Taira Shinken’s Dysfunctional Family

Taira Shinken (1898 - 1970)
Taira Shinken (1898 – 1970)

At one time in the history of the Ryukyu Kobudo Preservation and Promotion Society (Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokan or RKHSK), the students of Taira Shinken, including Akamine, Inoue, Minowa, Nakamoto, Kinjo, and Nagaishi, all worked together to perpetuate their teacher’s legacy. Yet within a decade after Taira’s death, each student went his separate way.

It’s interesting to see what they were up to shortly after Taira’s death and we can glean a little insight about their relationships from a few sources. The first are photos of Taira’s students while he was still alive. For example, in both the photos below you can see all his students are together.

TAIRA&STUDENTS

TAIRASTUDENTSTaira died in 1970 and six years later a photo was taken after the completion of a documentary on Ryukyu Kobudo that was filmed by a mainland Japanese TV crew in 1976 (unfortunately, I was never able to track it down and my teacher, Minowa sensei, did not have a copy of it). In the photo we can see most of Taira’s students still together with the exception of Inoue Motokatsu.

Taira Shinken students
The students of Taira Shinken (1976)

Why is Inoue missing? A hint as to why he is absent can be found in Inoue’s 1971 publication “Ryukyu Kobujutsu: Volumes 1 – 3” (琉球古武術上中下巻). In the back of volume 3 we can find a list of the executive members and how the organization was structured. The interesting thing is that Akamine Eisuke is listed as president and Inoue Motokatsu is listed as the head of the Kanto region.

This point is particularly interesting as it can be argued that Inoue should have been the 2nd president of Taira’s organization, but instead it was passed on to Akamine. Part of this claim stems from the Taira issuing the first Shihan license to Inoue which is posted here. It seems that politics inevitably reared its ugly head between the two and Inoue eventually went his own way renaming his group Ryukyu Kobujutsu Hozon Shinko Kai. At any rate, to this day neither group regards the other as legitimate (1).

The next student to go his own way was Nakamoto Masahiro who founded his own organization called the Okinawa Dento Kobudo Hozon Kai (沖縄伝統古武道保存会) in 1983. The youngest student of Taira, he has built a solid following on Okinawa and has enjoyed quite a bit of fame in recent years along with his son Mamoru. It is interesting that he was not present at the Akamine Eisuke memorial demonstration.

Nagaishi Fumio returned to his native Hawaii in 1988 and began teaching Kobudo there. His most noted student was the late Pat Nakata. He remained associated with the RKHSK under Akamine Eisuke, but I believe this was mostly on paper and his dojo had little contact with the former. I am unsure what has become of Nagaishi’s group since the passing of Nakata sensei in terms of affiliation.

My own teacher, Minowa Katsuhiko, went his own way in 1991 after the death of his Karate-do teacher Uechi Kanei and formed his own group the “Ryukyu Kobudo Shinko Kai” (琉球古武道振興会). Ironically this was largely to do with Uechi-ryu Karate-do politics and not Kobudo. Unfortunately his own group disintegrated after he retired from active teaching.

Nakasone moved from Okinawa to Tokyo and in my correspondence with him from several years ago, never opened a dojo. Instead he served as an adviser for Inoue Motokatsu’s group, but eventually withdrew from that position.

As for Kinjo, I have no information on him or what became of him. If someone does know, I would appreciate hearing from you.

I find it a little sad that Taira’s students weren’t able to get along or resolve their differences and for those reasons went their own way for one reason or another. However, I suppose this isn’t all that surprising. Human beings, after all, act in their own self-interest.

(1) Like it or not, Inoue Motokatsu was an innovator who took the art that Taira taught him and reformulated it using a Japanese Koryu-based model – extensive kihon, solo and paired kata, etc. The result is a dynamic, logical, and consistent system. The downside that I can see is that in the process much of the powerful body mechanics of the Okinawa style were lost.