Questioning concerning transmission and a hypothesis

Questioning concerning transmission and a hypothesis

Extracted from the book:
Histoire de Karaté-dô
Written by Kenji Tokitsu
[Link to the Official Kenji Tokitsu website]
Editorial SEM, Paris

Master Shigeru Egami deepened with passion within the karate he learnt from Master Gichin Funakoshi. During his search for effectivity he doubts his techniques. To resolve this problem he undertakes a personal research and confronts a great number of obstacles, among others, sicknesses that get more and more severe as he gets beyond forty years old.

Master Shigeru Egami’s way of karate results in a method of peace, heiho. Sure his distancing is personal, but it most evidently represents one of the directions that the okinawan karate evolved on the main islands of Japan. Actually, as Master Egami wrote, as heiho ended up defining his karate he submerges his roots in ancient Japanese tradition.

Shigeru Egami trained many years under the direction of Gichin Funakoshi. He received counsel and teaching directly from him in his karate development. Actually he clearly states that he was continuing the way laid out by his master. Why did he then torment himself so much while reconstructing his karate? If the Master’s transmission was effective, he would be able to counsel him and lecture him, even in his elder years. Master Funakoshi died in 1957 when Master Shigeru Egami was 45 years old. Having started karate at the age of 18, Master Egami knew Master Gichin Funakoshi for 27 years. Being one of the most important disciples he could have received practical indications that would have given him the necessary perspective for the future evolution of karate from that point on. Now, even with his knowledge and his possibilities, he had to doubt and start again the construction of his karate; we can consequently believe that the knowledge he obtained from traditional karate were not that important because, generally, in the transmission of a combat art there exist indications for the evolution of a person. A beginner progresses, in time he receives evolutive indications from the master and after ten or twenty years of exercise these help him/her find an orientation that will direct his practice in the next ten or twenty years. However, in the course of his research Egami abandons the exercise of the makiwara, an inseparable element in karate training and goes as far as condemning its very existence; he furthermore, audaciously transforms the techniques he had learnt until that moment in time. What does this mean? With respect to makiwara training, there are two possible hypotheses:

1) For true karate or superior level karate, as Egami considered his karate, makiwara exercise is not only useless but also harmful. It stops technical progress and has a pernicious effect on the health. It is therefore a criticism on the ancient Okinawan karate methods based on the discovery of a superior method.

2) Master Egami did not learn the real use of the makiwara because he did not understand the correct use of it. If we admit this hypothesis, Gichin Funakoshi did not teach his students how to exercise correctly on the makiwara. This makes us suppose that on Okinawa makiwara training methodology that exists, and is transmitted, can obtain a more positive result than the one that Egami obtained, but this method has not been introduced in Japan.

In any case, based on the idea of heiho, Shigeru Egami creates a karate that is completely different from the one practiced on Okinawa. The concept of heiho is one of the forms resulting from the Japanese Martial Arts, where, after reaching the end within the search for combat effectivity, the final objective passes from death to life. This notion is close to that of budo, that has its roots in the Japanese warrior martial arts. Heiho as well as budo, is not a simple combat art, nor a direct reformulation of the ancient warrior practice, one and the other point towards the development of men/women through the practice of martial arts.

Even though budo as a concept existed before the Meiji period (starting in 1868), the meaning was considerably different from the one we understand today. Nowadays the notion of budo we use appeared directly linked to the foundations of judo and later kendo based on the old forms of jujutsu and kenjutsu. It is actually a modern concept.

The concept of heiho appeared quite a bit earlier in Japanese warrior’s history, but it was not as elaborated as the budo concept within the practice of modern martial arts, it was a concept on the periphery of the martial practice, as a possible sublimation of the warrior arts.

The idea of a martial art developed in Japan in the following stages: how to win destroying the opponent, how to win using less force, how to win without killing the opponent, how to win without hurting the opponent, how to avoid war and, finally, how to establish peace. Some warriors in the Edo period (1603-1867) included this idea in the elaboration of their combat arts but it was not widely extended and without outward expression it permeates the warrior martial art ideology.

We can see the emergence of heiho and budo within the points of view of the sword masters in the XVII century. For example, Miyamoto Musashi faced more than seventy duels to death during his youth and killed most of his opponents. The combats in the last years of his life are little known. Musashi at this point controls his opponents without giving them a blow. He attained a level where he could either immobilize or reject his opponent without touching them. These were not exercises with close students, rather opponents that were trying to give him a mortal slash. When an opponent loses under these conditions, without receiving a blow, he is subjected to a profound reflexion upon his technique, his being. It is a very important discovery in the art of the sword, because, instead of killing, the sword becomes a medium that can make a being search for the meaning of life. This idea is present in the notion of heiho and it deeply impregnates the martial art conceptions of the Edo period Japanese warriors (bujutsu).

To beat an opponent without giving a blow is the reference model that is searched for in kendo with the combat through kizeme (offensive through ki). In kendo, all technical learning and the physical exercises are considered methods to attain a combat at this level. The sportive practice of combat is also considered a step along this long training process.

So, both notions, budo and heiho, are anchored deeply in the traditional Japanese warrior culture; it is not part of the Okinawan culture whose cultural formation is quite different from the Japanese. In this sense, we can consider that Master Shigeru Egami’s karate as the result of the fusion of Okinawa’s karate and the practice concepts of the Japanese Martial Arts. Karate, introduced to the main islands of Japan during the 1920’s developed progressively. We must therefore accept that in the course of this karate diffusion, it evolved in Japan, fusing itself with the two ideas of the traditional Japanese Martial Arts. Master Shigeru Egami’s karate is an example of this.

Originally to spanish by Xavier Mínguez, Shotokai de España