Published: May 1, 2020

Richard Kim’s Shorinji-Ryu Karate Origin and History Part I

This global pandemic has been such a challenge for all. Here in the Northern California Bay Area where we are based, the Shelter-in-Place order has been extended for another 30 days, until the end of May. This would test anyone’s resolve. During this time, I have had the opportunity to train alone for long periods, and I am glad my closest friend, Karate has been there for me. During good times and bad, it has been a constant that has kept me balanced, fit, of sound mind, and spiritually nourished.

For years, I have been asked by many of my students to write out a history and lineage of our specific style, O’Sensei Richard Kim’s Shorinji-Ryu Karate. I will do so here in a multi part blog. This will begin with a very basic summary of Karate’s history. If anyone reading this has more details or corrections to offer, please do so in our comments section. I welcome your participation.

Martial arts history and development tell you everything about sociological conditions of the time, and methods of thinking in relation to weapons systems, and political motivations of the surrounding regions. True to my normal form, while I will be laying out a timeline and characters in our Karate system, I will also touch on other martial arts such as Jiu-Jitsu and Judo when relevant. These two other Japanese arts have had several historical run-ins and a significant impact on the development of Karate as a result. I will also cover where I think all of these arts will be headed in the future.

The Beginning: Okinawan & Chinese Origins

The one person primarily given credit for the inception of Karate was a man from Okinawa named Chatan Yara (1668-1756). Okinawa is a small chain of islands referred to as the Ryukyu Islands stringing between China, Taiwan and Japan. During this period, the premier regional power for education was China. As a result, a burgeoning travel, trade and commerce market was expanding between Japan and all the Island Kingdoms including the Philippines and Indonesia, with Okinawa as a popular stopping point for all. 
At this time, one of the most prestigious apprenticeships one could get was admittance to the Shaolin Temple to be trained by Monks in Kung Fu and Chan, Zen Buddhism.

​Yara was of nobility, and spent 20 years at the Shaolin Temple in Fukien Province, China. He was educated in Shoalin Quan-Fa (Kung Fu), and the tenants of Buddha at the hands of Wong Chung Yoh. Upon returning to his home island in Okinawa, he found it in disarray. While China had official control of the island at that time, the Satsuma Clan of Japan was given control half of the year by the Chinese Government. With a lot looting and plundering afoot, Yara used his skills to defeat Samurai, and any would be challengers, both local and otherwise. His fighting skills were fearsome, and he was recruited by the officials to teach his skills to the local Okinawans. During this time, he was also trained by the renowned fighter Kushanku, who was an ambassador for the Qing Dynasty in Okinawa. Kushanku had also been trained in China by a Shaolin Monk in Shaolin Quan-Fa.

Takahara Peichin

Chatan Yara’s main known student was an Okinawan Monk named Takahara Peichin (1683-1760). He was a powerful Warrior, and was the first historically attributed to the principles of Do or “The Way” of Karate. Takahara’s most notable student was a man named Kanga Sakugawa (1733-1815), sometimes referred to as Tode Sakugawa (Tode, meaning ‘China Hand’, an old name for Karate) or Karate Sakugawa. Sakugawa had sought the tutelage of Takahara after his father had died at the hands of local bullies. Takahara schooled the young Sakagawa in the art of Tode, and Sakugawa rose to become not only a skilled warrior, but a pivotal character in the development of Karate.

Kanga Sakugawa

During his training while Sakugawa was young, he decided to visit Nakashima-Yukaku. There, he viewed a fantastically dressed Chinese man standing on a bridge watching the moon’s reflection on the water. For some reason, he decided to play a prank on the man, only to be swiftly countered by the Chinese man’s iron grip. The Chinese man told him that he was in danger, and was lucky that he had spared him because he was young. Sakugawa was ashamed, and then the man revealed to him that he was the famous Kushanku. Kushanku recognized Sakugawa as an acclaimed Karate practitioner, and went on to invite Sakugawa to train with him. Excited with this stroke of good luck, Sakugawa ran back to his village to ask his teacher, Takahara if he could train with Kushanku. Takahara shared in Sakugawa’s joy, and instructed him to go to Kushanku immediately. 

Evolution Part I: Karate and taking on characteristics of it’s own. 

At this point, the old art of Tode started to resemble the modern day art of Karate (Empty Hand) as we understand it today. Karate Sakugawa shunned the idea of being a Karate specialist in any one technique, or method. Rather, being a Generalist and having the ability to adapt to changing conditions was given priority. The reasoning for this is simple: as I referred to in the beginning, Okinawa was a popular stopping point for all ships traveling to China, the premier regional power for education and commerce. All peoples from Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, and more all passed through Okinawa on their way to China and also upon their return home. All of these travelers brought their native fighting styles with them such as, Kali, Escrima, Silat Serak, Kung Fu, and Jiu-Jitsu to name a few.

As you can imagine, plenty of confrontations broke out. Karate was made to adapt to these different fighting styles and changing conditions. As history shows, Karate was not only able to adapt to these other fighting styles it became a dominant fighting methodology, and was a closely held secret until approximately the year 1900. There were good reasons for this. All martial arts were the Fighting Technologies of their time and often determined the outcome of a battle, until the gun globally took hold as the mainstay weapon of choice.

Published: May 1, 2020

Categories: Uncategorized