Last time we discussed the five main categories of techniques Nagamine Shoshin Sensei layed out in The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do. As a quick reminder:
Kamaekata (構方): Methods of Posture/ Readiness. Tachikata (立方): Methods of Standing. Semekata (攻め方): Methods of Attack. Ukekata (受方): Methods of Defense/ Receiving. Kerikata (蹴り方): Methods of Kicking. Tachi as a stand alone word and Prefix -dachi as a Suffix. Keri as a stand alone word and Prefix -geri as a Suffix.
This time we shall look at the three subcategories within Kamaekata in the text. Again, as we go through these we need to keep in mind Sequential Voicing, called Rendaku (連濁) in Japanese. This is where the initial sound of a word slightly changes based on if it is at the beginning of a compound word or if it appears later in a compound word. Tachi, which last time we established is Stance, is one such phrase as it becomes -dachi when used as a suffix. This same thing happens with Kamae, as it is -gamae when used as a suffix.
Nagamine Sensei divided the Kamaekata into three further subcategories:
Firstly, lets look at Soto-hachiji Shizentai-dachi. This may look like a really long term, but once you understand each part, it becomes quite manageable. Let us start with the kanji, 外八字自然体立ち. Again that seems a bit more intimidating than it actually is. Therefore lets divide this up even more.
What is Soto-Hachiji (外八字)? For the purpose of this write up, no assumptions of previous knowledge will be assumed. Soto (外) is a prefix that means Outside. Hachi (八) means the number 8 (usually used when counting in class) and -ji (字) means Character. However in the case of Hachiji (八字) we are specifically looking at the shape of the Character 八, which resembles / . More on this in a moment!
What is Shizentai-dachi (自然体立ち)? In the previous write up (and the recap above) we have already established that the suffix -dachi (~立ち) means we are dealing with a stance. Shizentai (自然体) is a compound word combining Shizen (自然) and Tai (体). Shizen is Natural and Tai is Body. Putting all these pieces back together we have a Natural Body Stance. Now looking at some nuance between Japanese and English, it is worth noting that 自然体 can also be more roughly translated to Neutral Body, making 自然体立ち a Neutral Body Stance or a Neutral Stance.
So where does Soto-hachiji come back into play? Again the main focus here is 八字, or the shape / \ . Soto, being Outside, refers to the feet when facing forward, thus the toes are facing outwards with the heels slightly closer together. We do this while the Body is in a relaxed Natural/ Neutral position. Making it Soto-hachiji Shizentai-dachi (外八字自然体立ち).
Next, lets hack into Chokuritsu-fudo-dachi. The kanji for Chokuritsu-fudo-dachi are 直立不動立ち and you’ll find this is much easier to translate, as Chokuritsu-fudo is a single phrase. 直立不動 as can simply translate to, “Standing at Attention.” When we add our suffix of -dachi we have Standing at Attention Stance (直立不動立ち). Through the process of eliminating unnecessary redundancies we can cut this down to simply Attention Stance.
If you really want a breakdown of each individual kanji, I’m more than happy to oblige. If not, skip this paragraph. Choku (直) is Straight, Ritsu (立) is another pronunciation for Stand, so Chokuritsu (直立) is to stand straight. Fu (不) is one of the kanji for negation/ non- and Dō (動) is moving, so Fudō (不動) is non-moving. Finishing with our suffix of -dachi (~立ち).
Finally lets look at Heisoku-dachi. The kanji are 閉塞立ち.* Again they just get easier and easier. While Heisoku (閉塞) is it’s own distinct phrase meaning Blockage, Obstruction, Blockade, etc. I think, this is a case where we can look at both parts individually in order to hammer home the meaning. Individually, 閉 simply means closed or shut, and 塞 means close or shut. So we can see why Heisoku-dachi (閉塞立ち) is usually translated as Closed [footed] Stance.
Before sending you on your way, I would like to cover the fact that, even though the Kamaekata are only divided into these three subcategories they actually cover seven distinct postures or ready stances. Furthermore there are other Kamaewaza (構技) used in Matsubayashi Ryu. However, as Nagamine Shoshin did not include them in this particular section of The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do, it would be better served to save those for their own write up.
*I intentionally used the “wrong” kanji. The reasoning behind this decision is explained in a later installment, “Tachikata of Matsubayashi Ryu: Part 2.”
“The basic movements are largely divided into five categories: Kamaekata; Tachikata; Semekata; Ukekata; Kerikata.” -Nagamine Shoshin Sensei
Today, we are going to do a cultural dive into this sentence and translate these terms.
Firstly it is important to note the use of the suffix -kata. This is not the same Kata as what you are accustomed to hearing about, such as Pinan or Bassai. The suffix -kata, used here, utilizes the kanji 方 and translates to, “method of…”. Kamaekata are, “the methods of doing Kamae.” Tachikata are, “the methods of doing Tachi.” Etc.
Kamaekata (構え方) Kamae can be translated several ways, the most common in the nuance of martial arts is Posture or Readiness. In Matsubayashi Ryu you will most likely see Kamae translated as Ready Stance, which is a decent enough translation due to the fact we often use out Kamae at the begging and end of Kata (型) to show we are ready to begin. In The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do, Nagamine Sensei lists three Kamaekata: 1. Soto-hachiji Shizentai-dachi 2. Chokuritsu-fudo-dachi 3. Heisoku-dachi
Tachikata (立ち方) Tachikata, and it’s synonym Tachiwaza (立ち技), are commonly mispronounced by Western practitioners. Before we translate the term lets get this preliminary out of the way! Looking at the above list of Kamaekata, one can see where the confusion comes in. What is the difference between Tachi (立ち) and -dachi (~立ち)? Seeing them written in that manner kind of explains it already, but I am all for kicking a proverbial dead horse! When at the beginning of a compound word, or as a stand alone word, 立ち is pronounced Tachi. When it appears as a suffix in a compound word, ~立ち is pronounced -dachi. This change in pronunciation is called Sequential Voicing or Rendaku (連濁) in Japanese. We will discuss this again later, continuing to “kick” the dead horse.
