives an outline of the surviving sources for Musashi from, “. . . a monument inscribed with the story of Musashi’s life and erected by his adopted son Iori in 1654,” to a chronology published in 1910. “Scattered among these are records of various clans that were touched by Musashi’s presence . . . and even family records that mentioned Musashi, . . .” Wilson notes:

Because of discrepancies in time and place and the personal alliances of the various authors, these sources often had Musashi in different places at the same time, held various and even diametrically opposed opinions on his personality, talents and accomplishments and could be quite perplexing in regard to the chronology: one, for example, had his father dying years before Musashi was born.

Wilson opens his work with a description of the prologue to the celebrated and infamous duel between Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro on what would become known as Ganryujima or “Ganryu Island.” He asks and proposes to answer just how Musashi came to that point in his life and then passed into legend.

Though out this journey, Wilson describes the sources for events, weighing them to produce the most likely picture. His treatment of Musashi’s clashes with the Yoshioka clan in Kyoto serves as an example. He begins with an introduction of the history of the Yoshioka clan from the earliest member Naomoto to the members challenged by Musashi based on extant sources which include the family annals, the Yoshioka-den. He provides one of the fanciful legends concerning one of the brothers challenged by Musashi, Seijuro: “Seijuro was said to have reached such a level of concentration that, when he focused his thought on a single bird on a treetop in the forest, hundreds of birds would fly up to the treetops at once.” Such details prove important as Wilson tries to understand the motivations of Musashi: “Musashi’s decision to challenge Seijuro was not random. By defeating Seijuro, he would not only show the whole world what he could do but also demonstrate a thing or two to his father, Munisai, who was still teaching martial arts in Kyushu.” Wilson then details Musashi’s father’s successful matches with Seijuro’s father which brought Shimen Munisai renown. All of this explains the eagerness of Seijuro to accept the challenge from an apparent young unknown. In his extensive endnotes, Wilson gives some of the opposing views of Musashi’s matches with the Yoshioka such as the aforementioned family annals that try to claim Musashi proved too cowardly to show up for a duel with brother Denschichiro that other sources show he lethally triumphed.

Wilson carries on with this care through his descriptions of other events in Musashi’s life. He supplements these with details of his own field work which includes travels to Ganryu Island:

This island is still called Funa Island, as it was four hundred years ago, but anyone you ask will tell you that, yes, it is also well-known as Ganryu Island. Then they will often extend their forearms as if holding a sword, and smile.
. . . .
Just as we approach the boat, the captain leads me to a low rise. We push aside the thin trees and bushes and walk up a short path to a two-yard high memorial stone, now hidden in the overgrowth. The Chinese characters engraved on the stone are weathered and lichen-covered, but you can still make out the name: Ganryu Sasaki Kojiro. A few old coins lie in the rusted offering box at the base of the stone, and next to it has been placed–some time ago–a One-Cup Ozeki saké can, now half-filled with murky water. Who still comes here to offer such things?

Reigan Cave, and, finally, Musashi’s tomb. The book closes with an extensive appendix that traces the development of the stories popularly attached to Musashi from the first kabuki work, Revenge at Ganryu Island in 1737 to the many popular movies. Included is a detailed discussion of the popular and influencial serialized novel of Yoshikawa Eiji, Miyamoto Musashi:

It is through Yoshikawa’s novel and the movies that followed the story line that Musashi’s image is known throughout the world today. It was also through this book that the common view of Musashi changed radically from what it had been for hundreds of years prior to its appearance. . . .
. . . .
Typical of his other historical novels, Yoshikawa based his work for the most part on the known facts of Musashi’s life, then filled in the large gaps with his wn imaginative accounts of what could have been.

The critic who does not find anything to criticize is not doing his job. Wilson rather assumes Musashi authorship of Go Rin No Sho. Some, like Donn F. Draeger argue otherwise:

. . . he did not write the Gorin no sho. Those who came after and eulo-gized him did the writing. This was much like the Bible, Qur’an, etc., where students recalled the great man’s sayings add statements plus what-ever embellishments the writers wished to add. The result was the Gorin no sho we have today.

In its recent Japanese editions, the Gorin no sho has been misinter-preted and recast in terms that are glowing and pleasing to modern ears. Thus, it is a far cry from any original that may have once existed. Even the earliest version, the one that never gets to the public eyes, is far removed from the brush or mouth of its purported author.

The work would have benefited from a summary of a text-critical analysis of the most famous work attributed to Musashi to address these concerns. Textual criticism seeks to recover a text through analysis of extant versions known as “witnesses.” This involves study of the history of the witnesses and the variations between them. Sometimes the answers are obvious: a later version corrects the grammar of the original, or scholars have an autograph or version written by the claimed author. Sometimes, analysis demonstrates the text could not have been written in the period or by the author as claimed. For a biography that seeks to find the man behind the legends, this is a glaring omission, particularly given the wonderful care Wilson demonstrates in separating facts from legends throughout. If credible claims arose that an aid wrote Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” biographers would have to discuss such. He may discuss such matters in his previously published translation of the work; unfortunately a copy proved unavailable for review. If Wilson feels the Musashi authorship of Go Rin No Sho is established, a brief outline of the evidence would have completed the book. Nevertheless, he does provide in his Appendix a discussion of the influence and parallels to Go Rin No Sho.

A few weeks after the completion of this review, a local Japanese bookstore decided to obtain a number of copies of Wilson’s translation of Go Rin No Sho. In his introduction to the work, Wilson discusses the sources for the work. No autograph–work written in the author’s hand–exists, but existing copies agree closely with one another according to Wilson. He chose the copy considered the authoritative: a copy Musashi’s adopted son gave to their patron lord. The copy dates to within twenty years of Musashi’s death and has remained in the lord’s family. This all rather contradicts and rebuts the claims made by Draeger.

Aside from that, with a complete and current filmography, glossary, and bibliography of works in English, Japanese, and Chinese, Wilson provides a very complete treatment of the Musashi as both a historical and legendary character. The book is very well written and is printed with the quality expected from Kodansha. The book’s listed price of $24.00 for hardcover is appropriate. Discounts are available on-line which make this book a true bargain.

John David Morenski, M.D., Yondan, Uechi-Ryu


Berra Y. The Yogi Book: “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said!” Workman Publishing Company, 1999.

The Churchill Centre. “Quotes Falsely Attributed to Him,”

“The Code of Hammurabi,” Meek TJ trans, in Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd. ed. Pritchard JB ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.

Draeger DF, “Letters on Miyamoto Musashi,” Joseph Svinth ed., Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 8 (3), 1999.

Mack B., A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins. Fortress Press, 1991.

Mackay JA. William Wallace: Braveheart. Mainstream Publishing Company, Ltd. 1996.

Musashi M. The Book of Five Rings. William Scott Wilson trans. Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd., 2002.

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