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The Old Okinawan Karate Toe Kick:
Part 2- Historical Introduction

By Christopher Caile

Editor’s Note: Part 1 of this series introduced the subject of toe kicks and provided the basics of how they are performed. Part 2 provides a historical introduction. Also discussed is the author’s own introduction to toe kicks, as well as some of the early great Shorin ryu masters who used this kick. Targets and strategy of application are also addressed. Future articles will continue the discussion of toe kicks through the Naha lineage, and also trace their use through several other Shorin-ryu masters. Conditioning and development of the toes will also be discussed in a separate article.


Most of today’s Japan karate stylists (as well as Korean style martial artists) and tournament oriented karate-ka probably have never seen a toe kick. They would be surprised to learn that toe kicks were once part of the “meat and potatoes” of old style self defense oriented karate—dangerous and deadly.

Toes can become powerful, precise weapons, able to strike with needle nose accuracy and penetrate—causing pain, neurological incapacitation, and internal damage to organs, nerves, veins and arteries. The delayed effects can manifest themselves days, weeks, months or even years later (known as DIM MAK).

They were once principal techniques within the two great Okinawan historical traditions from which modern karate evolved – Naha-te and Shuri-te (better known as Shorin-ryu karate).

Naha-te (Naha referring to the town of Naha and “te”or “ti” meaning “hand,” a term used to refer to fighting arts) includes such styles as Goju-ryu, and Uechi Ryu (major styles), as well as To’on ryu and Ryuei-ryu (minor styles). The term also has a secondary meaning of “new things,” (1) as these arts developed around a port city known for immigrants, visitors, and new types of imported products. Thus, the term “Naha-te” reflects a new or younger karate, one more directly connected to Chinese roots with less influence from indigenous arts.

Shuri-te means “Shuri hand”(after the capital town of Shuri, the political center of the island and residence of the King and other gentry), a name that suggests older or more developed karate. Today the term Shuri-te, however, is better known as Shorin-ryu (Okinawan for Shaolin, the famous Chinese center for martial arts) -- a mixture of Chinese arts, “ti” (indigenous fighting techniques) and other influences.

There was a third Okinawan karate tradition as well, Tomari-te. It has largely disappeared, although much of it has been absorbed by Shuri-te. It is not discussed separately here.

Historically it was Shorin-ryu teachers who are best known for first establishing karate on mainland Japan, although there were Goju teachers as well. From these teachers sprang such styles as Shotokan, Wado-ryu, Shita-ryu, Chito-ryu, Goju-ryu, To’on ryu (now headquartered in Japan), Kyokushin, as well as many European and US based traditional Japanese karate organizations, such as Seido Juku. Japanese Shorin-ryu stylists also helped establish Korean karate (Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do, etc.) in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and their kata also closely followed the Shorin-ryu template.

Thus, if you are a Japanese karate-ka or Korean stylist, or an offshoot of one, you can probably trace your roots and your technique to Shorin-ryu or Naha-te styles whose masters used toe kicks. And if your style is Shorin-ryu related, your kata once used toe kicks too -- Heian (or Pinan, the original Okinawan name), Kanku (or kusanku), Hangetsu (or Seisan), Gangaku (or Chinto), Enpi (or Wansu), Bassai (or Passai), Gojushiho (or Useshi also known in some styles as Koryu-gojushiho) and others. (2)

Even if your style no longer practices this kick, it still has relevancy for you. If you are interested in street self-defense applications, the tip of a boot or leather shoe can be used as a powerful, pin-point and effective weapon.

My Introduction

When I started Kempo Karate we didn’t use toe kicks. Later, I traveled to Japan and in 1961 become a student of Mas Oyama (Kyokushin karate) in Tokyo, but again, toe kicks were not practiced. (3)

It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that I was introduced. I was living in Buffalo and teaching Seido Juku Karate. I had decided to research the roots of my own system and was looking to expand my knowledge. Through a friend at the University where I taught karate, I started training in a closed Chinese family kung fu system in Toronto. (4) It used pointed toe and other unique kicks (wearing soft sandals) that I had not seen before.

One hot summer evening when I first started, I was practicing this art in an unventilated basement under a Chinese restaurant in Toronto. Our tee shirts and shorts were soaked with sweat. Toward the end of practice the Sifu (a term used for teacher in many Chinese arts) separated the students into pairs to work on their own. My partner was his nephew Lee, and we started self-defense drills. He said, “Step and punch at my head –Hard!” I did and “POW” – I don’t know what happened, but as a stunned and now very humble student, I looked up at him from the floor. Lee was laughing. “Works doesn’t it?” he said. I had no idea what he was talking about – I hadn’t seen the toe kick to the inside of my knee, but it had made its point.

