A BRIEF HISTORY OF KEMPO
Fighting has existed ever since the existence of mankind. In the primitive, animalistic time of humanity people fought for mates, property, and resources. Individuals formed into clans, clans into states, states into countries, and in each case there was fighting and wars for property and resources.
Fighting existed on a personal level and little was done to actually train soldiers in the art of war. Eventually basics were taught, but there was never a really great methodology to the training. We do not consider what was taught in this basic form martial arts, but rather military affairs. Even then the Kanji we normally translate martial or military had a different meaning that what we think of in the west.
In the west when we say martial or military we are thinking about the root from Roman times where martial has its root in the mythology of Mars the god of war. Thus martial in the dictionary refers to the western idea which is; inclined to war or being warlike, associated with war as that used by armed forces, essentially fighting to defeat or kill an enemy.
In Asia, with the root Kanji pronounced Wu in Chinese, Bu in Japanese, and Moo in Korean, the meaning is completely different from the western view. The Kanji is composed of two different radicals, one meaning stop, the other meaning either war or in general violence. Whereas martial arts or military arts in the western context means belonging to Mars, hence a love of war or a love of violence, the Asian martial arts were supposed to mean stop war or stop violence.
While there may have been individuals who considered the idea of martial from the peaceful perspective, real martial arts begins with the legend of Bodhidharma. Some think that Bodhidharma was actually a group of monks who came from India to China and their antics were combined into one persona, while others consider the things written about the one man are completely true. Regardless we consider the legend of Bodhidharma true on some level.
The common tale of Bodhidharma goes like this, he was born a Kshatriya in India and taught the fighting skills of his caste. He got religion and became a Buddhist monk. Whereas Buddhism was not that accepted in India, but was growing in China, Bodhidharma traveled to China where he ended up teaching at the Shaolin monastery. He found the monks so unhealthy and out of condition that he created a series of exercises from the fighting art, Vajra Mushti (diamond fist), he’d learned and taught the monks that in the phenomenal world the physical and mental/spiritual were one. To grow spiritually a person needed to be as healthy and physically fit as they could be.
Eventually the monks came to him and explained that when they went on their itineraries, everyone knew that a monk leaving the temple was penniless, but on the way back they’d have the offerings of the people, thus were subject to attack and beatings, even some monks had been killed. They asked what they could do, since Buddhism taught a degree of pacifism.
Bodhidharma didn’t want to turn peaceful monks into fighters thus he taught them, ‘God gave to every creature a form of self defense. To some he gave claws, to some he gave fangs, to some he gave venom, to some he gave speed, and to some he gave strength, but to man he gave the martial arts.’ He taught that fighting skills should be merged with virtue. The three great virtues of Asia are; love, wisdom, and courage.
Fighting skills should only be applied when love says it’s the right thing to do. To protect out of love is the only excuse to use one’s skills. When something needs to be done, it should be done with wisdom. If there is a way to avoid fighting, once should choose that path, but when you can’t avoid a fight, let wisdom dictate the right strategy to use. Finally, once one realizes that you must apply your skills, you need to have the courage to do what needs to be done.
Bodhidharma then taught the monks how to apply the movements he had taught them as self defense. Thus from their inception the real martial arts have been a combination of fitness training and self defense based on virtue. Bodhidharma created Butoku (in China; Wu Te) meaning ‘the virtue to stop violence’ and Bugei (in China; Wu I) meaning ‘the arts to stop violence’. Commonly we translate Bugei (Wu I) martial arts, but this needs to be taken in the Asian concept not the western manner.
Eventually, this concept spread from the Buddhist temples to their followers, from which came family forms of martial arts. The ideal also spread from Buddhist temples to Taoist temples and to their followers, creating the internal schools of martial arts and more family styles.
This idea spread to Japan and Okinawa, where they influenced the fighting skills of those countries, giving birth to the Japanese and Okinawan martial arts, the real arts based on virtue. Throughout history not all of those who practiced the martial arts lived up to the highest level, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and do so today.
As Buddhism was brought over to Japan, temples were formed where the martial arts were taught. Especially among the rural Samurai, who worshipped at the temples, the idea of Butoku spread and became the foundation for the development of Samurai Bugei. Among the Minamoto families this led to their family martial arts and as other families descended from the main branch, Mochizuki, Koga, and Takeda forms of martial arts developed with their own unique and special flavor, but all based on virtue.
The Buddhist martial arts influenced the development of Shinto based martial arts as well and this gave birth to the Ryu concept of martial arts. The oldest extant Ryu of Japan is the Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. It was founded by Iizasa Choisai Ienao who received what he called a Tenshin Sho, a divine right, to found a martial arts tradition. Until modern times the only reason for founding a martial arts was an enlightening spiritual experience which was believed to be a divine right given by God.
This idea spread from person to person, causing the creation of Ryu based on enlightening experiences. This was to impact Okinawa through the Jigen Ryu. Originally, the main root was known as Tenshin Sho Jigen Ryu. While Kanji changed, the Jigen Ryu of the Satsuma clan which took over Okinawa, was a very spiritual system.
All Ryu founded during classical times was based on spiritual awakening and maintained the idea of real martial arts, being skills to stop violence, and the teachings of virtue. After the twentieth century many systems have been created for egotistical reasons. It is important to see if a system is based on Butoku. If a Ryu is nothing more than a competitive sport or done to perpetuate the image of its founder, it should not be considered a real Ryu.
Always remember, without a spiritual base no martial art is genuine. Without a spiritual philosophy no Ryu is legitimate.
We need to think of a new source for the martial arts of Okinawa, rather than the typical, Kung Fu came to Okinawa and developed into Karate. The real source of Okinawan martial arts comes from the twelfth century.
