Toll Free
1-800-669-8892 or 1-603-569-7988

Bunbu Ryo Do: The Way of The Karate Martial Scholar

by Michael Clarke, March 10, 2014

In the early part of the twentieth century, when Okinawan karate teachers were first asked to provide names for their karate by the Butokukai in Japan, they struggled to come up with a name that did justice to the martial art they practiced. Many of those from the royal capital, Shuri, settled on poetic sounding names that conjured up the spirit of their homeland; Choshin Chibana (1886–1969) chose the name Kobayashi ryu, the small forest school. While other teachers with a similar lineage later chose comparable names like the young forest school, and the pine forest school, Shobayashi ryu and Matsubayashi ryu respectively, others chose to honor their teacher, or teachers, and in doing so took kanji from their names to give a name to their karate.

Juhatsu Kyoda (1887–1968), for example, called his karate Tou'on ryu by simply using an alternative reading of the kanji used to write his teacher's family name: pronounced Higashionna in the Okinawan language, Uchinaguchi. Others struggled a little with what to do for the best, like Kenwa Mabuni (1893–1957) who at first called his karate Hanko ryu, meaning the 'half-hard school' of karate. Later however he changed his mind and renamed it Shito ryu, a name he arrived at by using the first kanji from the family name of each of his two principal teachers, Kanryo Higashionna and Anko Itosu.

The first Okinawan to name his karate in accordance with the Butokukai's request was Chojun Miyagi (1888–1953) who registered the name Goju ryu, the strong and gentle school, in 1930.

My own belief as far as attaching names to the various schools of karate is concerned is echoed in a line from Romeo and Juliet, written by the great Bard himself, William Shakespeare: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Karate, like every other martial art, is nothing more than the personal expression of an individual's physical skills combined with his intellectual understanding and depth of feeling for what he knows. It is not fixed nor is there an end to it; the study of karate is quite literally endless!

Can you sell Karate?

Packaging, branding, distributing, and franchising are all terms I have heard applied to karate by individuals and groups intent on selling karate to others. But karate is not for sale. If you wish to have ownership of your karate, you start by taking responsibility for it. The first act in doing that involves finding a good teacher. The second act is to devote yourself to being a good student. The third act is to be honest with yourself. The fourth act is to become independent, not when being a student becomes difficult, but when the time is right. In the teachings of budo there is the concept of musei jinko, of calling people without using the voice; in other words, a good person will attract others by his example. If you can approach your karate in this way, you will give yourself a chance to find what you are searching for. Accepting guidance from your teacher while making your own way, you display genuine gratitude while remaining unattached, you celebrate your accomplishments while remaining humble; and by continuing to be mindful of your thoughts and actions, you maintain the steady and methodical development of who you are.

Karate—A Balanced Lifestyle

Bunbu ryo do, the way of the martial scholar, speaks of living a balanced lifestyle free from the price other people pay for their lack of self-discipline, the 'wheel of suffering' as it is referred to in Hinduism and Buddhism. That so many aspire to extreme wealth or celebrity these days is a sign, to me at any rate, that modern society may have already lost the balance that is vital for individual contentment.

Modern culture teaches us to want more, and the concept of "enough" has, for many, now slipped from general use. In karate too, people desire to wear a black belt only to discover upon acquiring it, that it has no value. Rather than learn from this discovery, they simply shift their desire to acquiring extra dan ranks and titles. The results of course are the same. There is simply no value in such desires; they are unnecessary and serve you poorly. Meanwhile, your desires continue to damage your integrity, waste your money, and may even take years off your life by way of dubious physical practices.

A person who adopts the way of Bunbu ryo do is said to be training his body for war and his mind for peace. In the Okinawa of old, such men were known as bushi, gentlemen warriors. Revered by all in their community, the best of them lived dignified and cultured lives. You too can live this way if you choose, ready and able to interact with others of whatever station in life, as equals. By blending the parallel paths of the body and the mind, such desires as you do have can become investments in the growth of your spirit and the development of you as a human being.

Finally, if you have no one to train with, you can still work on the fighting strategies by working your kata in thin air, by yourself. Keep in mind, as you do the possible applications, the purpose of the postures you are making and the techniques you are repeating, as you cultivate a profound feeling for what you're doing.

It is said that prior to the Second World War, students of karate would spend a minimum of three years on one kata, and over the course of their lifetime of karate training study no more than two or three kata altogether. Chojun Miyagi is said to have taught all his students sanchin kata and would then introduce them to one or perhaps two other kata that he felt suited the individual student best. He selected which student studied what kata by taking into account a student's age, build, character, and personal situation. Back then there was no 'advanced' kata, no 'beginners' kata, and no kata practiced according to rank. Why? Because there were no ranks in karate back then.

(The above is an excerpt from Shin Gi Tai—Karate Training for Body, Mind, and Spirit by Michael Clarke)

Michael Clarke, Kyoshi 8th dan, Okinawan Goju-ryu has trained in karate since 1974. He has written over two hundred articles for international martial arts magazines, and authored three books. Starting as a young ‘street-fighter’ in England, to a disciplined student of budo in Okinawa, Clarke enthusiastically teaches traditional Goju-ryu Karate in his dojo near Launceston Tasmania, Australia.


RELATED ARTICLES


COMMENTS




©2017 YMAA | About YMAA | Privacy Policy |Terms of Use | Permissions | Contact Us