I recently had a chance to attend the "Sakura Sunday" festival in Fairmount Park outside of Philadelphia. I've visited the event before and have always enjoyed the festivities. Unfortunately this year there was some very early warm weather which caused the cherry blossoms to bloom and fade before the festival hit. Despite that, the performances, food, and craft booths all made it worthwhile anyway.
While there I got to sample some well made traditional Japanese snacks and watch a little bit of Aikido. I also observed a classic Odori style dance, which is very reserved and controlled.
The highlight of the event for me was the Tamagawa Drum and Dance Troupe. Every year the coordinators and players come up with exciting new routines and ideas. This year they revealed what might be my favorite prop they've ever used. You may have heard of decorative Japanese parasols known as maigasa. They are beautiful and delicate and can be used to add a unique visual element to dance. The Tamagawa Troupe developed a hardier, eye-catching version that also featured chimes along the edges. They executed the routine with a level of precision that would make any kobudo practitioner cheer.
Check out a few select cuts from the event, including a bit of the maigasa performance:
I had to stop myself from stealing one of those umbrellas to try out my bo kata. It would be awesome!
Okinawa is beautiful and it's people well-mannered, but even they are not protected from the realities of violence.
Throughout it's history Okinawa has been the stage for many conflicts and power plays, the two most notable being the Satsuma Invasion of 1609 and the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. During those times a great amount of combat went on, but what about the rest of Okinawa's history? What was it like day-to-day on the island?
For about as long as our records can tell, Okinawa has utilized a rudimentary class system. In it's early days the Ryukyu island chain (Okinawa being the largest of the islands) was split amongst a variety of chieftains. These small lords feuded in a constant tug of war for land and resources. Each ruler had a fighting class to battle for them and a working class to do the heavy lifting.
Eventually Okinawa conjealed into three main sects (known as the Sanzan period). A powerful ruler named Hashi (1422-1439) from middle Chuzan united all three territories after an extended military campaign. Years later, in the second Sho dynasty, Sho Shin (1477–1526) organized the local rulers in a unique way, pulling the leaders into a concentrated area in Shuri. He was also responsible for the first edict on the island banning the wearing and ownership of traditional weapons such as swords, firearms, spears, etc.
Weapons ban or not, the Okinawans had to deal with plenty of conflict in their normal lives. Territorial feudings persisted, rogue bandits known as wako scoured nearby islands (including Okinawa), and standard rabble-rousing was a stark reality.
What could be done?
Enter The Police
Sho Shin favored a Confucian method of societal order, and as such established very distinguished classes amongst his people. Along with the local lords (anji) who were now under his watchful eye in Shuri, Sho Shin designated multiple levels of Pechin. Pechin could range from the lofty Oyakata who were officials from important families, to the rather pedestrian Chikudun who came from non-noble and even common families.
Among the lower ranks sat the Shikusaji Pechin who were responsible for day-to-day law and order. These men of action were based out of an administrative building known as hirajo and operated within the Okumiza Bureau in Shuri itself1. Branching out from this main department were lesser kogumiza organizations operating via hirajo found in each of the outlying provinces.
Rank Amongst the Police
Inside the Shikusaji Pechin class were even more delineations. The most important inspectors or police chiefs were referred to as Ufuchiku, while lesser inspectors held the title Wakichiku. Beneath the inspectors sat the "beat cops" who held the titles of Ufusaji (senior cop) and Wakisaji (junior cop)2.
As you can see, the rank and file were well established and even resembled the organizational structure of modern law enforcement.
Luckily for lower class Okinawans, the order of society under Sho Shin was a mix of familial inheretence as well as meritocracy, meaning that individuals had some room to improve their station in life.These external motivations helped keep people deligent and operating at their maximum effort.
The Tools at Hand
The first tool of the Shikusaji Pechin was authority. Sho Shin's class development wasn't just on paper – each class could be distinguished by the flair and color of their garb. For example, Pechin could wear yellow or red hachimaki3 (headgear) depending on their rank.