Tachi simply means stand or stance. Tachikata are methods of standing, while Tachiwaza are standing techniques. There’s not too much more to say on Tachikata. In The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do, Nagamine Sensei lists ten Tachikata: 1. Shizentai-dachi 2. Jun shizentai-dachi 3. Jigotai-dachi 4. Naihanchi-dachi 5. Zenkutsu-dachi 6. Naname zenkutsu-dachi 7. Kokutsu-dachi 8. Kosa-dachi 9. Ippon-ashi-dachi 10. Iaigoshi-dachi
Semekata (攻め方) Semekata are probably the most iconic techniques in karate. Seme (攻め) comes from the verb Semeru (攻める) which means, “to attack.” As such Semekata are the methods of attacking. In The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do, Nagamine list four Semekata: 1. Seiken Waza 2. Yubi Waza 3. Uchi Waza 4. Ate Waza (pronounced “ah-tay”)
Ukekata (受け方) Uke (受け) is probably the most abused of the terms presented here. Mainly because it has two somewhat conflicting definitions in martial arts. The first comes from the verb Ukeru (受ける), to receive. The second is more nuanced for, defense. Many people want to translate this term as “to block.” However, it is extremely important to note that this translation is so limited in scope that it is debilitating, and should generally be avoided. Ukekata is best translated to, methods of defense, in my not-so-humble view. In The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do, Nagamine Sensei lists five main Ukekata: 1. Seiken-ude-uke 2. Shuto- and Haiti-uke 3. Shotei-uke 4. Hiji-uke 5. Hangetsu-barai-uke
Kerikata (蹴り方) Remember that dead horse we were kicking? It is time to bring it up again! Keri (蹴り) is another one of those terms that is pronounced differently when placed at the beginning of a compound word versus later in a compound word. As a stand alone, or prefix, it is Keri (蹴り), however as a suffix it is -geri (~蹴り). This is perhaps even more important to mention, as the stand alone word Geri means diarrhea, and one should not practice, “methods of diarrhea,” on the training floor! However, “methods of kicking,” are perfectly acceptable to practice on the training floor. In The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do, Nagamine Sensei subdivides Kerikata into five categories: 1. Kyobu-geri 2. Fukubu-geri 3. Kinteki-geri 4. Sokuto-geri 5. Nidan-geri
Now, prior to getting to this point you may have wondered, “But, Matt? What about this particular stance? That particular uke? Etc?” Within each of the subcategories listed there are more techniques, for example, Nagamine counts Neko-ashi-dachi under Jun Shizentai-dachi. However, for brevity’s sake, it is not worth mentioning each and every individual technique here.
But lets recap:
Kamaekata (構方): Methods of Posture/ Readiness. Tachikata (立方): Methods of Standing. Semekata (攻め方): Methods of Attack. Ukekata (受方): Methods of Defense/ Receiving. Kerikata (蹴り方): Methods of Kicking. Tachi as Prefix, -dachi as Suffix. Keri as Prefix, -geri as Suffix.
Previously I gave a breakdown of my training experience and certifications within the martial arts. Primarily doing so so that people would stop harassing my buddy Noah Legel. Then people started demanding to know about my teaching experience. As it’s no secret lets discuss it. Shall we?
As previously mentioned I went through the World Youn Wha Ryu Association’s Instructor’s Course when I was a 1st Kyu/ Gup. At this time my friend Corey Warner was running a class out of a Creative Arts Center outside of town on Tuesdays and Thursday’s. His work schedule changed, so he was looking for someone to take over the class. One day my instructor approached me after class and asked me if I would be interested. So I went and met with the owner of the center and was given a rundown of the program, being told I would be getting paid $10 an hour, wouldn’t need to worry about advertising the program, etc. That I would just show up, teach, and get paid.
So I did that for two month. When I took over, there were only three students in the class. I taught there for two months, and one day the business owner called me into his office and told me he was shutting down my class because their wasn’t enough interest. I never once got paid, and explained to him that I had half a dozen people who wouldn’t mind training there, but he wanted to use the time slot for tap dancing.
So even from my first teaching experience I witnessed the unethical side of the martial arts business. Joys!
Next, I just became an assistant instructor at several schools. I traveled around and helped out in different towns on certain days of the week. Monday I helped Master Sherry. Wednesday I ran a class for Abi Borrego. Occasionally I’d drive an hour to help my buddy Lance Bohnert. Etc.
In college, when I was a 2nd dan, I was given another offer, “Matt, we want you to open a school three towns over. We had one there in the past and it always did well.”
I explained, “With my current college and work load if I opened a school I’d only be able to run it two classes a week, and that’s not fair to the students.”
So a group of three 1st Kyu/ Gup girls took the offer instead and only opened the school for two classes a week… go figure.
A few months after opening, this new school was losing money and close to failing. So again my instructor asked me to go and help out. As an assistant instructor in the school I did a flier campaign and secured some business sponsors, growing the school from 5 students to 30+ students and added 4 more classes a week to the schedule. I continued to teach there until I finished my Associates Arts in Teaching and moved away to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree in teaching.
While at a four year university, I again just became an assistant instructor at a wide arrange of schools. I also became very involved with my college’s TKD Club, eventually becoming it’s Head Instructor. I was then asked, by my new instructor, to take over a few after school programs and schools. So I taught an after school program at Star Middle School, Miller Elementary School, as well as at a gym in Mount Vernon, Mo.
I was unsatisfied with the small space in Mount Vernon and was constantly turning down students, because I refused to take more students than our space would accommodate, so I partnered with the local BJJ school called The Bull Pen. We set it up so that if BJJ students wanted to train in Youn Wha Ryu they would get a discount and if Youn Wha Ryu peeps wanted to do BJJ they could get the same discount. I also reached out to local police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and school teachers to offer discounted training.
However, again we outgrew the space, so when two BJJ students started a new health and fitness gym, the owner of The Bull Pen and I partnered with them. They set up a huge mat area with half a dozen hanging bags in their new building, D-Fine Fitness, and we moved there after they opened.
I continued being the Head TKD/ YWR Instructor at D-Fine, Miller Elementary, Star Middle School, and my college’s TKD Club (as well as assisting at other schools) until 2012, when I passed the reins on to others and ventured into the next part of my life. This by no means implies that I am somehow great or above such things, I am simply explaining these instances for those who have been pestering my friends for such information.
