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Origins And Purpose

Okinawa-Te (Karate) was developed through the assimilation and modification of Chuan-fa (Chinese fist arts) by the Okinawans, and incorporation of these with existing fighting methods previously adapted from various Asian martial arts.


Among the various Chuan-fa styles, the one that had the greatest impact on the development of both Chinese and Okinawan fist technique was Shaolin-szu Gung-fu.


This system is thought to have been based on a series of exercises taught by Bodhi Dharma, the Twenty-eighth Patriarch of Buddhism under Sakyamuni, and founder of the Ch'an Sect, commonly known as Zen Buddhism. This system was further expanded and developed by the warrior monks of Shaolin Monastary.


The original concepts taught by Bodhi Dharma were contained in two volumes on Indian military arts, the I Chin Ching and Hsien Sui Ching, which he brought with him when he journeyed to China in the sixth century A.D.


These principles combined with the existing "Five Animal Forms" became the Shaolin-szu Gung-fu system. Although other Chuan-fa existed before the Shaolin-szu system, it was this system which became most widely practiced. Its growth, in part, can be paralleled by and attributed to the spread of the Ch'an Sect's teachings.


There were two schools of thought concerning individual combat, the External or Hardfist school, noted for aggressive attack technique, and the Internal school, noted for fluid defensive technique and non-aggressive philosophy. The Shaolin-szu Gung-fu originally was of the former type.


As the art spread, it also changed. Lifestyles, terrain, and other military arts were fused with the original by various masters in their travels. Two distinct styles evolved. The Northern style emphasized the use of leg techniques and the Southern style emphasized the use of hand techniques.


There is no way to determine when the Chuan-fa systems were imported to Okinawa. The Okinawans were under the cultural influence of China for some four-hundred years before the Japanese invasion in 1609, and paid tribute to the Ming rulers (1368–1644) during which time trade and the exchange of ideas and methods flourished.


What we do know is that in 1429 Lord Syo Hasshi succeeded in uniting the three Kingdoms of Okinawa by force, and that the military arts were highly regarded at that time. It can be assumed that both the Northern and Southern styles reached Okinawa, but it was the Southern style that found favor. This presents the possibility that Chuan-fa may have reached Okinawa during the period of Mongol rule (1260 to 1368).


During the (Northern) Sung Dynasty the capital of China was Kai-feng in Ronan province, but with the conquest of Northern China by the Chin Tartars in 1127 the capital was moved south to Hang Chou in Chekiang province, and so began the Southern Sung Dynasty. In 1205 Genghis Khan began his ruthless campaigns, which led to the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty (1260–1368) under Kublai Khan, and complete rule over north and south with the overthrow of the Sung accomplished in 1279.


Shaolin-szu Gung-fu, almost from its inception, became associated with political and self-defense societies, and in fact it was political pressure that caused the dispersion of the monks and the eventual decline of the Shaolin Monastary. During the early Yuan period, while the Sung controlled Southern China, the Hanlin-ji monastary, considered by some to be the second Shaolin-szu, where Chuan-fa was practiced, amassed 150,000 warriors and rose against Yuan rule. The rebellion was unsuccessful and the warriors were scattered. It is highly possible that as the Mongols drove south and finally conquered the Southern Sung capitol, which was close to the sea, many Chuan-fa experts sought sanctuary in other lands, one of which was Okinawa. Whatever the case, the facts on the migration of early Chuan-fa will remain vague.


On Okinawa, "Shaolin-szu Chuan-fa" was called by its Japanese equivalent, "Shorinji Kenpo." It is impossible to state exactly when Shorinji Kenpo became Okinawa-Te, but over the years the techniques took on Okinawan characteristics and were completely transformed, retaining little resemblance to the original Chinese forms.


A Te-like form was being practiced during the first demilitarization period (1430–1525). It is believed that this was the original import undergoing its first stage of revision. But it was during the second demilitarization period, beginning with the Japanese invasion by the Satsuma Clan in 1609, that Okinawa-Te emerged as a highly refined fighting art particular to the Okinawans and developed by their efforts.


The need for a highly specialized attack technique arose with the subjugation of the Okinawan people by the Satsuma Clan. Shimazu Satsuma, to guard against rebellion, confiscated everything resembling a weapon and forbade the ownership, manufacture, or import of weapons. Te spread rapidly underground and was taught and practiced secretly. This veil of secrecy accounts for the lack of factual information about its development. Even during this period when Te was in use, the only testimony to its existence was the statistics on the invaders that fell victim to its practitioners.


Originally the art was simply referred to as "Te." Gradually, as the system spread through Okinawa, the name of the town where the master resided and taught was affixed, such as: Shuri-Te, Naha-Te, and Tomari-Te. These particular towns were well-known for their Te fighters, and in fact were the cradles of Okinawa-Te.


As other masters began teaching, the different groups came to be called "ryu" (style or school) and were usually named after the teachers of the ryu, such as Kobayashi-ryu, Motobu-ryu, et cetera. This method identified the practitioner with a particular master.


