Difference between Okinawan and Japanese Karate

K-man

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From time to time I have written that Okinawan karate is different from Japanese Karate. Those who know the difference understand where I am coming from but there are many who have limited knowledge of karate that look at the Japanese way as the only way.

I came across this article this morning and thought I might share it. Obviously there are many other differences as well that people who have experienced the differences might like to contribute.

10 Differences Between Okinawan Karate Japanese Karate KARATEbyJesse
 

Drose427

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Out of curiosity, was Okinawan Karate a split sect of Japanese Karate? Or was it a combination of Okinawan Martial arts and Japanese karate? Our TSD's lineage goes back into Okinawan Martial Arts, but I've never actually had the opportunity to learn about how Okinawan Karate itself came to be.
 

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enjoyed reading the article now I need to go back and read all of the links.
thanks for posting it
 

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Interesting read. What do you think is the biggest, most significant, or most important difference between Okinawan Karate and Japanese Karate?
 
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Out of curiosity, was Okinawan Karate a split sect of Japanese Karate? Or was it a combination of Okinawan Martial arts and Japanese karate? Our TSD's lineage goes back into Okinawan Martial Arts, but I've never actually had the opportunity to learn about how Okinawan Karate itself came to be.
In a nutshell ... karate began in Okinawa. It was taken into the schools in Okinawa in the early 1900s. When the Japanese saw the health benefits they wanted it too. It was introduced into the schools and universities of Japan mainly due to the efforts of Gichin Funakoshi. His organisation became Shotokan and that had a huge influence on TKD.
 
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Interesting read. What do you think is the biggest, most significant, or most important difference between Okinawan Karate and Japanese Karate?
The biggest difference for me would have to be distance. In Japan it was a prerequisite for activities like Judo and Karate to have a competitive aspect. So instead of the grappling Okinawan style that was hands on, Japanese karate was developed with the huge sparring element you see today. That didn't exist in Okinawa although there is a trend towards competition in some Okinawan karate in recent time.

Another huge difference is the method of training. In Okinawa the training is far less formal than the regimented lines marching up and down the dojo like you see in Japan. Here they are practising kihon, or basics, and unfortunately many Western karate schools have never advanced beyond the kihon, perhaps the main reason why people with little or no karate training jump on the 'karate is useless' band wagon.

Of course that leads on to the kata and bunkai where again, the kata you normally see is kihon. It is patently obvious that you don't fight that way. It is how you learn it. However our friends who have no idea jump on kata as being useless, as they have never been shown how it is used.

There are many other differences as well but I'll follow up with more later.
 

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i feel the article could have elaborated on the fact that Okinawa was not originally part of Japan but had its own identity with its own unique language and this is why the karate terms differ and are not found in Japanese schools. there are some statements made i would argue, but they are not really important to the piece as a whole.
in my own experience i find that as time passes Okinawan Karate is changing and becoming more like the Japanese version and more in line with the worlds expectations of Martial arts. so the lines between Okinawan and Japanese karate are becoming blurred.
i do think it is important to recognize that there is a difference between the two and to extend that to the separations between Okinawan Naha- Te , Tomari-Te and the Shorin -Te systems. not to mention the American karate and how different that is as well. i find it very frustrating on these forums when people make statements that "karate is...karate should be like" and such comments. as soon as someone defines what karate is like or should be, they are often assuming all karate is the same, and its not.
 

hoshin1600

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Interesting read. What do you think is the biggest, most significant, or most important difference between Okinawan Karate and Japanese Karate?
one of the more significant points i find is in terms of Bunkai. now some may have a different view on this than myself but bunkai is meant to be a meaning behind the movements of the kata. i find many people feel that there is only one meaning in a movement or series from the kata. from my experience that is not the intent of bunkai or kata. kata is a study of movement and principles of action not technique. Bunkai should be a reflection of the individuals understanding of these movements and the principals involved. as you study kata over time you will discover multiple meanings for a single kata movement. my bunkai or explanation of the kata will be different from someone else and my own study of kata and its meanings will change over time. once you define one meaning or a standard technique to an action, you stop the learning and discovering process and the study of kata becomes an exercise not unlike kihon basics.
 

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there are two methods for the preformance of kata. one is "shimejurusan" kata which is an Okinawan term which refers to a textbook perfect kata. this is the common methodology found in Japanese kata. the concept is that the kata exists of its own accord and it is up to the karateka to give the kata life without mixing in his or her own habits and individual bias. the instructor will often critique the kata with "corrections" like ...your back foot needs to be turned out a liitle more, your action here, needs to be faster and slower here.

the other method of kata i refer to as "sosho" which is a calligraphy term. while shimejurusan can be thought of as "block text" sosho is cursive. the old joke is that your doctor has the worst hand writting. there is truth to this. as we write our own name over and over thousands of times the look and feel of our signature changes and becomes more fluid and in time becomes more of a mark that symbolizes our own identity rather than letters used to spell a sound and a verbalized name. society recognizes this and we use our signature as a mark of authentication on items like documents and money checks. in karate sosho is the same. my kata will not look like anyone else. it is a unique mark of my identity as a martial artist. this is to me why we are artists not scientists. it is MY kata. my understanding of the kata and the bunkai along with my own strengths and attitudes should be reflected in the preformance. one can tell a Van Gogh from Renoir and the difference between Eric Clapton and Chet Atkins. the problem with this method is that it is very difficult to teach in a group. organizations cannot make standards and ranking becomes difficult. for these reasons and others sosho has been pushed aside for the institution of shimejurusan kata.
 

