The Truth of “Ti”

By Jesse | 12 Comments

Okay, I’m a little disappointed in you guys.

Hear me out:

Since I recently received my long-awaited 10th dan hanshi title in Karate, I haven’t received a single congratulatory e-mail or phone call, from anyone! Not even a friendly pat on the back! Not even a manly punch on the shoulder! I mean, wazzup guys?!

You’re not proud of me?

Seriously!?

Oh, I’m sorry, what’s that? Aah, you don’t believe me? You want proof? Some kind of certificate, perhaps? No problem, sure, here’s a freshly taken pic of my diploma hanging on the wall:

Sorry for the reflexion, it's from the glass (it's framed, obviously).

See?

It even has a big, fat, red, official stamp on it. Tenth dan and ‘hanshi’ title in Karate handed over to Jesse from the All Okinawan Very Traditional Karatedo Federation. Signed and stamped by Santa Claus himself. It’s friggidy f-f-fresh to say the least!

So… time for that congratulatory e-mail now, huh? HUH!? [you should see the superior smirk on my face when I write this].

NAAH, I’M JUST MESSING WITH YOU!

The diploma is not mine!

In fact, it’s not even a Karate diploma.

It’s from a baking contest.

I took the picture at the local bakery, where it stands proudly. You can see the baker to the left. His name, according to the diploma, is Shinzato and he seems to have won first place at a technical confectionery baking contest in Fukuoka in 2010.

Way to go!

That’s what his diploma says, at least.

But you’ve got to admit that it did look a lot like a Karate diploma, right? That is, unless you actually read Japanese (for your information, the diploma mentions some kind of “butter cream” creation that Shinzato apparently amazed the judges with! Sweet…).

Anyway, what I’m trying to say with this highly deceiving intro is that when we, as non-Japanese/Okinawan/Chinese, see these half-mystic Asian scriptures and other Eastern cultural phenomenons through our “foreign filter”, it doesn’t really take much for somebody in the right position (on both sides of the filter?) to convince us that something is not what it actually is.

It’s not a 10th dan hanshi diploma.

It’s a 1st place technical baking contest diploma.

But, I said otherwise.

And even though I was making an intentional joke (haha… ha.) for the purpose of fooling you a little - and get my point across in the process - there are plenty of people who intentionally (though sometimes unintentionally) distort our view(s) on stuff, like Karate, for other purposes than being funny (money, power, respect anyone?).

Enter “Ti”.

Ti, Di or Te, is an old Okinawan indigenous martial art which existed in Okinawa long before all of these other influences came around, eventually forming what we today refer to as Karate. I guess you’ve heard about it. The name Ti simply means hand. It’s the Okinawan version of the Japanese word “te”, and sometimes it’s also called “Udundi” (“Palace hand”).

Today it is “still” practised, even though it is

[Okay, time out! TIME OUT! I just HAVE to tell you guys that writing all of the above has taken me *roughly* three hours! It's impossible to write a serious article when six half-drunk Okinawans are having a flippin'  impromptu beer-party right next to me! Do you guys realize what HARD conditions I'm working under here to get through to you?! GAAH! I even took a picture!]

So, anyway, I was trying to sa-

[What the hell, one guy just started SINGING!!!]

-y that this old, pre-Karate style of martial arts known as Ti is still practised in Okinawa today.

Or… is it?

Perhaps it’s not.

Well, some people certainly want us to believe it is. For those of you not in Okinawa, or who just don’t know what I’m talking about, this contemporary form of Ti can best be viewed with the help of sensei Youtube.

Here’s a vid:

However, I beg to disagree

This is not Ti.

Real old-school “Ti” exists not as an isolated system of joint-locks, takedowns, strange kata dances and weapon stuff (as people wants you to believe), but forms an integral part of application-style, grimy, dirty, old traditional Okinawan Karate.

As a matter of fact, real Ti ONLY exists in old-style Okinawan Karate.

The mere fact that these modern Ti proponents use weapons such as nunchaku and sai (which are not indigenous to Okinawa - and don’t come up to me with that “nunchaku is a horse bridle” explanation, because there were hardly any horses in Okinawa during that time, neither are there now), along with several empty handed kata (this formalized physical kata thinking-mode came from China way later) just goes to show that some people really wants your attention.

Controversial?

I eat controversial for breakfast, baby.

From my humble point of view, the story you are told is one of aikido, mixed with Okinawan dance and Nihon Bujutsu body mechanics, wrapped up with some Okinawan Kobudo, with a pinch of mysticism sprinkled on top. Neatly labeled “Ti”, for obvious reasons.

Actually (I don’t know if I should write this), when one of the highest authorities on “Ti” here in Okinawa (whose secret house I visited) was asked from whom he had learnt these old, secret Ti skills, he replied; “From a man who lives up in the mountains. You will have to drive for 2-3 hours without seeing anything but jungle to find this master”.

The fun thing is, it’s impossible to drive 2-3 hours in Okinawa without seeing a house.

Allow me to “lol”.

But, that’s not what this article is about.

What this is about, is that things aren’t always what they seem, and that real Ti only exists in old-style Karate (after all, it forms the base). You can explore this for yourself easily: Learn as many Karate-related words of the old Okinawan language (uchinaaguchi) as possible. “Muchimi”, remember? “Chinkuchi”, right? There’s other too, like “gammaku” and “kukiji”.

They are the only remainders of Ti we have left, and we need to explore them thoroughly to understand true Karate.