Contrary to popular belief, student-masters did not break away from their masters to start new systems, but simply began teaching away from the central school as the demand for instruction increased, and normally with the approval and in many cases at the request of their masters. Names came into use simply as a method of identification, as one would state his city and state rather than just his country when asked where he lives. Although many ryus developed, the differences were few, as the techniques in most cases were simply stylized by the individual masters. Where new technique did exist, it was soon assimilated by the various ryus.


Very little factual information is available on the early Te masters or methods. As stated previously, the Okinawans adapted the External or Hardfist method of Shaolin-szu Chuan-fa as the most practical for their needs, and this gave birth to Okinawa-Te. Later in its development it split into two approaches to the application of technique. There was little emphasis on this until masters Anko Itosu and Kanryo Higaonna developed them into two distinct schools of thought. Their schools came to be known as Shorin and Shorei.


Both of these masters were students of Warrior-Master Sokon Matsumura.


Matsumura is now considered to be the patriarch of Okinawa-Te, and is probably the man most responsible for the organization of the various techniques under a single ryu.


It is with Sokon Matsumura that the factual history of Okinawa-Te begins. Matsumura was noted to be a Samurai of exceptional skill in all military arts, and especially in the fist arts. He was retained by Sakugawa of Shuri during the late eighteenth century. His position and reputation afforded him opportunities to study with many of the Te masters as well as the Chinese masters residing in Okinawa. Because of this we may assume that his knowledge of the existing methods was broader than others of his day. Due to his knowledge and skill, many practitioners sought his instruction.


Two of these were to become more famous than their master. They were Itosu and Higaonna. They went on to spread the teachings of their master, although their methods differed from his as well as from one another's. The differences probably came about naturally due to differences in physique and structure. Regardless, it was with these man that systemized training and style began.



The teachings of Master Itosu evolved into the Shorin school. Its students trained for speed and agility. The preference was toward flexible defenses, evasion, subtle changes in position, and long-range attacks using rapid combinations of technique. Their technique was based on the theory of the katas Naihanchi, Kusanku, and Chinto.


The teachings of Master Higaonna evolved into the Shorei school. Its students trained for great muscular strength, and preferred direct blocks, little change in position, and strong crushing attacks launched at close range, usually holding on to their adversaries. Their technique was based on the theory of the katas Sanchin and Seiuchin.


Though the Shorei school in its pure form was short-lived due to its lack of flexibility, both masters developed many excellent students who went on to expand, refine, and spread the teachings. Some studied both schools; others journeyed to China to continue their research under well known masters of Chuan-fa.


From the Itosu school came Choki Motobu, who taught a variation that came to be known as Motoburyu Naha-Te.


The Itosu school also produced Chojun Miyagi, who combined principles of the Internal Chuan-fa system, which he studied in Fukien province during a two-year stay in China, with Shorei methods to found the Goju system. Goju eventually replaced the original Shorei. This school was the first to introduce a marriage of Hard and Soft, based on the Theory of Sanchin and Tensho katas. Master Miyagi is generally credited with the creation of both katas, but it is likely that he created only Tensho after a sojourn to China, based on a variation of the Sil Lum Praying Mantis Chuan-fa method, and revised Sanchin.


With the exception of Miyagi, these masters gained fame through the introduction of their ryus to Japan.


During this time there were masters of equal or greater skill on Okinawa whose fame cannot be credited to Japanese influence, but who deserve recognition if one is to understand the growth of Karate.


We do not know who first referred to "Okinawa-Te" as "Karate." It was with the introduction of the art to Japan that the name took hold. The art was first introduced to Japan in 1917 by Master Gichin Funakoshi, who came at the request of the Japanese government. After a demonstration of the art he returned to Okinawa, only to come back in 1921, at which time he took up residence and began teaching in Waseda University. Shortly thereafter Masters Miyagi, Kenwa Mabuni, and Motobu introduced their styles.


Although Karate was demonstrated in Los Angeles California by Norimichi Yabe in 1920, it was not until the early 1950s that formal instruction was given in the United States. Credit for this must be given to Master Tsutomu Oshima, a student of Master Funakoshi. Through his efforts the Shotokan Karate system established a firm base in America.


Overseas, the ban on martial-arts training imposed by Gen. Douglas MacArthur was lifted, exposing U.S. servicemen to the training. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, many returned and opened small training halls across the country.


In 1963 and again in 1965, Okinawan Grand Master Shimabuku Tatsuo visited the United States to give instructions to his followers.


Master Shimabuku began his study under his uncle, a well-known master of Shuri-Te, and spent the rest of his life in the study and teachings of Okinawa-Te. For twenty-six years he studied various styles. From his uncle's tutelage he went on to study Kobayashiryu under Master Chotoku Kyan and Naha-Te under Choki Motobu. He then turned to Goju system and Master Chojun Miyagi. In both the Shorin and Goju systems Master Shimabuku was awarded Eighth Dan for his outstanding skill and knowledge.