Of course, eye catching dress wasn't enough on it's own; Shikusaji Pechin realized they needed a wide variety of public deterrents. Their duties ranged from corralling local drunks to engaging deadly wako, which required a diverse arsenal.
The two main weapons the Shikusaji Pechin adopted, especially after the weapons ban, were the sai and bo. The sai offered an exceptional ability to trap, ensnare, and deflect weapons. Sai were frequently unsharpened which meant they could break and bludgeon without killing.
Bo on the other hand offered a distinct length advantage along with clubbing capability. This allowed Shikusaji to control and dissuade perpetrators without resorting to lethal force. When combined, the distance and prodding of the bos along with the pinning and striking of the sai made for an effective system.
The sai itself was constructed out of high quality metal, something rather rare on Okinawa (remember the island was never rich with natural ore). Therefore seeing a sturdy pair of sai on the hip of a policeman was akin to seeing a well polished badge.
Naturally, the Shikusaji Pechin also took interest in weapons that would always be available – fists and feet. As such, they became active players in the importation and integration of empty hand technique.
Direct Impact on Karate and Kobudo
The impact of Shikusaji Pechin on karate and kobudo is not theoretical; there are multiple examples of it's influence. One of the most important men in this realm was the police chief of Shuri itself. This powerful man went by multiple names (as was common at the time), including Kinjo Sanda, Kinjo Daichiku, Ufuchiku Kanegushiku, Masanra Kanagusuku, and Usumei Kani. Whatever he was called, he was to be feared and respected.
One of his more well known names, Ufuchiku Kanegushiku, offers insight into his rank. Ufuchiku was the title reserved for high inspectors, and being the high inspector in Shuri was a big deal. Ufuchiku Kanegushiku's duties varied from crowd control to specific guard duty to the king himself.
Kanegushiku was said to be a rather private man but in his later years chose to pass on some of his learning, even developing his own sai kata4.
Since Kanegushiku's time law enforcement on Okinawa has had a constant impact on the direction and mindset of karate and kobudo.
1. McCarthy, Patrick. Bubishi. North Clarendon: Tuttle, 2008. pg. 83.
2. Swift, Joe. “The Roots of Ryukyu Kobujutsu.” Meibukan 10 July 2008: 2-4.
4. Alexander, George. Okinawa: Island of Karate. Lake Worth: Yamazato, 1991. pg. 49.
I'm pleased to present this interview with a very influential martial artist: Fumio Demura. Demura Sensei is known wordwide for his tireless efforts in spreading Shito Ryu Karate and Taira based Kobudo.
Demura Sensei's impact has spanned multiple countries and genres. While establishing a strong martial federation in the Shito-ryu Karate-do Genbu-kai, he has also acted as an advisor, choreographer, and stunt double in many movies and TV shows.
Through decades of deligent study, Demura Sensei has amassed a truly exceptional resume' of experiences (too many to list, they can be viewed here). Some of his most noteworthy television/movie projects include The Karate Kid (I,II,III), Rising Sun, Mortal Kombat, Walker Texas Ranger, Warrior Within, and more.
Demura Sensei keeps a very busy schedule even to this day, but he was kind enough to answer a few questions regarding his background and projects. I will also fill in a few details regarding Demura Sensei's life as the Q&A progresses.
MA: Demura Sensei, Is it true that your first experience with martial arts was at 9 years old, studying the art of Kendo? If so, what inspired you to get involved so early?
FD: I started Kendo in 1948. At that time we finish the war and all house was broken. I don't have shoes so I walk by bare foot, and no food and no toy to play so we cut trees and made bokken to play Kendo. A little later someone open a karate dojo but I was too young to join so Kendo was ok. I sign up to do Kendo and later my sensei say ok, you do karate.
The dojo Demura Sensei began training at was run by an individual named Asano. Asano Sensei was skilled in both Kendo and karate, and in time chose to share both with Demura Sensei. Later Demura Sensei began training more formally under Nakamura Taisaburo in Kendo and Sakagami Ryusho in karate.
