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Karate is for self-defence
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Articles Home » 剛柔流 Editors Commentary » Grade Rank & Titles Part 2
Grade Rank & Titles Part 2

From the Kodokan to the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai

The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai was originally formed in 1895 after Japans victory over China. In the long term its original membership, who were made up of police, military, very distinguished citizens, royalty and imperialists, would by the 1940’s have established and molded the people of Japan to:

  • Preserve martial virtue [Butoku] as represented by the traditional martial disciplines
  • Honor older Budo practitioners who had kept tradition and experienced a true warrior society.
  • To promote and propagate the classical martial ways as an education system to help instill Bushido in the minds and bodies of the nation’s youth [Watanabe 1970]. This in the long term strengthened the nation as a whole.

The Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 is the entity that governs all Martial Arts from Japan on the basis of Budo Philosophies and is endorsed by the Royal Family of Japan. The Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 adopted and issued the first titles distinguishing modern day Budo practitioners [Budoka, those of “RYU” and not of “Jutsu]. These “Budoka” were determined either prominent or exceptional in their styles by their peers as well as the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会. In the Dai Nippon Butokukai, grading is the assessment of an individual's course toward the attainment of excellence through practice and tradition. This judgment is not based on mortal superior ability however includes the entire mortal, moral, and spiritual and developmental credentials and aspects. The first Shihan ["Master Teacher"] title was Hanshi ["Model Expert "or"" Teacher by Example, and Kyoshi, originally known as Tesshi ["Teaching Expert"]. In 1934, a third title was introduced, Renshi ["Well Trained or Skilled Expert"]. These are the same grades awarded to masters today.

The Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 as we know, mandated the ‘unification of various schools of Swordsmanship [Kendo] and standardized and issued to these schools formal and uniform grade. These schools were picked obviously because of their great numbers if brought under the influence of Budo and Shinto could help combat the onset of Western cultural influence and its ailments. The Butoku Kai soon after managed and consolidated the schools of Jujutsu, Archery, Naginata and other classic martial Arts until the Organization became a “Semi-Governmental agency by the 1930’s managing and Governing all forms of Budo, Also by this time the Butoku Kai was working hand in hand with Religious, Educational, Imperial and Recreational institutions as a ‘Cultural Nationalist Organization’.

With the advent of change came the introduction of a standardized structure that would separate students by levels of comprehension in their style of Martial Art. This structure had already been in place before “The meeting of the Masters” however standardized by the Okinawan Karatedo Jutsu and Karatedo Ryu-ha, the grade structure was not truly utilized in Okinawa until 1956 [after the death of Miyagi Chojun], when Chosin Chibana formed the Okinawa Karatedo Association.

The Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 also concluded that the improvements it called for would bring about a single coalition under their decisions and rules, as had happened with Judo and Kendo. Prince Nashimoto Moriwasa empowered Gojuryu’s Chojun Miyagi to set up a Karatedo Kyoju-Kai [Karatedo Teacher Association] on behalf of the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 in 1937. Sensei Konishi and Sensei Sannosuke were assigned to implement and oversee this transition. Another major transition that was however implemented was the adoption of “Te” or all Okinawan Bujutsu to become revised into a Japanese Budo. Of the rules or changes to take place were:

A. The implementation of a formal Belt structure.

  • As already devised by Kano Jigoro Sensei. 
  • Which included a formal Kyu and Dan structure.
  • Which included a formal Shihan degree [Master Teacher] structure of:
    • Renshi - Well Trained or Skilled Expert
    • Kyoshi - Teaching Expert [originally known as Tasshi]
    • Hanshi - Model Expert" or "Teacher by Example"

B. The adoption of a formal Uniform [GI or Dogi].

  • When Karatedo was first introduced to mainland Japan from Okinawa, it was obvious that the traditional Kimono [the daily clothing worn in public] was too bulky and restrictive for the physical movements of Karatedo .
  • In many old photographs, Karatedo practitioners are seen wearing underpants or long underwear. [I have been told they sometimes even practiced naked!]
  • Premier members of the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 included the Emperor, Prince and other top officials; both Military and Religious [also keep in mind the Emperors position in the Shinto Religion].
  • It was considered highly improper to practice or perform before these delegates in such attire therefore the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 adopted [mandated] a Gi made of a lighter weighted material for use in Karatedo.

