Tag Archives: Okinawa

The Difference Between Men And Animals

“Do not forget that karate begins and ends with rei.”

This is the first of twenty principles passed down from the father of modern day karate, Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi brought his Okinawan martial art of self-defense to mainland Japan, which contributed to its introduction to the rest of the world.

If you’re wondering what karate has to do with the difference between men and animals, stick with me. You’ll soon understand, Grasshopper.

Rei means respect. Respect for others and respect for ourselves.

We demonstrate this respect in karate class every time we bow…onto the dojo floor, to our sensei (teacher), or to our workout partner. The bow is a sign of esteem, respect and courtesy. The bow signifies our willingness to learn and our appreciation for being taught. It assures our partner of our desire to work together to advance both our training; we are not facing off in combat.

Though anyone can go through the motions and bow when they are supposed to and at all the correct times, if they do not have a sincere heart, they do not possess true rei. As it states in The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate by Gichin Funakoshi, “True rei is the outward appearance of a respectful heart.”

In this book, Funakoshi guides us in the spiritual aspects of martial arts. Yes, contrary to what most American’s think, karate is much more than striking, punching, and kicking. Karate-do is a way of life. A philosophy. And these philosophies are not only meaningful in martial arts, but in our everyday lives. These principles encourage us to take a deeper look at ourselves, at how we live and how we treat those around us.

By now I’m sure you’ve made the connection between the title and the blog post.  Only man can show respect and courtesy. Funakoshi’s book states, “The difference between men and animals lies in Rei. Combat methods that lack rei are not martial arts but merely contemptible violence. Physical power without rei is no more than brute strength, and for human beings it is without value.

All martial arts begin and end with rei. Unless they are practiced with a feeling of reverence and respect, they are simply forms of violence. For this reason martial arts must maintain rei from beginning to end.”

I believe everything must maintain rei from beginning to end, whether its school, career, religion, relationships or time for fun. If we treated everyone and everything with reverence, respect, and courtesy, the world would be a much nicer and safer place to interact.

Are you living your life with true rei? Do you treat yourself and others with courtesy, esteem and respect? Do your characters? What changes can you make right now to demonstrate the rei in your heart? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

FOR FUN: What Spider-man quote relates this statement from The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate by Gichin Funakoshi? “The difference between men and animals lies in Rei.”

~K.M. Fawcett

Having Fun in Okinawa – Okinawa Part 4

Today’s post is a picture potpourri of some experiences we had on our trip to Okinawa. Click here for Okinawa Part 1, Okinawa Part 2, or Okinawa Part 3.

We went to Tsuken Island, which is Sensei Advincula’s wife’s home island. While she visited relatives and friends, and prayed to honor her ancestors, we enjoyed time at the island resort swimming in crystal water and soaking up the sun. We also took some karate pictures in our gis by the coral rocks. A man came over and took some pictures of us, so I took a picture of him taking a picture of us. 🙂



One of the unique things for me was getting to drive on the “wrong” side of the street. I’ve never driven anywhere but the USA, so it felt odd to sit on the right side of the car and drive on the left side of the street. My co-pilot (my husband) wore a crash helmet. Apparently, he thinks he’s funny. (I wish I could find the picture.) I did well driving. I only turned on the windshield wipers once. I was informed that if you hit the wipers instead of the directional signal, you should immediately yell out that it was intentional. Since it wasn’t raining, I’m not sure that anyone would have believed me anyway.

Our friend and fellow instructor, Erik, is a police officer. So we made a point to find a police station so he could take a picture with Okinawa police. The officers were so nice, and happy to pose for pictures.

One night four of us visited a bar owned by a friend of another American karate sensei we know. We were the only Americans in the bar, and truly immersed in Okinawan culture. We drank and ate with the local people and made conversation the best we could with the language barrier. The band invited us on stage to play the taiko (drum) and sanshin (3 string banjo). Erik did well, the rest us…not so much, but the people appreciated that we took interest in their culture and tried. Our group also followed along with some Okinawa dancing, and Erik and I sang karaoke.

There’s an Okinawan proverb “Ichariba choodee” which means, “Once we meet and talk, we are brothers and sisters.” I truly felt like part of the family on this trip from the courtesy and friendship of our host family to the propriety of the strangers we met (see Part 1). I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel back to Okinawa with Sensei Advincula, his wife, my husband, and my friends in Isshinryu.

~K.M. Fawcett

Experiencing Martial Arts – Okinawa Part 3

Lead by the #1 tour guide, Sensei Advincula, our group set off on a walking tour of Agena, Okinawa. The Agena dojo was where Shimabuku Tatsuo (our style’s founder) trained my teacher’s teacher, Sensei Advincula (did I mention he’s the #1 tour guide?). Sensei spoke of how the dojo helped the local economy, as Okinawan and American students bought gi (uniforms), weapons, and makiwara from local businesses. Though the dojo and businesses no longer exist, it was important for us to see and document these old historical locations related to Isshinryu Karate.

Tenchi Dojo Instructors in front of the Isshinryu World Karate Association Headquarters

We walked to the town of Gushikawa to the Isshinryu Karate World Headquarters dojo, where Shimabuku’s first son, Kichiro is now the head of Isshinryu. The dojo was closed so we couldn’t see inside.

In the same town, we were able to locate the property of Shimabuku’s first dojo, where he officially named our style, Isshinryu (one heart way or whole heart way). When Shimabuku’s top student asked him, “Why such a funny name?” Shimabuku replied, “Because all things begin with one.” This is so true for any venture, be it karate, writing, or even a relationship. You have to start somewhere. You must take that first step.

