Odori - The Greatest of All "Secret" Principles

by William Durbin, Soke of Kiyojute Ryu

Odori means dance, and has two separate meanings in regard to the Orient. There are Odori, which are part of ceremonial religious practices, especially of the animistic faiths of the Orient and in Japan connected to Shinto. There are some dances attached to Buddhist celebrations, such as the Obon festival, when the spirits of the deceased visits their family and friends. These dances have survived as ceremonial rites still associated with celebrations of many religious holidays.

Martial Arts Dances

The second Odori is that which was the secret of one particular martial arts tradition, that of the Minamoto Bujutsu. According to Aikijujutsu sources, there was a method of training known as Aiki Inyo Odori, or simply, Aiki Odori. It was a combination of specialized movements, along with special breathing patterns.

It is unfortunate, but Aiki Odori has fallen into disuse within the Aiki community. According to some Aikijujutsu teachers, the Aiki Odori was lost sometime during the later part of the Edo era and the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, as the normalization of prearranged Kata took the place of the original free Kata of the warring era. Odori was a method of free style movement, which formed the heart of the Bugei training of the Minamoto martial skills. This was not just in regard to empty hand training, but also weaponry.

There are those who say that Morihei Ueshiba practiced the Odori himself, in a rediscovery of the natural flow of Ki, sometimes called the Ryuki. While his disciples watched him go through the moves, they never really understood what he was actually doing. In regard to his work with the Jo and Ken, he was especially proficient in performing Odori with them, many times confusing his students, who wondered what prearranged Kata he was doing, not realizing he was moving freely, following the flow of Ki. Ueshiba especially performed Jo Kata as a combination Shinto ceremony and martial exercise. Even today there are those seeking to learn Yagyu Ryu and Hozoin Ryu spear and Jo Kata hoping to discover the special forms of Morihei Ueshiba.

Odori and Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu

While there are scrolls, which record Odori as part of the Okuden of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu, there seems to be little indication of the practice of the art during modern times. Yet there are those who trained in the art during the late 1950s and early 1960s, who say that Odori was still taught to certain chosen disciples.

According to Rod Sacharnoski, he was first introduced to Odori by Albert C Church, who had learned the method of Chijiro Yokoto, during his early study of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu. Later Yokoto taught the family art known as Dai Yoshin Ryu to Church and Sacharnoski, demonstrating Odori as part of his family martial art.

According to Yokoto, when General Douglas MacArthur banned the practice of the martial arts in Japan, he and some other martial artists revived the practice of Odori to be able to practice their martial arts disguised as folk dances, but in reality they were continuing their Aikijujutsu training.

Still there is another lineage, which is also a branch of Minamoto Bujutsu and also teaches the principle of Odori. We need to look back to the twelfth century in order to trace this connection. If we believe tradition, Yoshimitsu Minamoto created the martial arts legacy which was eventually passed down to the Takeda family and which is known today as Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu.

Among the warriors trained in the family Bujutsu were the great Minamoto warriors, Yoshiie, Yoshikiyo, Yoshitsune, Yoritomo, and Tametomo. It is of Tametomo we must learn more. In 1156, Tametomo took part in an incident, which has been called the Hogen War, in which the Minamoto battled the Taira. Eventually the Taira won this conflict and Tametomo was exiled to Oshima Island. The Taira, hoping to end any hope of a threat from this great warrior, but honoring him with his life, severed the muscles in his bow arm.

Okinawan Odori

They reckoned without the knowledge of the martial arts, which Tametomo possessed. Part of the body of knowledge, which Yoshimitsu developed, was excellent skills of healing. Using the idea of Undo Ryoho, exercise cure, along with other special skills, Tametomo healed his arm and rehabilitated it completely. He then escaped to Okinawa, where he joined with those of his Samurai who planned to stage a comeback against the Taira.

Rather than coming to Okinawa as conquerors or superiors, the Minamoto met the ruling class of the island and became close friends. Tametomo married an Okinawan woman and sired a son who was known by the name of Shunten. It is believed that other Samurai followed suit and also married Okinawan women and sired children. We know that Shunten became the first emperor of Okinawa, taking control from the animistic priestesses who originally controlled the country.

There are those who believe that the entire ruling classes of Okinawa were descendants of these Minamoto Samurai and that the martial arts of Okinawa are strongly founded upon their Bujutsu. When Tametomo left Okinawa to return to the battle against the Taira, it is almost a certainty that he would have left a guardian for his son, whose responsibility would have been to complete his education, especially in regard to the martial arts.

When Shunten established his rule, it was partially due to superior martial arts skills, which were a combination of Minamoto Bujutsu and the indigenous fighting skill. His enemy would have only known the island’s fighting art, which he would have known, and understood. Thus it has been said that Shunten established the dynastic rule on Okinawa through superior martial arts skill and that until the Satsuma invasion, rule was held by that knowledge. The special martial art practiced by the Okinawan warriors was known as Bushi Te. Te to venerate their indigenous fighting art and Bushi to honor the Samurai from whom they learned the formal Bujutsu.

