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The Wall of Silence

by Rick Clark, 8th dan AO Denkou Kai

An ongoing controversial question in the martial arts today is: How much knowledge and esoteric skills of various arts are taught openly to students outside of a select few seniors?

Furthermore, many contend that this knowledge is almost never imparted to any Westerner. The reason for this secrecy is, it is suggested, so those who are the most senior can maintain their positions of authority.

In their 1913 book "Jiu Jitsu: The Effective Japanese Mode of
Self-Defense," Koyama and Minami described how secretive martial arts instructors kept knowledge of these points from the general public. They state "the knowledge of jiu jitus (jujutsu) has only recently been made general in Japan."(p.6) The "upper classes, jealous lest their influence over the populace should wane, tried to keep it to themselves." (ibid p.6)

"History is replete with examples of those in power attempting to maintain their position by restricting of weapons or knowledge."

History is replete with examples of those in power attempting to maintain their position by restricting of weapons or knowledge. For example, bronze, when it was first used for weapons, was vastly superior to other materials and its production became a state monopoly. Today, a similar analogy are the closely guarded state secrets of nuclear weapons, and "stealth technology" that render airplane and ships invisible to radar.

In feudal Japan only the warrior class (bushi) were allowed to carry two swords and practice the various forms of martial arts. Bujutsu (pre-1600 military arts) were considered to be the exclusive domain of the warrior class. Donn Draeger, the famous martial arts historian and author, commented that, "Commoners, while not totally without weapons, nevertheless were forbidden to possess the types used by the bushi and were refused permission to study the bujutsu." (Draeger 1983 p.53)

Kendo (the modern competitive sword discipline, "do" form which evolved from ken jutsu, the warrior's art of the sword) can be used as an example of how Bujutsu techniques were changed in the early seventeenth century to a form of Budo (a generic term meaning martial way or path that refers to modern martial disciplines that stress spiritual and personal development).

With this change, Dreager states, "the essence of kendo was stated at that time to be a more spiritual discipline for the improvement of personal character than an activity directly concerned with combat." (Draeger 1975, p.68) The sword disciplines and techniques that were used by the warrior in conflicts of life and death had been changed into a new discipline, kendo, that looked to the spiritual perfection of the individual.

With this shift in emphasis to the non-combative aspect, it was "the first time that swordsmanship in any form had been openly offered as available to all classes of people."(ibid p.68) Thus, the techniques of combat which had been restricted to the warrior class were now being openly taught to the general public.

The modern Budo forms of aikido and judo were being taught not as a form of combat, but for spiritual and physical development in these early years. Aikido and judo came from similar backgrounds, i.e. Jujitsu. The older of the two styles, judo, was systematized in 1882 by Jigoro Kano. Later aikido was or organized by Morihei Uyeshiba, redefined from the daito- ryu aiki-jujutsu he had practiced.. (Draeger 1973 p.l39). Both men, Kano and Uyeshiba, modified older systems of jujitsu to create newer styles which "in the main [are] unrelated to real combat" (Draeger 1973 p. 138).

"Kano was quite open in his acknowledgment that he removed the dangerous techniques from the syllabus of judo."

Kano was quite open in his acknowledgment that he removed the dangerous techniques from the syllabus of judo. G. Koizumi in his 1967 book, "My study of Judo: The Principles and the Technical Fundamentals," states that judo relegated the practice of kyusho (striking vital points of the body) to kata (pre-arranged series of movements) so it was not necessary to strike these points on an opponent.

It was during the Taisho era (1912-26) that Gichin Funakoshi (the man who first publicly demonstrated his Okinawan art on the mainland of Japan) introduced karate to the mainland of Japan. Yet, it is likely that Funakoshi did not widely teach Kyusho-jitsu (the art of striking vital points) to the general population. It is also not clear if he taught Kyosho-jitsu to his senior students. (1)

Funakoshi in the English translation of his book, "Karate-Do: My Way Of Life," stated that he "set about revising the kata so as to make them as simple as possible."(p.36) The simplification of kata, however, can be first credited to one of Funakoshi's teachers, Anko Itosu. In the early 1900's Itosu developed the five Pinan kata (heian) which were taught in the Okinawan school system to what we would know as junior high students. These kata are known for their closed hand techniques (many contend that open-hand techniques were modified). The most obvious dangerous techniques, many believe, were either eliminated or hidden. (2)

This was the time of growing militarism in Japan and the physical benefits of karate came to the attention of authorities on Okinawa. An alert military doctor noticed the physical condition of Okinawan conscript, which was attributed to the practice of Te (an old term for karate). Karate was then included in the physical education curriculum of Okinawa in 1903. (Draeger 1973 p.59) This was of course prior to the introduction of karate into Japan in 1922.

