Okinawan Karate documentary

Jun 19, 2019

Okinawan Karate | Japanology Plus - TV - NHK WORLD Alongside karate, the various "ways of the warrior" that Japan has exported to the world include such venerable disciplines as judo, aikido, and kendo. What all of these martial arts have in common is an emphasis on spiritual development. Not only do you learn how to fight, ideally you also become a better person.


Speaker 1: Karate is a martial art practiced by more than 60 million people around the world and its roots are in Okinawa.


Okinawan karate, the most traditional form of the discipline is known for the brutal power of its blows. But that power is cultivated with the intention not to use it.


This time on Japanology Plus, our theme is Okinawan karate. We'll explore the paradox of training the body to become a weapon that is will never use.


Speaker 2: [00:01:16] Hello and welcome to Japanology Plus. I'm Peter Barcatoday[unintelligible00:01:20]. Today, I'm in Okinawa which is the birth place of karate at one of Japan's best know martial arts. By the way the term karate literally means empty hand as in unarmed. The idea underlying Okinawan karate is that although it gives you a supremely powerful way to subdue an opponent. You learn it in order not to use it and I know that sounds contradictory but stick with us and all will become clear.


Speaker 1: Like many other Japanese martial arts, Okinawan karate embraces a distinctive spiritual dimension.


Practicing set movie called cutter over and over again is a hallmark of this discipline. The cutter embody the philosophy of a particular school of karate about how to evade strikes and if necessary, to strike back through a series of fluid movement. Many people have this image of karate scoring points for strikes to determine a winner. In Okinawan karate that approach is rejected and its people spending years studying it. If they don't intend to use the techniques, why do they learn Okinawan karate?

Speaker 2: My guest for today is Mr. Kyoshi soo ha [00:03:14] who's been practicing Okinawan karate for over 50 years. He's an instructor and has also written extensively on the subject. Thank you very much for being with us today.

Speaker 1: Kiyoshi citta has been active in investigating the roots of Okinawan karate which is not well documented. He also promotes the art abroad. He is a highly respected figure in the world of Okinawan karate.

Speaker 2: First of all, I think probably most people have an image of karate as being a contact sport and I understand that in Okinawa, that's not the case.

Speaker 3: Okinawan karate is not the kind of martial art where you try to defeat an opponent in competition. Okinawan karate is a martial art based on the ideal of protecting yourself by fully preparing your mind and body through practice.

Speaker 2: What kind of practice do you do and how often?

Speaker 3: The foundation of Okinawan karate is practicing cutter over and over again. The importance of cutter is paramount. There is no specific number of times. It's simply a matter of the more times you practice, the better. The aim is to increase your ability step by step that is why you must practice. Okinawan karate has been called a lifelong martial art. Until the day you die, you'll still be training to get better.

Speaker 2: If you never actually come up against an opponent when you're practicing, if in real life somebody did come up against you, would you be able to defend yourself?

Speaker 3: Let me give you a practical demonstration. I'll show you how practicing cutter enables you to deal with a real-world situation. An adversary grabs your arm, the first thing you need to do is break free of his grip, right? Self-protection, please grip my arm firmly and I'll easily break free.

Speaker 2: Right.

Speaker 3: Easy [laughs]. Now grab my arm with both hands. I can easily break free of this too. I'd call my arm across like this that he's high and these movements are drilled into me by doing cutter. In practicing cutter countless times, you are practicing defense and attack moves.

Speaker 2: Okay, I get it. But the purpose is not to use the skills that you've learned.

Speaker 3: I would say to never need to use the skills. When you train in the martial arts, you develop an aura. That aura makes people think twice before attacking you physically. The aim is to nurture an individual who will be able to deter an opponent or even eliminate that opponent's desire to fight.

Speaker 1: It sounds like a paradox. Acquire the power to win fights but never use it. How did Okinawan karate come to have this philosophy? Okinawan prefecture is located in the far southwest of the Japanese archipelago. This region was once ruled by an independent Kingdom, Ryukyu. During that period, the Ryukyu Kingdom traded with China's Ming Dynasty with Japan and with other nations. Exposure to these cultures fostered a unique identity. Okinawan karate was one aspect of that identity blending the distinctive fighting style of the Ryukyu aristocrats and warriors with Chinese Kungfu. In 1609, the Satsuma Domain in southwest Japan conquered Ryukyu. They imposed a strict ban on the possession of weapons. As a small community, the people in the Ryukyu Island knew they could not defeat a large powerful neighbor, so they chose to avoid aggression and focused instead on self-protection. Okinawan karate is a product of that philosophy.


Initially, Okinawan karate was passed down among a very select group of people but when the Ryukyu Kingdom fell, karate spread to the population at large. Then, about 100 years ago, it reached Tokyo and Osaka. Eventually, a martial art that had emerged in a small island kingdom spread to countries all over the world. But once karate had moved down to Okinawa, the people who adopted it came to embrace it as a competitive sport. In Okinawan karate, the most important thing is cutta. Cutta movements are not stylized for aesthetics. They emulate actions against a real opponent. This cutta is called ku sanku [00:08:52]. It is an advanced form for high-level practitioners. Using ku sanku as an example, let's take a closer look at the individual moves in a cutta.

