~by Pat McCarthy
The samurai warriors of ancient Japan lived with a philosophy unique in the annals of mankind: they pledged their very lives as an act of loyalty to their lords. To sacrifice one’s life for one’s master was, for the samurai, the most glorious death. They lived each day with the constant desire for beauty in perfection while preparing for death.
This same samurai philosophy also penetrated the lives of the common people. And it is through this code of the ancient Japanese warrior that the martial arts of Japan have been handed down to this day.
Modern practitioners of the classical Japanese disciplines owe a debt of gratitude to Japan’s first martial arts association, responsible for the revival of this ancient tradition – the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai. The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai(Japan’s Great Martial Virtues Association) was established in April of 1895 in Kyoto, and sanctioned by the government to control, regulate and standardize the various martial ryu (traditions) in the country. It immediately organized a committee to grant budo/bujutsu menjo (martial arts rank certification) and shihan menjo (teaching licenses) throughout the land.
Respect, compassion, gratitude, integrity and honor are the virtues of this age-old institute, which traces its origin to Emperor Kanmu (A.D. 781-805), for it was he who first conceived this now-monumental alliance. On September 5, 1896, the emperor selected Akihito Komatsumiya to be the association’s sosai (general manager), and during that next busy year he secured financial assistance in the form of government grants from the emperor. During Komatsumiya’s term as sosai, the plans were laid for the construction of a college within the association that would represent a milestone for bujutsu (warrior arts) achievement. It was the organization’s chore to develop an institute to house and produce Japan’s new military mind.
In 1899, its first building, the Butoku Den, was completed and opened adjacent to the Heian Shrine in Kyoto, located close to the Imperial Palace grounds. This building served as the physical and cultural headquarters for the organization, and soon attracted Japan’s leading and most respected martial artists. In 1906, a second substantial grant was secured from the emperor for the establishment of a military college, the Budo Semmon Gakko.
The association stressed the importance of budo (warrior way) training for all youths in the general education system. Training ranged from judo and kendo (way of the sword) to kyudo (way of the bow and arrow) and naginata-do (way of the reaping sword), along with the indoctrination of the philosophy of bushido (code of the samurai warrior) to build a pure mind and a warrior’s spirit. During this time, the association was also instrumental in adopting the arts of judo and kendo as sports, which were introduced and accepted as part of the educational curriculums of the public school systems. And in
1911, the organization opened its much-ballyhooed and long awaited martial arts technical college, later known by its graduates as the Busen.
The Busen gave employment to some of that era’s greatest martial arts teachers, along with a host of other brilliant professors. Students were taught martial arts and philosophy, as well as military strategies and associated academic subjects in both a two- and four-year graduate program, which produced a new generation of martial warriors. Graduates of this elite fraternity were considered Japan’s most highly educated and skilled martial experts of their day.
It was during this time that this powerful organization almost single-handedly oversaw the entire martial arts community in Japan. It also created the first distinguished titles (hanshi, kyoshi and renshi) for modern martial artists considered outstanding in their particular styles. The ranking system was, and still is, the evaluation of an individual’s progress toward the attainment of human perfection through the practice of martial arts. This evaluation is not based solely on physical martial arts techniques; it also encompasses a human being’s physical, moral and spiritual development. Promotions in rank were and are still awarded in proportion to an individual’s degree of development toward the budo goal of perfection.
Martial arts belt ranks and titles were for the most part stimulated from two sources: titles such as hanshi, kyoshi and renshi came from within the association, while sashes/ belts and degrees were originally the brainchild of the late Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo. It was Kano who foresaw the need to distinguish the difference between the advanced practitioner and the different levels of beginning students, thus he founded the dan/kyu system. Dan indicated an advanced level, while the kyu degrees represented the different levels of proficiency below the dan degree.