When we repeated the technique, Lee showed me what he had done. He had countered me with a double arm and kick combination. In one movement Lee had brought one arm up inside my punch to block while the other arm moved straight toward my head, with open hand to my eyes (which is why I hadn’t seen the kick -- in a real self-defense situation the fingers would have made contact). At the same time Lee had brought up a short, snapping toe kick to the inside of my upper lead leg – which totally collapsed. I was stunned too. After this, Lee was careful only to tap with his kicks on selected places.

A few years later I also took up Praying Mantis Kung Fu, which also utilizes some specific types of toe kicks. Later in the mid-1990s when I visited Okinawa, I made a point to visit a number of schools, among them Uechi-ryu and Shorin-ryu dojos (schools) that taught the toe kick. By this time I had practiced the kicks for quite a few years.

My friend and senior in Kyokushin in Japan (who also taught in Oyama’s absence), who later founded his own style Seido Juku Karate, Tadashi Nakamura (my teacher), found toe kicks along a different path.

It was the year before I arrived in Tokyo. Mr. Okada, one of Mas Oyama’s senior students, arranged a meeting between Oyama and an Okinawan karate-ka friend. Nakamura also attended. After some discussion, they decided to compare kumite techniques.

Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura strikes upward with a short rounded snap toe kick into the lower abdomen as he pulls his opponent forward.

Even at the young age of 17 or 18, Nakamura was an exceptionally strong fighter. A few years later he represented Kyokushin as part of a three man team that traveled to Thailand to face the best of their Muay Thai fighters (boxing type punches mixed with powerful low round kicks) and Nakamura beat Thailand’s Light Heavyweight Champion. His technique was tremendous – fast, hard and powerful. When we used to fight in Japan, I would joke that it felt like his roundhouse kick had been surgically implanted in my chest, since he had used that technique on me so often.

Nakamura recounts that when he fought the Okinawan, he was hit low in the abdomen by a sharp, penetrating front kick. “After that I paid close attention to what the Okinawan was doing,“ recounts Nakamura. ”He was a small guy, but he had his own unique kind of kumite. He used low, short front kicks and roundhouse kicks using his big toe. His front kicks were sort of like kekomi (thrust kick).”

This made an impression. Soon afterwards, Nakamura was conditioning his own toes and experimenting with the kick. When Kaicho Nakamura founded his own Seido Juku karate in 1976, the technique became part of its official curriculum (5), but in reality this kick is now only taught to few select students willing to spend the time to condition their toes.

Akira Nakamura Sensei, son of Seido Juku’s founder, demonstrates a high roundhouse toe kick while blocking a front toe kick from the author, Christopher Caile Shihan, during a practice session at the Seido headquarters in NYC. Historically, however, toe kicks used for self-defense and as seen in the original versions of most kata were generally targeted to the lower half of the body.

I didn’t realize that Kaicho Nakamura actually practiced this kick. At the dojo one day, however, Nakamura, his son Akira and I began discussing the topic. We found that we were all practicing the kick. This eventually spawned the idea for this article. When I started to research the topic, I realized that by taking up the toe kick, I was re-establishing a historical link to the past, to the heritage of technique and to the masters who once practiced it.

The Okinawan Toe Kick Tradition

Karate emerged on Okinawa from a history of secrecy and behind closed door practice just as the island was entering a period of profound social, economic and political change.

In 1850, after visiting Okinawa, Commodore Perry forced Japan to open to the world. This event also unleashed internal political forces and turmoil that ultimately led to the end of the feudal Tokugawa dynasty and the emergence of a new Meiji era.

In 1872 the Meiji regime formally incorporated Okinawa into its political realm, established a new government for Okinawa, and imposed Japanese language, culture and education on the island’s people (the king himself was forced into exile to Japan for safe keeping). This ended the Okinawan feudal class structure (lords of domains). Feudal incomes were abolished and 20 percent of the population who once were of noble class, with lands and stipends, fell on hard times (although they did have the advantage of access to education and some also had political connections). Many were thereafter forced to work as common laborers. (6)

If it had not been for a number of notable martial artists who began demonstrating and teaching karate, who promoted its adoption into the Okinawan school system, and who later took it to the Japanese mainland, karate may have been lost to future generations and the world.