Just as Kano developed judo so that the dangerous techniques were removed, allowing Judo to be taught in the school system of Japan, it appears that Funakoshi when in Japan also taught karate in such a way as to be appropriate for the school system.

Funakoshi states, "Hoping to see karate included in the universal physical education taught in our public schools (in Japan), I set about revising the kata so as to make them as simple as possible."(ibid. p.36) Funakoshi even states that karate as taught in Japan is "not the same karate that was practiced even as recently as ten years ago, and it is a long way indeed from the karate that I learned when I was a child in Okinawa." (ibid p.36)

While kata was still the mainstay of the art, many historians suggest that the self-defense and fighting applications of kata (which included vital point striking) were no longer emphasized by Funakoshi and other teachers in Japan.

It must be assumed that Funakoshi did not teach a deep understanding of kata to beginning students. It was not uncommon at that time to teach only a small number the real secrets of a system. To illustrate this point Jiu-Jutsu (jujutsu) regarded the strikes to vital points of the body as secret techniques and did not impart this knowledge to novices. K. Yamanaka in his 1918 book "Jiu-Jutsu" notes that the master of a system would only teach the full system to the individual who would be the "inheritor of his entire method." (Yamanaka, p.208)

If you understand that karate kata was designed as a method for remembering various self-defense and fighting techniques, it is easy to understand the statement of Funakoshi (Karate-Do: My Way Of Life) that "if you merely move your hands and feet and jump up and down like a puppet, learning karate is not very different from learning to dance. You will never have reached the heart of the matter, you will have failed to grasp the quintessence of Karate-do." (p.104)

"Funakoshi held fast to the principle that the true secrets of karate were to be found in the various kata."

Funakoshi held fast to the principle that the true secrets of karate were to be found in the various kata. Funakoshi states, "Looking over the thirty-odd kata, he [a student] should be able to see that they are essentially variations on just a handful. If you truly understand a single technique, you need only observe the forms and be told the essential points of the others." (Funakoshi, 1988, p.44)

Grasping the essence of karate-do is an elusive goal reached by few. It takes a mentor who truly understands kata to point you in the proper direction. The "martial arts masters of old would confer a diploma and reveal key elements only to those disciples whose training, almost unbearably hard and austere, had led them to experience directly the spirit of budo."(Funakoshi 1988, p.44)

"... karate-do ... kata contain not only viable self-defense and fighting techniques but also demonstrate the proper execution of vital point strikes and manipulations."

From the perspective of modern day martial arts, two of the key elements to grasping the essence of karate-do are that kata contain not only viable self-defense and fighting techniques but also demonstrate the proper execution of vital point strikes and manipulations.

Consider for a moment, if you could teach individuals lightly to strike various parts of the body and knock out your opponent --would you want every high school student in your city to have that knowledge? Of course not! This type of technique would be withheld from all but a very few of the best students of an instructor.

Or if you were an instructor with the knowledge of deadly techniques, would you teach the real secrets to those who had recently conquered your nation? I think not. Okinawa was a conquered nation under Japanese rule. How likely is it that Funakoshi ever revealed the true secrets of karate-do (applications and vital points) to his senior Japanese students?

In the words of one of Funakoshi's early students, Shigero Egami, in his book, "The Way of Karate: Beyond Technique (English translation 1976), speaking of the "Yoi" or ready posture, he states "I know that there are changes in function among the various kata, but I must confess that I do not know the reason, nor why they change according to the kata."(p. 107) If such a senior student of Funakoshi does not fully understand kata, how likely is it that American servicemen after WWII, who studied karate in Japan and on Okinawa, would be taught the real meaning of karate?

Koyama and Minami in their 1913 book, "Jiu Jitsu: The Effective Japanese Mode of Self-Defense" state, "There are some jiu jitsu maneuvers that have never been explained to Europeans or Americans - and probably they never will be." "These death blows are remarkable. Some are delivered on the spine, others on the neck and head, and two on the face. There are almost numberless maneuvers that temporarily paralyze nerves and nerve centers, and others that stop the circulation of the blood in various parts of the body."( p.5-6)

This same conviction is held by R.A. Vairamuttu in his 1954 book, "Scientific Unarmed Combat: The Art Of Dynamic Self- defense: The Ancient Asian Psycho-Physical Study" ( p.21). He echoed Koyama and Minami when he stated: "Whether the real secrets of advanced jujitsu, which are so greatly treasured by the Japanese and imparted under vow of strict secrecy to pupils of unquestionable moral character, have ever been divulged to Occidentals, is very much open to doubt." The 'real secrets' to which Vairamuttu referred were the methods of attacking the vital points of the body and the resuscitation after the administration of such blows.

