1. West Higaonna (A)

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emattson
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1. West Higaonna (A)

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By Graham Noble

The history isn’t clear at all, but I suppose we have to begin with Chojun Miyagi’s teacher, Kanryo Higaonna, who was born in 1853 in Naha, the major port of Okinawa. Iken Tokashiki, who looked into Higaonna’s genealogy, stated that he was one of a family of eight, seven sons and one daughter. Higaonna’s father made a living by transporting firewood around the islands of Ryukyu and from childhood Kanryo helped him working on the boats.

From his youth Kanryo had a desire to learn Chinese kempo. He had the idea of travelling to China and learning the art there. Morio Higaonna, in his 1995 “History of Karate, Goju Ryu”, wrote that the reason for Higaonna’s study of Chinese kempo was a desire to avenge his father who had been killed in a fight with another man.

Shosin Nagamine, in his “Aoi Umi” magazine article on Higaonna (“The Restorer of Naha-te”, February 1978 edition) didn’t mention a revenge story. Nagamine wrote that since he was around twenty years old Kanryo had been receiving training from Seisho Arakaki (1840-1920) who was known as Maya (cat) of Kumemura and had become known in Naha as a strong and talented martial artist. During his training Kanryo heard stories of past experts who had learned martial arts in China and formed a strong desire to learn the art in China himself.

According to Nagamine, Higaonna’s father made a living transporting firewood by sea from Karama: “At that time, not only the official government ships but also Chinese ships often travelled between Naha and Fuzhou in China. The Chinese ships were used by those who wanted to become wealthy by trading with China. As Kanryo was well aware of such facts, he got close to a ship owner who was transporting firewood from Karama. In this way Kanryo got to know the owners and members of the Chinese ships. When Kanryo confided to one owner about his long-time wish to travel to Fuzhou, China, the ship owner happily allowed his trip. He sailed from Naha and reached his destination, Fuzhou in seven or eight days.”

The consensus is that Higaonna went to Fujian sometime in the 1870s, a difficult time for the old Ryukyu kingdom as Japan tightened its grip on the islands, the centuries-old tributary relationship with China was ended, and the old ways began to fade away. Higaonna studied Chinese kempo (ch’uan-fa) in Fuzhou for several years and when he returned the Ryukyu Kingdom had become Okinawa-ken, a prefecture of Japan, and the old ways were rapidly disappearing.

After his return he never acted out the revenge against his father’s killer, if that story was ever really true – and initially he never taught anyone the kempo he had learned in China.

“By not teaching anybody,” wrote Shosin Nagamine, “Higaonna became well known in the Tsuji district as a ‘secret bushi.’“ He picked up his old trade of shipping firewood but the business struggled. According to Nagamine, when Higaonna returned to Okinawa he was distressed by the loss of the old Ryukyu kingdom and the changes brought by the Japanese administration. “Kanryo was in despair for some time . . . . It has been said that he became misanthropic and temporarily stayed away from teaching toude, spending his time drinking out of frustration.”

Nagamine doesn’t say where he got the story about Higaonna’s low spirits and and his refuge in drink. Nagamine was born in 1907 and began karate training in the early 1920s, well within living memory of Kanryo Higaonna, so he may have heard these stories from his elders.

Anyway, at some point Higaonna seemed to have recovered his spirits and he began to teach kempo. In a 1941 magazine article, Chogi Yoshimura (1866 – 1945) described his martial arts training history and recalled that “in Naha a certain Higaonna had distinguished himself.” Yoshimura stated that he became a student of Higaonna in 1888 and studied with him about three times a month, walking from Shuri to Higaonna’s home in Naha near the beach, where he made a living selling firewood. Higaonna would have been in his mid-thirties then, so still quite young. Later, Higaonna would make the journey to Shuri to teach at the Yoshimura home. Yoshimura wrote that from Higaonna he learned the forms Sanchin, “as a foundation,” and also Pechurin.

The information that this Higaonna sold firewood and taught Sanchin and Pechurin must mean that Yoshimura is talking about Kanryo Higaonna, and if his account is accurate then the statement that Higaonna had already “distinguished himself” as an expert in kempo, or Te, means that he could have begun teaching his art some years earlier, from the early or mid-1880s, at a guess, although probably in a rather small way. It wasn’t till 1902 that Higaonna took on his two most important pupils, Juhatsu Kyoda and Chojun Miyagi, and in then in 1905 some kind of public recognition came when karate teaching was introduced to the Naha Kuritsu Shogyo Koto Gakko (Naha Commercial School) and he was asked to be the instructor there.