Speaker 3: Opponent right in front and the sun is behind him. I have the sun in my eyes. It's dazzling me so I have to block out the sun in order to see him. And now, I show that I would rather resolve this peacefully but my opponent attacks me anyway. I deflected, he attacks again. I deflect that too, he tries to kick me, I block it. He punches again and now I strike back and deliver the crucial blow. So, we have an attacker making a series of strikes and finally, I strike back.

Speaker 1: In order to make the ku sanku cutta easier to understand, the attacker uses techniques that require the expert to employ the moves of the cutta. The expert is repeatedly taking action to protect himself and only switching to counter-attack as a last resort. All cutta follow this defense first pattern.

Speaker 3: We say you should not be struck nor should you strike. In karate, we do not strike first. Only after you have been attacked can you consider delivering a blow yourself. That is the golden rule of karate.

Speaker 1: No cutta begins with an offensive strike. This reflects a shared vision of Okinawan karate as a defensive discipline.

Speaker 2: Okinawan karate does seem to be really all about the cutta, doesn't it?

Speaker 3: Absolutely, the daily cutta work will prove its value if ever needed. The body can only do what it is trained to do. If the need arises, the body will respond without a moment's thought. That is why we keep practicing the cutta.

Speaker 2: To the beginner, they look quite simple but you repeat them over and over again for years. Does one's appreciation of subtleties change over time?

Speaker 3: Every time you do the cutta, you feel yourself mastering it more. You will feel more speed, more power. Your body gets a clearer sense of it. With enough practice, you can even fight with your eyes closed. That's because your body is so attuned, it's automatic. In the old days, people would work on one cutta for 10 years.

Speaker 2: Stick with just one for 10 whole years. Oh my God!

Speaker 3: That's how important it is to practice cutta. Countless times, even 10 years of practice.

Speaker 2: How long have you been practicing cutta before now?

Speaker 3: 62-3 years.

Speaker 2: Wow! [Laughs].

Speaker 3: Since nine years old.

Speaker 2: Have you ever had to use your skills?

Speaker 3: Unfortunately, no [laughs].

Speaker 2: Do you ever wish that you had just one chance?

Speaker 3: When I was young, maybe I did but I never acted on it our founder had a famous saying that if you lived your whole life without ever using your karate, you had achieved the goal of karate. It's good to never have to use it while at the same time, it's good to have the confidence that you could use it if in fact you ever did have to use it.

Matt Alt: Hi, I'm Matt Alt ------------13:30---------------and on today's episode of Plus One, I'm going to visit a dojo in downtown Tokyo that specializes in Okinawa karate. The one that put me in the paces of a daily practice. Do I have what it takes? I don't know but let's find out.


Well, here we are at the Miyagi dojo. They tell me that bowing is etiquette before going into a dojo so [bows]. Mr. Miyagi thank you so much for having me to your dojo. Please, teach me about your art.

Mr. Miyagi: [Speaking foreign language].

Matt Alt: Sounds great.

Mr. Miyagi: Okay.

Matt Alt: Thank you very much.


Matt Alt: Well, Mr. Miyagi, I’m changed. How is this?

Mr. Miyagi: You look pretty strong.

Matt Alt: [Laughs]. Well, this is my first time so please show me the ropes. What do we do first?

Mr. Miyagi: First, I'll show you how to make a fist.

Speaker 1: The most basic skill in karate is making a fist properly. It all starts with that.

Mr. Miyagi: Your feet should be splayed 45 degrees like this. [Speaking foreign language]. Put your left arm forward, that’s the way. [Says command]. Oh nice. Adjust the angle of your strike a little.

Matt Alt: Ah, I see. Okay, down, okay.

Mr. Miyagi: And strike. Don't throw your shoulder forward and punch [saying commands]. Oh okay. Is it tiring?

Matt Alt: Yes.

Mr. Miyagi: Are you okay [laughs].

Matt Alt: It’s very tiring.

Mr. Miyagi: This is the most basic posture for building up strength in your legs.


Speaker 1: Since these are the weapons of a karate practitioner, they must be trained too. But maybe Matt doesn't yet realize just how tough the training might be.

Matt Alt: Is then blood.

Mr. Miyagi: [Laughs].

Matt Alt: Oh, I guess my question is am I going to bleed?

Mr. Miyagi: No, you don't need to hit that hard today but you know over time, if you really get into it, it does happen. Yes, your fists probably will bleed a bit.

Matt Alt: Your own fists are amazing. These are amazing fists.

Mr. Miyagi: After decades of punching a hard surface, your fists will eventually turn into weapons. The core of karate is to protect yourself with your fists, so we keep pounding them until they're tough. [Punches surface]. Now, you.

Matt Alt: Okay, whatever you say.

Mr. Miyagi: You don't need to hit hard. First, just place your fist against the board.