Soken “Bushi” Matsumura

Soken “Bushi” MatsumuraIn the 19th century the best known martial artist on Okinawa was Soken “Bushi” Matsumura, (1809-1901), who became the fountainhead for one of the two major traditions of Okinawan karate known as Shorin-ryu.

Scholar and bodyguard to the King, Matsumura was an aristocrat who had traveled to China as an envoy on state affairs. While there, he is said to have visited several schools of Chinese boxing and studied under the Chinese teachers Ason and Iwah. It is also said that he visited the southern Shaolin temple in Fuchou. (7)

There are earlier masters in the Shorin-ryu tradition too, although many of their names have been lost to history. It is known that Matsumura studied with Satsunuku Sakugawa (1735-1815), who in turn had studied with a Chinese diplomat known as Kushan Ku (beginning in 1756) from whose techniques was formulated several versions of one of karate’s oldest kata, Kusanku (Kanku), which used a toe kick in its original version (shown in Part 4). (8)

While I am not aware of any toe kick stories associated with Matsumura himself, there are stories of his students, including Pechin Ishimine, Chotoku Kyan, Chome Hanashiro, Anko Itosu, and Nabe Matsumura (or their students).

One story involves Pechin (a title relating to military and police authority) (9) Ishimine, a minor student of Matsumura. One night he was on his way home in the capital city of Shuri. He was climbing a hill during a drizzling rain when he encountered a large powerful man known as Tamanaha, who had been resting. The two struck up a conversation, and continued their journey together. Recognizing Ishimine, Tamanaha who was obviously a bit of a rebel- rouser, sought to provoke a fight. First, Tamanaha opened up an umbrella and then ask Ishimine to hold it, which he did. Getting no response, next Tamanaha ask Ishimine to hold his muddy straw sandals. Finally angered, Ishimine threw them over a nearby hedge. Thus, a fight was started. Tamanaha attacked with a strong punch, but Ishimine quickly dodged to one side and ended the encounter with a quick toe kick to the attacker’s lower rib cage. Tamanaha fell to the ground, unconscious. Not wanting to leave him there, Ishimine then threw the unconscious body over his shoulder and took him home. (10) Tamanaha, however, died a few days later.

Chotoku Kyan

Another story involves Chotoko Kyan (1870-1945), (11) another student of Matsumura, as well as a student of Yara Piechan whose grandfather had also studied with Kushan Ku. A story of Kyan’s student, Ankichi Arakaki (and later a student of Chibana) is told in Part 4. Kyan was the teacher of many famous karate-ka including Shoshin Nagamine (Matsubayashi-ryu), Taro Shimabuko, Eizo Shimabuki (Shorin-ryu-Shaolin) Zenryo Shimaburo (Chubu Shorin-ryu) and Tatsuo Shimabuko (founder of Isshin-ryu).

Kyan was small and thin, very quick and evasive, and also for his kicking ability. Well aware of the dangerous potential of karate technique, Kyan often warned his students about the danger of actually fighting with karate. He would say, if two young saplings are banged together only the bark is damaged, but if two fresh eggs are rolled together they will crack open. (12)

Shoshin Nagamine, a student of Kyan (founder of Matsubayashi-ryu karate), demonstrating a toe-kick/punch combination from the kata Gojushiho. Jeff Brooks a Matsubayashi karate teacher (Sensei) notes that there are several application, such as a punch to the solar plexus or alternately gall bladder 24 (at the 7th intercostal space below the nipple) with a flowing grab (holding the opponent in place), and a toe tip kick used for deep penetration into a yin organ, such as, in this case, the liver. This is a deadly force application, Brooks notes, that should never be applied in a training setting nor under any circumstances where deadly force is not warranted.

Shoshin Nagamine in his book “The Essence of Okianwan Karate-Do” (p. 40), comments that his teacher Kyan had mastered the secrets of karate necessary for a small man to face a larger opponent – not to step backward, but instead to step forward or to the side so to be able to take offense (kick or punch) right after defending himself. To perfect this ability Kyan used to train on the banks of the Hija River, keeping his back to the water.