Seibun Nakamoto, (1892 – 1984) told Morio Higaonna that he had trained at Kanryo Higaonna’s home in his youth. There were about fifteen people studying there, he said, and they would wear shorts for practice. Higaonna would train students individually in Sanchin kata and they would also train with the ishi sashi, chishi (leverage weight) and quite frequently with the nigiri game (weighted jars). Seibun’s nephew, Seijin Nakamoto (1917 – 1986), told Morio Higaonna that for kumite two students would face each other and throw punches and kicks, blocking each other’s moves. Apparently Seijin Nakamoto’s mother remembered going to Higaonna’s house at the age of six (1902) and seeing the students stepping forward and backward slowly across the room while holding the nigiri-game.

Higaonna would have been in his early fifties when he began teaching at the Naha Commercial High School in 1905. Seibun Nakamoto remembered that he taught classes there twice a week at the invitation of the school principal Junichi Kabayama. Kempo, or Te, was on the curriculum of the first and second years. In the third year of Higaonna’s instruction a club was established for those interested in training in his art. One of the pupils, Soke Ura, (b 1895) recalled that Higaonna “spoke in a stern voice” and was very serious during practice: “If we did not perform satisfactorily he would strike us (with the open hand).” When Higaonna was unable to attend, the class would be taken by Reishu Sakaima, or sometimes Seibun Nakamoto or Taizo Tabara. Sakaima’s birth date is not known, but Nakamoto and Tabara were born in 1892 and 1893 respectively, so they wouldn’t have been much more than boys themselves when they took the class.

In their 1978 paper “A View on the Beginning of Karate at Schools During the Meiji Era”, Shinji Ichihara and Yoshio Yen looked at the introduction of karate to the Shuri Middle School in the first years of the 20th century. They quoted from the reminiscences of a former student, Yasusada Tokuda, who graduated from the school in 1910: “Karate was first introduced (to the Middle School) by some twenty volunteer pupils under the instruction of Masters Chomo Hanashiro and Kentsu Yabu in the compound of the Bank of Okinawa. Basic techniques and ‘Naihanchi’ were taught among other things. Once in a while the pupils visited the residence of Master Kanryo Higaonna and practiced Sanchin. Later, we received instruction from Master Itosu at school.” If nothing else, this shows that Higaonna was a respected expert on the level as such well-known teachers as Hanashiro, Yabu and Itosu.

Seibun Nakamoto told Morio Higaonna (“The History of Karate. Goju Ryu”) that some students of the Commercial School would get involved in streetfights (jichikunren or kake dameshi) in Tsuji: if a passer-by looked to be a good opponent “one of the students would stick out a foot to trip him. If the man was then willing to fight they would oblige. If he ran away they would let him go.” Apparently the police spoke to the school principal about these incidents and karate training was prohibited at the high school for a time.

As a kind of context to this story, Andreas Quast (“Karate 1.0”) refers to an old Okinawan newspaper clipping from the “Ryukyu Shimpo” of 15 January 1899, headlined “The Training Post of the Violent Ruffians”. The newspaper reported that late at night ruffians would swagger round the red light district of Tsuji, forcibly challenging people to fight and causing them injuries. The report noted that these activities were not carried out with injury or robbery in mind but with the sole object of people testing their fighting skills. Apparently these “evildoers” gathered at the home of a certain Maezato, who lived ”at the end of the alley that turns upwards at the dry well in Tsuji Ukan’nuhira” and instructed them in Chinese martial arts skills (Shina-te). Maezato was described as being over fifty years old and he received two sen per person per day for instruction, “which is a sign that he makes his livelihood from it.” To improve their martial arts skill, some of his followers would go night after night to the red light district for a practical test by picking fights with other people. Apparently the police had been asked to arrest the wrongdoers to maintain peace in the district. The report also noted that “this evil custom existed in the red light district in olden times and still prevails today.”

Maezato was described as ”a scoundrel”, and that ties in with what was a general public view at the time that Te was a violent art practiced by ruffians. “At that time,” wrote Goju Ryu teacher Eichi Miyazato, “karate was misunderstood by people. They thought it was a way of fighting, that training in karate made you violent and that people would dislike you for it. So there were very few students around, and they tried to keep their training secret from other people, even from their own family.” The introduction of Te to schools and the public education system was therefore a significant event in changing people’s view of the art.