In 2012 I became a camp counselor at Cub Creek Science Camp and asked the owner if I could teach Tai Chi. I am not particularly good at Tai Chi, nor do I enjoy it. However it is a healthy practice that provides benefits for things like lung capacity, balance, and flexibility. The owner of the camp agreed and we added it to the roster of eligible courses campers could take. We decided on Tai Chi because the owner felt TKD and Karate were a bit too violent for their program.
Also from 2012 to 2013 I helped out at the Missouri University of Science and Technology Youn Wha Ryu Club along with Garret Coffee, the club’s head instructor. Despite outranking Garret by quite a bit, I was more than happy simply helping out. Same as I always have.
From 2014 to 2015, I helped out in the eastern part of Missouri and was the Head of the Eastern Missouri Division of the World Youn Wha Ryu Association. A position I found myself in when my original instructors left the association in May 2013. I was also made the Head of the Western Illinois Division of the World Youn Wha Ryu Association.
This is leading up to when Jeremy Fox and Yujin (pronounced Eugene) Han attempted to Blackmail me. Their first step was to remove Anthony L. Smith Sr. and myself from Jeremy’s chain of command. Placing us both under the supervision of Marsha Fagan. Next they attempted to remove Anthony L. Smith as the Head of State of Illinois. Tired of all the politics and unethical behavior happening in Missouri and Arkansas, so in 2015 I took a job offer in Arizona and moved far away from the mess happening in Missouri, Arkansas, and Illinois. Anthony L. Smith Sr. even threatened Jeremy Fox with a lawsuit over Jeremy’s unethical business practices, and Anthony was kicked out of the World Youn Wha Ryu Association for making a legal stand against them.
In Arizona I assisted Marsha and John Fagan at several of the schools they ran and eventually took over the classes taught at Hope Baptist Church in Surprise, Az and the Youn Wha Ryu classes at Empire Martial Arts in El Mirage, Az. Empire Martial Arts being an MMA gym that also offered Boxing and BJJ. That was the second time in my life that I taught out of MMA/ BJJ gyms.
Also around this time I was training and helping out at Peaceful Warrior Martial Arts in Scottsdale, Az. Assisting Noah Legal and Richard M. Poage Sensei with video seminars, testings, and classes. Though it should be clearly stated my capacity there was primarily as a student, not an assistant instructor!
In May of 2017 I moved away from Arizona. I helped teach Youn Wha Ryu until 2018 at my original dojang. But by that time I was emotionally distant to both Youn Wha Ryu and Taekwondo, not having an interest in continuing to train nor teach.
In 2019, I joined the World Matsubayashi Ryu Karate-Do Association as a Shodan-ho, with the clear intentions of wishing to eventually open an Okinawan Karate dojo. However that day is no time soon.
Well… that’s it! That is a summery of my teaching history. Please stop harassing Noah demanding to know my story. Please stop harassing me. Please stop harassing people (period).
This may be a topic that will make a few guys squirm in their chair, but as you know I do not shy away from such topics.
If you didn’t know when a female human being reaches a certain age they begin menstruation. Part of this process is the sluffing off of a blood rich lining of the uterus which we call “a period.” This is completely normal and natural. Periods are often accompanied by cramping, bloating, and physical pain in many women, while in others these symptoms are less problematic.
During their period many women refrain from attending karate classes. Sometimes this is due to the above mentioned cramping, bloating, and pain. Other times it is simply due to fear that this blood rich mixture will soak through the Zubon (pants) of their Karate-gi. Especially during activities like stretching and kicking. I have even witnessed this happen first hand at a Judo tournament, where the match was postponed until the competitor had time to go clean up and switch out her pants. I have also witnessed this first hand as a middle school teacher. It is generally embarrassing for the young ladies involved.
As such many martial arts schools have started allowing dyed pants. When I was coming up through the ranks in Youn Wha Ryu we used white uniforms up till our equivalent of 2nd Kyu, then black uniforms starting at 1st Kyu. As a young man I remember how many women gave a sigh of relief when they were permitted to wear black. Even when I trained in the Shorinkan they utilized white and black karate-gi in a similar fashion, and again many women expressed a feeling of relief when they were permitted to wear black pants.
Now when it comes to the history, the wearing of dyed uniforms to hide blood stains is something that is very common in Kobudo circles already. But in karate there seems to he some resistance to this idea. Why?
1. Dogmatic views of Tradition.
2. Esoteric views of Purity.
Let’s address both.
When it comes to tradition we have to understand that the idea of a set uniform for training is actually a modern concept, that went through several changes since its inception. The idea was originally introduced at a 1906 meeting of the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, but it was actually intended to be a Competition uniform, and the task of creating such a uniform was given to Jigo Kano of the Kodokan. His original competition uniform was non-bleached cotton.
Now we get to our first changes:
1. Instead of only utilizing this uniform for mixed style competition, Kano began requiring it to be worn as a training uniform within the Kodokan.
2. He noticed that many of the young men were neglecting to wash their uniform between sessions and before said competitions. As such he began requiring the uniform to be bleached white. This was intended to stop the spread of bacterial infection, as well as encouraging the young men to wash their uniform more often.
3. The type of obi originally used was a traditional Kaku Obi. The obi went through several changes of its own: The knot was swung around to the front. The way the knot was tied was modified. Eventually a core was added to stiffen and reinforce the obi.
4. When the idea was introduced to Karate the material the uniforms were made out of also changed. Instead of a reinforced weave still common in Judogi and Kendo-gi, the Karate-gi utilized a duck cloth/ canvas material.
When it comes to the esoteric concept of Purity we have to understand a little bit about Japanese culture and linguistics, as this concept is getting Lost In Translation.
If you ever go to a Buddhist or Shinto temple in Japan, chances are the first thing you’ll notice other people doing upon entering is rinsing their hands and mouths at a fountain, upon entering the sacred grounds. Why? Purification? Yes… and no! This is called “Chōzu” which is short for, “Chōzu o tsukau” (手水を使う). Water for washing the face and hands.
Japanese are generally very hygienic people, Japanese scholars found out long ago that washing the hands and rinsing out the mouth was a good way to prevent the spread of illnesses in public places, like temples. As such most Japanese words that means Pure also mean, Hygienic and Clean. Such words don’t just describe cleaning your hands and mouths at temples. They also describe the hygienic practices used in hospitals, schools, gyms, etc. You know, places where bleach water happen to be used as cleaning agents…
Now back to blood!
