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Martial Arts


Photo: KANO Tatsuhiko

Many different types of martial arts are practiced in Okinawa but most of the punching and kicking techniques have strong influences from Chinese fighting styles. Historically, Okinawa has had a close relationship with the Fujian Province in China, and consequently, the fighting techniques of the southern part of China have had the most significant impact (Nanquan). As for grabbing and throwing skills, we have Okinawan sumo which is quite similar to Korean sumo. 

According to one theory, the origin of empty-hand fighting in Okinawa comes from Kajiwara Ikki. He claims that the Shimazu overlords of old Okinawa prohibited Okinawans from carrying any weapons. As a result, bare-handed fighting skills were developed among the people as a form of resistance to tyranny. Regardless of the authenticity of this theory, it may hold some elements of truth. As can be seen in the relationship between Chinese martial arts and anti-government groups, martial arts was partly developed “for resistance.” However, there is an underside – it can also be used “for oppression.” By the way, not many Okinawan weapons are deadly. 

Even now, there are tales of martial arts masters in every village. Groups of young men also perform martial arts during festivals with weapons such as (staff), kama (sickle), toifā or tonfā (a melee weapon), and nunchaku (two sticks attached together by a chain or rope). Is it too much to say that such martial arts forms practiced by young men are imbued with the history of Ryukyu/Okinawa. 

Many boys attend karate classes and during Sports Day at school, they show martial arts performances with staff (). This culture has produced some noted boxers and kickboxers. Small but hot-blooded, the young Okinawans can hold their own in weight-based combat sports. 

Okinawan youth recruited to work in Tokyo all head for Koorakuen Hall to see the Okinawans beat mainland Japanese fighters in the ring. It is a place they can feel proud of being Okinawan. Young fighters under the ring’s spotlight must surely hear the finger whistling of their fans. 

Ah, yes. Martial arts are sometimes interwoven with the beautiful dances of Okinawa. Countless Yamatonchu, mainlanders visiting Okinawa, having behaved insolently to an Okinawan dancer they thought was a woman like any other, ended up having their testicles smashed with a knee to the groin. How frightful!