Kano felt it particularly important for students to realize their training programs were by no means complete after attaining the dan degree; it was just the beginning of a new and more refined level of learning which would allow them to further develop and appreciate their art. Kano eventually started to issue the black sash to all dan recipients, and around 1907 the sash was replaced by the kuro obi (black belt).
During this period, the martial traditions of the tiny island of Okinawa, including kobujutsu (weapon art), chu goku kempo (Chinese martial arts and what was the foundation of shuri te), naha te (forerunner to what is now called goju-ryu), and te jutsu (a crude form of self-defense indigenous to Okinawa) were beginning to appear on the Japanese mainland in unorganized, scattered areas. The movement was spear-headed by Okinawan native Gichin Funakoshi, a scholar an expert in empty-handed self-defense. Funakoshi, a longtime student in shuri te under ltosu Yasutsune, wished, like others, to gain recognition from the Butoku Kai for the Okinawan arts, then called Ryukyu tode jutsu.
An impressive host of Okinawan karate masters assisted Gichin Funakoshi in launching a lengthy campaign for recog· nition by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai.
They included: Hana· shiro Chomo (1); Chojun Miyagi (2); Mabuni Kenwa (3); Kyan Chotol<u (4); and Motobu Choki (5).
Being an Okinawan, Funakoshi understood that Japan, unlike Okinawa, was pro-militaristic in its approach to bujutsu training, only recently having made the transition from feudalism to democracy. He realized that if the association accepted tode jutsu, there would be many changes, as Japan had no room for an imported, Okinawan/Chinese martial art in its repertoire. But after several impressive displays of this art, the Butoku Kai did take notice of Funakoshi’s applications.
Funakoshi, along with an impressive host of other Okinawan masters, began a lengthy campaign that included demonstrations that read like a Who’s Who of Okinawan budo, with experts like Mabuni Kehwa, Motobu Choki, Hanashiro Chomo, Mateyoshi Shinko, Chojun Miyagi, Kyan Chotoku, Uechi Kanbum and Yabiku Moden all playing a significant role in the unfolding of this little-known art of hand-to-hand combat. This group eventually accomplished what it set out to do: the Butoku Kai set forth the criteria and prerequisites for tode jutsu to gain entrance into the association.
It was apparent that with the various splintered factions from Okinawa struggling for recognition, they would have to become more organized In their efforts. They would also have to change the ideogram kanji (writing style) of tode so it would not connotate or refer to China, as it was presently written. This created a major disturbance with the old masters on Okinawa, who were against the move from the first place. But with a more contemporary eclectic group now the real strength and foundation behind Ryukyu tode jutsu, it was merely a matter of an aesthetic facelift o fit the changing times.
The newly selected kanji prefix “kara” (empty), which replaced to, had a dual definition: a martial art without the use of weapons, and achieving a state of “no mind” (mu); the long-term objective to training. The suffix of do (way) was also added, indicating training was geared toward a philosophical, classical way or path which one may follow to enlightenment.
In addition, the Okinawan groups would have to adopt standard practice uniforms similar to other ryu, and establish an academic curriculum for the testing of degrees of proficiency within the art. And finally, the most difficult task would be setting up and organizing a format for competition like that of kendo and judo. Thus, the new art of karate-do was born.
These new sets of rules were very confusing for the four separate arts of Okinawa: kobujutsu, tode jutsu (kenpo), naha te, and shuri te. Some practitioners made the adjust ments, some did not. Even to this day, there are small groups on Okinawa that have no ties to competition-oriented associations and could care less about them. These men of budo view trophies and titles as mere passing trends, serving only to bring out the worst (ego) in human nature, and contradictory to the ultimate goal and underlying foundation of the ancient arts of Okinawa.
While the new art of karate was beginning to flourish throughout Japan, hybrid methods started to surface, developed from the original Okinawan ryu. Names like shito-ryu, shotokan, wado-ryu, and goju-ryu would eventually become known as the four major styles of Japanese karate. The Buto ku Kai even established a branch in Naha, Okinawa, where the arts of kendo and judo were taught along with karate.
