Don’t believe me? It’s true I tell you! The Okinawans had both grappling and wrestling. They called it tegumi, and if you do karate you do it too (whether you know it or not).
Imagine for a second a culture that, for as long as anyone can remember, has placed an emphasis on combat training. A culture that has acted as a sea-hub for various other countries that had their own ideas and concepts about fighting. A culture that was banned of its militaristic weaponry.
Now imagine that same culture saying…we will ignore your close fighting range. You go away now.
It simply wouldn’t have happened, and it didn’t happen. In fact, wrestling has been a part of Okinawan culture for much longer than what we now know as karate.
What Was Tegumi Originally?
Tegumi has often been described as a form of Okinawan Sumo. When people hear the term Sumo they naturally envision the Japanese variety, wherein two giant, rotund men push and slap each other out of a ring (which is an awesome event, don’t get me wrong).
Unfortunately, Okinawans have never been built the same way. They simply don’t grow that large. Okinawan Sumo instead resembled more of a wrestling match. There were no established rings or ‘dojo’ for tegumi matches; they happened more frequently wherever flat, safe ground could be found. In order to win, one participant had to trip/throw, control, and ultimately pin his opponent’s back to the ground.
As there were no Nintendo’s at the time, this activity was quite popular, especially among the younger men and boys.
How it Became More Than a Sport
As it was, tegumi was mildly useful from a combative perspective. However, the Okinawans were also in the process of developing a more serious combative method derived from Chinese influence mixed with indigenous ideas. They called it Ti (or te), and the wrestling every Okinawan boy grew up with was subsequently integrated into the larger whole.
Where the sporting aspect of tegumi was mostly about leverage and off-balancing (aspects the Okinawans would not discard), the combative tegumi began to integrate poking, pulling, proding, pinching, small joint locks, gauging, and all variety of other nasty things. Tegumi was dirty in-fighting because the Okinawans realized that only a portion of life protection combat involved punching and kicking.
To spice things up even more, they began to integrate their tegumi with tuite and kyusho (vital point striking). They realized that as distances closed from punching/kicking range to grappling range, there was a variety of unpleasant technique-series they could utilize to setup, off-balance, and incapacitate their opponents.
Why it Went Away
A few generations ago (around 1905) karate was beginning to make its way into the Okinawan school system. The Okinawan masters charged with teaching children realized that all the devastating and permanently damaging techniques true karate entailed would not be safe in the hands of adolescents. After all, it would be very tempting for children to use their techniques in times of anger, or pride, or curiousity.
Azato, Itosu, and the other caretakers of karate thus decided to de-emphasis the tegumi and kyusho aspects and focus more on the physical fitness elements of stancing, punching, kicking, blocking, etc. Funakoshi Gichin (of Shotokan) found himself in a similar boat when first introducing karate to mainland Japan (remember, Funakoshi Sensei was invited to Japan as part of a physical education program and began his teaching at universities).
The activity of tegumi as a sport still lingered amongst the Okinawan populace, but as a method of combat it began to fade away. Many of the students both in Okinawa and Japan grew up not knowing about tegumi, or that a wrestling/grappling component even existed in their karate art. That lack of training was passed on to their students all the way down to us.
Why It’s Coming Back
Not every karateka on Okinawa was involved in teaching the public school system. Furthermore, teachers like Azato and Itosu didn’t just teach school children. Multiple instructors on the island were able to maintain a few private students on their own and pass on the ways of kyusho, tuite, and tegumi. That generation was able to keep the traditions alive.
One man in our current generation has done significant work to bring about public awareness of tegumi, and his name is Patrick McCarthy. Anyone who talks about tegumi, including myself, is likely influenced by McCarthy Sensei’s deep research and investigation. McCarthy Sensei has even developed complex training routines based off of the trapping, locking, and off-balancing aspects he has discovered over the years.
Tegumi is receiving even more attention recently with the increased popularity in jujutsu, brazilian jujutsu, and mixed martial arts. Martial artists are realizing the power and importance of clinching and ground fighting and are taking more active steps in at least becoming competent in those arenas.
Where is Tegumi?
Hidden in your kata of course. That is, the core principles and applications are buried in your kata from times well before application was watered down for the school system. In order to start accessing tegumi applications, you first must take off your niceness-gloves. Instead of punching and kicking, you have to develop the mindset of gauging eyes, grasping the throat, twisting skin, fish hooking, etc. From their you’ll notice your techniques become more open handed and more flowing one into the next.
Examine the core principles of movement and how your body changes in relationship to your opponents. Don’t turn away from an opponent during bunkai, take them with you on a throw or takedown. Find out what happens if you go to the ground with them. Most of all, have fun exploring and keep an open eye for ideas from other people, whether they are from karate, jujutsu, or anything else.
My best on your continued journey!
