BOOK REVIEW by Sensei Peter Leitch
Title: The Weaponless Warriors: An Informal History of Okinawan Karate
Author: Richard Kim
Published: Ohara Publications Incorporated, 1974
I first read this book in the spring of this year, so when it came time to write this report I found I had to refresh my memory a little. What started as a quick flip through the pages ended up being a complete re-read. This book is impossible to put down!
The author has divided the book into chapters arranged more or less in chronological order. Most of the chapters are each devoted to a single martial artist and his (or her) contributions to karate.
The book begins with the story of a young man known as Chatan-Yara. Yara has recently returned from China to his native Okinawan fishing village after a twenty year stint of intensive martial arts training. He comes to the assistance of a young girl who is being molested by a lone samurai. Yara ultimately defeats the well armed samurai with an oar from a nearby boat. Soon after this heroic event, he finds himself teaching martial arts to the locals so that they may protect themselves from marauding pirates and Japanese imperialists.
This chapter sets the tone for the remaining fourteen or so chapters of the book. Two chapters of the book are dedicated to explaining kata origins. It is interesting to note that apparently the kushanku kata was named after a Chinese martial arts master.
There are several stories of the effectiveness of karate in real-life situations, but the most exciting are the stories of how karate was successfully pitted against other martial arts. At 75 years of age, Itosu Yasutsune (one of Gichin Funakoshi's senseis) defeated a young Japanese judo champion. Choki Motobu, a controversial karate master who was born into Okinawan nobility was known to love a brawl. After watching a visiting European champion boxer of the day defeat one judoka after another, Motobu accepted the challenge and jumped straight into the ring to trounce the unwitting boxer.
A humorous story in the book involves one of the most famous masters in karate history. In disguise, the great Bushi Matsumura decided to test his wife Yonamine's reputed prowess in marital arts. He was soundly defeated in his first mock attack, and only after consulting with his sensei (Sakugawa) could he find a way of winning!
Of the many famous masters dealt with in the book, their are several who seem to stick out. Sakugawa, Bushi Matsumura, Itosu Yasutsune, and of course, Gichin Funakoshi to name just four made huge contributions to the martial art we now refer to as karate. Sensei Ohtsuka is also mentioned in the book as being "one of Funakoshi's most brilliant students". There is even an account of how Sensei Ohtsuka subdued a sword-brandishing kendo student during a workout!
In his colourful style, Richard Kim, not only gives the reader an enjoyable look at the history of karate, but he is careful to put it into the correct context of time and place. The reader will gain an appreciation for life in Okinawa during karate's "formative" years.
The book also contains three or four genealogy charts which detail the hierarchy and relationships between the original three or four most well known styles of karate.
The final chapter in the book is very deep in its subject matter: "Morality in Karate". This is essential reading for all karate and should be read often.
I highly recommend this book to all of our karateka. It is very readable and provides a valuable insight into the roots of our martial art.
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