Prior to WWII there were several publications which discussed vital points and how they could be used to knock out or kill a person. Several of these books give quite accurate information, if you know what to look for! To give several examples, D. Mitchell in his 1936) book "Skilled Defense" demonstrates at least three workable knockouts (p.l35-143). H.H. Hunter in his 1938 book, "Super Ju-Jitsu: Vol.1," also lists and describes vital points on the human body and describes a knockout (p. l 8-24). He additionally describes various "katus" or ways of bring back a person to consciousness (vol 2, p. 7-9).

In general these texts are quite vague concerning exactly how to go about knocking out an opponent. If the reader was already familiar with vital point theory and techniques these knock outs would be self-evident. There were not any texts reviewed which tied in kata and vital point practice except Koizumi ("My study of Judo: The Principles and the Technical Fundamentals," 1960). Each knock out was described as an individual technique and not connected to kata.

We, the martial arts community, have allowed this knowledge virtually to slip away. To give a specific example, H. Irving Handcock and Katsukuma Higashi in their 1905 book, "The Complete Kano Jiu-Jitsu (Jitso)," pointed out a number of Kyusho (vital) points and detailed methods of katsu (resuscitation). This book was republished in 1961 by Dover Publications.

At the beginning of the book the following notation was printed: "This Dover edition, first published in 1961, is an unaltered republication of the work originally published by G.P. Putnam's Son's in 19O5, except that the last two sections (26 pages) on serious and fatal blows and kuatus, or the restoration of life, have been omitted, because their use to the public is doubtful and they do not affect the over-all value of the book."

While the publisher may have felt the overall value of the book would not be affected, the deletion of these two sections is a significant shortcoming.

Thus in summary, there are major flaws in these early works, as well as contemporary works dealing with vital points:

1. They lack the direction and angle to strike, and the results of the strike.

2. They lack the way in which these points are set up to allow you to knock out the person

3. Most importantly they fail to show how these techniques are found in various traditional kata.

These important aspects of the martial arts have been neglected for much too long of a time. It is critical that at this juncture we rediscover the true meaning of karate-do.


(1) While his early books did contain charts of the human body illustrating various vital points, many important points were missing, and information on the angle of attack and anatomical weapon used were missing. An interesting side note is that Funakoshi did include a portion of the once secret Okinawan Bubishi text in his early books, but it was not translated from the original written Chinese (which, while using characters that were also used in Japan, represented a distinct written record, with older characters and without separate written modifiers used in Japanese). In the English versions of Funakoshi's early books, the translator noted that he was not able to translate this section. The Bubishi section, did however, discuss important timing information related to vital point striking, something Funakoshi must have thought important to preserve or it would not have been included.

(2) There is much controversy over these kata. Some experts consider them "Children's Exercises" with little combat or self-defense effectiveness. Others contend that they were condensed from similar versions of techniques drawn from Kusanku (Kanku) and other important kata, and while they look basic, they actually contain what Itosu considered important elements taken from the other kata. A third school of thought contends that the Pinans were originally called "Channon," the source of which is again a subject of much contention.


Draeger, D. F. , The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan: Volume 1 Classical Bujutsu, Weatherhill:New York (1983).

Drae ger, D. F. The Martial Arts and Ways of Japan: Volume 2 Classical Bujutsu, Weatherhill:New York (1975).

Egami, S. , The Way of Karate: Beyond technique, Kodansha International, Tokyo (1976).

Funakoshi, G. , Karate-Do: My way of life Kodansha International, Tokyo, 1975.

Hancock, H. Irving & Higashi, Katsukuma, The Complete Kano Jiu-Jitsu (Jitso), Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1961.

Hashimoto, Masae ATSUKUNAI OKYU NYUMON (An Introduction to Acupuncture and Moxibusiton without Cautery, Tokyo, 1964.

Hunter, H.H., Super Ju-Jitsu: Vol. 1& 2 , Times Job Print: Ontario, 1938.

Koizumi, G., My study of Judo: The Principles and the Technical
Fundamentals, Cornerstone Library: New York, 1967.

Koyama, K., & Minami, A. Jiu Jitsu: The Effective Japanese Mode of
Self-Defense, American Sports Publishing: New York, 1913

Mitchell, D., Skilled Defence: The Dewey Mitchell System of Skilled Defence, Cleveland, 1936.

Vairamuttu, R.A., Scientific Unarmed Combat: The art of dynamic self- defence the ancient Asian pyscho-physical study, W. Foulsham: London, 1954.

Yamanaka, K. Jiu-Jutsu. Penton Press: Cleveland, 1918.

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About The Author:

Rick Clark specializes in the study of vital point applications within traditional martial art techniques and teaches vital points seminars throughout the world. He has published numerous articles and books on the subject and has just published "Pressure Point Fighting: A guide To The Secret Heart Of Asian Martial Arts," published by Tuttle. He can be contacted at 3099 E. Dallas Rd., Terre Haute IN, 47802, or via e-mail at

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kyusho, vital points, pressure points, karate, karate kata, judo, jujutsu, jujitsu, kendo

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