I decided it would be a good idea for me to write a bit about the style of karate I am studying, mainly for your interest and my education. Though I could find a lot of information about the history of karate’s development, I could find very little information about what actually makes the Shukokai style different to other karate styles. Well, here’s what I’ve managed to find out:
Early history of karate
For hundreds of years the natives of Okinawa would defend themselves against attack with a fighting system that was a pre-cursor of karate called Te. Te was then heavily influenced by the Chinese art of Chuan Fa– a form of white crane kung fu brought to the island by visiting Chinese monks and envoys from around the 14th century and developed into the art of Tode.
During the 18th and 19th centuries the art of Tode developed separately into three styles: Naha-te, Shuri-te and Tomari-te. The Tomari-te style essentially merged with Shuri-te, though there are still kata practised today that can trace their lineage back to the Tomari-te style, including Wankan and Annanku.
Naha-te versus Shuri-te
Shuri was the capital of Okinawa and the King of Okinawa (Sho Tai 1847 -1879, deposed by Imperial Japanese decree during the Meiji restoration, he died in 1901in exile) lived in the heavily guarded Shuri Castle.
The original Shuri-te style was developed by the keimochi bureaucrats, who were the government officials living in the castle and doubled up as the king’s bodyguards. Names of note: Sokon Matsumura and Yasutsune Itosu both worked as bodyguards in Shuri Castle. The keimochi were Okinawa’s traditional nobility class from whom Gichin Funakoshi himself was descended.
Naha was a seaport village on the west coast of Okinawa, about 3 miles from Shuri. As a deep water seaport Naha received visiting sailors from all around the world. Often these visitors would be armed with weapons such as knives, harpoons and clubs. Kanyro Higaonna (b.1853) lived in Naha but spent many years in China where he learnt the art of Chuan Fa. He brought this back to Okinawa and developed it into the Naha-te style of karate – but did not teach it until 1902.
At the time karate was being developed (1800s), Okinawa was basically under siege from both Japan and China. The Tokugawan shogunate operated a brutal military dictatorship in Japan for over 200 years and with the Satsuma Samurai clan it terrorised the Okinawans, making them defenceless by banning all weapons.
The Shuri-te style developed by the King’s bodyguards is also known as ‘hard’ karate or linear karate, and is considered best suited to people who are light and quick on their feet. It uses the momentum of the whole body to generate power and impact.
Naha-te style, on the other hand, is also known as ‘soft’ karate or circular karate and takes many of its influences from Chinese Chuan Fa. This style emphasizes body building, muscle power, stationary rooted stances and keeping your hands in contact with your opponent, with lots of grappling. It generally suited the larger, more powerful man. It was a useful style for fighting in the dark if you were attacked at night as you walked home after a drinking session in Naha!
Itosu developed the Pinan katas practised by followers of the Shuri-te styles, whereas Higaonna developed Sanchin kata (a body building kata) typical of the Naha-te styles.
So where does Shukokai fit in?
Shukokai is a direct descendent of Shito-ryu, one of the four main systems of Japanese karate (the other three being Shotokan, Wado-ryu and Goju-ryu).
Shito-ryu was developed by Kenwa Mabuni around 1929. Mabuni is an interesting character because he studied karate under two very different masters, Kanryo Higaonna who developed the Naha-te style of karate and Yasutsune Itosu (b.1830) who taught the Shuri-te style of karate. By studying these two very contrasting styles Mabuni created a unique system of karate that included elements from both the Naha-te and Shuri-te schools.
Mabuni believed that Katas are the most important part of karate-do, and that it is necessary to understand the meaning of each movement in the Kata and to perform the Kata correctly. He was the first to introduce the concept of Bunkai kumite and Hokei Kumite, which demonstrated the purpose and showed the correct use for each Kata.
Mabuni believe that the final result of proper Kata and Kumite training is the ability to apply karate-do techniques in free Kumite. Practice of Kata also helps to transmit the knowledge encoded in Kata to the subsequent generation. Shito-ryu, unlike other karate-do styles, has many more Katas.
As a descendent of Shito-ryu, Shukokai also has elements of both Shuri-te and Naha-te styles. We practice all five Pinan katas as well as Sanchin and the related Tensho kata. In fact, Shukokai has 22 kata in total.
Shukokai was developed by Chojiro Tani in 1948. He studied Shito-ryu under Manubi and brought pad work into karate training. Shukokai is known for its relatively high stances, speed, hard hitting techniques and scientific approach to body mechanics, blending it with principles of modern sporting dynamics. Although very traditional techniques are taught through the kihon and kata, Shukokai also puts a lot of emphasis on sports karate.
Shukokai was brought to England in 1968 by SenseiTani and Sensei Kimura. The Shukokai Karate Union was founded in 1969 by Sensei Stan Knighton who was graded for black belt by Senseis Tani and Kimura. Stan Knighton remains Chief Instructor of the SKU and last year achieved his 9th Dan.
So, now I know where I’m coming from, so to speak! Here are some Shukokai karate videos: