All In The Family

A while back Andres Quast did an excellent post on Sakugawa no kon here. What I really like about it, besides its thoroughness, is that all these versions are clearly treated as just that- versions of the same kata. Practiced in different lineages, with slightly different sequences and mechanics, but nevertheless the same kata.

Why is that important? Because I think there is an over-focus on “styles” within Okinawan martial arts. Ryukyu Kobudo, Matayoshi Kobudo, Yamane Ryu kobudo, they are different, right? Different styles! Ok, but just 3 generations ago they were not. Heck, they didn’t even exist yet. Taking these three systems, they all spring partially from some of the same folks. Taira learned from Yabiku Moden (among others), who learned from Chinen Sanda. Matayoshi Shinko learned from Chinen Sanda and Oshiro Chojo, who was a student of Chinen Sanda, (also among others). Current Yamane Ryu lineages come primarily from Chinen Masasmi, son of Chinen Sanda.  At least in part the bo techniques in all three lineages are descended from Chinen Sanda, if you want to look at it that way.

So why are they so different, you might ask. Why indeed? Ask different people, you get different answers, but I think it is obvious. Every generation changes something. They emphasize certain parts of their teachers’ instruction over others, they add their own flavor, they mix with something else they have learned. Do that a few times and you get variations that look different. I don’t think any of these systems look exactly like they did 4 generations ago. It seems silly to me to think they would. They have each branched out in a different way. Taira and Matayoshi had other teachers, as did most of the Yamane practitioners. They all made changes to what they had learned- that is the way of things.

But again, looking at these three systems they have a lot in common. They have common roots. They also all currently have at least two kata in common- Shushi/Suji no kon and some version of Sakugawa no kon.  While done a little differently they are pretty obviously the same forms. There are other kata connections as well:

  • both Taira and Matayoshi lineages do versions of Shishi (Soeishi) no kon
  • some Matayoshi folks do an Ufugushiku no Sakugawa that is in pattern obviously a version of the Yamane Ryu Sakugawa
  • in the past Matayoshi kobudo has included the Yonegawa no kon created by Chinen Sanda, much as Taira and some Yamane do
  • Matayoshi kobudo has, again in the past, also included Yara (Chatan Yara) no kon as Taira does
  • Yamane and Taira share Shirotaru no kon
  • some Yamane and both Taira and Matayoshi do versions of Tsuken/Chikin bo, though these are so different that they may not have much in common besides the name
  • Matayoshi and Taira share a kata called Choun no kon, though they are so different technically that they are very unlikely to share more than a name and even then the first character of the name is different. (The Choun in some Yamane groups is an clearly unrelated and recently developed kata.)

Honestly, it looks more like a shared syllabus than three different ones. And if you spend a little time with them, the mechanics also have more in common than it might at first appear.

So instead of trying to see who has what right or what wrong wouldn’t it make more sense to see how these systems inform each other?  What do they share? What is the same even if it does not initially appear to be? Why are certain things different? How do these differences affect application? Given their shared roots, that might give us some insight into the choices different teachers made about what to emphasize, what to de-emphasize (both in mechanics and content) and most importantly, why. Maybe a study group like McKenna sensei suggested here is a good idea, but across systems. Our systems are closely related. Instead of keeping apart or arguing about who is right, shouldn’t we be sharing with our family?

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