In the 1940s and 1950s Kendo and Jujitsu were more important arts in Japan than karate. I inquired as to what attracted Demura Sensei to the Okinawan born art:
MA: What was it about karate that caught your attention and inspired you to continue studying it?
FD: At that time Karate-do was mystery! I hear about but never yet seeing it, so I wanted to learn. In the dojo and life I was hard working day and night, so in time I got to see and do.
Demura Sensei trained under many martial luminaries, but in his kobudo adventures none were more impactful than Taira Shinken. Shinken has been known as one of the most influential kobudo artists of his generation, alongside individuals such as Matayoshi. I asked about Demura Sensei's time with Taira Sensei:
MA: When was your first introduction to kobudo? What made you choose to add that to your growing experiences in the martial arts?
FD: It started while at Sakagami Sensei's Itosu-Kai dojo. Mr.Taira was moving and leaving one or two years so I training every day with him in Bo, Sai, Kama, Nunchaku, Tonfa.
MA: Do you have any special memories of training with Shinken Taira Sensei? What was he like as an instructor?
FD: Mr. Taira always walked little funny (he broken leg long time ago) and he treat me every day a little different…but I found out he trained "old way" (no question, just do it). During training I adjusted myself, so he get mad at me when I do wrong. But he was very tender man and would forget what happened minutes later.
Demura Sensei combined that experience with more training from other skilled exponents, such as Motokatsu Inoue, Hyogo Kuniba, Teruo Hayashi.
In 1963 Demura Sensei was brought to the United States by his colleague Donn Draeger, and once there met an individual named Dan Ivan. Ivan Sensei was on the lookout for talented instructors to work with in his Southern California Dojo (pl), and Demura certainly fit the bill.
A few years later Demura Sensei agreed to participate in an international tournament, and that's where his love for movies and publication began.
MA: What inspired you to get involved with the Hong Kong Film industry and Hollywood in the mid-1970s? Was there something particularly attractive about making movies?
FD: It began when I did demo. At the International tournament Bruce Lee was watching and after he asked me how to use weapons. So I spent time and showed him. He used weapon for his films and I saw how he did it. After that I made Warrior Within and many other film and TV show for demo. One special was for NINJA from Nu Image Production. They use a lot of weapons and I coordinated the film.
MA: What was it like teaching Bruce Lee weapons?
FD: Bruce Lee is same like you and me, human. But he have strong ideas and he study lot. He was passionate guy so was easy to teach him.
In time Demura Sensei wrote a series of books which have since become staples of the kobudo world. In his series, each weapon receives it's own separate treatment, and in each he lays out history, basic techniques, and pictorial guidelines.
Out of curiosity, I inquired about which particular weapons were Demura Sensei's favorite. he answered simply that he considered bo and sai his main weapons.
Returning to the matter of teaching, especially in the modern era, I inquired about some of Demura Sensei's ideas for students and his federation:
MA: How soon do you begin teaching new students about things like honesty, honor, and good manners? Do you feel it is as important as the physical aspects?
FD: When start day one I make clean up dojo floor or flowers and I explain why you need bow and answer "Yes or Hai". I also tell why to move quickly, etc…. that is budo and traditional way…not too much technique.
MA: Could you discuss the current state of the Genbu-Kai, and how you would like to see it grow moving forward?
FD: Genbu-kai meaning is Gen(Original or professional) BU( Martial Arts) Kai (group). My point is that we teach budo. Budo is not to fight, but to make perfect person. Other meaning is that can you can become full person in society. That is Genbu-kai karate-do.
This answer can be likened to one of Demura Sensei's prior quotes: "In Genbu-Kai Karate our goal is for every one of our students to have a strong character and to have the successful life of a good person – this is the core of our way, our Samurai spirit."
I'd like to thank Demura Sensei for taking time out to answer these questions and give us some insight into how his career has developed. Be certain to keep an eye out for more projects from Demura Sensei as he is always on the move!