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Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture
The masters disagree

I’ve been reading some of the writings of Mabuni again recently. I think some of the points were he disagrees with his contemporaries could be interesting to highlight. What I want to show is that there was not a consensus on all issues, but nevertheless a mutual respect.

No judgment is intended here; simply an observation that people disagreed in the past just as they do today.

Disagreement 1

Based on fighting eight opponents, Koshokun [Kanku-Dai] is related to every other kata” – Gichin Funakoshi, Karate-Jutsu

The meaning of the directions in kata is not well understood, and frequently mistakes are made in the interpretation of kata movements. In extreme cases, it is sometimes heard that "this kata moves in eight directions so it is designed for fighting eight opponents" or some such nonsense” - Kenwa Mabuni, Karatedo Nyumon

Mabuni would seem to regard Funakosi’s statement as “nonsense”?

Disagreement 2

Recently [Mabuni] thought of moving to Osaka and so he did. There he opened  the first  karate-jutsu club at Kasai University … Now that we are both actively working in Toykyo and Osaka, karate-jutsu will undoubtedly spread throughout the nation” – Gichin Funakoshi writing an endorsement for Mabuni’s “Karate Kenpo: The art of self-defence”

So Funakoshi is primarily responsible for the karate of Tokyo. And this is what Mabuni had to say of the karate in that area:

The karate that has been introduced to Tokyo is actually just a part of the whole. The fact that those who have learnt karate there feel it only consists of kicks & punches, and that throws & locks are only to be found in judo or jujutsu, can only be put down to a lack of understanding … Those who are thinking of the future of karate should have an open mind and strive to study the complete art” – Kenwa Mabuni  1938

The karate that Funakoshi taught did include throws and locks – as his writing attests – but this would seem to be criticising the “karate of Tokyo” for lacking such methods; and Funakoshi was a key player in introducing karate in that area. So here it would seem Mabuni is referring to the karate that Funakoshi helped spread (not his actual karate) as being “incomplete”?

Here is what Funakoshi wrote about on Mabuni for Mabuni’s book on Seipai in 1934:

Kenwa Mabuni is my childhood friend and a prominent modern expert and researcher in karate-jutsu … A warm and sincere gentleman, if he did not know something he would ask, and never thought of criticising another style.”

There is certainly criticism in the above quotes, but it would seem to be indirect and impersonal.

Mabuni would even approach one of his juniors if he did not know something. He was not concerned with who was senior and who was junior and was respectful to everyone. After he learnt something new, Mabuni would never keep it to himself and would introduce it to his association members who would use it for their own studies. The old way was to keep such information secret, but Mabuni chose to be open and disclose information. As a result it is no exaggeration to say that he is the most knowledgeable karate-jutsu teacher”

Very kind words and an obvious respect and friendship despite disagreement on some points. It’s also worth nothing that Mabuni wanted Funakoshi to contribute an endorsement to his book which tells us a lot about the high regard he obviously had for Funakoshi.

Disagreement 3

It is necessary to drink alcohol and pursue other fun human activities. The karate of someone who is too serious has no "flavour." – Choki Motobu

Those who practise karate-jutsu should refrain most of all from alcohol and women. Alcohol will case your fists to tremble, and your practise to become frivolous and effeminate. All of these things should be detested” –  Kenwa Mabuni

Big disagreement on that issue, but Motobu was a fan of Mabuni’s technique:

For technique, there is none better than Kenwa Mabuni.” – Choki Motobu

Interesting contrasts I think!

All the best,

Iain

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi Iain,

that is an interesting thread, but I feel that some of the above statements are a little out of context.

Iain Abernethy wrote:
Based on fighting eight opponents, Koshokun [Kanku-Dai] is related to every other kata

That statements suggests that Funakoshi endorsed "modern style bunkai" where one stands in the middle and is getting attacked by eight others standing around in a circle. But what I feel he meant is that due to the many turns and different angles in Kanku Dai you learn how to move in a narrow space using those turns and the angles to avoid attacks from multiple opponents.

Iain Abernethy wrote:
The karate that Funakoshi taught did include throws and locks – as his writing attests – but this would seem to be criticising the “karate of Tokyo” for lacking such methods; and Funakoshi was a key player in introducing karate in that area. So here it would seem Mabuni is referring to the karate that Funakoshi helped spread (not his actual karate) as being “incomplete”?