In 1930, when Kyan was around age 60, while he was giving a demonstration of karate on the island of Taiwan (now The Republic Of China, known as free China), a Judo instructor from the Taipei (the island’s capital) Police Headquarters, Shinjo Ishida, issued Kyan a challenge. Kyan reluctantly accepted. He was concerned that he would be gripped by his uniform’s jacket and thrown, so he wore only a vest. Ishida himself was also apparently wary of Kyan’s striking techniques – so the two sized each other up, keeping their distance. At some point, however, Kyan quickly moved in, shot out his arm and thrust his thumb into the side of his opponent’s mouth. Gripping his opponent’s cheek, Kyan then kicked Ishida’s knee, which downed him, and Kyan finished with a knelling punch into the solar plexus. While the type of knee kick is not mentioned, a toe kick to the inside of the thigh just above the knee is known to collapse the leg, which is exactly what was reported. Anyway, it is a good story. (13)

Another student of Matsumura was his grandson, Nabe Matsumura, who in turn taught only one student, the famous Hohan Soken (1861-1972 and founder of Matsumura Seito Hakutsuru Shorin Ryu Karatedo & Kobudo). Soken ultimately became an Okinawan legend and one of the most respected teachers of his day. Only after 10 years of study, however, did Nabe begin teaching Soken his hidden family style, the White Crane kung fu style within a style.

In rare 8 mm film footage, Soken is seen (left) doing a technique from his family’s Hakutsuru, or White Crane kata. At right Soken demonstrates this same technique against his student Fusei Kise. He moves almost effortlessly off center while lifting his arm like a wing to ward off and lift upward a punch. This opens a path for the accompanying toe kick. The technique as performed seemed soft, pliable and almost effortless as compared to the usually much harder, ridged looking karate technique. (Complements of Charles Garrett & Jessy Hughes)

Like many other former Okinawans of Noble class, Soken teacher Nabe had been reduced to working in the fields. Soken emigrated abroad in 1920 to find employment (he also refused to learn the new Japanese language), and ended up in Negro, Argentina where there was an Okinawan trading colony. There he worked as a photographer, and on a limited basis he taught karate. (14) When he returned to Okinawa in 1952 many considered his kata and technique “old style” (in the interim Okinawan karate had evolved). When Soken began teaching, he taught a few students privately in his home, but also sometimes visited classes run by his student Fusei Kise, conducted on the nearby Kaneda Air Force Base.

It is often said that Soken taught an “Old Man’s Karate” not because it resembles what an old man would do, but rather that it would take many years of practice. Thus a student would be an old man by the time he mastered it. He used subtle redirection of attacks, precise timing, body movement, and control of distance, combined with knowledge of where to strike and the use of simultaneous technique. Overall he was very fluid as opposed to the more rooted and hard technique of some Naha-te styles such as Goju-ryu and even Anko Itsou’s Shorin-ryu (see Part 4).

Soken taught kata, but also kata applications and torite techniques (grasping and restraint techniques he used as part of block and counter), including those from his White Crane. His grabs, holds and attacks (often using a toe kick) were targeted to pressure points.(15) Several students recounted Soken showing them an old hand printed rice paper book handed down from Nabe showing pressure points and technique. (16)

Roy Suenaka Sensei, a long time student of Soken, demonstrates one of Soken’s White Crane torite techniques – moving forward, off line, while executing a simultaneous parry, the same hand also controlling the punching arm while countering with a combination finger strike to the neck and toe kick to the knee area. White Crane techniques always used open hands. (17)

In December 1994 I visited Okinawa with Roy Suenaka Sensei, my aikido teacher who also teaches Matsumura Seito Hakutsuru Shorin Ryu Karatedo). Suenaka was a private student of Soken from 1961-1972 while serving in the armed forces and based on Okinawa.

Soken’s favorite toe kick, according to Suenaka, included points on the inside of the upper leg, the arm pit (if the arm was captured), solar plexus, ribs, up under the arm (in certain situations if the arm could be immobilized), the abdomen, and the floating ribs. Another student of Soken notes that Soken would often say “No kick groin” (his English was very limited) and instead would aim the kick into the inside of the upper leg or calf area (virtually never higher than the pelvic area). (18)

Phillip Koeppel (founder of his own international karate organization and Director of the United States Karate-Do Kai), who has studied with Fusei Kise, Yuichi Kuda and Kousai Nishihira (19), students of Soken who continue the Soken Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu tradition, agrees with these targets, He adds that Soken also liked to press or stab his big toe down onto the top of the foot near the big toe. This can be very surprising and also painful.