Direct memories of Higaonna are rare. Saburo Kinjo wrote a short article about him in the June 1957 issue of “Gekkan Karate-do” magazine, but it was very thin. Kinjo recalled that Kanryo Higaonna was of medium height but that “actually, in my childhood memory he looked almost weak.” He was known in Naha as Higaonna no Tanmei or Bushi Tanmei, Tanmei meaning old man.

As a young boy of twelve or thirteen years old, Kinjo and his friends would go along to Higaonna’s dojo to try and catch a glimpse of him in action, but they never saw him do a single karate technique, “Indeed, it was rare that we even saw Higaonna Sensei at the dojo.” What Kinjo and his friends saw was the students practising Sanchin or walking up and down the small dojo carrying kame, the gripping jars filled with sand. In fact, Kinjo had so little to say about Higaonna that the larger part of the article was taken up with a description of one of his students, Kadekawa. He did write that “Kadekawa told us one or two tales of martial valour when Higaonna Sensei was young” – but unfortunately he chose not to repeat them.

Shinken Gima once mentioned that Higaonna’s dojo closed down in 1910. That may have been a reference to the High School instruction, or to the teaching at his home, or the dojo mentioned by Kinjo. The assumption is usually made that he taught right up to his death in 1915 – karate masters are always said to have taught right up to their deaths – but we don’t know about his health in his later years or how much teaching he actually did during that period. Anyway he died in 1915 and his teaching had to be carried on by others, primarily Chojun Miyagi, Juhatsu Kyoda and Kenwa Mabuni.

Looking back after his death, his reputation seemed to grow. Hisateru Miyagi, (“Karate Do”, 1953) wrote that he had been told several accounts of Higaonna’s great strength by one of Chojun Miyagi’s students, Houhei Yamasagi. Hisateru Miyagi had heard that Higaonna Tanme had incredibly strong fingers, and that “even past seventy years of age he would have rope tied around his ankles and stand on the tips of his big toes while ten or more students would pull on the rope to see if they could make him fall, but they never could.”

Hisateru Miyagi was a little out with his information because Higaonna never actually reached seventy years of age: he died in his early sixties, but it’s interesting that Miyagi had the idea that he was an old master in his seventies. At the time and place he was writing Miyagi mustn’t have been able to even check Higaonna’s dates.

Morio Higaonna told a story about an incident which took place when Higaonna was making his way to Jichaku Village in Naha. The village was on a hill and when it started to rain heavily the roadway was turned into a muddy and treacherous path. A heavy trader’s cart, pulled by “a huge water buffalo”, stated to slip down the hill. The buffalo had fallen to its knees and was sliding downwards towards Kanryo with the cart attached. Higaonna braced himself and as it reached him he took the whole weight of the buffalo and cart on his shoulders and began to check its slide with his legs braced. In this way the whole group, the buffalo, loaded cart and driver, and Higaonna himself, gradually slid safely down to the bottom of the sloping roadway. No one was harmed.

Hisateru Miyagi put Higaonna’s strength down to his many years of Sanchin training, as did Morio Higaonna when he told that story about the heavy cart and the buffalo. Morio Higaonna noted that the cart driver was astonished that the small man who had done this was not crushed to death. Kanryo Higaonna may have been more strongly built in his youth, but in the two photos we have of him from the early 1900s, when he would have been in his fifties, he looks rather slight . . . and the total weight of a buffalo, driver and heavily loaded cart . . . to check and control the descent of such a weight on a slippery, wet incline would test, and probably be beyond, the powers of a World’s Strongest Man competitor, somebody weighing 300 pounds or more and capable of lifting and supporting the heaviest poundages. It’s impossible to believe that the practice of Sanchin would develop much muscular strength of that type anyway. Nor would the use of the supplementary training equipment used in karate develop such overall bodily strength, the weights used in training being too light.

Incidentally, Shigekazu Kanzaki remembered Juhatsu Kyoda saying to him: “I told you about Higaonna Sensei who carried a cow on his shoulders and walked on the road down a hill. Actually, when he pulled the cow down the road, the cow slipped. So the cow’s chin came onto his shoulder and he began sliding down the road.” This seems to have been a milder version of the tale told by Morio Higaonna.

Those old karate stories . . . Eizo Shimabuku wrote that in his younger days Kanryo Higaonna had travelled to China as an assistant in the tea trade, and had seen his employer robbed by bandits, an incident which had a profound effect on him. After that, Higaonna stayed in China and learned martial arts from the tea trader’s friend. Just before he returned to Okinawa he was out with his teacher when they were accosted by bandits. Higaonna fought the bandit leader and defeated him by tearing the flesh off his left cheek.

