Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The face of Azato

Gichin Funakoshi is well known as having had two teachers: Yasatsune (Anko) Azato and Yasatsune (Anko) Itosu.

As I pointed out in my previous article, the adjacent group photo shows Funakoshi (already a karate master in his own right) and some school students just before a demonstration to Prince Hirohito in 1921.  I have tentatively concluded (see my previous argument) that it is Funakoshi's teachers - Azato and Itosu - who are shown in the inserts (as was custom, particularly when you consider that the photo was used by Funakoshi in his 1922 book "Ryukyu kempo").

This leaves only one real question, and this is who is Azato and who is Itosu?

Having just deduced (with, I think, good reason) that the person in the right insert must be Itosu, it follows that the person on the left is Azato.  In other words, we have, for the first time, a reasonably identifiable picture of Anko Azato!

He is certainly quite distinct from the drawings we've previously seen  (see on the left) - just as distinct as the photos of Itosu are from most of the drawings depicting that master.

So finally we have a photograph of the mysterious Yasatsune "Anko" Azato - the only "known" one (see to the right).

In other words, here is the face of Funakoshi's other principal teacher - the man who might very well have taught him techniques such as the "haiwan nagashi uke" which the shotokan school uses in its tekki (naihanchi) shodan kata (as opposed to the chudan uke done at this point in most other Itosu-based schools).

On that (hopefully interesting) observation, I'd like to thank all my readers for their patronage this year and wish you all a very happy 2014!

Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic

Monday, December 30, 2013

The face of Itosu

Few karate masters have exerted as much influence as Yasatsune "Anko" Itosu (1831 – 11 March 1915) - the alleged creator of the pinan kata and possibly the naihanchi series; teacher of such luminaries as Gichin Funakoshi, Choki Motobu, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Shinpan Shiroma, Choshin Chibana and Kenwa Mabuni - among many others.

It would be fair to say that, while his legendary teacher Sokon Matsumura is regarded as the start point of the Suidi or Shorin school of karate, the real "father" of this school was Itosu.

I will let you read Tom Ross's excellent articles on Fightingarts.com concerning the man and his legacy.  I also invite you to read my article on the Channan kata and on the origins of Naihanchi.

But what did Itosu look like?  Is the picture to the right really him?

Until 2006 the only images we had of Itosu were drawings - and conflicting ones at that.  Specifically there were 3 main ones to be found on the net.

Two seemed quite similar, depicting Itosu's famously fierce gaze.  Indeed, if I were to hazard a guess, I'd say one was actually based on the other (as was common during that era - they didn't have photocopiers or digital images to download!).

These drawings imply that Itosu was a broad shouldered, physically imposing man, so at least in this respect they seem to be accurate.

[Indeed, somewhere around 2006/7, I removed the photograph at the start of this essay from my our Academy's karate history web page after receiving an email complaint from a high-ranking shorin-ryu karateka that this was "not Itosu" but rather another karate master (I seem to recall reference was made to Hanashiro Chomo).  I replaced the photograph with the second of these images on the strength of that complaint (I was, at that time, unaware of the McCarthy article)!]

Notably, both pictures show an older man with a full head of hair, a beard and a thin moustache.  I have not been able to find the source of these pictures, but I assume they were drawn based on verbal accounts rather than as part of a "portrait sitting".

On the other hand we also have third drawing of Itosu which can be found in Frank Hargrove's book "The 100 year history of shorin-ryu karate".  Again, this drawing is said to be a composite based on oral descriptions.

The picture in Hargrove's book is notably used in the first of the Itosu articles by Tom Ross on Fightingarts.com.

Interestingly, this picture shows a younger man.  He has no beard, a very thick moustache and, somewhat strangely, he is wearing a western shirt (typical of the late 1800s), suit and tie.

The salient point to note is that this third drawing seems to bear no resemblance whatsoever to the other two.  Where the others seemed to be copied from each other (right down to the kimono neckline), this third drawing seems totally out of place.  Who would think to draw a karate master in western garb?  Why not show his famously broad shoulders?

Then on Tuesday 28 February 2006, Patrick and Yuriko McCarthy published the following article in the Okinawa Times, revealing the first known photograph of Itosu.

The picture was formerly in the possession of karate master Kinjo Hiroshi who donated it, along with 3,000 other photographs in his collection, to the Okinawa Prefecture Library to be used for historical research.

