Itoman Morinobu on the Origin of Karate

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I’ve been editing Itoman Morinobu’s second book ‘Miscellaneous Thoughts on Martial Arts’ which I will be combining with his first book, ‘Research on Karate (Toudi), and I thought I would share a short exert from it where he discusses the origin of Karate.

…Itosu Anko, a martial arts master of the early modern Okinawa, claimed that Chin Genpin transmitted Karate (empty-hand). According to writings such as the Sentetsu Sodan, Wuyan Shoden, and Owari Meisho Zue, Chin lived during the Ming Dynasty and was a native of Hulin. He left during turbulent times and became a naturalized citizen of Japan in 1660 (the 2nd year of Manji). He became a guest of the Owari clan and died in 1672 (11th year of Kanbun). It is said that he taught Jujutsu which was then developed into the schools of Jikishin-ryu and Kito-ryu. There is no record of Chin Genpin’s arrival in Okinawa but considering the relationship between the Ming Dynasty and the Ryukyu Islands, and especially if he fled to Okinawa to avoid the chaos in China, it is possible that he would have visited Okinawa first before becoming naturalized on the Japanese mainland.

Chin Genpin was not a martial artist, so when he taught Jujutsu, he reportedly said, ”even though I do not know the art, I have seen its application.” Therefore, he was teaching the art based on his observations and understanding. It is unlikely that Chin’s teachings would produce two martial arts so far apart in theory and technique, such as Jujutsu and Karate (Toudi). Even if we assume that he was the first to introduce martial arts, it is entirely possible that later Chinese martial arts were formally introduced by other martial artists as there was already traffic between the countries (visits by Chinese envoys to the Ryukyus and import and tribute trade) for 300 years before that, so there were opportunities for Karate (Toudi) to be introduced.

Even if we assume the previously mentioned theory on the introduction of Jujutsu by Chin is true, much research needs to be done. In other words, since Chin also taught that, “in China there are ways to capture a man,” it is impossible to determine whether this is a martial art that still exists in China today as Chinese Kenpo or Karate (Toudi), or whether it was a style of wrestling.

In Funakoshi Gichin’s writings, he talked about the martial artist Azato Anko who is quoted as saying, “Maikata (dance), a martial art unique to Okinawa, was developed before Karate (Toudi) in the countryside.” So, there were many famous martial artists from the past. Yet, the term Karate (Toudi) was unknown until the early modern era when it was introduced by Karate Sakugawa of Akata. Karate (Toudi) Sakugawa, a man from Akata, Shuri, was born about 200 years ago. This theory also does not specify when Karate (Toudi) came to Okinawa, but based on this theory, it came to Okinawa not so long ago. The term Karate (Toudi) means martial art from China. So, if the term Karate (Toudi) had been coined for the first time back then, then the word Karate (Toudi) would have been widely known, and all martial artists would have used it.