C. Changing the various ‘TE’ from the ideogram [Kanji] meaning Chinese Hand to the Japanese meaning Empty Hand [Karate].

D. The style name had to be registered in Kyoto at the Butokukan [Butokukia Budokan].

Karatedo’s continued development was heavily deferred by the onset of World War II [which included the loss of Miyagi Sensei’s top student in battle], so much so that this universal set of standards failed to ever fully materialize. Today in each different Kaiha and Ryuha there are levels of rulings that do govern the credentials and teaching degrees.

Several discernible figures of Karatedo to receive the titles from the Dai Nippon Butokukai 大日本武徳会 include:

  • Chojun Miyagi [[Goju Ryu] the first in 1937 with the title of Kyoshi] and his classmate
  • Mabuni Kenwa [Shito Ryu], among others include
  • Funakoshi Gichin [Shotokan],
  • Funakoshi Giko [Shotokan],
  • Konishi Yasuhiro [Shindo Jinen Ryu / Ryobu Kai],
  • Ohtsuka Hironori [Wado Ryu],
  • Gogen Yamaguchi [Goju Ryu / Goju Kai],
  • Nagamine Shoshin [Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu],
  • Shinzato Jin’an [Goju Ryu],
  • Higa Seiko [Goju Ryu], 
  • Yagi Meitoku [Goju Ryu], 
  • Ueshima Sannosuke [Kushin Ryu], 
  • Tomoyori Ryusei [Kenyu Ryu], 
  • Kinjo Hiroshi [Ko Ryu], 
  • Richard Kim  [Shorin Ryu]; *Dissenfranchised in 1976,
  • Sakagami Ryusho [Itosu Kai Shito Ryu].

The Meeting of the Masters, October 25, 1936. The first ever meeting of its kind, held at the Showa Kaikan in Naha, Okinawa, sponsored by the Ryukyu Shinposha [Ryukyu Newspaper Co.] In attendance was: 

  • Hanashiro Chomo [1869-1945] Student of the legendary Bushi Matsumura [1809-1901] and a prominent senior master of Toudijutsu]. 
  • Kyan Chotoku [1870-1945], Student of Bushi Matsumura and a prominent senior master of toudijutsu. 
  • Motobu Choki, [1871-1944], having learned from several sources, was regarded as "The Fighter," and was the most controversial figure of toudijutsu during that era. 
  • Chibana Choshin, [1885-1969], Student of Itosu Ankoh [1832-1915], and a highly regarded master who first coined the term Shorinryu to describe toudijutsu. 
  • Kyoda Juhatsu, [1886-1967], Senior student of Higashionna Kanryo [1953-1917], and a prominent master of toudijutsu, who founded the To’on ryu tradition. 
  • Chojun Miyagi, [1888-1953], the most well known student of Higashionna Kanryo, a respected master of toudijutsu, and the founder of the Gojuryu tradition. 
  • Gusukuma Shimpan.

Special guests included:

  • Sato Koichi, the head of Educational Affairs; 
  • Shimabukuro Zenpatchi, the chief librarian for Okinawa Prefecture; Vice-Commander 
  • Fukushima Kitsuma, regional military HQS; 
  • Kita Ezio, a section chief from the prefectural police department; 
  • Goeku Chosho, a section chief from the Prefectural Department of Peace; 
  • Furukawa Gisaburo, director of the Prefectural Physical Education Board;
  • Andoh Shigeru, an author; Ryukyu Shinposha president 
  • Ota Chofu, chief editor 
  • Matayoshi Yoshikazu, and the newspaper's director, 
  • Yamaguchi Zensoku, Mr. Tamaki, one of their journalists;  
  • Oroku Chotei, and the principal force behind the gathering, 
  • Nakasone Genwa [1886-1978 born in Okinawa and a graduate of the Okinawa Teachers College - 1929. At the 1936 meeting], a Karatedo writer / historian. 

By: Johnpaul Williams

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