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Azato's picture
Early Written Accounts of Karate

Hello everyone,

I am preparing for a lecture/demonstration that I will be giving on kata application and I am trying to get my thoughts in order. I will be speaking to a handful of teachers from around the world and want to describe close-range, practical karate as concisely as possible. I remember reading about an account from a Japanese official that visited Okinawa some time before karate's introduction to mainland Japan and witnessed a demonstration of the art. I can't remember which book or article I this was from though and I've been searching for it for a few days now. I'm hoping that this isn't a false memory and I am hoping that someone here might know what I'm talking about. If this isn't familiar to you I would also greatly appreciate any other early accounts or descriptions of karate. My purpose here is to elaborate on the concept of Meotode and illustrate the idea that grabbing with one hand while punching with the other is a fundamental part of the methodology of kata. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Could it be the 1762 document, Oshima Hikki (Note of Oshima) you are thinking of? That document details a ship running ashore in Oshima bay and includes interviews with the crew of that ship. It is discussed in the book 'Motobu Choki and Ryukyu Karate' by Iwai Kohaku, and Gavin Poffley (professional translator) provided me with an English translation of the section on Oshima Hikki.

In one of these interviews the captain of the ship tells of an extremely impressive grappling demonstration he witnessed that was given by “Kushanku”. The interview tells us that Kushanku was not a physically strong man and yet he defeated much stronger opponents with ease. Kushanku’s methods are described as, “placing one hand on the opponent whilst striking with the other hand” and that he made “use of effective ‘piercing’ leg movements.”

The “placing one hand on the opponent whilst striking with the other hand” would seem to refer to the use of proprioception that we seem through the various kata.

I asked what “effective piercing leg movements” could refer to and was told it was most likely kicking, but it could also be breaking the enemy’s stability with the legs.

For the life of me I can’t find the translation (just references to it in other things I’ve written) on this machine, which means it’s probably on my old computer.

In alternative translations I have seen the reference to “piercing” replaced with “scissoring”. This has led to it being suggested that what it being referred to is some kind of scissor sweep / kani basami. I don’t know enough to comment, but knowing Gavin and his background (https://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/content/gavin-j-poffley-interview) I am more inclined to run with the translation of “piercing”.

If the Kushanku of the document is the same Kushanku who inspired the kata (which would seem very plausible given the dates), we know that don’t see a scissor sweep in the kata, but we do see kicks and using the legs to unbalance. This also leads me away from the translations that infer kani basami is what the captain of the ship described.

I hope that helps?

All the best,


Azato's picture

Hey Iain,

That is definitely what I was thinking of. Thank you for taking the time to write this respose, it's a great help.