What these words of the old language all have in common is that they describe a WAY of USING the BODY when executing all kinds of techniques. Body mechanics and their martial applications, in other words.

That is Ti.

Ti is not a martial arts style, but the beginning and the end of all Karate.

- Onaga Yoshimitsu, kaicho, Shinjinbukan

And if not, then I’ll just keep that 10th dan if it’s okay with you.

About the author

is a self-titled Karate Nerd™, best-selling martial arts writer, unreasonably handsome elite athlete, autodidact, karatepreneur and carrot cake aficionado. He really thinks you should become a Karate Nerd™ too.

12 Comments

  1. Narda

    November 19, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    Je-sus! But you’ve put yourself ‘out there’ with this post! Kudos…now duck and run. ;)

  2. Francis Duguay

    November 19, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    I just realised why your articles are so intresting.
    First, they are funny. But the main reason is…Culture. Yup.
    You use ”western” (Plato’s and Aristoltes’)logic to analyse eastern subjects such as Okinawan culture and Okinawan way of thinking.
    You also use your knowledge of languages (Japanese, Okinawan dilect, English..) History and Martial Arts (Karate, Kobudo, Muay Thai, Muay Boran, Krabi Krabong)to explain us,westerners, eastern concepts and History. (I like to state the obvious)
    That’s Great. Thank you.

  3. Sayo

    November 19, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    Ah Fukuoka, bakery’s and sweet bread(natsukashiiii)
    On topic: never heard of Ti though, nice read.

  4. andi

    November 19, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    Other end of the myth is Tsuji district kakedameshi… in between everthing goes.
    So, the scope is set wide and should provide any possible means. Except everything you may think Ti (or Karate) is as a Westerner.
    True?
    Nope!
    “You can’t understand. You’re not Okinawan. It’s real Budô!”
    What? Contradictions everywhere.
    Yesterday I talked to a very smart young martial genius training for 10 years or so. Never had a bone broken.
    !?!!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!!?
    Superman????

  5. Matt

    November 19, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Ohh no! A bakery has stolen your Tenth Dan Hanshi certification. I think it’s time to challenge them all to death matches.

  6. Fatih Ince

    November 20, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Hi Jesse,
    I think you’re so funny man, you should be a comedian.
    Don’t ever let no one tell you, you ain’t so smart too.;)

  7. Jesse

    November 20, 2010 at 10:54 am

    Thanks for the comments everyone! ;) I got an e-mail from certain Stephen-san about the nunchaku part, and thought I’d explain it. Here’s my reply:

    “Hi Stephen,
    That the nunchaku initially was an iron war flail, hailing from China, can be seen in a picture I provided in this article: http://www.karatebyjesse.com/?p=5892 However, the horse-bridle nunchaku (muge nunchaku) does indeed exist in Okinawa, but it is not the ORIGINAL source of the weapon in itself. It is simply a later adaptation, since iron is (was) a rare and expensive resource in “economically challenged” Okinawa. Nevertheless, it works pretty well!

    /Jesse”

    • Te'o

      November 20, 2010 at 6:41 pm

      Jesse, thank you for another great article. I will say that these kinds of “secrets” exist in almost every martial arts system. Even in the systems that I teach, which are Lima Lama and Shorin-ryu, there are these “OG” principles that only some guy in the jungle or on the mountain knows. At times the stories are laughable. An example of this is a Wing Chun Kung Fu school down the road and around the corner from our dojo. They will not talk about or explain their system to anyone, nor will they allow people to watch (even parents) the workouts. Apparently they are too secret! Ha…can you handle the truth?!? Thanks again for the post, nice! And by the way…you must be stronger than me, cuz I would of partied with da Okinawan guys!!!

    • Joel

      January 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm

      “Hello Jesse, an interesting post and I’d like to offer some perspective…

      My background is with over 25 years training in both karate and ti (Ryukyuan Bujutsu), I have lived and trained extensively in both Japan and Okinawa having received a considerable amount of exposure to two separate 8th and 10th dans; I am currently ranked 5th dan and therefore feel I reasonably transcend the karate/kobudo/ti divide enough to comment here.

      Firstly, I think you are both correct and incorrect in your observations about Ti -- I have posted a reply to your points raised over on my blog here if you’re interested. [http://www.sippingti.blogspot.com/2012/01/real-truth-about-ti-reply.html]

      Good luck and enjoy your training in Okinawa.
      Joel Reeves..

  8. Lecé

    November 22, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    My kobudo diplomas from Okinawa, come in english also…I dont know if that´s the case usualy or they just did it because they where for people in Europe. Anyway take care fighting those bakers¡¡ You know Asian cooks are the real masters¡¡ By the way, we had also one of those secret stuff in our dojo once¡¡ They wehre Ninjas¡¡ je je, they wont let people watch their workouts either. We trained in the same gym and sometimes time slipped their minds and get in our time of training, so we will knock the door and open to see If they where about to finish, and they all stopped like frozen in time so nobody watched what they where doing. They where so funny, like that bullet time on the matrix¡¡ je je

  9. Igor

    November 22, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Dude, didnt have a clue… I love this moments ::)
    *manly shoulder punch*

  10. Li

    November 20, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    (:
    I don’t know right how I came to this webpage,but I didn’t repent!^^
    I was really needing to laugh a lil bit (Lot Lot)!
    :)
    I liked it too much…(I used to be a fighter and today pains in my soul to remember that I gave all up.2 days before my Sensei found me and asked me to come back…well…I got so happy…Karate is part of me;I feel I cannot to live without to practice this ART! <3

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