Quite often in karate history the same story seems to appear in slightly different forms. In his “Aoi Umi” article Shosin Nagamine wrote that “when Kanryo was around 50 years old, (so around 1903) he had been out drinking and when he was about to return home in a state of slight intoxication, a mother with a young child asked him to accompany them a with the lantern since it was late and dark. When Kanyro approached near Mosuji, in the lantern light he saw a couple of young men standing there, whispering. Then they suddenly became still and quiet. At that instant, one large man yelled out, “Higaonna Bushi Tanmee”, then gave a kick at the lantern and threw a strike to Tanmee’s midsection. Kanryo took one step back and struck the large man’s knuckle wrist bone with the right forearm. The man groaned, and then escaped into a nearby playhouse along with two other men; he had to escape because of the unbearable pain he was suffering. It has been said that the man was Sakuma Kanta who was then thought to be equal to the famous Motobu Saru, (Choki Motobu) as a fighter. I (Nagamine) heard this story from Anji Tanmee in Iha, Tomari.”

In Volume 4 of his book series “Traditional Karate Do” (1990) Morio Higaonna referred to an incident which took place in Tsuji in 1893, when Kanryo would have been forty years old. Once again he was returning home after a night of drinking when he crossed the path of a man called Zencho Tokeshi, (Tokeshi no Mintamaa, literally “Big Eyes.”) Tokeshi was only eighteen at that time but was already known to the police and had a reputation as “a feared street fighter.” When he came up to the much smaller Higaonna he went to push him out of the way, but Higaonna deflected his push, causing him to fall in one of the graves by the roadside. Furious, Tokeshi got to his feet and threw a kick at Higaonna, who evaded the attack and countered with a kick to Tokeshi’s inner thigh which knocked him down. He got up and ran away as best he could and sought refuge in a theatre along the way. Higaonna followed and when he got to the theatre he asked the manager if a ruffian had come that way. The manager, protecting Tokeshi, said he hadn’t seen such a person. As happens in many such stories, Tokeshi later asked for instruction from Higaonna but was refused because of his bad character. Accordng to Morio Higaonna, a few months after this incident Zencho Tokeshi killed a man in a fight and was banished to Ishigaki Island, one of the small islands of the Okinawan chain. He died in 1924 at age forty nine.

These accounts by Nagamine and Higaonna sound like different versions of the same incident, and that is confirmed by Higaonna’s subsequent “History of Karate” (1995) in which he tells the same story as in 1990 – but this time changes the name of the attacker to Sakuma no Akaganta, presumably the same Sakuma who featured in Nagamine’s account. In this later book Morio Higaonna also refers separately elsewhere to Zencho Tokeshi (1875 – 1924) as a strong natural fighter who asked Kanryo Higaonna for instruction but was refused because of his bad character. The story about him killing a man and being exiled to the Yaeyama Islands is also repeated.

As a side note to all this, a Zenko Tokeshi (nicknamed Mimi Unchu, or “Big Ears”) also featured in Morio Higaonna’s account of a well-known exchange between Chojun Miyagi and Choki Motobu. Zenko Tokeshi was described as a friend of Miyagi who went with him to see Motobu. Tatsunori Sakiyama, a student of Chojun Miyagi, (in the booklet published on the 25th anniversary of Miyagi’s death), also referred to two Tokeshi brothers in connection with an encounter between Miyagi and Choki Motobu. According to Sakiyama, at that time there used to be two brothers in Shuri called Tokeshi - Tokeshi no Meitama, so called “because he had unusually large eyes”, and Tokeshi no Mimi (“Big Ears”, I guess) - who sometimes acted as kind of promoters and who arranged a meeting, an exchange of technique maybe, between Miyagi and Motobu. These two brothers were older than Miyagi, both about 5 foot 10 tall and known for their violent temperament. According to Sakiyama the meeting between Miyagi and Motobu took place around 1913.

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Erik

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emattson
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Re: 1. West Higaonna (A)

Post by emattson »

"Naha, the major port of Okinawa"

About 500 years ago, Naha began as a major port for trades to China.
https://www.mlit.go.jp/kankocho/cruise/ ... index.html

It is the capital city of Okinawa. It's economy is dominated by tourism, retail and service industries.
Erik

“Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.”
- John Adams
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emattson
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Re: 1. West Higaonna (A)

Post by emattson »

"one large man yelled out, 'Higaonna Bushi Tanmee'"

That's translated into:
"Higaonna warrior old man.

Tanmei meant old man. Bushi is a Japanese word for "warrior" often used to refer to Samurai.
Erik

“Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.”
- John Adams
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