|In 2012, Nakazato Shugoro Kaicho relinquished the reigns of the Shorin Ryu Shorin Kan Karate Kyokai to his son, Nakazato Minoru sensei. The association was established by Nakazato Shugoro and enjoys a large global following. The association has been instrumental in preserving and spreading Okinawa Karatedo to countless people across the globe. Rightfully, and consistent with Okinawan tradition, Minoru sensei as the eldest son will carry on the Chibana legacy as his father so dutifully did. Indeed, Nakazato Minoru sensei has already established himself as a leader who is ready, willing and able to reach out to his deshi. A dedication demonstrated by multiple trips with some of his most senior ranking yudansha to the U.S. and India.
With the passing of the torch from father to son, Nakazato sensei also opened a door that would send many of Minoru’s peers in Karate and elders in years to preserve Nakazato’s martial traditions under the auspices of their own organizations. These men were dedicated and loyal students of the elder Nakazato but in accordance with cultural norms would not be expected to remain directly under Minoru after the change of command. Thus there is a trend in Okinawa of Nakazato’s senior students moving on and establishing their own organizations. These senior students include Gibo sensei, who established the Shobukan and Nakaza Seiei sensei, who established the Kiyobukan. As Hanshi in their own right, these gentlemen and others have established organizations, which continue to promulgate and expand the body of knowledge of Okinawan Karate and Kobudo.Following suit, Perry sensei organized the Shorin Ryu Karate Kobudo Kensankai (小林流空手古武道研鑽会) in 2013. I would like to take a minute to explain what the meaning of organization’s name is and offer some insights to the philosophy behind the name.If you are reading this you most likely know that Shorin (小林) means small forest and is a reference to the Chinese (Shaolin) origins of Okinawan Karate. We often translate the term ryu (流) into English to mean something like style or system. The Japanese pronunciation of the character for ryu is nagareru, which means to flow. It is a very common word especially now that the rainy season is upon us here in Japan where I am writing. To me understanding the Japanese changes our image of the origins and diversions of our art. A river collects and becomes large as water flows from multiple sources and diverts and converges as necessary to continue to feed the larger body of water to which if flows. Indeed a flowing river is inclusive by nature; it collects many small streams as it moves along until it becomes a powerful river.This phenomena can be seen in the sum total of Perry sensei’s martial lineage which started at the Police Athletic Club Boxing Team in Charlotte, North Carolina to Judo training in the Marine Corps close combat program of the 1950s and 60s. It flows from his introduction to Karate at Parris Island, South Carolina and subsequently training in Okinawan Isshinryu under Shimabukuro Tastuo sensei. His karate flows from training in Cherry Point, North Carolina with Sensei Bill Hayes, a student of Tatsuo’s brother Eizo, who helped point Perry sensei toward Shorin ryu. It flows from direct combat as a Marine in Vietnam. It flows from tough training in Okinawa with Jiro Shiroma where sensei first began his association with Nakazato sensei’s Shorin Kan Kyokai. As the North America Director of the Shorin Ryu Shorin Kan Kyokai under Nakazato sensei, he traveled to Okinawa regularly to continue training and build relationships with Nakazato’s senior students. He tirelessly brought like-minded and good-hearted martial artists from across the world of traditional Okinawan karate together to share their “stream” of knowledge with Shorin Kan students.The word Kensan (研鑽) is not common in the Japanese language. The word is composed of two characters. Below I will try to break each character down separately.The character 研 is very common in the Japanese language and is often used in the context of the research, science, medical research or learning. A quick Google search will reveal many similar words associated with martial arts organizations such as Kenkyu (研究), which means research, or Kenshuu (研修), which means to train. These, when combined with the character au (会), to meet, become translated to research association or training association. Each shares the same first character, 研. The character 研 as a verb is pronounced togu or migaku and it means to sharpen, grind, polish, hone or even to wash (polish) rice. It is commonly found in words like giken (technical research), tsuuken (laboratory), kengaku (studies) or togiishi (grinding stone).The second character 鑽is much less common. The verb form of the character is pronounced kiru and it means to polish, study or strike a fire by rubbing sticks together. It is much more difficult to find words containing this character to illustrate the nuanced meaning of the character but it implies diligent effort and devotion in learning. It also implies action in learning verses the more academic or rote learning and experimentation suggested by the term kenkyu. The character is made up of three separate components: 金 (gold), 先 (ahead, before) and 貝 (shell). While the following analysis is my own, I find it compelling that the character is made up of, 1) something that is valuable and that shines, 2) that it suggests leadership or previous experience and has the same character as sensei and 3) that it suggests a hardening over time and consistency by the accumulation of layer upon layer of armor.The verb associated with the character 会 means to meet. It is used in such words as association (kyoukai / 協会)、church (kyoukai / 教会)、and conference (kaigi /会議). The character suggests a group of people who have a shared purpose coming together.In the dictionary the word kensan means to study or to devote oneself to one’s studies. Shorin Ryu Karate Kobudo Kensan Kai, therefore, may be described simply as a group of people devoted to the study of Shorin Ryu Karate and Okinawan Kobudo.In establishing the Kensan Kai, Perry sensei is creating a forum whereby a few devotees to the study of karate can come together and share their knowledge and experience in a way that benefits others who seek the same goal – bettering themselves through the study of karate. He is not creating a new system of karate or departing from the traditions he advocated tirelessly as the director of Nakazato sensei’s organization in North America. What he is doing is bringing together the different “streams” that make up his collective martial experience and offering that body of knowledge to anyone who desires to dedicate themselves to that pursuit. I also think the reader will notice that the Kensan Kai will seek to introduce the experience, knowledge and philosophies of other traditions of Okinawan life protection arts and will welcome other “streams” of thinking to the association’s collective identity. It is my belief the Kensankai embraces and seeks to preserve the principals that attracted Perry Sensei to Karate in the beginning.I hope this explanation helps the reader better understand the philosophy behind the Shorin Ryu Karate Kobudo KensanKai.Yours in Karatedo,
Jason S.D. Perry
Okinawa Shorinryu Kensankai
Guiding Principles and Approaches
“The purpose of training is to develop the body
and cultivate the mind.”