When kicking, Soken did not seemingly use much hip power (the hips were not extended forward into the kick). He would often punch first, letting the defender become involved in trying to block this technique, then let the toe kick come up under it, unseen (not telegraphing it with a body shift of hip movement). He also liked to use his knees to strike. (20)

When performing the toe kick Soken sometimes used a triangle of his big toe, second and third toe, and at other times he just kept his toes in natural position, squeezed together, remembers Suenaka.

As to Soken’s torite techniques, Suenaka notes that when Soken performed these techniques, he didn’t get too close to the opponent (outside grappling range). “The opponent was always kept at a distance, at arms length, but controlled,” says Suenaka. And while many torite and countering punch techniques used an extended knuckle (rather than just a regular fist), White Crane techniques always use open hand finger counter techniques (such as demonstrated by Suenaka above).

Soken also practiced a number of parry/counter type combinations, says Suenaka, which he summarized in the saying, “Uki Ti Boom” (Uki being the Okinawan pronunciation for “uke,” a term indicating the person initiating a technique in a two man drill and who would be on the receiving end of the counter, and “ti” the pronunciation for “te” meaning hand). When an attacker used a straight punch, for example, the punch was slightly deflected by one arm (combined with a small shift off line) into the grasp of the second while the first continued onto target without any visible hesitation in the forward block/counter punch arm. The technique is very sophisticated, fast, simultaneous and powerful –letting the forward momentum of the attacker run into the counter—doubling its power.

Here the author demonstrates Soken’s torite as taught by Suenaka, a simultaneous parry combined with a nukite finger tip strike into the opponent’s neck which would strike not only the central bundle of nerves leading to the arms (brachial plexus) but also the carotid sinus, which helps control blood pressure (most likely producing unconsciousness)(21) Using this technique Suenaka prefers to follow-up with an arm bar. The author demonstrates an alternative (photo right), a toe kick to the opponent’s back leg and back-hand strike (reminiscent of one found in the original versions of both kanku/ kusanku and the pinan series). An arm break can be added. (22)

Karate-ka should also note that the technique demonstrated in these photos almost exactly follows the arm movement in a basic inside block. This illustrates how some advanced applications can be hidden within basic movements of kata.

One toe kick option found in Old Okinawan karate such as that of Hohan Soken, as well as many Chinese arts, is to capture an extended arm and then kick upwards (ankle bent) with the toes to the inside of the upper arm. The target is the axillary nerve (part of the brachial plexus). A direct hit can paralyze the arm, stun or even cause unconsciousness (this is a very dangerous technique since it directly targets a nerve, which if damaged can cause permanent incapacity). An alternate target is to strike up into the armpit which targets the bundle of nerves leading from the neck down into the arm (higher up into the brachial plexus) which can disable the arm, but also cause unconsciousness, even death. (23)

Another application of the toe kick to the groin is when an opponent's kicking leg has been captured. The target can be the testicles, but more often the target was a point behind them, the kicking toes aimed upward. The opponent's leg can also be lifted to unbalance or to throw the opponent backward.

Author’s Note To Readers: This article series represents the author’s personal experience. While I have added historical references and information, it does not claim to give a full representation of any specific art or karate style’s strategy or technique. Likewise, some styles and masters have undoubtedly been overlooked. More coverage is given to styles and teachers about which there is personal knowledge. The goal is not to provide a full historical accounting of toe kicks, but to provide accounts, information and anecdotes that together will give the reader a fuller appreciation of the place of toe kicks within the historical context of karate.

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. The intent of this article is to provide information on the historical roots of the technique and practices related to the development and methods of early karate and related arts. It is not the intent for the content of this article, or techniques demonstrated or discussed herein to be practiced or adopted within the curriculum of present day martial arts practice. The techniques described and illustrated may seriously harm an opponent or training partner and readers are not encouraged to use or practice them. If the reader wants to perform any martial art technique he or she is advised to do so only with proper supervision and training of a qualified instructor or teacher certified within the art to be practiced.


