Practicing Karate

Even the greatest Okinawan Sensei will say “We train together” rather than “I will teach you”. Compared with other Martial Arts instructors around the world they are known for skill, modesty and humility. They do not refer to themselves as “Masters” and are suspicious of all who do, or those who brashly flash rank.
When they are teaching, they teach with enthusiasm as they really want to pass on their skills and knowledge. They do not teach for personal gain. The Okinawan Rengokai is an association dedicated to promoting TRUE Karate-do that developed in Okinawa from Okinawan “Te” with influences from Southern China in White Crane, Qigong and probably Taiqiquan also.

I believe from my research that the purest form of Karate is that which was taught before 1920 when it had just emerged from secrecy. There were no styles as such other than the regional differences between Naha-Te, Tomari-Te, and Shrui-Te. Even then various teachers would choose techniques and kata from any of those sources for their particular preference. Karate had not yet evolved into a sport and the politics we see today between styles & teachers, mainly in the west, had not even been conceived.

Okinawan Karate has some distinct differences to Japanese Karate in which I first trained. Sensei Higaonna Morio, seen on the right demonstrating a wrist lock, is 10th Dan “Intangible Cultural Asset of Okinawa”. He is head of the International Okinawan Goju-Ryu Federation (IOGKF). He is also a member of the Okinawan Rengokai, an association of all traditional styles of karate with the goal in mind to restore Traditional Karate around the world.

How do Okinawan and Japanese Karate differ?

Prior to 1920 Karate was pretty much unknown in mainland Japan. Japanese and Okinawan natives have distinct genetic & cultural differences. Funakoshi Gichin, a school teacher, took Karate to Japan in 1922. It is said he only knew 3 or 4 kata as was the practice at that time. Prior to the end of the 19th Century there had been no “styles” as such as each teacher would teach to a few students what he knew. Prior to Okinawa being incorporated into Japan “Te” had been practiced pretty much in secret.

Some practitioners focused on strong methods and others on fast methods. In 1902 they started to organize better and created the 5 Pinan Kata to introduce Karate into schools. Funakoshi took the 5 Pinan to Japan and adapted them for the Japanese way, renaming them Heian Kata and Naihanchi to Tekki. The Pinan kata are often the first kata you will learn in any style as a beginner.

The Japanese styles of Karate were influenced by Japan’s martial history and its own martial arts so in Shotokan stances are long and strikes and blocks are often stylized and more pronounced. As other Japanese styles spun off from Shotokan they inherited much of these methods and Kata. Some styles like the Wado Ryu of Hironori Ohtsuka veered back more to Shuri-Te ways.

I encourage you to do your own research as some of the history is fluid and often depends to whom you are speaking!