It was authenticated by Dr Kadekaru Toru the Ryukyu cultural anthropologist, and chief curator for Okinawa prefectural office of historically important documents.

It seems the photograph was taken in 1909 or 1910 when Itosu had started teaching middle school in Okinawa.  If the date is correct, Itosu would have been around 78 or 79 at the time.  It depicts Itsou as a bald, broad-shouldered man with a large moustache.

In a Facebook discussion I was informed by Scott Vogt (quoting his teacher, reknowned karate researcher Joe Swift, who was in turn reading from a Japanese-language martial arts magazine) that Kinjo Sensei received this photo in approximately 1980 from a man (apparently by the name of Arasaki) who in turn received it from a man named Tokuda - one is one of the students in the photo. According to Scott:
"Tokuda-san said that Itosu is in this photo. Kinjo Sensei was unable to meet with Tokuda-san and figure out which one was Itosu. Tokuda-san subsequently passed away. In 1985 Kinjo-Sensei met with the son of Tokuda-san who confirmed that his father was in this photo but not which one was Itosu. Kinjo Sensei also met with the grandson of Itosu who could only say that he had faint memories of his grandfather but remembered facial hair but could not say whether it was a beard, mustache or both. In 2006 Kinjo sent some of his collection to the Okinawa museum and a curator there (I don’t know his name) digitized the photo and used computer enhancement to reveal more detail. The hands of the older, mustached gentleman showed large knuckles indicative of makiwara training. Also other descriptions of Itosu mention wearing an older kimono with no family crest. Taking all of these things together it was concluded by the museum curator that the older man with the mustache, large knuckles and plain kimono was Itosu."
I take it that the "museum curator" referred to is Dr Kadekaru Toru who authenticated the picture.

This was further clarified on the same Facebook thread by "Kuma Koryukan Frederick" as follows:
"Arasaki Seibin (the late honorary professor of Tokyo University) received the photo from Tokuda Antei’s [personal] album (Tokuda was an early student of Itosu’s) The photo was taken to commemorate a judo & kendo competition [probably held at Okinawa Prefectural Middle School] You can clearly see the judo and Kendo participants in the full photo. The school principle Okubo Shuhachi, and Judo Sensei Ikeda Takehiko are also in the photo. The photo was digitized and authenticated by Kadekaru Toru, the chief specialist from the Okinawa prefectural office of historically important documents."
It seems beyond doubt that this is indeed the face of Itosu - the cropped one featuring at the start of this essay.

So where does this place the previously-mentioned drawings?

It seems to me that the first two are wildly off-base.  But the third picture is intriguing: the moustache and general facial proportions seem to match.  The biggest difference appears to be the full head of  hair.  But then again, men do tend to lose hair as they age.

Then I came across the image on this web page, purportedly showing not only Itosu, but a young Gichin Funakoshi (and even, improbably, Kenwa Mabuni) taken circa 1880.

[I say "improbably" in relation to Mabuni because, as was pointed out by Mike Akins, if the photograph was taken in 1880, that would make Itosu (seated) around 49, Funakoshi (to the right) around 12 - with Mabuni (purportedly standing) yet to be born for another 9 years or so!]

What of the suggestion that the picture shows Funakoshi?  I'd say the likelihood is high based on physical features.  Indeed, the trademark look seems immediately apparent - at least to me!  [I can see why someone might have thought the standing figure was Mabuni - but really, the resemblance is nothing more than passing compared to the boy who looks like Funakoshi.]

So what of the suggestion that the seated adult is Itosu?  I can't help but observe that there is an almost identical match between this man and the man depicted in the "third" drawing of Itosu above.  Note the western suit and tie - right down the collar.  Certainly the moustache is the same.  If it weren't for the shorter hair cut, I might have assumed the drawing was copied from this photograph.

Unfortunately, the site makes no reference to where this photograph was sourced.  It might, or might not, be Itosu.  I initially thought that it would be highly unlikely for it to have been Itosu for one specific reason: he seemed to have too much hair.  I reasoned that men who exhibit male-pattern baldness typically do so from a younger age.  Itosu was more or less bald in his late 70s as shown in the authenticated picture - yet here, in his late 40s, he still has a full head of hair.

Synchronously however, I happened to be reading about Ron van Clief.  I noted that he still had a full head of hair in his late 40s and early 50s.

But now he is almost completely bald.

It seems that my reasoning regarding male-pattern baldness was incorrect: at least some men can keep a full head of hair through middle age, only to lose it in later life (I'm assuming here that van Clief isn't just shaving his head as a fashion statement).