(1) Dan Smith a high ranking Seibukan karate who lived and studied on Okinawa for many years gives this representation (of Naha-te and Shuri-te) as one often used on Okinawa. His style traces its lineage to Chotoku Kyan through Zenryo Shimabukuro, whose son, Zenpo Shimabukuro how heads the organization based on Okinawa. Just as Shuri-te became better known as Shorin-ryu, Naha-te also became widely known as Shorei-ryu, but this author has used Naha-te within the article. Both names (Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu) appeared in a report written by Anko Itosu in 1908 which described Okinawan karate for the Okinawan government. Kanryo Higaonna (see part 4), however, might have been the first to use the term (meaning “The Style of Inspiration” in one translation). He probable he wanted to call attention to his style’s Fujian origin (notes John Sells in his book, “Unante-The Secrets of Karate, 2nd Edition”, p.47.), for in the Bubushi (a White Crane martial arts manual that was much valued among early Okinawan karate practitioners) mentions Shorei-ji (the southern Shaolin temple) – see the articles “Enter The Bubishi, Part 1 & 2” by Victor Smith in’s Reading Room under “History And Historical Influences. A translation of this book, titled The Bible of Karate: Bubushi”, Translated with commentary by Patrick McCarthy also appears in E-store under “Books” in the Category of “Karate.”

(2) In the Pinan series toe kicks were used in Pinan 2 and 4 (where Japanese styles now do a backfist or tettsui along with a simultaneous side kick). In Pinan 3, where many Japanese styles do a front kick or crescent kick from a horse stance following a backfist, this kick was originally not part of the kata, but instead it was considered an optional technique. Pinan 5 has a crescent kick. In all the kata, however, many techniques include the option of using a toe kick, such as when in a back leaning or cat stance. Also in Pinan 1 or 2 (depending on the style), where the practitioner does a series of steps doing either a middle punch or upper block, toe kicks were also an option. Many of the original movements in the Pinan kata, such as toe kicks, have been changed or modified. The Pinan kata too seem to be modifications of earlier kata. Although Anko Itosu is credited as the creator of this kata, many trace them to an earlier kata, or series of exercises known as Channan. See the article, “Channan: The "Lost" Kata of Itosu?” by Joe Swift in’s Reading Room under the Category “Kata And Applications.” Ernie Estrada, the well known Shorin Ryu stylist and historian, also suggests that Pinan 1 and 2 can be traced to Bushi Matsumura.

(3) Kyokushin is a hard style stressing powerful technique and contact free fighting. In his home Oyama had a small desk and behind it was a bookcase crammed with martial arts books from Japan and some from China. When, at times, I was invited to his home after practice, with his wife and daughters we would sit around a table (round with a warm comforter type cloth that could be draped over your legs and a sunken place for your feet) where we would eat and then discuss many things – technique, karate, history, etc. It should be noted that Oyama’s English was poor and my Japanese worse, so discussion was difficult. He showed me pictures in some of these books and asked what I thought. Some of these thoughts and research, I think, were later seen in his book “Advanced Karate.” In his style, Oyama added circularity to his blocks and adopted low Thai style round kicks to the legs (excellent for freefighting). He also created kata and modified others too (even adding what I see as an aikijujutsu technique to Pinan 2). But while Oyama was thus innovative in his thinking and willing to adopt technique that worked, toe kicks were never discussed or used. During the months that he was working on taking photographs for his book, “This Is Karate,” I spent several evenings a week working with him on the photo sections, and many photos were taken of our choreographed freefighting. In between he would often ask me to attack him this way or that, or we would lightly trade techniques – and while he used many techniques and kicks, I never saw a toe kick.

(4) See the article, “Kata As The Foundation Of Practice” by Christopher Caile in Reading Room under the category “Kata And Applications.”

(5) See Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura’s book, “Karate –Technique and Spirit.” On page 82 he shows the toe technique executed on a student. In class, however, the toe kick is not taught.

(6) Japan imposed Japanese as the official language (rather than the previous local language, known to many a Hogan, meaning dialect, but which is more precisely known as Uchinada Guchi). New schools were opened to teach Japanese both as a language and culture. Chinese culture and education which once predominated was now marginalized. At the same time Okinawans were for the most part very poor, most were illiterate, and Okinawa itself was considered by most of the outside world as a marginal entity with few natural resources.

(7) The existence of a southern Shaolin temple is much disputed. Even though many make reference to it, its physical ruins have yet to be located. The name Shaolin, however, was famous from its association with the Northern Shaolin temple (the birthplace of Zen under the Chinese monk Bodhidarma) from which many Chinese martial arts trace their origin. Thus, the attribution of Shaolin (or Shaolin temple) to a style was often used to enhance prestige. One source suggests that the southern Shaolin temple was a central temple in Nansoye, a little to the south of Fuchou, and the term Nansoye Shaolin temple was actually a cover for a secret society who had fled persecution in the North. See: Mark Bishop in his book “Okinawan Karate,” 2nd edition, p39.