When the Sho dynasty was established each child of the royal family was taught the secret family martial art, which was never shared outside the ruling class. Each family had their own idea of how this should be handled. Many parents had their children trained by one of their relatives to avoid over, or under, disciplining them. Still others taught their main successor the specific family martial art, while having the rest of the children taught by a relative.

Motobu Goten Te

In the case of Sho Shitsu, his eldest son, Sho Tei became the next king of Okinawa, while his sixth son, Sho Koshin, founded the Motobu family. He changed his name to Chohe and continued to practice the martial art handed down by his father. He excelled at the martial arts, to the point of genius, and chose to teach only his eldest son the ‘secret’ innovations he derived from the original Bushi Te of his father. The Motobu gave their family martial art the name of Goten Te, palace hand, since they were among those who taught and protected the ruling family of Okinawa.

While the Motobu were chosen to teach the kings of Okinawa their martial arts, it is said that there were certain aspects still only taught to the eldest son. Eventually we come to modern times, when the feudal era has ended and the last eldest son, Choyu Motobu had learned the family Bushi Te. It is said that he was the personal teacher of Sho Tai the last Okinawan king, plus he instructed at the Okinawan Karate Kenkyu Kai, a research society of martial arts practitioners to whom he was the senior.

Choyu decided that, with the end of the feudal era, the need for such specific secrecy was unnecessary. He decided to teach all his sons, but unfortunately his eldest son died young, while his younger sons were not interested in learning the art, seeing it as archaic and unnecessary to modern life.

Seikichi Uehara

While he shared many elements of Bushi Te with the students under his charge at the Okinawan Karate Kenkyu Kai, he still wanted only his sons to receive the complete family art, which was privately known as Goten Te, the palace hand. Thus he chose to teach his youngest son’s best friend the art, with the understanding that he would eventually teach his son Toraju, whose adult name became, Chomo. Thus Seikichi Uehara was taught the complete Motobu family martial art.

Unfortunately, Chomo died in the bombing of Okinawa during World War II, know in the Orient as the Pacific War. This left Uehara the last practicing master of Bushi Te. He eventually decided to share this art, for fear that it would be lost completely otherwise, and began teaching on the island those interested in learning the true ancient Okinawan skill. He had the art formally recognized as Motobu Ryu Kobujutsu, in order to honor the family who had preserved the purest of all Okinawan martial arts.

Odori Te

The central principle of Motobu Ryu Kobujutsu is Odori Te, literally, ’the dancing hand’. This reflects it’s ancient roots, paralleling the Aiki Inyo Odori of the Takeda family, derived from the Minamoto Bujutsu. While many Okinawan arts have become totally immersed in the Chinese aspects of training, even to the point where Kiko, a type of Chi Kung is central to practice, this is not normally an emphasized part of Odori Te, though a type of Aiki Kiko is part of the training.

The Ki of the ancient Okinawan Bushi Te was more along the lines of Aiki, with the comprehensive flow of technique and blending with an attacker much more important than the hardness normally associated with Chi Kung. However, it is a mistake to think that Bushi Te did not have a Chinese influence.

The Bushi of Okinawa were open to learning everything about the martial arts they could. When the Chinese came to Okinawa during the many periods of cultural exchange, the royalty were the first to meet and learn from them. Martial arts schools per se, did not actually exist on Okinawa, thus commoners seldom learned about the arts except in very special cases. Most of the martial artists on Okinawa were of the royal class.

Ki training was seen as very important, though among some of the older martial arts masters, it is still kept a secret. As noted above, the Ki training was very much Aiki like, though there are those who say that the training included influences from Chinese internal arts, embracing Tai Chi and Pa Kua.

Chotoku Kyan and Orenai Te (unbendable arm)

Some of the masters of Okinawa have been as famous for their Ki as the Aikido masters of Japan. One of the best examples is Chotoku Kyan, a very small man, who physically seemed frail and weak, but who was among the greatest kickers of Okinawan martial arts and famous for his Ki abilities, such as having the ability to perform the unbendable arm and root himself so solidly, he was almost impossible to pick up. Kyan was one of those who trained under Choyu Motobu at the Okinawan Karate Kenkyu Kai.

Central to Ki development was Odori Te. Just as Ueshiba used his own form of Odori, and the practitioners of Aikijujutsu used Aiki Inyo Odori, to increase their flow and awareness of Ki, so too can Odori Te help the Okinawan stylist learn how to direct their Ki more powerfully in their strikes and kicks, as well as, to perform inexorable throws and other grappling skills. The Odori Te is also the power of the traditional Okinawan weaponry practice, commonly referred to as Kobujutsu.

Missing Pieces

When one looks at the modern forms of Karate training, they do not see the complete Okinawan martial art. Those engaged in Aiki training, whether of Aikido or Aikijujutsu, are missing an important element, if they do not know the truly wondrous form of training known as Odori.

In the Orient there are those who know this method of training, though it tends to still be a relatively closely guarded ‘secret’. In the United States, there are a handful of teachers who know the skill, though even they tend to keep it as an inner practice within their respective systems. It is hoped that teachers skilled in this method of practice will be contacted by Japanese and Okinawan stylists who are truly interested in learning one of the most traditional aspects of Aiki and Karate training, thus encouraging the proliferation of this truly excellent and effective Ki exercise.

 



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