This made me revisit this photograph, the third drawing and the authenticated one.  I now lean towards the view that the 1880 photo does indeed show a middle-aged Itosu.  I reach this conclusion tentatively, based on the fact that the physical features (eg. the moustache, chin, eyes) match, as well as the similarity between the third drawing and the 1880 photo (right down to the part in the hair, the moustache and the suit/tie/collar).

So I will conclude (at least until better evidence comes along) that there are in fact two extant photographs of Itosu: one (authenticated) one of Itosu in his late 70s, and one (unauthenticated) one of him from 30 years earlier.

If anyone has any information about the 1880 photo, I'd love to hear from you!

In the meantime, my friend Lindsay McKenzie has also alerted me to the photo from Richard Kim's book "Weaponless Warriors" of Gichin Funakoshi (seated with arms crossed?) and some school students (who, it seems, were karate students of Funakoshi's colleague and fellow Itosu student, Kentsu Yabu).  It was taken on 6 March 1921 shortly before an exhibition before Prince Hirohito.  Yabu was away in the US during this demonstration, requiring Funakoshi to fill in as the demonstration leader.

It is significant to note that the photo was originally published Funakoshi's 1922 book "Ryukyu Kempo" (a year after the demo) - subsequently republished as "Karate Jutsu".  Why it this significant?  Because it shows that the photograph was selected by Funakoshi as representative of his art of karate - including his lineage.

Accordingly I think it is reasonable to assume that the photograph depicts Anko Itosu on the right insert (note the same collar and suit) and Anko Azato on the left insert - since both were Funakoshi's karate teachers.

In fact, I would be flabbergasted if these insert pictures didn't depict Azato and Itosu: karate is very much an art in which one's teachers are revered:  As Mark Chisenhall put it "If I were putting a picture together of a famous and prestigious event such as demostrating in front of the emperor of Japan, I would include a reference to my teachers. For without our teachers, the event would not be possible."  I think it is doubly so when you are putting together a picture for your own book on karate.

So I think the only real question is who is who.  I think there can be no real doubt that the picture on the right is Itosu given the congruence with the drawing and the 1880 picture.

The Itosu picture on the right seems to from around 1890 to 1900.  I note that the hair seems to be thinning (relative to the drawing and the 1880 picture).

Otherwise, I think the congruence of these pictures is undeniable: this is indeed the face of
Anko Itosu.

Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nelson Mandela: the greatest fighter of all

It is strange that I was in South Africa on a training visit only a matter of weeks before the release of Nelson Mandela on 11 February 1990.  I am ashamed to say that at the time I had only a vague idea of who he was and what he stood for.

Nelson Mandela - the fighter
Moreover, what little I did know was largely inaccurate.

Like many whites living in South Africa in the late 70s and early 80s, the only information I had concerning Nelson Mandela was that he was a "terrorist" - and an unrepentant one.  I had heard that he had been offered chances for release on the condition that he renounce violence, but these he had refused.  On this basis, his continued incarceration seemed entirely reasonable.

I first arrived in South Africa on 30 November 1976, my father (a civil engineer) having gone there for work. I was to stay a total of 8 years in an environment that can best be described as "carefully stage managed": a kind of "Stepford Wives meets Truman Show" world of stately homes, manicured lawns, leafy streets and quaint, old-world mannerisms.  The only non-whites in my suburb in Durban, Kwazulu-Natal were servants and day-workers.  One might have been forgiven for thinking that the white population were a substantial majority.

It was only when you drove out of the white suburbs - into industrial areas, the centre of town or further into the countryside - that you had a more accurate impression of the real South Africa: one where thousands of workers migrated long distances daily to work from shanty townships.  This swirling mass of itinerant workers, crushed by the overwhelming weight of abject poverty, included many who were separated from their families by thousands upon thousands of miles, sometimes for decades at a time.1

And all of these people were required to carry their hated "pass books": authorisations that constrained their travel and movement through different areas, subjecting them to random searches, detention and punishment.

For us "liberal" Euro-Australians, this was a culture shock with which we could never really come to terms.  The "Trumanesque" façade of South Africa was rapidly revealed for what it was: nothing but a thin, wobbly (albeit carefully painted) stage prop.