With modern clothes washing technology the use of bleach isn’t needed to maintain sanitary clothing. We put our clothes in the Laundry Machine, make sure to add the correct amount of detergent, and depending on if the clothes will shrink we either throw them in the Drier or hang dry them. Hang drying still being the preferred method in Japan, where space is a commodity and most homes don’t have a Drier.
As such continuing to require bleached white pants is actually an outdated and dogmatic practice. And in my not-so-humble opinion, women (and lets face it, messy children) should not be forced to wear white.
Over the years I’ve heard many speculations about where the Karate-gi and Judo-gi came from. And while sometimes these myths and dogmatic teachings come close. Most of them show a general lack of understanding of historical Japanese attire. To help alleviate this problem, I’ve compiled a pretty long list of Japanese clothing
Wafuku (和服) Literally “Japanese Clothes.” This term came into popularity after the Meiji restoration in order to distinguish Japanese Style Clothing from Western Style Clothing, which is sometimes referred to as just Fuku (服) or Yōfuku (洋服).
Kimono (着物) Literally “Clothes thing.” Though this is a larger umbrella term, it can also refer to the layered robes that in the past were worn as daily wear but are now often worn as formal wear. It is imporant to remember than, NOT ALL KIMONO ARE FANCY SILK KIMONO!!!
Kosode (小袖) Literally “little sleeves.” This is an older style of kimono that has sleeves that tappered near the ends.
Furisode (振り袖) Literally, “waving sleeves.” This refers to long sleeved kimono traditionally worn by non-married women. It is considered formal wear and is often made of silk. It comes in many varieties. Kofurisode (小振袖), which have shorter sleeves, and ōfurisode (大振袖), which have longer sleeves, being the most common.
—Nagajuban (長襦袢) Literally, “long under clothes.” This is a light weight, full length robe that is worn under the kimono and is often considered part of the kimono itself.
—Hadajuban (肌襦袢) Literally “skin under clothes.” This is an undershirt worn against the skin. It is worn under the Nagajuban.
—Susoyoke (裾除け) Literally “bottem edge division.” This is an underskirt, worn along with Hadajuban, under the Nagajuban. Traditionally women didn’t wear underwear that went between the legs, instead wearing a Susoyoke.
—Koshihimo (腰紐) Literally, “hip string.” When wearing a Kimono or Nagajuban usually at least one Koshihimo is used for each layer. It is tied around the waistline in order to secure the robes in place.
Yukata (浴衣) Literally, “bath clothes.” The Yukata is a light weight, single layer robe that was originally designed to wear on the walk between the home and bathhouse. Now it is most often worn in the summer, as lounge wear around the house, or when going to festivals.
Montsuki (紋付) Literally, “family crest attached.” Montsuki Kimono are mostly worn by men to traditional Japanese weddings and other formal occasions. However Montsuki can refer to any type of traditional clothing which features the family crest and there are different types depending on where the crest is, how many crests adorn the clothes, and even the color. For example Montsuki Kimono (紋付着物) vs Montsuki Haori (紋付羽織), and Kuro Montsuki (黒紋付) vs Iro Montsuki (色紋付).
Samue (作務衣) Literally, “make-task clothes.” Samu (作務) refers to the chores that buddhist monks would perform around the temple. This included cooking, cleaning, and farming. In order to keep their holy vestments unsoiled they would wear these work clothes instead. Samue were also worn by craftsmen and artisans. They are still used for these purposes today, as well as for both work clothes and lounge wear around the house.
Jinbei (甚平) Literally “very peaceful.” Jinbei/ Jimbei are a type of summer wear worn by men, women, boys, girls, and even babies. It is most common as lounge wear and at festivals. They are made from a thin fabric and have a separated top and shorts.
Haori (羽織) Literally, “feathered fabric.” This refers to a formal overcoat worn over a kimono and hakama, but can just be worn informally over just the kimono.
ーHaori Himo (羽織紐) Haori are not of a crossover design and instead use a short cord (often decorated) to hold the garment closed around chest level.
Noragi (野良着) Literally “farm clothes.” A noragi usually refers to a durable jacket, often worn over just a fundoshi or kohakama.
Happi (法被•半被) Literally “law cover” or “half cover,” depending on the kanji used. These are short, straight sleeved jackets usually worn for festivals. They usually feature a family or group crest and in the past were commonly worn by household servants. Often they are worn with just fundoshi or kohakama.
Hanten (袢纏•半纏•袢天•半天) Hanten are short winter coats that contain a lining or cotton stuffing.
-Hikeshibanten (火消し半纏) This specific type of Hanten was worn by firefighters throughout Japan in the past. Hikeshi (火消し) is what firefighters were called during the Edo period and generally means “extinguish fire.”
Hakama (袴) Hakama is both the general term for traditional Japanese pants as well as being used for two distinct types: umanori/ bajō (馬乗り•馬上) hakama and andon (行灯) bakama (袴).
—Umanori/ Bajō hakama (馬乗り•馬上), or “horse riding hakama,” are bisected and are often pleated.
—Andon bakama (行灯袴), or “lantern hakama,” are more of a skirt with no individual legs. However when people usually refer to a hakama they are most likely refering to Umanori Hakama. Hakama are worn in formal wear over a kimono, however they weren’t always considered formal wear.
—Nobakama (野袴) Literally “field pants.” These are full length pants that are tapered down with a snug cuff around the ankle. These were often worn for long walks or journeys to protect the legs and kimono from dirt and damage.
—Kohakama (小袴) Literally “short pants.” These are shorts which are often hemmed just below the knee. However Umanori Hakama that have been bloused (or tied up) beneath the knee are also occasionally called Kohakama.
Momohiki/ Matahiki/ Nagapachi (股引・長ぱち) These are a tight fitting pants originally worn by craftsman as work pants, but now are mostly worn to festivals along with a Happi or by Taiko drummers.
Monpe (もんぺ) Monpe are often referred to as, “women’s work pants.” They are similar to Nobakama but are distinguished from the former.
Fundoshi are a collection of undergarments that go around the groin. They were originally men’s undergarments. However in more modern times women often wear/ wore them as well. With most types of Fundoshi you list the specific type along with the word Fundoshi: Ecchu Fundoshi, Mokko Fundoshi, and Rokushaku Fundoshi.
