The Heavenly Art of Kempo

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

If one looks at the history of Kempo from it's roots in China to it's development in Japan and Okinawa, one sees not only a progression in physical skill and mental development, but more importantly the creation, or recognition, of heavenly skill. In our modern world where people tend to be more concerned with violence than spiritual matters, the idea of skills rooted in heaven and that originate from the divine, seem archaic or even superstitious.

But for those who have seen Morihei Ueshiba perform his incredible skill, or the unthrowable performance of Kyuzo Mifune, who could easily defeat men twice his size, the idea or concept of heavenly power is easily acceptable. From the great masters of Tai Chi to the modern Kempo Karate mavens of Okinawa, the belief in divine skill is not only acceptable, but essential.

Bushi Te

The most ancient art of Okinawa, Bushi Te, is still taught today by several schools which trace from the same basic lineage. Several styles of Kempo Karate which exist on Okinawa can trace their lineage to the last truly great master of Bushi Te, Choyu Motobu.

Choyu Motobu learned the family form of Bushi Te known as Gotente from his father. The Motobu family was always the instructors to the emperors, because of their exceptional martial arts skills. The Motobu family was founded by Sho Koshin, the sixth son of the emperor Sho Shitsu, who adopted the name Chohe Motobu and established the Motobu family. From that time on, the Motobu family were known as great martial artists and accepted the responsibility for teaching their 'cousins', the kings of Okinawa.

Karate Kenkyu Kai

Choyu Motobu organized a Karate Kenkyu Kai, research society, hoping to help preserve the ancient art. Most of his students were also taught by Yasutsune Itosu, who revolutionized the art of Karate by creating a curriculum designed for school children, based on prearranged Kata.

Some of the teachers of this modern form have, contained in their art, many of the elements of Bushi Te, which in true form is a very spiritual art. The ancient skill was a combination of the indigenous Okinawan art of Te, the Minamoto Bujutsu, and Chugoku Kempo. The modern skill of Karate, especially when taught as a sport, contains only the physical aspect of training, which many students never transcend.

Originally the creation of the sport form of Karate was designed to promote the art. Unfortunately, while the sport of Karate has benefited from this situation, the art of Karate has almost ceased to exist. As one Karate master from Okinawa expressed it, "Students in the Orient were meant to be introduced to the martial arts through school programs. Once out of school, the hope was that they would continue their training so that they could benefit from the mental and spiritual aspects of the arts. But most young people stop training once they can no longer compete, seeing the rest of the art as being archaic and no longer of value."

The main reason that young people no longer find themselves attracted to the martial arts as they age, is that they are taught only physical skills. At some point they all realize that there is a limit to physical development. Those who are competitive and athletic will find a great appeal in sport Karate (Judo, or other combative competition), but people who have no desire to 'beat' another person in competition, or who have only average, or even less, physical ability, will never find joy in competitive Karate or sport martial arts training.

Most of all, many people begin to feel that martial arts training in worthless for modern man. There are many other forms of physical exercise that are just as effective as martial arts for improving physical fitness and health. But the other forms of training do not require physical confrontation in any form with another human being, making them much more acceptable to non-violent people. Unless there is something different about the martial arts, then this attitude is true.

Zen Mind

But there is something different about the martial arts, there are the mental and spiritual aspects which take them out of the realm of mere forms of physical fitness, into total ways of life. First of all, there are people who accidentally achieve the mental focus of the martial arts when engaged in other sports, but the beauty of the martial arts is that they are designed to elicit the Zen mind by individual effort.

True martial arts begin by trying to achieve the mental state of Mushin, which translates 'no mind', and refers to the mental state of nondiscrimination. No preconceived ideas exist in the state of Mushin, thus a person learns to see life as it truly is, rather than as their preconceptions would lead them to believe. Once achieving the Mushin, the person then strives to allow it to give them Honshin, which means right mind. This is so that the right decisions can be made, in self defense, but more importantly in life.

As a person begins to experience Honshin, the most motivating force in their life becomes love. Morihei Ueshiba found this to be so true that he wanted to emphasize it to his students, by noting the term Ai can be written with a Kanji, which translates love. When a person has allowed their heart to be filled with love, then their motivation for all their actions, from self defense to interpersonal relationships, become expressions of that love.

Kami Waza

Ueshiba noted that the Kami Waza, divine techniques of Aikido, originated in love, which meant that the skills derive from the power of the universe (God, Void, etc.). Love, when developed properly, harmonizes a person with the universe, in strength and understanding. This is why the power of the martial arts, when developed along spiritual lines, is so great.

