In the late 1950's to early 1960's, Tatuso Shimabuku began his formal study of Kobudo (Ancient Weapons) under the tutelage of weapons expert Taira Shinken. From Taira Shinken he learned the Bo katas: Urashi Nu Kun and ShiShi Nu Kun; the Sai kata; Chatan Yara Nu Sai, and the Tuifa kata: Hama Higa Nu Tuifa.
(1897 - 1970)
Source: Patrick McCarthy's "Ancient Okinawan Martial Arts - Koryu Uchinadi," Vol #1, 1999, Charles E. Tuttle Pub Co., Excerpted from pp103-110 www.koryu-uchinadi.com
The Father of Modern Kobudo Born Maezato Shinken in Nakazato village1897 on the off-island of Kumejima, Taira Shinken was the second son to a family of three boys and one girl but was given up for adoption as a child. Not an uncommon practice in old Japan, adoption was, especially for childless relatives, an accepted and popular alternative through which the family name could be carried on. Some say that Taira was first introduced to the weapon traditions through the tutelage of his grandfather Kanegawa Gimu (1862-1921), however, an alternative source suggests a different upbringing. After completing the required education at his rural village elementary school in Nakazato, Taira ventured out on his own. Landing a job at the sulfur mines in Minamijima, a neighboring off island, Taira worked very hard until a near fatal mishap changed his destiny. One tragic day Taira nearly perished when a support beam collapsed while he was working down in the mineshaft. Trapped under the rubble he was finally able to make his way back to the surface. Fortunately, he escaped with his life but not without injuries. Suffering multiple lacerations and contusions, along with a badly broken leg, Taira was unable to continue his job at the mine and was forced to return to Kumejima.
Following a rather lengthy recuperation which resulted in walking with a limp, Taira found another job in Kita-Daitojima but ultimately quit because he was often treated badly and ridiculed by fellow workers. Deeply offended by the mockery, Taira's melancholy prompted him to improve his physical condition by changing his life. With the hub of Japanese culture and economy centered on the mainland, Taira set out for Tokyo to start a new life. Like many other young men, during that radical era of Japanese history, Taira had heard of Kano Jigoro's reputation, and had entertained the idea of devoting himself to the study of judo in an effort to build his strength, develop his character and overcome his physical handicap. However, the task of finding a job and locating some modest accommodation, to support his endeavor, took precedence over his eagerness to study Budo.
Fortunately, like other Uchinanchu (Okinawan's) whom had recently ventured up to the capital city, Taira found adequate lodging at the Meisei Juku (the Okinawan student's dormitory), in Koishikawa's Suidobashi. And, it was also where he first met fellow countryman Funakoshi Gichin, the man most responsible for propagating karate (then described as Karate Jutsu) in the Kanto district. By September of 1922, Taira Shinken had become a deshi of Funakoshi Gichin and diligently pursued his ambitions through the study of Karate Jutsu. Taira's deep conviction, relentless training and perseverance not only restored his health, but also ultimately transformed his physique into that of a circus strongman. In the years that Taira spent under the guidance of Funakoshi he became quite well acquainted with other Okinawan masters who had also come to the mainland. Seven years of instruction under Funakoshi Gichin sensei had, in addition to providing Taira with a strong foundation, also encouraged him to expand his perspectives. By 1929 Taira began to study Kobudo directly under the tutelage of Yabiku Moden, the principal authority of the art on the mainland at that time. Three years later, in 1932, Taira moved to Gunma prefecture where he established his first dojo at the hot springs resort of Ikaho. And then, in August of the following year, during a seminar at the Ikaho dojo, Yabiku Sensei awarded Taira with his own Shihan Menkyo. Taira's enormous appetite for learning seemed only to be satisfied through his continuous research and assimilation of more knowledge. Amassing a comprehensive understanding while under the guidance of Master Yabiku, Taira, seeking to expand upon that knowledge, petitioned Funakoshi Sensei, during his 1933 visit to the Ikaho dojo, to recommend him to Mabuni Kenwa for further instruction. Gichin Sensei's introduction resulted in Taira becoming Mabuni's student in 1934.
Having studied directly under Itosu Ankoh and Higashionna Kanryo etc., Mabuni Sensei, together with Motobu Choki, Funakoshi Gichin, and Miyagi Chojun, was among the first to introduce karate to the mainland. In spite of the futile efforts of Yabiku Moden, Mabuni was also the first to effectively introduce kobudo on the mainland. As such, Mabuni was a highly respected master of both karate and kobudo.
