Step into the time machine.
[woosh! sound of flying back in time]
Now step out.
We are in 1867. March 24th.
Location: Okinawa, the birthplace of Karate. To be more exact, we are in a traditional tea-house, in Japanese known as the Ochayagoten (literally tea-house-palace/court). The house is situated in Sakiyama village, in the east garden of the famous Shuri Castle. This is a place where people with cultural and political influence can meet over a cup of tea.
But today is a special day. We are not here to drink green tea. We don’t even want to watch the geishas (okay, maybe later). Why? Because we have come to see one of the first ever recorded martial arts demonstrations ever held in Okinawa.
And it takes place right here, at the Ochayagoten. A historic moment.
The demonstration will start soon. First I want to tell you the reason to why it is held.
It is quite simple: The demonstration is held to commemorate the visit of a Chinese attaché (an attaché is a low-ranking diplomatic official). These Chinese attachés (known as sapposhi in Japanese) visit Okinawa regularly, and have done so for many years. And every time they leave, a big sayonara-party is held.
The celebration can sometimes last for days. But we are only interested in the martial arts part (that will be today). You see, the demonstration is divided into three parts:
1. The first part is Sanryuchu. Sanryuchu is a native Okinawan folk dance. Colourful clothes are included!
2. The next part is Uchinahazutsumi (try saying that three times fast!). This is traditional Okinawan drum-music.
3. And finally, what we came to see: Bujutsu (martial arts).
Now, let’s pretend we have already seen the dance and music. It was magnificent. What did the bujutsu-part consist of? What on earth could have unfolded on that stage?
Well, ten things happened. That is why this demonstration is known to the historians as the “Ten Items of Bugei”. Bugei is another word for martial arts, and this documentation is important to the historians because the demonstration occured during the old Ryukyu dynasty. Enough with the small talk, here is the demonstration:
- Demonstration of timbe & rochin (turtle shell shield and blade) by Maeda Chiku.
- Demonstration of bo-jutsu vs. sai-jutsu (pre-arranged kumite with a wooden staff against iron truncheon) by Maeda Chiku and Aragaki Tsuji.
- Demonstration of empty hand form (kata) seisan by Aragaki Tsuji.
- Demonstration of bo-jutsu vs toudi (the old name of Karate) by Maeda Chiku and Aragaki Tsuji.
- Demonstration of chishaukiun (Okinawan name for small stick) by Aragaki Tsuji.
- Demonstration of timbe vs. bo-jutsu by Tomura Chikudon and Aragaki Tsuji.
- Demonstration of teshaku (sai-jutsu kata) by Maeda Chiku.
- Demonstration of kyusho-jutsu (pressure points) by Maeda Chiku and Aragaki Tsuji.
- Demonstration of shabo (bo-jutsu kata) by Ikemiyagusuku Shusai. Shusai is a title given to aristocratic boys who would later be in service of the King.
- Demonstration of empty hand form (kata) suparinpei by Tomura Chikudon.
Wow, quite a demonstration huh? We saw exciting action from start to finish, including Kobudo (weapons)!
And I didn’t make this up. This is actually what was demonstrated at the Ochayagoten, 24th of March 1867. It must have looked really impressive! I would easily give an arm and leg to be there. What the kumite looked like we can only speculate about, but the seisan and suparinpei kata still exists today. However, I highly doubt that they look anything like back then. Much can happen in a hundred and fifty years…
Now jump into the time machine again. Let’s go back (or is it forward?) to today.
Compare the Ochayagoten demonstration to what we see today. I don’t know about you, but last time I saw a demonstration it went a little something like this:
- Demonstration of Pinan (Heian) Nidan by a bunch of uncoordinated, coughing, drooling 7-10 year olds. They are supposed to be cute.
- Demonstration of kumite by two teenage-puppets jumping around each other. Oh, it’s supposed to be Tournament-style Point Kumite. And of course it’s pre-arranged. We don’t want any mistakes…
- Demonstration of bo-jutsu by the head sensei with a complete lack of knowledge on bo-jutsu.
- Demonstration of self-defence by the same sensei who now shows his incredible skills in breaking necks and punching people in the face. The attackers? The two scared teenagers who are his students.
The Lord of the Rings soundtrack that has been playing in the background is lagging. Somebody kicks the cd-player and the next song plays. It is the Star Wars anthem.
And finally 6. Demonstration of tameshiwari (breaking boards) by the same sensei. He easily breaks the pre-cracked boards (that anyone in the audience could have broken just as easily) with a loud, fierce kiai. Now if this won’t give him twenty new students…
End of demonstration.
Now what I am trying to say with this post? It feels like I always change topic in the middle…
Well, first of all I just wanted to tell you about the “10 Items of Bugei” at the Ochayagoten. It is an important historical piece, and I personally find it highly interesting.
Lastly, I wanted to show how the demonstrations of today really has degenerated. Like the imaginary example I wrote above: An insult to the audience’s intelligence and disrespectful to the martial arts in general.
So, if you ever hold a demonstration…
Keep it real!
And if you see a poor demonstration…
Tell ’em to keep it real!