Any information on the Shimazu Clan Weapons Ban

Discussion in 'Japanese Culture and History' started by Ivan, Sep 27, 2019.

  1. Ivan

    Ivan Orange Belt

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    Any sort of information would be appreciated, with sources too. I am mainly looking into how it impacted the origins of Karate in Okinawa. Thanks :)
     
  2. Rat

    Rat 2nd Black Belt

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    Tag me into it as well. :p
     
  3. Bill Mattocks

    Bill Mattocks Sr. Grandmaster

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    According to "The Historical Sociology of Japanese Martial Arts," by Raul Sanchez Garcia, the Shimazu Daimyo in Kyushu placed it under the dominion of the Satsuma domain in 1609. The Ryuku Kingdom was considered to still exist, but it was basically a complete vassal of the Shimazu. Tokugawa did not permit trade between Japan and China, so Okinawa became a thriving Chinese trading partner, with many martial arts exchanges taking place as well during the period of 1870 to 1920.

    In addition, there were exchanges with Japan, such as Matsumora Sokon (Shuri Te) going to Japan and learning from Samurai, learning jojutsu and kenjutsu from the Jigen Ryu.

    It should be noted that the complete dominion of the Ryukyu islands was a kind of a secret, because the trade between China and Okinawa was banned, but the only way that Satsuma made any money from Okinawa. Furthermore, inroads had been made into Japan by western foreigners, including Catholic missionaries, leading to a ban on them and their religions, extending down to Okinawa as well, which the Shogun had to depend on Satsuma to defend ("The Origins Of Japanese-Chinese Territorial Dispute," by Murata Tadayoshi).

    Much has been made of the fact that the Shimazu Clan banned swords when they conquered the Ryukyu Kingdom, but it was a continuation of a ban that China had first placed on Okinawa, and it was kept in place to keep the Chinese convinced that they still owned Okinawa, when in fact they did not (and they knew it, but pretended not to, in order to continue trade with Okinawa). I do not know about 'all weapons' being banned, but swords were.
     
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  4. oftheherd1

    oftheherd1 Senior Master

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    FWIW, when I was on Okinawa from 1962 to 1964, I read a book from the on post library, on the history of Okinawa (big book, about 4 inches thick). That was of course a long time ago and I don't recall the name of the book nor the author. Some things have stayed in my memory though.

    One was that China was a suzerain over Okinawa. That meant that Okinawa had to provide a tribute to China every year for the protection they got against other countries. They were also allowed to send trade ships which benefited both China and Okinawa. When the Japanese decided to chance taking over Okinawa, they were not too confident to, or simply didn't yet want a conflict with China.

    They therefore required Okinawa to continue sending tribute to China, as well as Japan, and they were not allowed to advise China of the true situation... Of course, that created a very difficult financial position for Okinawa, but there was nothing they could do about it. As an aside, they would also have to get the permission/blessing from for any new king that wished to ascend the throne.

    The old Shuri castle was easily accessible and it was a sort of popular site to visit by both Okinawans and military personnel. I guess now it is a popular tourist site. There was mention of weapons in the book, and I seem to recall that it was about the Japanese restricting their production and use, but I am not sure about that. If I can remember the name of the book I will come back and post it.
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2019
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  5. Bill Mattocks

    Bill Mattocks Sr. Grandmaster

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    That was my understanding as well. There was a strange 'we pretend we don't know what's going on' dance between China, Okinawa, the Shogunate, and the Shimazu clan. The Japanese government didn't want to know that Okinawa was trading with and paying tribute to China, so the Shimazu kept it secret from them, although it was both known and expressly forbidden. China also pretended not to know that Okinawa was no longer a vassal, as long as it got its tribute and could trade with the Ryuku Kingdom. Politics, it seems, hasn't change much in centuries. People are people.
     
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  6. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Green Belt

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    I don't think the ban on swords had much effect on the development of karate. Not that many people had them to begin with, and the professional security type people (mostly of the pechin class - Okinawan Samurai, more or less) were allowed to have them in the performance of their duties. At least that is what I gleaned from my study. And this class was what most of the early karate men belonged to - NOT the peasant class.

    Additionally, I think most of Okinawa-te was developed for unarmed combat, or if you should loose your weapon during a fight. Since the early karate evolved for use without weapons, having weapons banned would not have much effect.
     
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  7. isshinryuronin

    isshinryuronin Green Belt

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    My quoted previous post, above, was based on a synthesis of general info I absorbed in the past. Of course, right after posting it, I came across a conflicting opinion by the late 10th dan Shorinryu master, Shoshin Nagamine. While I think my previous posting is accurate to at least some degree, Nagamine, (Tales of Okinawa's Great Masters, Nagamine. 2000 Tuttle pub. McCarthy, translator. pg. 121) writes: "(fighting) techniques were cultivated by law enforcement officials..., but only after the private ownership and stockpiling of weapons were prohibited......the development and mastery of empty-hand techniques became the necessary alternative."

    So, I conclude that it was a confluence of various factors that contributed to karate development: Trade contact with China leading to the dissemination of kung fu (quan fa) which was blended into native Okinawan fighting, and then accelerated and reinforced by the weapons ban.

    Would there be karate without the weapons ban? I think so. There were plenty of other conditions present in 1600-1900 Okinawa conducive to martial art development. Modern USA has no weapons ban (yet) yet martial arts are thriving here.
     

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