Choshin Chibana, Founder Shorin ryu karate
Kensan means “devoted study.” The Okinawan Shorin Ryu Kensan Kai is a group of like-minded karateka who share a deep devotion to the study of Okinawan Shorin Ryu Karate. The Kensankai is an organization that is built on a solid foundation of organizational and martial principles espoused by Perry
Kaicho. Karate associations are a double-edged sword for traditional martial artists. Historically, Okinawan Karate was centered on family or royal lineage traditions taught discreetly to a small group of deshi. Traditionally, a sensei would teach a student to a certain point and then send his student out to another teacher for additional instruction. In this way karate became a tailored art passed down to individuals through many different pathways (ryu).
With the proliferation of Karate to the masses in pre-war Japan and subsequently the spread and popularity of Karate in the West, it became necessary to organize to maintain the distinctly Okinawan characteristics of what we now call traditional Okinawan Karate. The up side of association is the preservation of standards of quality of and proficiency in the art. The down side is the organizational dynamics that often beset organizations that can detract us from the true spirit of Karate.
In organizing the Kensankai, Perry Kaicho has created a forum whereby karateka can learn and promulgate the art of Okinawan Karate in an inclusive, comprehensive and personal way. If not guarded by guiding principles, the foundation of the Kensankai could erode over time. For the Kensankai to be an enduring organization consistent with Perry Kaicho’s vision we must understand the principles upon which the association is organized. It is my hope the association becomes an enduring venue by which individuals can develop their bodies, their character, and their minds through the art of Okinawan Karate. My second hope is that the association becomes a legacy to a life and lives dedicated to the study and practice of Okinawan Karate.
Purpose of the Okinawa Shorin Ryu Kensankai:
The Okinawa Shorin Ryu Kensankai promotes the development of individual character through the diligent and holistic study and practice of traditional Okinawan Karate.
The Kensankai achieves its purpose through traditional Okinawan training methods. Perry sensei explains, “We approach the study of karate with the greatest humility and deep respect for those who have gone before us in the ‘true way’.” He continues, “Karate is a fighting art. You must train with deep seriousness from the first day. Each punch, block, or kick must be delivered with the power of the entire body in unison.” These principles are at the core of our method of training.
Kata: Kata forms the foundation of the principles of combat. Through kata karateka learn the fundamentals of balance, speed, and power. Kata is the means by which Okinawan karate masters passed their art to us. We develop our minds, our bodies and our technique through the study and practice of kata. Through kata we also reserve what is uniquely Okinawan about karate.
Hojo Undo: Supplemental training aids, such as body hardening drills, makiwara training, kote kitae and other combat conditioning methods, steel the body and mind for interpersonal conflict and for developing personal characteristics of patience, perseverance, and self-awareness.
Kobudo: Weapons training preserves the traditions of Okinawan martial traditions and aids in the development of strength and agility in the body.
Applied technique: Combat is fluid and chaotic. Windows of opportunity open and close quickly requiring physical abilities and experience to recognize and exploit them. Combat is violent and can have deleterious effects on the mind and emotions of the combatant. To mitigate these effects and develop courage, confidence, and mental and physical toughness, the Kensankai uses a variety of applied training methods including yakusoku kumite (pre-arranged fighting), jiyu kumite (free sparring), oyo bunkai (applied analysis of kata), defense drills and other methods. These techniques provide karateka with the opportunity to develop real world applications of the techniques and principles found in kata.
Culture and language: Karate is an art. As martial artists, we seek to understand all aspects of the art we pursue. Okinawan karate emerged from a rich cultural heritage, which is reflected in the art form itself. We seek to preserve the old ways of traditional karate by understanding the history, lore, language and culture from which karate developed.