During World War II Shimabuku Tatsuo's reputation as a master of Okinawa-Te caused the Japanese occupation forces to take him into custody and force him to teach. It was during this period that he formulated the methods which later came to be known as Isshinryu.


He decided to combine certain aspects of the various systems that he found most practical for his own use, and discarded those that were not suited to his physical structure and concepts of combat. He chose certain forms of the Goju system, but the basis in both form and performance is the Kobayashi Shorin system. He also incorporated the most advanced Bojutsu systems, which he studied under Masters Taira [sometimes spelled Hirara] Shinken and Yabiku Moden. The outstanding features of his system were the exclusive use of the short vertical-fist punch and the rapid delivery of technique in combination.


In 1957 Master Don Nagle, a student of Master Shimabuku, began teaching Isshinryu Karate in the United States. Of his original students, four of his most promising went on to spread the system in the East and Midwest; James Chapman, Richard Niemira, Robert Murphy, and Gary Alexander.


Master Murphy began his study of the martial arts with Jujutsu and Judo as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps in 1954. His interest in the martial arts led him to seek a greater understanding of the underlying principles and philosophies through the study of various arts and systems: Tang Soo Do, Hung Shaolin Gung-fu, Baa Hak Pai Chuan-fa, Shorinjiryu, Aikijutsu, and several Robujutsu systems. In 1965 he was awarded Fourth Dan, and in 1967 Fifth Dan by Master Nagle. In 1969 Master Shimabuku awarded him master's certification in Isshinryu Karate and Kobujutsu arts. In 1962 he resigned as Director of the Isshando Karate Association to open his own training halls, the Academies of Martial Arts, in North Bergen, Weehawken, and Hoboken, New Jersey.


Master Murphy became Headmaster of the International Institute of Judo and Karate in 1965 and held that post until 1970. He also joined the faculty of the College of Saint Elizabeth and Fairleigh Dickinson University and established two of the largest karate groups in the United States. In these and in Middlesex County College, Karate has become an accredited course of study. Since Master Murphy organized Karate International in 1965, institutions throughout the state have recognized the value of martial-arts training and have accepted programs under his supervision. At Saint Joseph's High School in Metuchen, New Jersey, for the first time in the United States, varsity and junior-varsity letters were presented to students participating in Karate training. The coaches' and outstanding Athlete Awards were also given to members of the club.


Karate International Incorporated was organized for the purpose of training professional instructors, standardizing training and sport competition methods, and expanding teaching capabilities to encompass all Asian studies and to accommodate educational, recreational, and business establishments, thereby benefiting all levels of society.


Master Murphy established his main training hall in Parsippany, New Jersey in 1970, the largest facility of its kind on the East Coast, and entirely designed and built by his students.


In 1968, based on the evaluation of his various studies, Master Murphy founded the system of Isshin Shorinjiryu Okinawa-Te. This is a discipline based on the consolidation of various bodies of knowledge about the Asian arts, and is recognized as one of the more fully developed methods of teaching, allowing a student to fully assimilate the broadened scope of knowledge and techniques of various styles.


After the formulation of the Isshin Shorinji system, Masters James Chapman and Ralph Chirico of the Isshinryu system found Master Murphy's concepts of training and philosophy to be more in keeping with the true goals of the ancient masters and joined with him and Master Leo Weber in spreading those concepts.


Master Chapman was a close friend and associate of Master Murphy from early training days. He also assisted in the formation of the Academies of Martial Arts and the Society of Black Belts of America. Master Chapman opened an Academy branch in Aurora, Illinois in 1963 and sponsored both the Illinois State Championships and the Tri-State Tournament. Master Chapman lost his life in an auto accident in the spring of 1971, a blow to the Karate world.


In 1965 Masters Chirico and Murphy met while training with Master Shimabuku. In 1967, Master Chirico, well known for his tournament participation and fair judging, converted to Isshin Shorinji and became a staff instructor of Karate International in 1970 and Regional Supervisor in 1971.


Master Weber was a student of JuJutsu until he met Master Murphy in 1961. From that day on an unwavering friendship developed. Credit for the realization of many of the hopes of Master Murphy can be given to him, as he laid the foundation for the development of Karate International Incorporated and became its first Vice President.


In 1971, Isshin Shorinjiryu Okinawa-Te was incorporated as a fraternal order guided by a board of trustees and elected officers from the membership, whose purpose is to guide the system according to its philosophy: Harmony of Principle, Integrity in Purpose, and Mutual Benefit.


Master Murphy feels that in a time of turmoil and uncertainty, people need a deeper understanding of themselves. He hopes Isshin Shorinjiryu will give direction to that quest. It is easily seen that Karate was more than a mere method of defending one's self. It is a demonstration of life as it could be and life as it should be, harmonizing elements of violent struggle with simple beauty and peace.


Karate is a scale of individual achievement, a very personal art which offers a great deal for those who have the foresight to seek it out.

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