(8) Satsunuku Sakugawa (1735-1815) is best known as “Tode” Sakugawa (“to” being an Okinawan term referring to the Tang period, meaning China, and “de” another pronunciation for “te”, a term meaning hand or fighting art, which we now call karate). Sakugawa first studied with Peichin Takahara (1683-1760), who had also studied in China while acting as an official of the Shuri government and mapmaker. In 1756 Sakugawa met and then started studying with a Chinese diplomat Kushan Ku (or Kung Shang Kiung) and learning Chinese kempo. Kushan Ku’s techniques are said to be embodied in one of karate’s oldest and best known kata, Kusanku, or Kanku. It is also said that Matsumura studied with a ship wrecked Chinese sailor from which studies he devised the kata Chinto. Before these masters, there were undoubtedly many others going back several hundred years, but their names have not survived. Some historians suggest that Kusanku actually taught kumiuchi-jutsu, which means fighting or grappling arts. One source suggests that Kusanku introduced the concept of hikite, meaning pulling or drawing hand to Okinawan. See: John Sells, “Unanate –The Secrets of Karate,” 2nd Edition, p. 25.

(9) In the old Okinawan kingdom the noble class was structured into levels. On top was the king and extended family, under them were local lords (originally known as anji), and below this level of princes were influential political retainers known as Oyakata (ministers and other high ranking government posts) which in turn were subdivided – the king’s Council (Sanshikan) at top, then a series of ranks relating to magistrates, attaches, constables and bodyguards collectively known as Peichin (military and civil police authorities). See: Jophn Sells. “Unante-The Secrets of Karate (2nd edition), p. 9

(10) Bishop. Bishop reports that Ishimine is today little remembered on Okinawa, but some sources suggest that he was actually Ishimine Peichin, who had at one time been a student of Matsumura. Today on Okinawa there is a style, Ishimine-ryu, headed by Shinyei Kaneshime, which is named after him.

(11) Kyan’s father was the steward to the last Ryukyu (Okinawan) king Sho Tai and accompanied him into exile in Tokyo. Chotoku also lived in Japan, where he was educated. Returning to Okinawa he studied with several teachers including Matsumura (from whom he learned the kata Sesan, Naihanshi and Gojushiho). He learned the Kusanku (Kanku) kata from Yara Peichin, the grandson of Yara Chatan (a contemporary of Sakugawa who had also studied with Kushan Ku), from which lineage came Yara Kusanku, a unique version this kata. Kyan also learned several other kata from Tomari-te stylists. Thus, Kyan while often classified as a Shorin-ryu stylist had Tomari-te influences as well.

(12) “Okinawan Karate,” ( 2nd Edition) by Mark Bishop, p. 74. Nagamine in his book “The Essence Of Okinawan Karate-Do”(p. 40) notes that the Kyan family with the Meiji political reform had also lost their economic support and social privilege and had to struggle for existence.

(13) As recounted in part 2 of a three part article titled “Masters of the Shorin-ryu” by Graham Nobel with Ian McLarenand and Prof. N. Karasawa which appeared in Fighting Arts International, Issue No. 51, Vol. 9, No, 3 1998 p. 33. Others, however, question the use of the toe kick in the story. Dan Smith a high ranking member of Seibukan which descended from Kyan, discounts the use of a kick altogether. This only shows the conflicting nature of the oral tradition of karate that exists on Okinawa today.

(14) Ernie Estrada, the respected Shorin-ryu practitioner and karate historian, conducted a series of interviews with practitioners who trace their roots of Soken in Argentina. When he emigrated Soken had been given private lessons in Matumura Karate by his uncle, Nabe Matsumura, but he was not a member of an organization, nor had he been extended rank. According to Estrada’s research, in the Argentine community karate was taught in a community dojo; various people taught, with Soken among them. After he left, his few students were absorbed by others still teaching. Photos of his demonstrations in Argentina, it should be noted, still exist.

(15) Soken would strike to vital points using both hands and feet. He also often demonstrated to visitors the use of his thumb to strike these targets “which were very painful,” recounts Ernie Estrada, the well known Shorin-ryu teacher and karate historian, who conducted a series of interviews with Soken over the years. The techniques, taken from old Okinawan “ti”, are reminiscent to those used by Sean Connery in the 1988 movie “The Persidio” where he plays Lt. Col. Alan Caldwell. Caldwell investigates a murder on his air base, and in the process ends a number of physical confrontations using just his thumb for a weapon.

