Principles of Okinawa Karate

Here’s an interesting observation (at least to me). Some Okinawan and Japanese Karate-do “styles” make reference to two fundamental principles within their own names.

They are strength Tsuyo(sa) / Go (剛) and pliability Yawara(kai) / Ju (柔). The most obvious example of course is Miyagi’s Goju-ryu 剛柔流 which literally uses these two principles in naming the style, but there are other examples.

Uechi Kanbun originally called what he taught Pangainuun (半硬軟) or “half hard and soft” which demonstrates the strength principle and it’s opposite, pliability. Mabuni Kenwa originally called his Karate Hanko-ryu (半硬流) “half hard” which similarly embraces the principle of strength and implies the principle of pliability (1).

Less obvious, but no less interesting, is Funakoshi Gichin’s Shotokan which he described as containing Shorei 昭霊 and Shorin 少林 kata. This could be argued as representing strength (as contained in the Shorei kata) and pliability (as contained in the Shorin kata). Similarly the name for his style of Karate-do that Mabuni finally settled on was Shito ryu 糸東流 which was derived from the names of his two primary teachers Itosu Anko, who taught Shorin kata, and Higaonna Kanryo, who taught Shorei kata. Perhaps another way to refer to these two principles.

Naturally, this is all speculation on my part, but I think there is surely some wisdom that these teachers wanted to impart to us when they named their respective styles of Karate-do that many of us continue to practice to this day.

Good training.

(1) Interestingly, early on in his career Mabuni also tried different names to refer to his “style” such as Goju Kenpo 剛柔拳法, and even Mabuni-ryu 摩文仁流.