Well established in the Kansai district Mabuni's highly eclectic convictions and charismatic personality attracted a considerable following, many of which also later supported Taira's independent kobudo movement. Among the most well known advocates of Mabuni's Shitoryu whom also supported Taira's campaign, were Sakagami Ryusho (Itosuha), Kuniba Shiyogo (Motobuha), Hayashi Teruo (Hayashiha), Konishi Yasuhiro (Shindo Jinen Ryu)and Mabuni's own son Kenei (Shitokai). Although there are others like the Shimabuku's (Tatsuo and Eizo), it was these men who were largely responsible for introducing Taira's kobudo to the Western World, through their success as international teachers of karatedo. Taira the Innovator Taira's relentless comparative analysis ultimately generated a myriad of remarkable Improvements in kobudo. Helping to expand the boundaries of kobudo he was able to establish a standard teaching format, where one had not previously existed. Through Taira's inexhaustible efforts enthusiasts were able to more easily improve their understanding of the weapon phenomenon through his creativity. Responsible for collecting, studying and preserving literally dozens of neglected traditions, Taira was regarded as the restorer of Okinawa's ancient weapon heritage.
Much in the same way that Itosu Ankoh Sensei had first brought together a myriad of formal exercises (kata) to establish a more comprehensive system of training, so too did Taira Shinken bring together many of the island's oldest and most prominent weapon traditions. Moreover, in an effort to facilitate his own practical hypotheses, Taira developed his own innovative training exercises (kata), many of which themselves later became popular traditions.
The brilliant exercises he contrived included two kata for the Nunchaku (the 2 sectional cudgel), and an other to accommodate his preoccupation with the sansetsukun (the 3 sectional cudgel). Furthermore, by incorporating the essential elements of attack and defense, in practical geometrical paradigms, Taira also went on to contrive a series of short exercises through which to safely explore and teach the actual combative applications to the various traditions that he was responsible for having revived.
With such an extensive collection of bojutsu knowledge (more than twenty separate traditions) Taira decided to create a single kata which embodied the central elements of cudgel fighting and did so. Subsequently, the kata "Kongo-no-kun," made by Taira, best illustrates his mastery of this tradition.
In an effort to teach the central principles of tekkojutsu (knuckles dusters), Taira also developed another special training exercise. Called Maezato no tekko (perhaps after his own name), the unique configuration is believed to have been based upon the foundation he developed while learning under Funakoshi Sensei.
Jigen no Saijutsu Having done so much to encourage the growth and direction of kobudo there is an interesting story, which discloses Taira's innovative aptitude. One day Taira was meditating at a local temple in Gunma Prefecture. Contemplating how best to facilitate a unique theory in saijutsu (the use of a truncheon) he noticed an unusual religious ornament, which commanded his full attention. Reminding him of an Uchinan-no-nunte (Okinawan fishing gaff) shaped something like a swastika, Taira quickly resolved that this unique configuration would unquestionably accommodate his fragmentary theory surrounding saijutsu. Taking advantage of this opportunity he later forged a modified weapon designed to meet his specifications and brought the concept to life in a formal exercise he called Jigen no manjisai.
The Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinko Kai having established a following in both Kansai and the Kanto districts Taira, longing to put foot back on native soil, returned to Okinawa in 1940 where he continued his research and teaching. However, by 1944, the dramatic affects of the war were taking its toll in Okinawa as island morale grew thin. Taira Sensei and a few students along with a group of local entertainers teamed up and toured the island in an effort to pick up the dilapidated spirits of both soldier and civilian.
Returning to his hometown of Kumejima after the war, Taira, supporting the allied forces, helped to rebuild the widespread destruction the tiny island had suffered. In doing so Taira gained considerable notoriety for his unselfish efforts to help others.
In the summer of 1948 with a new and vibrant outlook on life Taira Shinken resumed his crusade as a torchbearer of Okinawa's plebeian combative heritage. A rewarding acquaintance with Kamiya Jinsei (1894-1964), left Taira adding the bojutsu of Choun and Soeishi along with the saijutsu of Yaraguwa to his already extensive repertoire.