There is the story of a Judo practitioner, back in the 1970s who heard of Kami Waza when training from his instructor. He took the meaning as literally a list of 'divine techniques' and sat about to coheres his instructor, over a period of time, to tell him what they were. Naturally, the instructor, being a good and honest man, tried to explain to his student that there were no techniques that were divine, but rather it was a level of ability the student reached which made any technique divine. Unfortunately the student did not believe the teacher, eventually leaving the Judo class, seeking the list of divine techniques. This journey began with Aikido, because of the close connection between Judo and Aikido in the early days, and the legendary skill of Morihei Ueshiba. With the popularity of Kung Fu, due to the television show of the same name and Bruce Lee's movies, the young man next entered a Fu Jow Pai school. He then tried Shorin Ryu Karate, because of the incredible skill of such Shorin Ryu Karateka as Joe Lewis and Bill Wallace. Yet when the list still remained elusive, he moved on to Ryukyu Kempo, hoping to find the Kami Waza list somewhere in the Tuite or Kyusho. Where he is today, only God knows, but it is sure that he is still looking for a special list of Kami Waza.

Shugyo and Hotei

If he had just looked he would have seen the truth, there is no one list, but that which is in the heart of man. Bill Wallace has kicks that can be described as divine, yet it is not because the kicks he uses are on some special list, but because he has a true love of kicking. The pressure point knockouts of Seiyu Oyata are so incredible, because he has a love of training. Joe Lewis hits hard because he worked hard (Shugyo) with a great degree of dedication (Hotei) to achieve such a high level of skill.

Morihei Ueshiba, in particular, was acknowledged, by many people as having the most divine techniques ever developed during the last generation. When he practiced there was a smile of pure joy on his face. His most fervent desire was for his students to reach the same level as he. Most of all, his acknowledgment was that the divine techniques were from spontaneous, free style, extemporaneous practice. It is believed that he learned this from his training in the classical systems of Kito Ryu, Yagyu Ryu, and Daito Ryu.

Jiyu Kata

In Kiyojute Ryu Kempo Bugei this idea is preserved in the Jiyu Kata, free style form. There must be some form of training that allows a person to develop complete creative spontaneity. Unfortunately, if this is allowed in actual combative tournaments, people tend to get hurt, simply because complete martial creativity (Busan, Takemusu, or Takeumu), includes all facets of combat, which range from grabs, pokes, tears, and other such techniques that must be excluded from competition in order for injuries to be avoided.

Originally, the Okinawans did not have a form of sparring, simply because their skills were too dangerous to 'play' with. If they wanted to test their strength, they engaged in wrestling, known as Tegumi, but serious self defense skills were never practiced against another human being. Morihei Ueshiba taught that one strike in Aikido kills, yet there are those today who claim there are no strikes in Aikido and advocate the sport practice of the art. It is only because they have eliminated the strikes from their form of Aikido, that this can be done, but this takes away from the combat effectiveness of what they teach.

Both Aikido and the original Okinawan martial art of Bushi Te, derived from the same source, Minamoto Bujutsu. The Okinawan art then received an influence from the Kempo of China, merging the concept of divine techniques from both sources, creating an unparalleled form of self defense. Originally, both of the martial arts used free style, extemporaneous training, to develop their skills. It is said that Ueshiba developed this idea based on his training from Kito Ryu's Ranotoru, Yagyu Ryu's Muto, and Daito Ryu's Odori. Interestingly enough, the only extant ancient system of Bushi Te on Okinawa, Motobu Ryu, teaches this same concept in the main principle of Odori Te, once again indicating a connection with the Daito Ryu, a system also derived from the Minamoto Bujutsu.

Kami Waza may seem to be some type of archaic idea that is not securely grounded in reality, but for those who have achieved any level of true mastery of the martial arts can attest, it does exist. Even for some martial artists who have not yet experience this level for themselves, but have had the opportunity to witness the great skill of one of the top masters of the world, it is obvious that there is a level of skill beyond normal human kin and simple physical ability.

Some of the truly great past masters of the last generation to have achieved this level are; Morihei Ueshiba, Choyu Motobu, Kyuzo Mifune, and there are others. Today, we still have examples of this level of skill in such individuals as; Seikichi Uehara, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and Teruo Hayashi. Will there be masters of Kami Waza in the coming generation? Only if the young martial arts students of today are taught that such a level exists and are taught how to achieve it by those masters of today who have touched it, will this be a reality.

Hard Work, Dedication, and Faith

Kami Waza takes hard work, dedication, and a faith in the positive reality of the universe. It is what separates martial arts training from mere exercise or hand to hand combat. As a person manifests the exceptional skill of their chosen martial art, they also began to exhibit a greater level of personal discipline and faith in their ability as a human and that of the goodness of the universe. Finally, as the love of training fills the heart of the martial artist, so too does a love of life, people, and the world, begins to appear. It is this love that makes the Kami Waza appear and sets the course, not only of the physical skills of the practitioners, but of their life.

It is believed that the Kami Waza were first developed by the monks of China and Japan, as they trained in their Ji Kempo, temple martial arts. Seeing the ability of their martial arts training to aid in the achievement of enlightenment, they passed these skills on to members of their faith, to help them survive the harshness of the world in which they lived, and to help them on their path to universal awareness. The same goal can be achieved by martial artists today, if they chose to accept the reality of the Kami Waza, training not to harm others, but to improve themselves and aid their students.

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