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there are two methods for the preformance of kata. one is "shimejurusan" kata which is an Okinawan term which refers to a textbook perfect kata. this is the common methodology found in Japanese kata. the concept is that the kata exists of its own accord and it is up to the karateka to give the kata life without mixing in his or her own habits and individual bias. the instructor will often critique the kata with "corrections" like ...your back foot needs to be turned out a liitle more, your action here, needs to be faster and slower here.

the other method of kata i refer to as "sosho" which is a calligraphy term. while shimejurusan can be thought of as "block text" sosho is cursive. the old joke is that your doctor has the worst hand writting. there is truth to this. as we write our own name over and over thousands of times the look and feel of our signature changes and becomes more fluid and in time becomes more of a mark that symbolizes our own identity rather than letters used to spell a sound and a verbalized name. society recognizes this and we use our signature as a mark of authentication on items like documents and money checks. in karate sosho is the same. my kata will not look like anyone else. it is a unique mark of my identity as a martial artist. this is to me why we are artists not scientists. it is MY kata. my understanding of the kata and the bunkai along with my own strengths and attitudes should be reflected in the preformance. one can tell a Van Gogh from Renoir and the difference between Eric Clapton and Chet Atkins. the problem with this method is that it is very difficult to teach in a group. organizations cannot make standards and ranking becomes difficult. for these reasons and others sosho has been pushed aside for the institution of shimejurusan kata.

This is very interesting and a good insight, can I ask what style you train in, is it Okinawan goju-ryu? And if you don't mind, what level?

For some reason, I have never heard of this separation or approach to kata - don't get me wrong, this difference is of course obvious, but I do not recall ever being told of this formally by my sensei (4th and 5th dans, one who has trained in Okinawa and in Japan) in such a way and with reference to the terms as you have put it.
 

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From time to time I have written that Okinawan karate is different from Japanese Karate. Those who know the difference understand where I am coming from but there are many who have limited knowledge of karate that look at the Japanese way as the only way.
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Yes, this is a very important, if not critical distinction.... I've reading back through the MT articles on karate.
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Because the Japanese karate(s) is so popular, the Okinawan styles are often placed in the background....
...TSD's lineage goes back into Okinawan Martial Arts, but I've never actually had the opportunity to learn about how Okinawan Karate itself came to be.
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My understanding is that the WWII Era onward traditional martial arts in Korea were based or heavily influenced by the Japanese karate, which at that time was just being developed from it's Okinawan ancestors....
 

ShotoNoob

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In a nutshell ... karate began in Okinawa. It was taken into the schools in Okinawa in the early 1900s. When the Japanese saw the health benefits they wanted it too. It was introduced into the schools and universities of Japan mainly due to the efforts of Gichin Funakoshi. His organisation became Shotokan and that had a huge influence on TKD.
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Thanks for the 'nutshell' summary. I think this is key in understanding what the founder(s) of Japanese karate intended it to be & do, what the Japanese karate was meant to accomplish for it's practitioners....
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IN speaking about Japanese karate, pluses & minuses, your perspective should be the jumping off point--so to speak. Imperative to the proper use & interpretation of the Japanese karate style. As well as understanding of it's Okinawan lineages, and the Korean versions. I call the latter, Korean karate.
 

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Of course that leads on to the kata and bunkai where again, the kata you normally see is kihon. It is patently obvious that you don't fight that way. It is how you learn it. However our friends who have no idea jump on kata as being useless, as they have never been shown how it is used.
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This is where I think traditional martial artists involved in karate split into two camps. Your camp I believe--which I will call the applications camp--is looking specifically at effective fighting techniques. The simplified Japanese versions can have some problems here.... The other camp, I will call the tradition camp, believes that the techniques and exercises are correct & effective as shown.
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My take is that either camp is looking for the right answers. My view is that both camps have merit, and furthermore, it takes a lot of study to ferrite all this out.
 

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This is very interesting & a good insight, can I ask what style you train in, is it Okinawan goju-ryu? And if you don't mind, what level?

For some reason, I have never heard of this separation or approach to kata - don't get me wrong, this difference is of course obvious, but I do not recall ever being told of this formally by my sensei (4th and 5th dans, one who has trained in Okinawa and in Japan) in such a way and with reference to the terms as you have put it.
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My school adheres to the "textbook" version of kata. But ultimately, eveyone's kata is an individual form, as is all of one's traditional karate practice....
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Shotokan karate legend, Kanazawa speaks directly to this issue....
 