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Over the weekend I had a chance to study with Bill Hayes Sensei, a senior student of Eizo Shimabukuro. Whenever I get an opportunity to train with Mr. Hayes I am amazed at just how much I have yet to learn. This weekend he shared a little anecdote which I found intriguing.
To properly preface this story, I need to introduce you to the cast of characters. One day Bill Hayes was chatting with Jim Logue, a senior student of Taika Seiyu Oyata. Oyata Sensei is the developer of a style called Ryukyu Kempo, but due to complications, ultimately named his art Ryu Te.
While undoubtedly probing the deepest darkest secrets of karate, Logue and Hayes Senseis eventually turned to the topic of kata. Logue explained that one time while discussing the transmission and application of kata with his instructor, Oyata Sensei posed to him a question: “If I give you a book and you don’t understand it, is it the book’s fault?”
This wasn’t directed at Logue Sensei specifically, but more of an observation about how kata is treated in general.
The Blaming of Books
In regards to traditional training vs modern methods, kata is the oft mentioned reason for traditional stodginess and ineffectiveness. Certainly kata can be the cause of those bad things. But what Oyata Sensei suggested in just a brief thought was that the blame for kata’s problems may not necessarily lie in the kata itself.
A kata is like a book; one that explores the experiences and ideas of warriors from past generations. They encompass not just rote movements, but core principles that made these classical combatants so effective. As Hayes Sensei likes to say, “if you read a book many times over many years, the words never change. But if you are growing, the meaning and understanding of the book will grow with you.”
The understanding of kata is an extraordinarily deep process, made even more complex by generations of word-of-mouth transmissions and personal interpretations. It took many lifetimes to develop them into what they are today, and it would take just as many to unravel all of their possibilities. Making kata effective and valuable is not the kata’s responsibility, it is our own.
The Teacher Rosetta Stone
It would be careless to throw a Bible at someone and simply say ‘good luck’. It would be even more careless if that Bible was written in Latin. Students require guidance, a Rosetta Stone in order to have the best chance possible for extracting true value out of a text.
In martial arts and kata terms, it is the instructor’s responsibility to serve as that guide post. A Rosetta Stone won’t translate a book and spoon feed it to someone, but it will provide those critical junctions to put the student on the best path possible to understanding. As such, the collaborative effort of both teacher and student results in deeper and more meaningful understanding of not just the words but the core meaning as well.
Vigilant effort is required by both students and teachers as they continue to explore the concepts contained within classical training. The books need to be read, studied, memorized, forgotten, and read again.
I wish you continued luck and success in your studies!
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Hey everyone, it’s an early Christmas here at IkigaiWay. I’m pleased to bring you the second installment of my Community Prize Giveaway series!
One of the things that makes the internets so great is the massive amount of interaction possible. People with similar interests and passions can get together and truly benefit from one another. IkigaiWay has an awesome group of commenters and readers, and that is something I appreciate greatly. In addition, there are two quickly growing communities on Facebook and Twitter that are augmenting the message I think we are trying to spread on a website like this (that the martial way is a noble and worthy pursuit!). That being said, I’d like to continue to encourage/thank all the readers here with a giveaway of some really cool prizes.
How to Win
Winning one of the prizes I have lined up is really quite simple. Leave a comment here, on Facebook, or on Twitter. Commenters are submitted to my random drawing program which selects a winner. The contest will run for appx 1 month…starting….now.
What is There to Win?
For this giveaway I have the pleasure of teaming up with the good folks at TheMMAZone.net. Tony and his team are working hard to accommodate online shoppers and are offering a bunch of quality products, a few of which he was kind enough to provide for this giveaway. For the traditional artists out there, don’t worry – MMAZone has gear for people of all different styles.
Give em a visit!
The Revgear kicks far outperform more classic foam dipped foot gear. Foam dipped have the potential to crack and wear over time, where as the Revgear feature a more flexible brushed surface while providing great protection. Top quality elastic is also used for the hook and loop closure.
To qualify, join the crew on twitter!
The Tiger Claw Mitts are extended all the way down to the lower forearm to provide enhanced protection. the striking surface is thickly padded and features a very comfortable hand compartment for the trainer/partner. Dual wrist loops ensure stable usage.
To qualify, join the Facebook crew!
IkigaiWay Website Prize
The last prize is dedicated to anyone who leaves a comment right here on the website itself. I think you’re really going to like these – Tiger Claw Muay Thai Striking Pads.
These serious pads are designed to resist the crushing kicks and blows of Muay Thai kickboxers. They feature thick, durable padding with a quality leather covering. The bag is secured through one comfort handle and two wrist strap. Useful for a wide variety of training regiments!
To qualify, leave a comment on any post you see coming up for the next month (counts on old posts as well).
I’ll be coming out with some new content asap, and I try to keep things updated on Facebook and Twitter daily. Hope to see you around.
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