—Ecchu (越中) Named after a province in Japan this type of fundoshi is closer to what many westerners think of when we say “loin cloth.” It consists of a rectangle of material and a himo that goes around the waist. Once tied a flap will hang down in front.
—Mokko (畚) Literally a “basket fundoshi.” This fundoshi is names such because it resembles the baskets used by wood cutters to carry wood.
—Rokushaku (六尺) Literally “six foot fundoshi.” This fundoshi is named such because it is a single piece of cloth that is roughly six foot in length.
—Mawashi (回し) Literally “round.” Unlike the other types, Mawashi is usually not said as “mawashi fundoshi,” but rather just as “mawashi.” This is the type of garment worn by sumo practitioners, and by some festival goers.
Side Notes: Sashiko (刺子)- The type of weave on the upper part of Judo-gi, or a type of reinforced stitching which can be either functional or decretive.
Hishisashi (菱刺)- Rhombus or diamond shaped weave.
Boro (襤褸)- A type of patchwork used for Japanese clothing. Both kanji in Boro mean “rags” or “tattered.”
*All photos are being used for educational purposes and the rights go to their perspective owners.
Every individual, school, association, and style develop their own customs and culture as time progresses. One thing that varies greatly is how people retire their belts. Some people view belts as sacred objects to be honored and respected. Others view belts as a utilitarian garment. Yet, most reside somewhere in the middle.
Some retire their belts by hanging them on the wall, or making some such display in their home.
Others repurpose belts by making useful items out of them, such as a bag or quilt.
It is also common in many schools to pass belts along to the next generation. Passing on your colored belts to other Kyu or Gup practitioners, or even passing on an old black belt to one of your trusted students. There’s also the popular act of simply packing them away in a box and forgeting about them.
These sorts of cultural developments are the kinds of things I enjoy observing and pondering. So recently as I approached my Shodan grading in Matsubayashi Ryu, I gave some thoughts about what to do with my old belts, that I’ve had lying around for over a decade.
My belts were all awarded to me in a former style that I no longer train in. I have no sentimental attachment to them. I have limited living space. I no longer felt a need to hold onto them. So what to do?
Reflecting on my past as a Cub Scout and Boy Scout, I remember how beautiful and symbolic a flag retirement service is.
If you are not familiar with such, the proper way to retire a USA Flag is Retirement by Fire.
This appealed to me greatly.
So the day after testing for my Shodan, I talked with my current instructor and proceeded with my plan.
Often times we martial artist become too attached with the tangible trappings of our arts: the uniform, the belt, patches, training halls, tourist sites in The Mother Land, etc. Doing so we often forget what is at the core: training, positive relationships, abilities, and knowledge
Thusly, I have no reason to cling to the past. Like smoke, I’m moving on and moving up. Leaving the ashes of the past where they belong.
I am often known for the fact that I’ve spent the better part of a decade studying the history of the belt system. The history is something I would say I am very enthusiastic about. However when it comes to the practice of utilizing belts systems I am actually a less-is-more kind of guy.
Belts were originally used to denote assistant instructors vs students, which coincided with the concept of Yudansha vs Mudansha. This system only contained a white belt (Mudansha) and a black belt (Yudansha), and the system worked really well for around 50 years. It is also important to note that this system is still in use today in some styles of Karate, Aikido, and Jujutsu.
When the colored belts were introduced, the idea was that students outside of Japan needed more tangible motivation. So Mikinosuke Kawaishi intoduced the original colored belt system in Europe around 1937. When the idea of an expanded belt system made it back to Japan it was generally rejected. Eventually the Kodokan adopted one additional belt, making their Mudansha system for adults White and Brown, then White and Violet for youths. Karate adopted two belts using White, Green, and Brown for Mudansha. Again both these systems are still used to this day.
As martial arts became more global more belts and more systems became adopted. However too much focus on belts has had a negative impact on martial arts. Why?
-Too much concern about getting that next belt, rather than truly developing skills taught at each individual level. -Too much investment in “social hierarchies,” rather than positive social relationships. -Too much political jockeying based around belts and ranks. -Too much focus on money generation centered around belt promotions, rather than a focus on student development.
Thus in recent years we have seen people who have been attempting to combat this focus on belts. For example, when Jesse Enkamp ran his large seminars, the required dress code included that every student and instructor wear a Momo-Iro Obi (Peach Colored Belt/ Pink Belt) rather than their own belt. Another example is how Royce Gracie usually teaches seminars wearing a Blue Belt rather than the coveted Black Belt or Red Belt. Many schools no longer wear the “traditional” uniform and now wear modern sports wear instead, or have a “full-gi season” and wear sports wear the rest of the year.
So how can we get away from a focus on belts?
-Set a verbal precedent from day one. Something as simple as, “Even though we utilize the belt system, our focus is on physical and mental development at each individual level.” -Refer to students by their grade rather than as their belt. (Encourage those at your school to do the same.) -Place less importance on receiving a new belt. For example, instead of awarding it at promotions or tying it onto the student at the next class, just have the student discretely pick up their new belt at the desk or office area when they attend their next class. (Possibly with a note that touches on physical and mental aspects they did well on, where they still need improvement, and some general motivation.) -Instead of complimenting students on their progress to a new belt, compliments should focus around their physical and mental development. For example, don’t say, “great job getting your blue belt,” but rather something along the lines of, “Your Pinan Sandan is looking good! Your hard work really paid off.” (Make sure your higher ranking students also follow this precedent.) -If possible, simplify the belt system for adults. Use 1/2 to 1/3 the number of belts for adults as used for children. (Remember, a 9 kyu system has the same number of promotions regardless of if there are 9 belts, 6 belts, or only 1 belt.) -Lead by example. Be the change you want to see! When I removed my rank stripes I got berated and belittled hard core, then a few years later a few others, including “Master Instructors,” within the same association also started removing their rank stripes. (Note: some of these people were the ones who belittled me the most.)
Originaly Published in Totally Taekwondo Magazine March 2016
So have you noticed research often leaves you with more questions?
After exploring the history of the belt system and the Kyu/Dan system I was left with one question, “What came before these things?” And the answer was surprisingly easy to find.