Karate had already been taught in the public school system since 1905, when karate pioneer ltosu Yasutsune introduced it. During this era, the Butoku Kai witnessed the creation of what we now know as the four major styles of Japanese karate, which reflected a much more militaristic attitude than what was originally known on Okinawa. With innovations and further refinements to the native art, it gradually lost many of its Okinawan characteristics. Right up until the end of World War II, the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai set the guide lines for karate and, along with the institution of bushido, ka rate finally became a Japanese discipline.
In December of 1941, the association created a board to report on the progress of the synthesis of budo groups,and in the following year, the old association was reorganized under five new governmental ministries-welfare, education, war, navy, and national affairs.
Shortly after Japan had unconditionally surrendered to the allied forces in 1945, General Douglas MacArthur brought about the prohibition of all institutions considered to be “the root of militarism.” This resulted in the banning of the Busen and the Butoku Kai, along with all its affiliates. But in January of 1946, the Japanese Ministry of Education was given charge of budo on a limited basis; it was to continue as a physical education program only. Later that year, the Butoku Kai applied for reorganization as a private group and surprisingly received permission. However, when the allied forces senior government officials reviewed this application, approval was denied.
The association laid dormant for seven years, the site changing hands from the occupied forces, to the Japanese Ministry of Legal Affairs and Finance, to the Kyoto municipal
government. The Kyoto law enforcement department utilized the Butoku Den as its private budo training facility for its agents. The site was declared a national treasure in 1970 by the Japanese municipal government, and refurbishing will begin before 1990.
It wasn’t until 1953 that the association was re-established and re-activated on a limited-membership basis with Ono Kumao as chief instructor. These were difficult times for Japan, with the war just behind it, a tenuous economy, and occupation forces watchful for the upspring of any institute that could be construed as having militaristic overtones.
Over time, Japan’s reconstruction led to various martial arts groups being established without the support of the government. By this time, many were sure the Butoku Kai ceased to exist altogether, as the new government gave no support to any budo groups. It was even said the association was at the top of the American list of subversive organizations.
During the late 50s and early 60s, judo won the attention of the world as a new and exciting competitive sport.Tokyo won the bid for the site of the 1964 summer Olympic Games, and the construction of a new sports complex in Tokyo called the Budokan was completed. The International Olympic Committee recognized judo as an Olympic event, and this brought a new international surge of excitement to the martial arts community. There was a sudden birth of a multitude of budo associations offering both traditional and eclectic methods.
The now little-known Butoku Kai, the ultra-traditional association, took a backseat to these new sensational groups, Yet,the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai still does exist, located where it reopened in 1953 in Kyoto. Its limited membership is once again slowly growing as history repeats itself and practicing traditional budo becomes fashionable again. It even lists a membership outside Japan in America. Under Higashi Fushimi Jiai, who oversees all aspects of the group in Japan, the association boasts of a growing membership and presently lists various ryu from kendo, kenjutsu and iaido, to karate, kobujutsu, jujitsu and aikido.
In the United States, the spirit of the Dai Nippon Butoku
Kai lives through the teachings of Richard Kim, who has rep resented the very essence of the association outside of Japan since his move from Yokohama to San Francisco nearly 30 years ago. A revered teacher and historian,Kim is one of the most knowledgeable men in the martial arts today. Now over 70, Kim’s dream is nearing reality as he makes plans to carry out his mission of constructing a martial arts college in North America similar to the one he attended in Kyoto.Within the walls he will carry on the same tradition of indoctrinating his disciples in the budo ju hapin (18 martial arts), as well as conducting an academic program ranging from Philosophy and history of Oriental budo, to the various sciences of kinesiology and biomechanics, to the more esoteric aspects of bujutsu.
And if the saying “Tall trees provoke the pride of winds” is true, then this must apply to Kim, a tall tree in the forest of martial arts, and still representing Japan’s oldest budo association.