Translated by Andreas Quast
When in books or on the internet you see statements such as "This is Shuri-te" or "This is Tomari-te", or "Budō Karate is like this!", then don't you get a certain "feeling of oppression"?
I feel that the hidden psychology behind such claims is that one's own school is surely legitimate and correct, and that other schools are heretical and wrong. And if such a claim deviates from the features of one's own school, then some Sensei will say "You guys are wrong" and it feels as if a "dialect card (hōgen fuda)" is being tied around your neck and you suffocate from it.
By the way, in Karate [both 唐手 as and as 空手], no such thing as an original school existed. The things called Shuri-te, Tomari-te, Naha-te (and Kumemura-te) were merely rough regional classifications, but as we look into the particulars, the actual difference was such that it was "one person = one style".
For example, for Passai of the Tomari lineage there is a Passai of Iha Kōtatsu and a Passai of Oyadomari Kōkan. In addition, Oyadomari no Passai even subtly differs according to the person who handed it down. Therefore, there is no single Tomari no Passai about which could be said "This is (the) Tomari no Passai." In English this is the difference between the (definite) article "the" and the (indefinite) article "a".
Of course, these indications are not intended to disavow each and any categorization. In region and era it is possible to see some rough "tendency". For example, as I have written about in the previous article, from the presence or absence of "Haimen Nukite" in Passai it is possible to consider how Kata changed prior and after the introduction of Karate into school education.
However, while such considerations reveal the transition of Kata over time, they do not reveal "quality (in sense of superiority or inferiority, or advantages and disadvantages)". For example, whether the use of Nukite or Seiken is considered superior is evaluated differently according to a chosen perspective, i.e. whether the objective is actual combat or school education.
In addition, when looking more closely, even the situation of actual combat changes according to the era. For example, the case of mage-kakushi from Chatan Yara Kūsankū reveals that actual combat techniques required and how to deal with them differ depending on changes in hairstyles and costumes.
Well, prior to the war, dialects were oppressed in Okinawa, but recently Okinawa Prefecture has been actively promoting the use of "Shima-kutuba" (Island language, Ryūkyū dialect) more.
I wonder if the trend in Karate will also follow back along a similar path. If the "modernization of karate" is that of a trend that overpaints individuality with generalization, then isn't it necessary from now on to preserve historically meaningful Kata and techniques as intangible cultural assets by cherishing individuality more? This is not limited to traditional Karate, but also applies to ancient Japanese martial arts (Kobudō) in general.