Prior to the introduction of the belt system in 1886 and the Kyu/Dan system in 1883 the majority of martial arts in Japan used a license system known as Menkyo (免許).
The menkyo system was introduced to Japanese culture in the 8th century A.D. Like the Kyu/Dan system it was used in a wide arrange of crafts and skill based arts. Eventually this practiced was adopted by the many schools of Jujutsu and Kenjutsu, and was in wide use within the a few other Koryu (古流) or “old style” martial arts prior to the 1600s. For a list of Koryu martial arts please check out the Bugei Juhappan (武芸十八般), a list of 18 warrior arts, originally established by Hirayama Gyozo who lived from 1759 to 1828.
Each art was entitled to use its own license system. However, for the most part, you received one license when you began your study of an art, one when you become proficient enough to pass on that art to the next generation (Menkyo), and one when you have learned all the art has to offer and are able to add to the art (Menkyo Kaiden). The highest license was usually a Menkyo Kaiden (免許皆伝), this was given to diligent practitioners who often spent 30 or more years involved in serious study. Those that held a Menkyo were often considered eligible to become the successor or heir of the art; they were also eligible to become the next Soke (宗家) or “Head of House.” Though it is important to note that a new Soke had to be included on the Koseki (family registry) of the old Soke and transference was a legal procedure and not as easy as simply stating, “I want Joe to take over once I retire or pass away.”
Also tied into the menkyo system are Mokuroku (目録). A mokuroku is a hand written scroll detailing the entirety of a style. They include things such as techniques, philosophy, history, and lineage. Often times they are written in a poetic format making them harder to translate, but other times they are simply a compilation of lists. Though the Menkyo system has fallen out of favor within martial arts due to the introduction of the Kyu/Dan system, Mokuroku are still being used and produced in modern times. These scrolls are found in two formats: scrolls that read from right to left and scrolls that read from top to bottom. It is important to note that mokuroku were considered very precious items reserved for holders of a Menkyo or Menkyo Kaiden, and were usually hand written by the head of a style. The famous Okinawan karate master, Bushi Sokon Matsumura produced a hand written mokuroku during his lifetime and it is still within the private possession of his living descendants.
So how does all of this connect to what is currently done within more modern martial art styles?
Jigoro Kano trained in two main styles of Jujutsu in his youth; first he trained in Tenjin Shin’yo Ryu under Fukuda Hachinosuke followed by Iso Masatomo, unfortunately both these instructors passed away when Kano was a young man, so Kano transferred to Kito-Ryu under Iikubo Tsunetoshi. Some believe that Kano received Menkyo and inherited a Mokuroku from Tenjin Shin’yo Ryu, but unfortunately these claims have not been substantiated with documentation. However in October of 1883, Jigoro Kano received his Menkyo in Kito Ryu. Interestingly enough, this is a few months before Kano introduced the Kyu/Dan system within the Kodokan, his school of Jujutsu which later took on the name “Judo.”
As discussed above this was prior to the use of belts to distinguish between kyu grade students (無段者) and dan ranked students (有段者), so when Kano awarded a dan rank he commemorated the rank with a paper certificate/diploma called a Menjo (免状). This is what the norm in modern martial arts in Japan became and which was then carried on to Korea and other parts of the world.
These paper certificates were often considered legal documentation in countries of the orient and as such they needed to possess a few key elements. This may seem like common sense but they needed to say who was receiving the certificate, what the certificate is for, and who was awarding the certificate. Also to authenticate the certificate they needed to be stamped with seals.
So why use a seal?
In modern Western civilization we use our legal signature in black or blue ink on documents, however in East Asian civilizations seals in red ink were used for legal documents. In Japan these seals are known as Inkan (印鑑) and Hanko (判子). Legally registered seals for large organizations and corporations are referred to as Jitsuin (実印). So a martial arts certificate will often have multiple seals often one for the organization and one for the individual awarding the certificate.
However dan certificates are not the only type of certificates that exist within the world of martial arts. Just like a Menkyo were used as licenses to teach, teaching certification also became the norm within most styles. And certificates were also awarded for honorary titles, called Shogo (称号) in Japanese, such as Renshi, Kyoshi, and Hanshi. These were spread through Judo’s involvement in the Dai-Nippon Butoku Kai, which regulated many formal martial arts and martial sports in Japan.
So how’d this practice work its way into Taekwondo?
As Okinawan Karate instructors began working with members of the Kodokan and the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, they started to adopt many of the practices within these groups. So it comes as no surprise that when Karate adopted the Kyu/Dan system, belt system, and Dogi in 1924, Gichin Funakoshi also adopted the use of Menjo, awarding 7 of them in April of that year (13th year of Taisho). One of these 7 certificates has been made public by the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society, and will be included with this article. It is the Shodan certificate of Kasuya Shin’yo, awarded by the Toudi Research Society which was headed by Gichin Funakoshi.
Finally martial arts such as Kendo, Judo, and Karate made their way to the Korean peninsula during and after the Japanese Annexation (1910-1945) and this practice of using certificates was brought to Korea as well.
During this time martial arts schools had to be approved by the Korean government due to the partial ban on martial arts in Korea. This is again where seals and legal documentation comes in. Many martial art students would use their martial arts certificates as a legal form of identification. This leads us back to the seals used on them. The personal seals used by individuals referred to as Hanko (判子) in Japanese are called Dojang (도장) in Korean, not to be confused with Training Halls (도장, 道場) which is a homonym. The more formal Inkan (印鑑) in Japanese are called Ingam (인감, 印鑑) in Korean. And the registered seals called Jitsuin (実印) in Japanese are referred to as Silin (실인, 實印) in Korean, as 実 is a simplified way of writing 實. Some certificates even had passport pictures pasted to them making them even more useful as forms of legal identification.
So how has this changed?
As the governmental bodies of Asian countries began to have less and less control over the teaching and regulation of martial arts, certificates began to lose their standing as legal documentation. Stamps and seals began to be replaced by western signatures. The Japanese and Korean languages began to be replaced with English. Beautifully hand written certificates were replaced by mass printed, digitally produced ones; some of which are quite beautiful in their own right. As styles and organizations began to splinter and diversify, parent styles and organizations lost their absolute authority.