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Okinawan vs. Japanese Karate
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My working conclusion is that the Japanese karates are easier to understand & train. The Okinawan karates are more sophisticated in design & effective in actual combat.... The flip side is that the latter are more demanding in their training, and hence require more time, effort & study to reach that higher level of effectiveness. More adaptable technique alone will not get you there....
 
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This is where I think traditional martial artists involved in karate split into two camps. Your camp I believe--which I will call the applications camp--is looking specifically at effective fighting techniques. The simplified Japanese versions can have some problems here.... The other camp, I will call the tradition camp, believes that the techniques and exercises are correct & effective as shown.
There is very little difference between the kata of the Okinawan or Japanese styles. But kata is kihon. Simply training the basics. Certainly the techniques are correct as shown but I cannot see how alone you could call them effective.
My take is that either camp is looking for the right answers. My view is that both camps have merit, and furthermore, it takes a lot of study to ferrite all this out.
Mmm! I think it's a bit like giving a box of paints to a child and asking him to paint a self portrait. Give the same box to an artist and you will have a totally different result. Certainly both have merit but I know which painting will be more complete.

When I was studying the Japanese style I 'knew' about twenty kata. Since swapping to the Okinawan style I still perform twelve kata but I really don't 'know' any of them. I've got a fair handle on two or three but I keep going back to the beginning and changing things.

So while both camps may be looking for the same things from kata, I think they might be looking in different places. That means they are very likely to come up with totally different answers.
 

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Back in 1974 Tani Sensei Shitoryu/Shokokai taught us that originally his sensei and six others from different ryu from Okinawa toured Japan to popularize Karate. Only names I remember were Gichin Funakoshi and Gogen Yamaguchi. But everybody knows those names. What we did was very upright.
 

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There is very little difference between the kata of the Okinawan or Japanese styles. But kata is kihon. Simply training the basics. Certainly the techniques are correct as shown but I cannot see how alone you could call them effective.
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Yes, I know that's how you feel. I responded briefly to that. Will add more later....
Mmm! I think it's a bit like giving a box of paints to a child and asking him to paint a self portrait. Give the same box to an artist and you will have a totally different result. Certainly both have merit but I know which painting will be more complete.
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Yes. But you presume you are a better judge of that than the creator & forerunners of Shotokan, later the Japanese styles & Korean styles of karate. I see merit in those Master's perspectives.... And yours....

When I was studying the Japanese style I 'knew' about twenty kata. Since swapping to the Okinawan style I still perform twelve kata but I really don't 'know' any of them. I've got a fair handle on two or three but I keep going back to the beginning and changing things.
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Yes, I believe that is the better way--to focus on fewer kata, and the Okinawan Masters (the majority) are in line with that....
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This is also 1 reason I am not going onto the "Master" level. I am concentrating on 'mastering' the Heian kata, perhaps looking at versions of same contained in other traditional karate styles....

So while both camps may be looking for the same things from kata, I think they might be looking in different places. That means they are very likely to come up with totally different answers.
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Yes & no. But this is a vast question. I'm convinced you are taking a serious path, the more 'sophisticated' path. More sophisticated may not translate into better.... The potential to be better, I agree with your overall thesis....
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P.S. My closer look at the heian kata includes looking at some of quote--impractical & unworkable or unfathomable techniques or bunkai. I'm not so concerned about these technique flaws as you are....
 

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There is very little difference between the kata of the Okinawan or Japanese styles. But kata is kihon. Simply training the basics. Certainly the techniques are correct as shown but I cannot see how alone you could call them effective.
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Take the taikyoku kata. Simpleton looking. I agree.
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I preface this by saying that righ Franklin (IMO) is not the greatest boxer.... a tremendous UFC competitor though....
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My appraisal: Fundamental Shotokan kumite pointing fighting style executed well..... Basic technique applied properly.
 
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Yes. But you presume you are a better judge of that than the creator & forerunners of Shotokan, later the Japanese styles & Korean styles of karate. I see merit in those Master's perspectives.... And yours....

Not at all. Shotokan is not what Funakoshi envisaged just as Goju Kai has a totally different perspective to Okinawan Goju. They were developed the way they were to teach to the masses. Shotokan and Goju Kai were the dominant styles by far. They were taught in a different way for different reasons.

Yes & no. But this is a vast question. I'm convinced you are taking a serious path, the more 'sophisticated' path. More sophisticated may not translate into better.... The potential to be better, I agree with your overall thesis.....
Nothing to do with better. You want to enter competition, the Japanese way is far more defined. You want to understand kata you have to search for yourself the way it is encouraged in Okinawa. But that doesn't mean that a Shotokan practitioner can't also do that. Just that is probably not frequently taught that way.

P.S. My closer look at the heian kata includes looking at some of quote--impractical & unworkable or unfathomable techniques or bunkai. I'm not so concerned about these technique flaws as you are....
I'm not at all concerned with flaws. The only flaws are in my understanding. I don't believe that any of the Heian kata are flawed. I think that Gogen Yamaguchi attempted to copy parts of the Heian kata without understanding what the Heian kata were teaching. We ended up with Goju Taikyoku kata that was just for training basics without much actual meaning.
 
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