Besides the fact that Tokyo was a hard fought market in terms of Karate (Motobu Choki and Toyama Kanken also taught in Tokyo) it is a fact, that Funakoshi taught another kind of Karate in his private lessons at the Shotokan in contrast to the Karate he taught in all them university clubs. When you are teaching full crowded classes you just can't teach the way you would teach a single student. The high fluctuation of students also doesn't allow to go very deep into the subject.

Iain Abernethy wrote:
It is necessary to drink alcohol and pursue other fun human activities. The karate of someone who is too serious has no "flavour." – Choki Motobu

Those who practise karate-jutsu should refrain most of all from alcohol and women. Alcohol will case your fists to tremble, and your practise to become frivolous and effeminate. All of these things should be detested” –  Kenwa Mabuni

When you are a full time martial artist you have to do something else to get your mind of the work. One way to do this is go into a bar or a club and have a drink. Back in the days drinking and visiting brothels was a very common thing. Even Asato and Itosu did so together. Mabuni didn't like to drink and go to brothels but was a heavy smoker. So he got his relaxation via the tobacco. You spend a lot of time with your family and kids which is a great way for recreation and to get the head free for new ideas and energy.

So everybody hast to find his own way I guess.

Regards Holger

JWT
JWT's picture

Hi Iain,

I'm not sure I see the differences between Funaksohi and Mabuni as disagreements. 

Iain Abernethy wrote:

Disagreement 1

Based on fighting eight opponents, Koshokun [Kanku-Dai] is related to every other kata” – Gichin Funakoshi, Karate-Jutsu

The meaning of the directions in kata is not well understood, and frequently mistakes are made in the interpretation of kata movements. In extreme cases, it is sometimes heard that "this kata moves in eight directions so it is designed for fighting eight opponents" or some such nonsense” - Kenwa Mabuni, Karatedo Nyumon

Mabuni would seem to regard Funakosi’s statement as “nonsense”?

I think we have to look here at the different phraseology and different intent.  Funakoshi does not in the statement you quoted link the directions to the number of opponents, nor does he suggest that it is a one versus eight fight.  So what does Funakoshi say?  He says it is based on fighting eight opponents.  What does that mean?  He could be simplfying his description of the kata for students who he does not intend to teach combative applications.   It could mean that he sees the repertoire as being designed to deal (either immediately or through varing combinations) with eight different types of attack.  Does Mabuni disagree with that? No.  I've seen things said by instructors taken out of context and then rubbished by others.  I've seen one person criticise you on another forum for one thing you've said about knees, believing in their ignorance that that was the only context in which you used them.  I think what we've got here is something similar.  Funakoshi has made a statement, it has been tsaken out of context, Mabuni has made reference to a mistaken interpretation of that statement.

Iain Abernethy wrote:

Disagreement 2

Recently [Mabuni] thought of moving to Osaka and so he did. There he opened  the first  karate-jutsu club at Kasai University … Now that we are both actively working in Toykyo and Osaka, karate-jutsu will undoubtedly spread throughout the nation” – Gichin Funakoshi writing an endorsement for Mabuni’s “Karate Kenpo: The art of self-defence”

So Funakoshi is primarily responsible for the karate of Tokyo. And this is what Mabuni had to say of the karate in that area:

The karate that has been introduced to Tokyo is actually just a part of the whole. The fact that those who have learnt karate there feel it only consists of kicks & punches, and that throws & locks are only to be found in judo or jujutsu, can only be put down to a lack of understanding … Those who are thinking of the future of karate should have an open mind and strive to study the complete art” – Kenwa Mabuni  1938

The karate that Funakoshi taught did include throws and locks – as his writing attests – but this would seem to be criticising the “karate of Tokyo” for lacking such methods; and Funakoshi was a key player in introducing karate in that area. So here it would seem Mabuni is referring to the karate that Funakoshi helped spread (not his actual karate) as being “incomplete”?

