The Father of Dō
By Yonezato Goyo
I had always thought the Dō forms were started as a reaction to the Occupation of Japan after WWII when the US military would not allow martial arts training unless the sensei could convince them the training was for physical education or some other peaceful purpose. My belief was that these circumstances institutionalized the Japanese martial arts from a militaristic to a pacifist approach. Then, after reading Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters by Shoshin Nagamine (translated by Patrick McCarthy, Tuttle Publishing 2000), I thought Itosu Anko Okina, commonly known as “Anko” (1831-1915) was the Father of the modern karate-dō approach to martial arts. At the age of 70 he was named the sensei of the first karate curriculum implemented at Shuri’s Jinjo elementary school. He retained that position until his death in 1915. During his tenure he instituted many new kata and methodologies for developing the students through physical education.
Historically, literature about the Samurai had many references to Dō. However, the purpose of Dō at that time was to educate fighters and convert them into gentlemen warriors. Marrying the artistic and refined to the savage and ruthless had to be balanced or the Daimyo risked losing control of their hordes of battle tested soldiers.
I recently came across the writings of Jigoro Kano (1860-1938). In 2005 Kodansha publishing company released the book, “Mind over Muscle, Writings From the Founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano.” In his book, Kano was the first sensei to write about a scientific approach to classical martial arts techniques. However, he makes no mention of karate throughout his entire book with the exception of a reference to striking techniques. None the less, I have heard many of his concepts during my own years of study.
He was the creator of Judo, an educator, and the first Japanese to be named to the Olympic Committee. He trained in Tenjin Shinyo-ryu and Kito-ryu jujutsu, and “thoroughly studied all the other schools of jujutsu keeping what he felt should be kept and discarding what he felt should be discarded.” These he incorporated into Judo. Kano Sensei relinquished the old instructional method of experiential teaching. He described how he once was thrown by his sensei and he asked how he did it, where upon the sensei threw him again with the same technique. So he asked him again to explain how he threw him and once again his sensei repeated the exact same throw. Begging for the details, the sensei told him the key to understanding was to practice the waza over and over again. In his Judo, Kano Sensei first taught the principles in detail and then the application. He explained that to follow this approach would speed the understanding of the principles and techniques from 5 or 6 years to 3 years.
He institutionalized the concept of maximum efficiency (seiryoku zenyo). He described how atemi (striking) can be effective against a vital point merely by increasing the speed and striking strongly at a right angle (straight in). Applying scientific principles to tried and true old techniques seems to have originated with Jigoro Kano. If one may think that many styles developed this approach in isolation, one should reconsider. Born in 1860 (8 years before the end of the Samurai era) Jigoro Kano started Kodokan Judo in 1882, well before WWII, at the age of 22. His contributions to the martial arts are vast.
I remember hearing from a Shotokan practitioner that Shotokan took a scientific approach to karate. I asked myself, “Why was Shotokan applying scientific methods when it was one of the original styles brought to Japan by Funakoshi Sensei?” This reminded me of a quote from one of Nangō Tsugumasa’s books (Budo to Ninshiki no Riron) in which he said, “By the end of Master Funakoshi's life, his students had already changed his techniques...I can imagine the sadness he must have felt at the end of his life, in realizing that almost all the techniques which he had tried to transmit for so long had been lost.” I was puzzled but I could not explore deeper because my research was limited by accessibility and language.
Do you remember hearing that Genwakai is a scientific approach to karate? I heard this in 1973 when I first started training. I was under the impression this was an approach specific to Genwakai. Little did I know it was “borrowed” from Kano Sensei. All great innovations are validated through their adoption by others. Genwakai’s contribution appears to be in the fine-tuning of Kano Sensei’s concepts. There is no Genwakai technique without a complete and detailed explanation. Techniques are ordered from easy (at first) to difficult (later). Stances are taught in a well thought-out proccess and kumite is introduced step-by-step. Nango’s Theory of Progression is an example of taking Kano Sensei’s theories to the next level.