Saturday, November 22, 2008

Zen and Martial Arts

Zen and Martial Arts : A short History of Yoshukai Karate

From India to China

Bodhidharma - Da Mo in Chinese, Daruma in Japan - was a blue-eyed guy and tended to stand out in a crowd. The Chinese, nicknamed him "The Blue-Eyed Demon.“ An Indian Prince and Buddhist priest, well-educated both in Vajramushti (an ancient Indian Martial Art synthesis of Pancratium and Raja Yoga) and in philosophy and theology, He combined Indian Buddhist philosophy with Daoist methodology, and came to China to preach his new synthesis: Zen.

“Zen” simply means meditation. In Sanskrit the word is "dhyana”. Dhyana and Zen appear to be unrelated words, but in fact they are similarly pronounced. Whenever a heavily voiced "D" precedes the "Y", as in “Did You”, the sounds are usually combined and pronounced as a "J". We say, "Di'ja go?." Ed-u-cate becomes "ejucate." Acad-i-an becomes "Cajun." Sanskrit's Dhyana (meditation) became "Jen" – written Chan in Chinese and pronounced Zen in Japanese.

The priests of Shao Lin Monastery in China were keeping a stale, orthodox regimen when "Blue Eyed Demon" arrived from India in the fifth century AD. They were following the "polishing" way of inactivity and removal, the way which claims victory over bodily temptations by avoiding other bodies and over contentious thoughts by erasing all thoughts. Too much sitting had numbed their brains and let their physical condition languish. The monks were not in good shape and definitely not able to defend themselves against gangs of thieves used to attacking them around the temple.

Bodhidharma designed a set of martial exercises designed to strengthen their minds and bodies. This was the beginning of the Shaolin Kung Fu (Shorin Ji Kempo in Japanese) style of boxing.

Bodhidharma's teachings became the basis for the majority of Chinese martial arts.

Or so legend has it.


From China, Buddhism and Martial Arts went South to Okinawa, an island East of mainland China and South of Japan.

“Tode” (Chinese Hand) was the indigenous form of fighting developed in Okinawa. Because weapons had been banned on the Island, Okinawans had refined empty-hand techniques and trained in secret. It had evolved under the influence of Chinese merchants and sailors.

Te developed primarily in three Okinawan cities: Shuri, Naha and Tomari. Each of these towns was a center to a different sect of society: nobility, merchants, farmers and fishermen, respectively.


The first public demonstration of Karate in Japan was in 1917 by Gichin Funakoshi, at the Butoku-den in Kyoto.

In 1922, Dr. Jano Kano, founder of the Japanese art of Judo, invited Funakoshi to demonstrate at the famous Kodokan Dojo and to remain in Japan to teach karate.

The sponsorship of Dr Kano was instrumental in establishing a base for karate in Japan. As an Okinawan "peasant art," karate would have been scorned by the Japanese without the backing of so formidable a martial arts master.

The Chinese character “To”- Chinese - used to write “Tode” – Chinese Hand - could also be pronounced 'Kara'. Around 1935 a meeting of Okinawan masters decided to replace this character by another one, also pronounced “Kara” but meaning “Empty”. This is how Karate which originally meant Chinese Hand, came to mean Empty Hand.

This was later changed to Karate-do by Gichin Funakoshi. The Do in karate-do means 'way' or 'path', and is indicative of the discipline and philosophy of Karate with moral and spiritual connotations.

Chito Ryu and Yoshukai

Sensei Chitose

Chinen Tsuyoshi, later to be known by the name Chitose was born in Okinawa in1898. He was the grandson of the famous Matsumura Soken

Chitose began his study of Karate at the age of seven (1905) under Aragaki Seisho, Higashionna Kanryo One fellow student would become Miyagi Chojun the founder of modern Goju Ryu

Funakoshi Gichin Sensei was also Chitose Sensei’s primary school teacher.

In 1922 he was accepted as a student at the Tokyo University Medical Center and became a doctor in 1924. This is why he is called Dr Chitose.

He opened his first dojo in Kumamoto in 1946. Chitose would take the wording "Chito Ryu" by 1952.

Sensei Yamamoto

In 1951, Yamamoto Mamoru began training in Karate under Sensei Chitose.

From 1958 to 1960, Yamamoto Mamoru, the head student of Sensei Chitose, won the All Japan Karate Championships.

In 1961 he opened his own dojo the Yoshukan in Kitakyushu, Japan.

In 1963 Mamoru Yamamoto started his own organization Yoshukai Karate, independent from Dr Chitose’s Chito Ryu.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting history lesson. Will it continue? I notice some spelling variations, which is expected I guess. I am a member of Shito Ryu Itosu Kai. I am a beginner student, having just started as a karateka at the age of 55 a year and a half ago. You visited my blog recently.