Here is what Funakoshi wrote about on Mabuni for Mabuni’s book on Seipai in 1934:

Kenwa Mabuni is my childhood friend and a prominent modern expert and researcher in karate-jutsu … A warm and sincere gentleman, if he did not know something he would ask, and never thought of criticising another style.”

There is certainly criticism in the above quotes, but it would seem to be indirect and impersonal.

Mabuni would even approach one of his juniors if he did not know something. He was not concerned with who was senior and who was junior and was respectful to everyone. After he learnt something new, Mabuni would never keep it to himself and would introduce it to his association members who would use it for their own studies. The old way was to keep such information secret, but Mabuni chose to be open and disclose information. As a result it is no exaggeration to say that he is the most knowledgeable karate-jutsu teacher”

Very kind words and an obvious respect and friendship despite disagreement on some points. It’s also worth nothing that Mabuni wanted Funakoshi to contribute an endorsement to his book which tells us a lot about the high regard he obviously had for Funakoshi.

I don't see a disagreement above.  Funakoshi acknowledged that the karate that was studied in Tokyo was very different to the karate of his youth.  Funakoshi also acknowledged that Karate was hard and soft, grappling and striking.  We know that Funakoshi downplayed the non striking side of karate for the purpose for which he was teaching it, but we also know that he encouraged students like Egami to cross train in grappling arts.  Mabuni, who was not in direct competition with Kano or obligated to him, was not in a position to make such a compromise.  I don't see Funaksohi's words as criticising Mabuni, and to me Mabuni seems to pointing out that the karate in Tokyo is incomplete, which I doubt is something that Funaksohi would have argued against.

All the best

John

Ben Ryder
Ben Ryder's picture

Having come from a shotokan background, the more I have read around karate in general and in particular of Funakoshis contemporaries I get the growing impression that his greatest contributions to the art were organisational rather than technical...his proficiency was in achieving the aim of Itosu of popularising karate, rather than being particularly good at himself and may have been given the task by Itosu based on this particular strength ( to draw a similie between the comparative achievements of Alex Ferguson as a football player and manager, would illustrate the possibility of this being possible/true).

Dale Parker
Dale Parker's picture

Iain Abernethy wrote:

Kenwa Mabuni is my childhood friend and a prominent modern expert and researcher in karate-jutsu … A warm and sincere gentleman, if he did not know something he would ask, and never thought of criticising another style.”

Here is clearly an issue I have with books on the subject.  This is suposedly from Funakoshi stating that  Mabuni is his childhood friend.  I don't believe that is accurate.  Funakoshi was born November 10, 1868.  Mabuni was born November 14th 1889.  Funakoshi was 20 years old when Mabuni was born, would he have really said this?

This is why I encourage people to review who translated/edited books, its common knowledge the translators and editors wrote the history as they wanted.

ky0han
ky0han's picture

Hi everyone,

Dale Parker wrote:
This is why I encourage people to review who translated/edited books, its common knowledge the translators and editors wrote the history as they wanted.

I am with Dale in this one. It is really hard to get a hold on good translations. That is why I am holding Henning Wittwers work in such high regards. His translations are armed with a huge amount of footnotes where he is explaining difficult or tricky spots and how they could be translated alternatively and why he chose his way of translating it.

Quote:
Kenwa Mabuni is my childhood friend
That totally slipped my attention. And Dale is right that must be a translational error.

Regards Holger

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Dale Parker wrote:
Here is clearly an issue I have with books on the subject.  This is suposedly from Funakoshi stating that  Mabuni is his childhood friend.  I don't believe that is accurate.  Funakoshi was born November 10, 1868.  Mabuni was born November 14th 1889.  Funakoshi was 20 years old when Mabuni was born, would he have really said this?

I get the age gaps; I took it to mean “has had a close relationship with me since his childhood” as opposed to “we have been friends since we were both children”.

Not speaking Japanese, I can’t personally attest for the accuracy of the translation. However, this translation was from Mario McKenna and he’s certainly well regarded.

Regards,

Iain

Dale Parker
Dale Parker's picture

I have to agree, Mario is in high standing on his work of translating old Japanese martial arts books.

harlan
harlan's picture

RE: the women and drink...it was probably more of an desire to avoid vulgar and excessive behaviors. Probably a little bit of classism there as well.