Since antiquity Okinawa has been an all-around training ground for the creation of the most effective martial arts for the unarmed fighter. This martial art later became OKINAWA TE.
In the expanses of a vast sea, halfway between the Chinese island of Taiwan and the Japanese island of Kuyshu, 800 kilometers from the continent lies a ring of small islands - the archipelago Ruyku(Nansei) - whose largest island Okinawa takes up almost half of its square surface of 2,5 thousand km2. The word "Okinawa" - literally means "rope on the horizon" and the shape of this bleak island really reminds one of a rope tied up in a knot. Relatively little was known about Okinawa right up to 1945 when the island became the center of heavy fighting between Japan and the U.S.A. at the end of the second world war.
If you imagine Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines in the shape of an open fan, then Okinawa always finds itself right in the center, which is why of late, even now that the war years have finally become something of the past, Okinawa has remained the largest American military base in South-East Asia, with the main reason being that Okinawa holds such an important strategic position. It now only takes a few hours to cover the distance between the continent (China) and Okinawa, whereas it used to take, using winds and currents, 3-5 nights to sail there. This explains the role of island of Okinawa.
The population of the archipelago, ethnically similar to the Japanese, have nevertheless kept their own ethnographic special character. Okinawans are neither Japanese nor Chinese and yet the real origins of the inhabitants' roots remains a mystery. The fact that Okinawa is located not far from China, is of great significance when we examine the source of its development. It is in view of this fact that ambassadors, merchants and monks traveled to continental China.
The direct result of such an exchange being that Okinawans were introduced to different aspects of Chinese culture, which included martial arts.
From ancient literary sources, in particular from Dadao Bitsi (Memoirs from the Large Island), it is known that relations between China and Okinawa began as early as the 6th century A.D. (period of the Soon Dynasty Empire) and reached their peak in the middle of the 15th century during the rule of the Okinawan Syo Dynasty. The evolution of martial arts on Okinawa took two different directions: Tsuan Fa (Chinese fighting system) and To De (Okinawa martial arts). (For more information click to the World Wide Federation section).
However, in 1609 the relations between Okinawa and China from which Okinawa had gained rich economic and cultural benefit came to an end. The head of the south-Japanese Clan Satsuma, Shimatsu Iehitsa with the Japanese Emperor's permission, and three thousand Samurai armed with muskets on 100 worships captured Okinawa. This was the end of the Okinawa's independence and the beginning of a harsh subjugation of the Ruyku archipelago.
In 1610 Shimatstu Iehitsa introduced a great number of prohibitions and laws. The population of Okinawa was heavily taxed and subjected to discrimination. However, one of prohibitions, in an unexpected way for the invaders, turned out to be a powerful stimulus for the development of Okinawa Te. It was a question of the ban on not only carrying, storage but also the possession of any kind of weapon as well as any practice of martial arts under threat of the death penalty.
The result of this was that all secret societies Tsuan Fa and To De joined to form one single alliance against the Japanese occupiers. The direct consequence of which was the emergence of a new lethal martial art, which arose as a combination of all existing conceptions, and which was first called simply TE then later OKINAWA TE.
In regular skirmishes with Samurai armed not only with swords but also with fire-arms (Portuguese muskets) the Okinawan warriors sharpened their skills, instruction and training were carried out under the utmost secrecy. The official Japanese laws from this epoch stated:
"Should a member of the lower class, such as a townsman or peasant, be guilty of insulting a Samurai, whether it be in word or in jest, he is to be sabered there and then".
To these laws there was a perambulatory understanding - "Ta Mesi Giri" (sword test) giving the samurai the right to test his sword on the head of any commoner. Subsequently in skirmishes with Samurais the Okinawans acquired a formidable reputation forever stating the cardinal principle - "ikken hissatsu" (to kill with one blow).
Okinawan martial arts masters secretly visited the continent and remained for years, learning the most effective styles, defeating he most famous Chinese fighters. The constant practical refinement of the fighting system, secrecy,and lawlessness became characteristics of Okinawa Te and remained a part thereof right up until the beginning of the 20th century, even though the official occupation by the Satsuma clan ended in 1875, when Okinawa was declared an integral part of Japan and Okinawans gained full civil rights freedoms.
Under the Japanese government Meidsi (1867-1912), all of the country including Okinawa was mobilized. Medical examinations were conducted in schools and doctors were struck to see how sharply students practicing Okinawa Tai differed from other students in terms of physical preparation. Subsequently in 1901 in a pedagogical institute and in one of the schools of the city of Shuri, Okinawa Te was started being taught.
Therefor, due to the history of its evolution Okinawa became a universal training ground for the development of the most effective martial art for the unarmed fighter.
For hundreds of years this martial art evolved, was studied and perfected by an entire nation which had to fight the Japanese unarmed.
Nowadays, under the vast influx of "original" karate styles, Okinawa Te is undeservedly being forgotten, yet the family schools have remained, holding on to the traditional methods of instruction and the art still remains closed, it's passed down secretly from teacher to student, from generation to generation, on a lifelong way in the search of the truth.
Presently, due to this literal flood of sportive styles of karate and moreover as it is not at all advertised, Okinawa Te has slipped into the shadow. This is a typical situation in martial arts. As soon as one of them becomes popular, hundreds and even thousands of imitators sprout up trying to make money off the original, as a sort of substitute-martial art.
There is now on Okinawa only one school for Ancient Okinawa Combat Karate and Kobudo - "Sindo Ryu" (its name can be translated as "The School of the Truthful Way") headed by the 68 year old Sensei Hanashiro Naito. What distinguishes the Sindo Ryu school from others, is that all fighting is full contact, no protective equipment is used and it takes place in accordance with Ancient Okinawa Combat Karate rule- "Uri Kumi Go", by which only the blows forbidden are ones to the eyes and any and all styles are permitted.
Such is the Sindo Ryu method because only the most violent, most realistic bouts make it really possible to evaluate the effectiveness mastered during technical training sessions and to test the strength of fighters' spirit. In order to prevent injuries , Sindo Ryu Karate students undertake special preparation methods, which have been refined over hundreds of years, and which enable them, after one and a half -to two years training, to successfully participate in bouts without any detriment to their health.
The methods of Okinawa Te are not widely practiced and are almost unknown even to martial arts experts, the reason simply being that they are the main riches of the esoteric system of this family school. The head of the school Hanashiro Naito tries in every way possible to hinder the promulgation of Okinawa Te, fearing a perversion of the style. This is how he explains it:
"Today everybody knows that the legalization of karate and the wide promulgation thereof only began at the beginning of the 20th century, thanks to efforts of a few Okinawa masters - Gechin Funakoshi, Mabuni Kenwa, Miagi Tedzun. It is strange that if throughout the history of the development of Okinawa Te, which by the most modest accounts is at least 700 years old, we have seen no more than twenty "great" masters, that in the last fifty years the number of people having obtained this same highest rank (8th Dan or higher) has passed 1000.
It is in view of this that twenty-five years ago the Federation took the decision to forbid the production of video training cassettes and manuals in the branch of Okinawa Te, as well as the presence of outsiders at training sessions. I feel that it is maybe in this way we can save the pureness of Okinawa Te�"