More research behind me…. more insights brewing…
I have been reading about the Okinawan karate masters of the mid-1800’s to the 1930’s. They include the great ones like Tode Sakugawa, Sokon Matsumora and the masters of generations after them like Yatsusune Itosu and later. These people lived in a different world than exists today, even in modern Okinawa, let alone in the rest of the world. In their time, Okinawa was an independent nation state which paid lip service to both China and Japan in order to keep afloat. Meanwhile it leveraged its geography as a central stopping point between Japanese and Chinese trade routes to enrich itself and its people. Thinking about the evolution of martial arts, it is no wonder this island became a pivot point and a progenitor of many of the arts we have today. It did this by pulling techniques and concepts from Kung Fu (China), Budo (Japan), and its own native arts (To de) which are derived from both.
The evolution of the people at that time was just as interesting. For hundreds of years they existed in a miniature feudal system on the island, and eventually Japan came in and took over, making them another prefecture of that country and abolishing the Okinawan monarchy and nobility. It was in a sense a big Amber to Orange shift that began occurring in 1879 and did not really complete itself until after WWII. I think that in any situation like that, you have a population Stage distribution, much like in the United States today. Just because a government is going from one Stage to another does not mean the people are all doing the same, just that a certain number of them are and that a tipping point has been reached.
It was in this soup that Okinawan karate was stewed. The people that taught it, particularly the Masters, seemed to have been largely Purple-centered. What did Purple-centered martial arts look like? I would have to say it looked delightfully charming and conscious in its own way. Back then there were no “styles”. In fact, styles are most definitely an Amber Stage convention pressed upon the Okinawans by the Japanese who were an Amber-centered society, and in many respects still are. Amber societies require hierarchy and rules and naming conventions. Before the Japanese came around, the Okinawan martial arts did not think about that at all. They had no names for what they were doing except “te“, meaning “hand” in Japanese. The word in the Okinawan language was “di“.
At the Purple and Red Stages, the purpose of Martial Arts was to strengthen the body and ready it for defense in situations of danger. This involved a lot of conditioning. However, the people who practiced it really had no strict boundaries between themselves and others who taught. In fact, students frequently went from person to person to train. A dojo was someone’s backyard, or if they were wealthy or had supportive students, a piece of land with a small building on it. People would meet in the yard and the teacher would teach. That would go on for three to five hours per session, anywhere from three to six days per week. The first hour would be spent on conditioning and exercise and the next two would be actual technique, usually kata. In essence, what these people were really doing was the equivalent of going to the gym every day, and with the same results: excellent physical shape and conditioning. Although more than that, this prepared them for dealing with ruffians and gangsters that were common on the streets in those days. Nearly all of them had the chance to put their art to the test, and challenges from other martial artists were quite common once the Red Stage was entered. For that reason, practice of the art was usually kept secret to guard against this.
It almost goes without saying that many of these old Masters fought tooth and nail against the Amber institutions imposed by Japan: style names, associations, belt colors, teaching karate in gym class, etc. They saw their art as a family affair. Students were only accepted for teaching if they had family connections. This is very much a tribal Stage. Beyond the “tribe”, there was no chance of being able to find a teacher. If you were not in the club, you were not going to learn. The later Masters of the early 1900’s like Itosu, Azato, and Funakoshi were famous for accepting the Amber principles and bringing the art into schools and police forces. In a sense, it had to happen because the evolution of Martial Arts to the next Stage required something like that.
I will not go into the further bits of history, but it continues to interest after that period, after the belt ranking systems and styles were established and the teachers began to decry tournaments and point sparring (Orange institutions).