After this initial realisation, I never lost the sense of living in a world where everything anyone - black or white - said or did was scripted and choreographed; where breaches of this orchestration were carefully monitored, noted and punished.2 Censorship - official and implied - abounded.3

It is important to note that back in the 1980s the only official news the populace was intended to receive was that which was State-sanctioned - ie. the SABC's nighly television news bulletins and the heavily censored print media.

Yes, like many of my "liberal" friends, I listened to the "pirate" radio station Captial Radio 604, broadcasting out of Nelson Mandela's home territory of Transkei (then an "independent homeland").  But even there I noted that the likes of President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had labelled Mandela a terrorist.  I'm ashamed to say that the label stuck (even though, via Capital Radio, I often listened to songs like "Free Nelson Mandela" - otherwise banned on TV and radio).

An artistic tribute to Madiba by my good friend Guy McGowan
Yes, in the years after I returned to Australia in 1985, I gradually became aware of Mandela's significance as a political figure.  Gradually I came to see him not as a terrorist but as a moderate.

But it was only while watching the news footage of Nelson Mandela's release - and hearing his inspiring speech - that made me see his true significance, worth and nature.

He stood for the noble ideals (formed during the French Revolution) of liberty, equality and, above all, fraternity.  More than that - he fought for these.  Accordingly, Nelson Mandela was never a "terrorist".
He was a freedom fighter - in the  truest sense of that term.
And in respect of the latter, he was arguably the greatest fighter the world has ever known.  Why do I say this?

Today, we might know Mandela as a figure of peace and unity.  We might know him as a genial, kind and wise man.  But it would be a mistake to consider these qualities as those of a pacifist.

I don't think there is any doubt that Mandela genuinely possessed the peaceful qualities with which he is now associated.  But this does not alter the fact that he used these qualities to achieve a victory that needed to be achieved.  He used his qualities of forbearance, forgiveness and inner strength as weapons in a fight against that which was truly evil.  And he triumphed.

Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba wrote:
"Budo [the way of the warrior] is not a means of felling the opponent by force or by lethal weapons. Neither is it intended to lead the world to destruction by arms and other illegitimate means. True Budo calls for bringing the inner energy of the universe in order, protecting the peace of the world , as well as preserving, everything in nature in its right form."
I believe Ueshiba understood the universal truth that while we may win battles, no one wins a war.  Rather, one can only ever win peace.  Ultimately, "ai" - harmony - is what is needed to win peace.

It is my view that this is simply a restatement of the Daoist principle of wu-wei of which I have written previously.  Like all the great warriors, Nelson Mandela understood wu-wei as the cornerstone of effective fighting; that grounding oneself is more important than uprooting others.  And that the quality of "nin" (endurance) - ie. strength of will and character - is the foundation that supports this principle.

And no, Mandela's refusal to renounce violence was not inconsistent with this: like any warrior following wu-wei, Mandela reserved the right to violence as a last resort - as a regrettable necessity.  In the end, he didn't need it at all.

As you might know, this blog is named after the principle of wu-wei.  To me, Nelson Mandela was its greatest master.  And so I write this essay in his honour.

Goodbye Tata.4  The world is a poorer, weaker place without you in it.

Copyright © 2013 Dejan Djurdjevic


1. On my graduation from high school, I arranged for a retirement gift for the head janitor, a dignified and elderly Zulu.  We, the graduating students, gave him a gold watch.  He accepted this gift graciously and chatted to me afterwards about his life.  I was stunned to learn that he had a family in northern Zululand - a wife and 4 children - whom he had only been able to see once per year for the previous 30 years.  He needed to work and send money home.  The only stable work he could find was at our school.  His wife and children were prohibited from joining him due to the pass laws.  And so he had lived the bulk of his adult life separated from those he loved the most.

2. One of my best friends (whose father wrote "banned" or heavily censored novels with an anti-apartheid message) had his telephone tapped by the secret police.  My parents met his only once - after which we were warned to keep our distance or we too would be under surveillance.  My friend's elder sister was subsequently arrested and detained for "suspected breaches" of the notorious "Immorality Act" (ie. for daring to have an inter-racial relationship).

3. Even in ordinary society - at work or in school etc. - one had to be very careful about what one said and to whom.  My own articles in our high school newspaper (which I founded) were subject to summary removal prior to print (and I was subject to due discipline accordingly).  One of my favourite teachers abruptly "relocated" following remarks made to our class concerning the unfairness of apartheid...

4. The word "tata" means father both in Xhosa and my native Serbian.  I use it to show both respect and affection.