One important thing to understand is that the name of karate, and it’s various styles, have changed many times throughout history.
When it comes to the names of individual styles, such as Shotokan, Goju Ryu, Matsubayashi Ryu, etc. we have to remember that on Okinawa this wasn’t really a thing until after Karate was introduced to mainland Japan. Mainland Japanese were very focused on individual styles and these styles were usually registered with governing bodies, such as the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai. However this isn’t really how Karate-ka did things in Okinawa. So the first registered and specific style of Karate was Goju Ryu, which was officially named after a demonstration event in Kyoto, Japan that took place in 1929.
Some say that before this point it was more common to refer to karate-ka and karate “styles” by their regional flavors. The three most common are Shuri-Te, Naha-Te, and Tomari-Te, or in Uchinaaguchi: Suidi, Nafandi, and Tumai-Di. However there is credible research to suggest that this naming scheme wasn’t really made popular until the 1900s as the world outside of Okinawa began taking an interest in the art. This holds true especially in the 1920s, as this naming convention became more used in modern times to understand where kata and instructors were from, than anything else. However there are several problems with this naming convention. It is important to remember that these three villages are only roughly three miles apart. Even in the past, you could easily walk from one to the other to the other all in one day. As such, it was relatively common for practitioners who taught or trained in one of these “styles,” to actually live or work in a different village. For example, Anko Itosu lived in all three at different points of his life. Even when this naming convention was relatively new, Itosu was living in Naha but supposedly teaching Shuri-te, and some of the Shuri-Te he was teaching were kata he learned when he lived and trained in Tomari. Another example would be Choki Motobu, who lived in Shuri but trained in “Tomari-Te” under Kosaku Matsumora, as well as “Shuri-Te” under Anko Itosu (who lived in Naha at the time). So we see how easily this naming convention falls apart.
Now for the big two: Karate (空手) VS Karate (唐手). Empty Hands VS Chinese Hands, or more specifically Tang Hands as the character 唐 refers to the Tang Dynasty of China rather than China itself. We know that in 1935 there was, “The Meeting of the Masters,” as it is commonly called, where one of the topics discussed was officially deciding on which of these two to use. Why was such a decision needed? Around this time in Japan there was a very strong Anti-Chinese sentiment (remember the Sino-Japanese war broke out in 1937 and lasted till 1945), and referring to the art as “Chinese Hand” was considered off putting and distasteful. Thus it was unanimously decided at this April 1935 meeting that the art shall be officially named “Empty Hand.” This being homage to Hanashiro Chomo who had been using the characters 空手 since 1903, if not even earlier, as documented in a Newpaper article he published in that year. Between 1903 and 1935 most people who published articles and books on the art had used 唐手, which can also be pronounced Tō-te, or more correctly, Tō-di. However it is important to note that it is highly likely that the use of 唐手 was first used by Anko Itosu as a way to make Karate seem more refined, as historically, in Japan and Okinawa, Chinese goods and philosophies were considered high quality and refined.
So far we have tackled a lot, the founding of individual styles, regional styles, Empty Hand, and Chinese Hand, but here’s the thing, throughout the longest time in history the martial arts which we talk about was simply called Hand. Not Empty Hand. Not Chinese Hand (Tang Hand, but you get the point). Not Village XYZ Hand. Just Hand. According to the resercher Scot Mertz, the oldest known reference to Ryukyuan (the name of the Kingdom Okinawa was a part of before it was taken over by the Japanese) Hand comes from a 17th century author. Two hundred years before we see any of the others I’ve mentioned being used. As we should remember, historically, Karate is a mixed martial art. Absorbing influences from many martial arts and refining it to suit the Okinawan people, and they just called it Hand. In standard Japanese (which they didn’t speak) that is Te. In Uchinaaguchi (the main language spoken in Okinawa prior to the Japanese takeover) that is Ti or, when used as a suffix, -Di.
Originally published in Totally Taekwondo Magazine in the April 2015 edition. However this is a living document that continues to be edited as new information is learned. As all research projects should.
In 1883 Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo (柔道), began what would develop into not only the belt system but also the kyu and dan system used in martial arts.
It was in 1886 that he borrowed a practice, used in Japanese swimming, of tying black ribbons around the waist of those that were considered proficient in the sport of swimming. This is when he awarded kuro obi (黒帯) to Tsunejiro Tomita and Shiro Seigo. This is also the first time in the history of the martial arts that a “black belt” was awarded and the style of obi called a Kaku Obi (角帯) was used to achieve this means.
Prior to this, right after New Years of 1884, Kano adopted the Kyu and Dan system (段級位制) used in many traditional Japanese activities such as Shodo (calligraphy, 書道), Ikebana (flower arrangements, 生花), and Go (classic strategy game). He initially utilized 3 Kyu grades (級) as well as 3 Dan ranks (段). At first there was no physical representation of rank, but after a boom in students in 1886, the Kyu grades became represented by a White obi (白帯) and Dan ranks became represented by a Black obi (黒帯). Outside of representing beginner verses proficient student, as well as kyu vs dan, these belt colors had no real meaning.
At the time this basic belt system was introduced, there was no standardized practice clothing or keikogi (稽古着), so students simply trained in whatever they wore that day. Work cloths and school clothes were the norm in the Judo Dojo (道場). But those of you experienced in any sort of grappling knows that grappling takes it out of lighter weight clothing. The solution was a heavy jacket that could tolerate being grabbed, jerked, yanked at, and dragged along the ground. After several stages of development Kano produced a standard Judogi (柔道着) after a 1906 meeting for the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai.
The first black belts of karate were awarded by Gichin Funakoshi to seven of his students on April 12th, 1924. He held a formal ceremony where he presented black obi to Hironori Ohtsuka (Wado Ryu’s founder), Shinken Gima (Gima-ha Shoto-Ryu’s founder), Ante Tokuda, Shinyo Kasuya (Keio University professor of German), Akiba, Shimizu Toshiyuki, and Hirose. Gima and Tokuda were cousins who were both raised, and trained, in Okinawa before moving to mainland Japan. Also at this time Tokuda was awarded nidan, while the others all received a shodan. It is said that Funakoshi himself never received a formal rank, but some of his students say that he was a 5th dan prior to his death.