Character development: The ultimate aim of the Kensankai is to develop individuals who have the personal qualities of integrity, humility, perseverance, physical and moral courage, patience and deep respect for others. The physical aspects of our approach to karate are merely a vehicle for the development of individuals with strong ethical and moral character. We embrace the Japanese concept of Shin Gi Tai or Mind/Heart, Technique, Body. Perry sensei explains this concept as, “one whose spirit and mental strength have been forged by hard training will face any challenge with a ‘can do’ attitude. One who has undergone long hours of hard physical training and mental agony to learn one technique can face any task … and carry it through to a successful conclusion. When you have done this, you can truly say that you have begun to understand the true ‘way’.”
Development of the Karate ka: A framework
The Kensankai uses a Dan/Kyu ranking system to recognize an individual’s experience, and development in karate do. Rank is not a goal in itself. Instead rank allows karateka a means to observe progress and to anticipate expectations in their training. Generally, training focus will change with advancing rank.
Jukyu – Gokyu: This formidable period of training focuses on physical conditioning and developing a degree of mastery of basic skills and body mechanics. This period should include challenging physical training designed to develop strength, agility, flexibility and stamina. Skills are taught at their most basic and fundamental level. Striking is emphasized at this stage. The focus is form not just function. This stage can be challenging for new students because of the physicality of the training, the repetition of movement required to master basic principles of movement and the lack of patience in self to see the value and purpose of the training. Correct body mechanics are mastered through repetition and detailed instruction through kata, drills and conditioning. Students normally focus on Naihanchi and Pinan kata at this stage. This is the most essential stage to develop karateka to the physical capacity to learn karate do.
Rokkyu – lkkyu: Armed with a basic mastery of the physical aspects of karate, training focus shifts to developing the ability to apply the basic skills. Students will expand their kata inventory to include the more advanced kata of Passai, Kusanku, Chinto and Gojushiho. Karateka will deepen their understanding of naihanchi and pinan kata. This phase will focus on applied techniques and interpersonal conflict including self-defense techniques and a foundational understanding of principles of throws, falls, and grappling (tuite), found in those kata. Training will continue to develop the physical abilities of the karateka and will expand to include weapons training, culture and history knowledge. Additionally, yakusoku kumite and jiyu kumite are integrated into training to reinforce applications and physical courage. It is during this stage teaching becomes a part of learning. Karateka will begin to teach others and by doing so gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of their own training. The culmination of this training is a karateka who is physically prepared for shodan.
Shodan – Sandan: In a very real sense shodan is the level at which the concept of Shin Gi Tai begins to develop and when the karateka becomes a true student of karate. A shodan should be physically strong with a practical and technical understanding of karate. Kata will become stronger and more personalized to the individual. Counts or cadences become a teaching tool, not a training method. From shodan to yondan the karateka develops a deeper understanding of the principles of combat. It is at this stage karateka undertake a diligent study of the history of karate, the culture of Okinawa, Japan, China and other cultures that have influenced Shorinryu Karate. Karateka are highly encouraged to travel to Okinawa and experience for themselves the source of their art. Karateka undertake a deeper study of the Japanese language beyond basic karate specific vocabulary. At this stage, a karateka is expected to teach others under the direction of a more senior yudansha. The ultimate purpose of teaching at this stage is the development of the individual, vice imparting knowledge to mudansha, through teaching, patience, restraint, integrity, and compassion. More advanced techniques of kyusho, tuite, nagewaza, trapping, pushing, kansetsu waza are introduced and karateka learn the broader kata of Seiunchin, Rohai, and Hakutsuru.
Godan – Rokudan: This level of karate becomes less about personal development and more about ensuring a high quality of karate is being maintained throughout the association. The focus of this group is training mudansha through shodan. Generally, yondan and above may open dojo and teach independently. Godan and Rokudan are now committed to a lifetime of pursuing karate and actively seek their own interests within the infinite aspects of the study of karate. Personal training and exploration constitute the individual’s pursuit of continued mastery. Teaching karate becomes a vehicle not for self-development but for transmitting the essence of karate to the association’s mudansha and yudansha. Teaching is, at this stage, a selfless act vice a selfish act.
Nanadan- Hachidan: This small group of karateka are dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the association. They ensure high quality instruction for all Kensankai karateka. They are committed to ensuring the success of each affiliated dojo. They do this by teaching, attending and organizing camps and seminars. They facilitate Kensankai karateka trips to Okinawa. They provide guidance and support to dojo owners to ensure success. They also interact with karateka outside the association to broaden the Kensankai karateka’s exposure to all families of Okinawan karate. This ensures a rich, broad and expansive experience that will be the hallmark of the association. This group is selfless in their support for the organization. They must understand Perry sensei’s vision for the association. They create an environment that allows individuals to explore martial pursuits while vigorously defending the traditions and training methods of Okinawan karate. At this level, teaching is a vehicle for preserving the art and developing others.
This framework is not prescriptive or directive but should serve as guide for defining what the Kensankai is and why it exists. It serves as a guidepost for all who have embarked on their journey in karate do. Funakoshi Gichin calls Karate “My Way of Life.” Indeed, karate do is a worthy pursuit that can span a lifetime when approached with humility and sincerity. It is my hope the Kensankai can be a force for good in improving the lives of all who choose to dedicate themselves to pursuit of karate do.