In Japan, there was a battle between the Minamoto and the Taira for control of the government. At first the Taira ascended and among the defeated was Tametomo Minamoto. The division between the Minamoto and Taira was not firm, some of those on the Taira side were Minamoto relatives. Because Tametomo was so respected by his relatives and others on the Taira side, he was exiled to Oshima Island, with his bow arm cut so that he’d never be able to use the art of Kyujutsu, archery, for which he was famous.
However, using the healing art of his family’s martial arts, Tametomo rehabilitated his arm and escaped Oshima Island and made it to Okinawa, where members of his Samurai army were waiting for him. Together they began training, staging a return to Japan, seeking to help the Minamoto take control.
Tametomo, to live in peace on Okinawa, took a wife from among the ruling priestesses and sired a son who became known by the name Shunten. After several years of preparation, Tametomo returned to Japan, where he ended up dying in battle. Originally, he planned on having his son join him in Japan, but since he died, this was not to be.
Shunten was raised and educated in the traditional manner by a guardian Tametomo had left to prepare his son to join him at his side on Japan. This thorough education of both literary and martial arts gave Shunten an advantage that allowed him eventually take control of Okinawa. Those of his family, and other supporters descended from the Samurai who supported Tametomo, became the royalty of Okinawa. The martial arts were those derived from the Minamoto Bugei and became modified by the genius of the Okinawan royalty, and restricted to only members of the royal families.
Time passed and through Okinawan history the martial arts became more refined as the Ryukyu kingdom was established. During the time of the Ryukyu Okoku, the kingdom, became a trade center. As the royal bodyguards of the trade envoys journeyed to China and Japan, they realized that they would possibly face the martial artists of those countries. They developed the concept of acting like they knew little of the martial arts and sought instruction from masters of various styles.
People have thought that the Okinawan royal warriors were seeking higher levels of their martial arts, but actually they were seeking to know how those of other styles fought in order to counter them. As part of their Bungei, literary education, they studied classics from China, which would have included Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. In that volume is the admonition, ‘Know yourself and know your enemy, then in a hundred battles you will be victorious. Know yourself but know not your enemy, then you will have victory half of the time. Know neither yourself nor your enemy and you are doomed for defeat.’
While anything of value they found in other systems, they’d add to their body of knowledge, normally dealing with principles rather than technique, the main purpose of studying other systems was to examine their skills and develop counters to them. This is why you read of Okinawans studying Shaolin, Hung Gar, and various White Crane styles.
After Japan took over Okinawa, though the force of a large army and with guns, along with a commando unit that invaded the castle, taking the king hostage against further resistance, many of the Okinawa royalty were hired by the Japanese to do various jobs, positions they’d already done in their capacity as rulers.
The Japanese assumed the Okinawan royalty were untrained, since the Okinawan warriors were hiding their martial arts skills from their overlords, thus many of them were chosen to study Jigen Ryu so they’d have the skills they’d need as police, bodyguards, and protectors for envoys and trade missions.
Once school style Karate was developed for physical fitness training, which caused the Japanese to learn about the Okinawan martial art that became the public style that was eventually open to all, Okinawan and Japanese. A second style was finally developed when the Japanese realized there were secrets that Okinawan students were being taught they seemed to be held back from them.
Still not wanting to reveal their real martial art, the Okinawan Karate masters told the story of the secret White Crane styles studied by Sokon Matsumura and by those who attended the classes taught by Go Ken Ki, a Chinese living on Okinawa. Even today there are many secret White Crane Kata taught by various styles under various names.
Finally, the Ryukyu Oke Hiden Bugei were revealed to the public which contained the art of Toide, an Okinawan form of advanced grappling. It took time for Okinawan masters to truly accept that the time for secrecy was over. However, as they saw students who were truly dedicated from many different countries, they realized it was time to open the full Okinawan training to everyone.
Westerners who visited Asian countries began learning the martial arts and slowly began to spread them to their countries. Especially in the 1800s after Japan opened its borders under pressure from the western nations, Japanese Jujutsu and Judo began to be disseminated around the globe. President Theodore Roosevelt brought over first a Daito Ryu Aikijujtusu teacher from whom he learned and this was followed by several Kodokan Judo teachers who actually taught at the White House.
After World War II, Japanese and Okinawan styles of Karate were studied along with other Japanese martial arts and systems, so that modern arts like Aikido were spread to other countries along with some older styles. Many forms of Jujutsu began to be disseminated, so that Americans realized that there were many styles of Jujutsu, whereas before they thought there was only the one art.
Many of the first martial artists in America were former military personnel who learned during their time in Asia. Others were friends and students of Asians who came to our country to go to college or for employment opportunities and began to teach.
Before the trend of competition, most training in the martial arts in America was for self defense. Americans were very aware of the violence in the street and were extremely dedicated to their training, this is why Asian instructors opened up their styles to their Americans students.
As competition became more popular, some martial artists trained for competition and less for self defense. It is important today to seek out a school which actually teaches self defense in order to receive training in survival. Each school has its own emphasis and if you want competition, you need to choose a style that competes the way you want to. There is no contact competition, point tournament with light contact, full contact fighting, grappling contests, and mixed martial arts.
Competitive fighting does not necessarily prepare you for self defense, which is not a battle between equals, but a moment of survival which may involve weapons, a much larger and more powerful opponent, or even multiple attackers. Real self defense begins with awareness, so that you can avoid fighting, if at all possible. Then it is in the development of Mushin no Shin so that you can respond naturally and extemporaneously to assault.
Today many of the best martial artists are in America. With training from some of the top Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Okinawan masters, many Americans have been trained in the complete martial arts of Asia. With an awareness of the dangers of the streets, American martial artists who have trained for genuine self defense are among the best in the world.