Matt Alt: You know, it doesn't hurt as much as I thought.

Mr. Miyagi: No, it doesn’t hurt.

Matt Alt: [Punches surface].

Mr. Miyagi: Okay.

Matt Alt: Oh, thank you. That was very interesting. Look, my first blood!

Mr. Miyagi: This is basic training for having strong fists. [Saying commands].

Speaker 1: Doing cutta again and again imprints good form for strikes and kicks into muscle memory [saying commands]. As training goes on, practitioners move on to more difficult techniques. Some exercises involve several people. This is called kumite [00:18:00].

Mr. Miyagi: Well Matt, I think we ought to give you a test. A test of karate power.


Speaker 1: Matt will be trying to break a board about 1.5 centimeters thick. Can he do it?

Mr. Miyagi: Didn't hurt?

Matt Alt: Yeah.

Mr. Miyagi: Good. Now give it another try. Raise your arm up high, drop your hips.


Matt Alt: [Bows]. Aww! Thank you. Well that was really something else. I've seen martial arts, films and demonstrations many times before but I've never had the chance to participate. This was a really, really thrilling experience. There you have it. Next time you're in Japan, look for a local dojo. Maybe you can practice some Okinawan karate too. Until then, see you next time.


Speaker 2: So next, you're going to be seeing a dojo of one of the toughest Okinawan karate schools. It's called [unintelligible 00:19:43] . Here we are. They’re training in there right now.


Speaker 1: Student of the [unintelligible] School undergo an extremely demanding training ranges.


They strengthen their bones with bone-on-bone practice strikes and toughen their bodies with punches. Experiencing pain leads to feelings of anger and the urge to retaliate. The ideal of this training is to eliminate anger as a source of conflict.

Speaker 2: This is training to endure blows, even kicks without flinching.

Speaker ?: Wow! It looks really painful.

Speaker 2: A beginner’s body hasn't toughened up so these blows are painful but after two or three years, their muscles are tough enough to withstand it. The aim is to make the body tough enough to absorb attacks. It needs to be okay in that situation and by intentionally abusing the body, a mental endurance is developed. That's a major goal. You learn how to endure the discomfort. That leads to self-mastery of mind over body. You acquire great mental toughness. What do you think?

Speaker ?: I'm lost for words. It's very, very tough. I mean I personally have a pretty low pain threshold so just imagining how that must feel boggles my mind.

Speaker 1: [Unintelligible 00:22:24] uses some training methods that are almost unbelievable.


He breaks the wall with his fingertips and this not for demonstration purposes. It's a technique with a purpose. The fingertips are used for strikes at the opponent's throat.


And an arm that can snap a baseball bat can do the same to a neck, easily fending off an opponent's attack and only finally if necessary, exerting extreme force. This is Okinawan karate. By cultivating an unflinching body, the karate expert intimidates the opponent into losing their will to fight, thus pre-empting conflict.

Speaker 2: Everybody wants to be strong but of course, it's not easy. So, can you tell me, why have you chosen this path?

Speaker 3: Well, I think I just enjoy the process. Of course, the training is often grueling but that's a hurdle that has to be overcome. It's the only way to advance to the next level. It's a sense of happiness and satisfaction from making progress through the process. That's what keeps me going.

Speaker 2: That was all terribly impressive. But I kind of wondered, do you really need to go quite so far?

Speaker 3: The various cutter include fingertip strikes, toe strikes, thumb strikes. Unless they are capable of delivering a mortal blow, then they aren't all they could be. The cutta should not be just for show. They have to be perfected to the extent that they can be used in combat. They have to be ready for action. That means training even your fingers and toes.

Speaker 2: But this discipline is not just physical, is it?

Speaker 3: It's both physical and mental, the ability to withstand pain and to become accustomed to fear. That requires both physical and mental sides. You can't be mentally strong but physically weak or physically strong but mentally weak. They're like the two wheels on an axle. Both must roll freely. That's represented by cutta and kumite [00:25:52]. Karate has physical aspects but it also involves intense training of the inner person too. That's the essence of it.

Speaker 2: The ultimate object is not to use these skills, is it?

Speaker 3: We constantly emphasize that to start a fight is forbidden, absolutely. But look at me, I'm such a gentle soul.

Speaker 2: [Laughs].

Speaker 3: I can't imagine anyone making on me.

Speaker 3: I very much doubt whether anybody would want to attack you.

Speaker 1: The ideals of Okinawan karate are enjoying new appreciation around the world with many people wanting to come and study it in Okinawa.


In 2016, Okinawa Prefecture introduced karate day. It is part of a movement to spread information about Okinawan karate as an element of Okinawan’s unique culture.

Speaker 2: One thing that's been going through my mind several times today is that karate in a way is like the ultimate deterrent. You learn all these really lethal skills but you don't use them. On the other hand, you might do in a really really tight situation and it kind of got me thinking about nuclear weapons. The only thing is if you do use a nuclear weapon, then that's it. You know, we're all gone. And it kind of struck me that it might be an idea of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council for all go and learn karate instead.


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