The next type of belts were Kohaku Obi (紅白), which were initially introduced in the year 1930. These were Crimson & White belts to be used for Kodansha (高段者) or high ranking dan practitioners. The colors for these belts were chosen from the colors used at the Kohaku Shiai, a Judo competition held every year, and these belts were initially considered optional, mainly being reserved for special occasions. It is unclear if these belts were specifically introduced to represent a high ranking practitioner or the holder of a Japanese titles, such as Renshi, Kyoshi, and Hanshi, but regardless different styles and organizations use them in varying ways. These belts were eventually brought over from Judo to Karate, and are even used in some styles of Okinawan Karate. The main type of Kohaku Obi also goes by the names Kagamiita Obi (鏡板帯) and Dandara Obi (段だら帯).
Between 1935 to 1937 a Japanese Judo instructor living in Europe, Mikinosuke Kawaishi, decided that his students needed a bit more tangible encouragement, so he introduced the colored belts. So now, instead of having one belt representing 6 kyu grades, there were 6 belts representing these same 6 kyu grades. Mikinosuke’s original belt system contained the colors: White, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple, and Brown. However there is a reason for the original colors and why they are represented in this order. All you had to do was take your existing white belt and dye it multiple times getting you all these colors. If you went in a different order this trick wouldn’t work, so it had to be White then Yellow then Green then Blue then Purple all before Brown Belt. Mikinosuke is also who most likely introduced the concept of Rank Stripes, around the same time.
When the Japanese heard of the colored belt system it was initially rejected. Instructors believed the focus should be on learning and that awarding superfluous belts was unnecessary. However, Jigoro Kano did adopt two additional belts. For adults Kano adopted the brown belt to represent adults who were 4th Kyu through 1st Kyu, and for children he adopted a purple belt to represent the same Kyu grades. Karate initially adopted two additional belts as well, but did not distinguish at this time between child belts and adult belts. Thusly karate adopted an additional green belt and brown belt.
Well lets fast forward ten years to 1945. What happened then? WWII ended, as did the Japanese annexation of Korea. Korean students were flocking home! Some of which had never even laid eyes on Korea before… Some of these Koreans were martial art students of Gichin Funakoshi’s lineage or Kanken Toyama’s lineage. Many of these students would go on to become the “Fathers of Taekwondo,” such as Yoon Byung In (Shudokan 4th dan), Yoon Gwe Byung (Shudokan 3rd dan), Chun Sung Sup (Shotokan 3rd dan), Byung Jik Ro (Shotokan 3rd dan?), Choi Hong Hee (Shotokan, rank heavily debated), and Won Kuk Lee (Shotokan 4th dan). It is also important to note that around this time the rank system in Karate changed in Japan. Prior to 1945 Karate maxed out at 5th dan, but after 1945 Karate changed to max out at 10th dan. This is important to keep in mind when we talk about how things differ in Japan, Okinawa, and Korea from this point on.
Since the simplified colored belt system was introduced to karate, there is a general disagreement between Koreans and Japanese. Some will tell you it was White, Green, Brown, and Black belt others will tell you it was a White, Blue, Brown, and Black belt. Honestly, after much research, I firmly believe it was the green belt due to testimony by Japanese instructors that began their training back in the 1940s, as well as a few Korean Shotokan practitioners who trained in Tokyo in the 1930s and 1940s. But in Choi Hong Hee’s 1965 book he outlined a system that utilized 8 kyu grades and 4 belts: White, Blue, Brown, and Black. Also in 1965 Choi became the president of the Korea Tae Kwon Do Association.
Other groups in Korea separated and used different systems. For example Hwang Ki, who eventually founded the Moo Duk Kwan teaching Tang Soo Do (one of the Korean names for Karate-Do), used White, Green, Red, and Midnight Blue. This system traded out the Brown Belt, used in other styles of Tang Soo Do, for Red, and traded out the Black Belt for Midnight Blue. Hwang Ki also attributed his color system to the changing of the seasons, and is one of the first individuals documented to assign esoteric meaning for the individual colors.
Many believe that the Korean use of a Red Belt for a Kyu rank was a slap in the face to the Japanese, and many Koreans will agree. However you’ll note the use of the Red Belt for 9th and 10th dan in Japan hasn’t been mentioned yet in this article. Why? You’ve probably noticed, by now, that most the major changes in the belt system happened in Judo before being brought over to Karate. When the Koreans were returning home, Karate did not use the Red Belt in this manner. See, the Red Belt for denoting 9th and 10th dan was introduced, by Judo, in 1943. It didn’t make its way into Karate until the 1950s. Sources suggest this was after Hwang Ki, and many others, had already started using Red Belt for Kyu grades. It is also worth noting that some Okinawan instructors associate the Red Belt with the concept of Kanreki (還暦), which in this case represents 60+ years of practicing the arts.
Back on Okinawa there was a meeting between the heads of several styles, around 1965, to decide on standards for rank and titles used within Okinawan Karate. Prior to this, there were no standards and due to how the rank system in Karate went from maxing at 5th dan to maxing at 10th dan, no one was really sure on how to handle things. For example, the youngest legitimately awarded 10th dan in Japan and Okinawa went to a 34 year old Eizo Shimabukuro, a proponent of Shorin Ryu (少林流), and was awarded in 1959. So in 1965 the Okinawans set general time-in-rank requirements and age restrictions on dan ranks, as well as establishing the Title Stripe system, in place of the Kohaku Obi. The Title Stripe system goes up to 5 sets of stripes, but most people only wear a max of 3 even if they are permitted to wear more.
It is part of this author’s hopes that this document will help dispel many of the myths involving belts, as well as dispelling “belt worship.” It is my hope that putting the practice of using belts into their proper historical perspective will lessen our reliance on them and diminish our irrational feelings about them. For example, we can see the belt system was only introduced once the Kodokan Dojo, of Judo, grew to well over 130 students. The color belts were originally just a tool for unmotivated students. Highly coveted Title Belts, such as the Kohaku Obi, Red Belt, and black belts with Title Stripes, are actually much more modern than most people believe and were originally considered optional. The practice of using Rank Stripes actually predates the practice of Title Stripes by nearly three decades. It’s always best to know where these things come from so we have a clearer picture of where we wish to go in the future, especially if we view ourselves as traditionalists.