Realizing that the depth of his study was simply beyond the scope of one man Taira decided to organize a fraternity to strengthen the support his movement. Dedicated to the collection, preservation and promotion of Okinawa's civil combative legacy Taira founded the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinko Kai in 1955. With the establishment the fraternity, Taira Sensei traveled back to the mainland in an effort to solicit a more sizable patronage.
On the mainland, Taira's close liaison with Mabuni, Konishi, Sakagami, Hayashi and Kuniba had provided a unique opportunity through which to transmit his extensive research. Disclosing the importance of studying Kobudo and its affinity to karatedo he succeeded in establishing a fairly widespread following.
Back in Okinawa, the association had also gained the support of many. However, it would be an exaggeration to say that unprecedented multitudes gathered to study under Taira. Rather, he attracted many notable karate teachers who, representing a cross section of styles, all sought to explore the value of their native weapon heritage.
It would be no exaggeration to say that Taira's efforts to enhance the image of this ancient cultural legacy were inexhaustible. His campaign ultimately attracted commendable appreciation in Okinawa. The fruit of his labor gained the patronage of Higa Raisuke, Higa Seiichiro, Higa Ginsaburo and Akamine Yohei. The remaining disciples of Chinen (Yamane) Sandra's, these experts served as special consultants to the society, lending considerably more experience, and credibility, to Taira's crusade.
support from Okinawa's Karate community read like a who's who and included:
Chibana Choshin and Higa Yuchoku (Shorinryu), Shimabukuro Tatsuo (Isshinryu),
Shimabukuro Eizo (Shobayashiryu),
Enjoying such popularity and widespread support Taira Shinken had succeeded in bringing his movement to the forefront of recognition. In 1960 Fujita Seiko (1899-1966, the 14th head master of Kogaryu Ninjutsu and the president of the Institute of Ancient Japanese Martial Arts Studies, bestowed an honorary shihan menkyo (teachers license) on Taira Shinken in recognition of his dedication and contributions.
Later in 1963 Taira formed the International Karate and Kobudo Coalition (Kokusai Karate Kobudo Renmei) and named Higa Seiko its first president. In the following year, 1964, and by popular demand, he published the first book on his research entitled Ryukyu Kobudo Taikan. With a brief explanation of the disciplines evolution the book, now out of print, illustrated a few kata (the bojutsu of Shushi and Sesoko, the sai and tuifa of Hamahiga, and his own nunchakujutsu) and presented a few capsule biographies describing the most acclaimed masters. The book was intended to be the first of five publications detailing the magnitude of his research however, due to failing health, the other four volumes were never published. Later that year, after the book was published Taira Shinken was awarded his hanshi menkyo (masters certification) from the Zen Nippon Kobudo Renmei.
Taira's lifetime of dedication and accomplishment did not go unnoticed. Acknowledged by the American Armed Forces stationed in Okinawa, the weapon disciplines and karatedo as a cultural bridge of friendship, had a profound impact upon foreign interests. With the assistance of the Deputy Director of the American Bureau of Media Relations Samuel Kitamura, Taira Sensei was petitioned to provide demonstrations at the foreign schools on Okinawa's military bases, and did so.
Notice of the exhibitions aired on FEN (Far East Network) radio and was covered by the Morning Star newspaper. Arousing considerable interest General Lambert's high commission described the tradition as "a valuable piece of cultural heritage." The commission further concluded that through a deeper understanding of these fascinating ethnic traditions their two countries and cultures might be brought that much closer together. Hence, Taira Shinken was petitioned to introduce his research directly to the United States, and also did so.
Introducing fifteen different kinds of weapons, together with directions and complete set of photographs illustrating their use and application, Taira Shinken succeeded in launching a new era for the weapon disciplines. His contribution was acknowledged and placed safely within the venerable walls of the Smithsonian Institute.
Taira Shinken died at his home in September of 1970 from stomach cancer. Yet, in leaving this world Taira Shinken shall not be forgotten. His efforts to research, preserve and promote the ancient fighting traditions of the Ryukyu Kingdom shall live on forever through the enormous legacy he left behind. And, if there's any truth to the expression "tall trees provoke the pride of winds" then, Taira Shinken was, by far, the tallest tree in the forest of kobudo.
** NOTE - In 1964 Tiara Shinken published an instructors manual called The Encyclopedia of Okinawan Kobudo In the manual he gives instruction on the fundamentals of bo, sai, and Tonfa. Also there is a step by step photos of him performing a few weapons katas.