(16) One account was given by Charles Garrett who studied with Soken on Okinawa over a period of two years. The name of the book in not known. It could be a copy of the Bubushi, but Garrett thinks that the book originated with Matsumura himself who passed it down to Nabe Matsumura. Roy Suenaka who studied with Soken longer than any other foreign student also remembers a similar book – rice paper pages filled with characters and diagrams with points. Suenaka says that Soken rarely showed this book to others and over 10 years he had only been shown it a couple of times.

(17) The forward movement seen above is also characteristic of karate kata and is optimally suited to self-defense situations where control of the initial technique is the goal. Student’s of Seido Juku might also recognize a parallel with Seido strategy. A similar strategy of entry is also shared by other martial arts. It is often used in aikido, notes Suenaka, as well as other jujutsu arts, although in aikido the technique is continued differently into a joint manipulation or throw. The use of atemi is also different.

(18) Interview with Charles Garrett. Garrett who studied with Soken for during the 1970-1972 time period. “He also used his back leg for these kicks,” adds Garrett, and “just before contact he would tighten his body (but not his leg) in order to extend power through the leg.”

(19) Koeppel (10th dan, and a famous early karate pioneer) has produced an excellent tape series detailing his Matsumura kata experience. It was originally produced for senior students, but is now offered to the public. See: Matsumura Seito Shorinryu: Secrets Of Kata Video Series (6 videos) in E-Store Video category under “Kata and Applications.” It is one of the most educational tape series now available. Koeppel was this author’s first teacher beginning in 1959 in Peoria, Illinois. Originally Koeppel taught Kempo Karate, and later became associated with Robert Trias. Interested in the roots of karate, he later visited Okinawa and adopted the Matsumura style, which he has now taught for many years under the tutelage of Fusei Kise, Yuichi Kuda and currently Kousai Nishihira.

(20) Interview with Charles Garrett.

(21) Although I have never studied karate with Suenaka, I have been his aikido student of his since 1990 (first studying with Shihan Mike Hawley in Buffalo, New York). During seminars, winter and summer camps I have prompted him to teach torite and other hand techniques, those which he learned from Soken. He has been very obliging, thinking that learning to punch is also important for his aikido students to learn

(22) There is also a secondary technique hidden within the above sequence. If the defender moves in slightly closer to the body of the opponent while doing the backhand/toe kick counter, another technique can be added. The opponent being off balanced by the kick while his head is snapped back responds automatically – the body’s reflex mechanism kicking in – and the arms straighten and extend in an effort to regain balance. With the captured arm positioned across the defender’s chest, if the stomach is flexed outward against the elbow, the elbow can be easily damaged or broken.

(23) See the article “What's The Point? Speculations On the First Move From Pinan Kata Two, Pressure Points And The Reality Of The Death Touch” by Ronald van de Sandt in’s Reading Room under the category “Pressure Points.”

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About The Author:

Christopher Caile is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of He has been a student of the martial arts for over 43 years. He first started in judo. Then he added karate as a student of Phil Koeppel in 1959. Caile introduced karate to Finland in 1960 and then hitch-hiked eastward. In Japan (1961) he studied under Mas Oyama and later in the US became a Kyokushinkai Branch Chief. In 1976 he followed Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura when he formed Seido karate and is now a 6th degree black belt in that organization's honbu dojo. Other experience includes judo, aikido, diato-ryu, kenjutsu, kobudo, Shinto Muso-ryu jodo, boxing and several Chinese fighting arts including Praying mantis, Pak Mei (White Eyebrow) and shuai chiao. He is also a student of Zen. A long-term student of one branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qigong, he is a personal disciple of the qi gong master and teacher of acupuncture Dr. Zaiwen Shen (M.D., Ph.D.) and is Vice-President of the DS International Chi Medicine Association. He holds an M.A. in International Relations from American University in Washington D.C. and has traveled extensively through South and Southeast Asia. He frequently returns to Japan and Okinawa to continue his studies in the martial arts, their history and tradition. In his professional life he has been a businessman, newspaper journalist, inventor and entrepreneur.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

toe kicks, Tadashi Nakamura, Akira Nakamura,Soken ?Bushi? Matsumura, Chotoku Kyan, Nabe Matsumura, Hohan Soken, Shoshin Nagamine

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