Heather, Sensei and Scott at Shimabuku Tatsuo's Tomb

We drove to the tombs of  Shimabuku Tatsuo, and his second son Shinsho (who had been instrumental in passing on his father’s karate) to pay our respects. On the way back, the group got to see livestock, a dam, and a garbage dump. Twice! Both our navigator and driver (*cough*Scott*cough*) told us that it was intentional, as they wanted us to see ALL of Okinawa. The #1 tour guide and the rest of us didn’t quite buy it.

Shimabuku Shinsho (Ciso)'s Tomb

Okinawa Prefectural Budokan

Also during our trip, we visited the Budokan, a huge martial center, where the Okinawan Karatedo Kobudo World Tournament took place. The first floor of the three story dojo houses a weight room and a karate dojo, kendo is on the second floor, and judo is on the third. There was also a small cultural room but it was closed.

Kendo floor of the Budokan

Our group also had the honor of training at the Ryukonkai dojo under Grand Master Iha Kotaro and Iha Mitsutada Sensei, the 2009 Okinawan Karatedo Kobudo World Champion in bo (6 foot staff). Ryukonkai is a kobudo school, meaning they teach traditional Okinawan weapons. The dojo, located on the second floor, had no air conditioning…oh yeah, and it was August. You bet I was dripping in sweat before I stepped out onto the hardwood floors! We learned some of their kata (forms), which uses a much deeper stance than we were used to. Good leg workout! Iha Kotaro Hanshi’s favorite quote is “You should not love to fight, but not, even for a moment, forget to prepare for fighting” by Miyamoto Musashi, The book of Five Rings.

The Codes of Conduct posted in the Ryukonkai dojo state:

  • Be civil, courteous, disciplined and well behaved.
  • Aim to train your mental and spiritual power as well as your physical power.
  • Endurance is the key to success.
  • Respect your seniors and love your juniors.
  • Regard every member of the dojo as brothers and sisters and treat them as such.
  • Try to master the most efficient skill of self-defense; preparing for the emergency.

Did you notice the first code of conduct? In Okinawa, everything comes back to courtesy.

~K.M. Fawcett

Courtesy, Kings & Castles, Oh My! – Okinawa Part 2

Because of the courtesy shown to us by the Okinawan people, our trip was dubbed the 2011 Ryukyu Propriety Cultural and Martial Arts Tour. Ryukyu was the old name for Okinawa before the Japanese renamed it (Remember Okinawa is a prefecture of Japan, like New Jersey is a state of the USA).

Tenchi Dojo Instructors at the Gate of Courtesy

Okinawa is known for the gate of courtesy, Shureimon (or Shurei no mon). This gate is at the entrance of Shuri-jo, a castle originally built in the fifteenth century that was the political, economic and cultural center of the Ryukyu kingdom for hundreds of years. Written on the gate’s plaque are four Chinese characters shu, rei, no, and kuni,which means “land of propriety” or “country of good manners and hospitality”.  Unfortunately, Shuri Castle was

Shuri-jo Castle

destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II. When rebuilding began in 1958 using pre-war photographs and original plans, guess which structure was reconstructed first. Yup, Shureimon – The Gate of Courtesy. That’s how important courtesy/propriety is to the Okinawan people.

While at the castle, we were entertained by some very talented ladies dancing traditional Okinawan dances. These dancers were impressive with their accuracy and fluidity of movement. This trip has given me an appreciation for these women’s skills. Although their movements might appear slow and uncomplicated to an untrained eye, they are in fact difficult in their precision and grace. Trust me, I had the opportunity to learn a piece of the fan dance, Kagiyadefu and…well… let’s just say it wasn’t pretty, graceful, or accurate. We’ll leave it at that. I also like watching the dances to see the hidden karate techniques in them.

While I’ve seen the traditional Okinawan dances before, what struck me on this trip was that Okinawan women have been performing these dances for hundreds of years.  The exact same precise dances!  And it made me sad to realize there are no traditional American dances in the US.

Heather, me, and Lorena in front of the King's throne

Our tour of Shuri-jo continued inside the castle where we saw many artifacts and special rooms, including the throne room and the tearoom.  I was excited to sit on the tatami mat, sip tea and eat delicious cookies that had been prepared for royalty hundred of years ago. Er…the cookies I ate hadn’t been prepared then, you know what I mean.

Ryukyu tea and cookies

I bought some boxes of cookies to take home with me.  Unfortunately, I just opened my last box. I guess that means I need to take another trip to Okinawa to get some more. 🙂

Click here for Okinawa Part 3 – Experiencing Martial Arts

~ K.M. Fawcett

The Isle Of Courtesy – Okinawa Part 1

Gate of Courtesy at Shuri Castle

Last month Scott (my husband) and I along with a few other karate friends had the opportunity to travel to Okinawa, Japan – the birthplace of karate – with Scott’s sensei (teacher) and his wife for a Cultural Martial Arts Tour.

Did you notice the word Cultural before Martial Arts? There’s a reason for that. Though we did indeed have an opportunity to train in a dojo there, the number one reason for the trip was to learn more about Okinawan culture, customs, history and traditions. And by doing so, I have discovered more about myself, as well as my country’s culture and history.

Many people (especially Americans) believe karate is only about fighting or self defense. That is simply not true. Karate-do (the way of the empty hand) is a way of life. A philosophy. And you cannot truly understand The Way, if you fail to understand the culture of the people who developed it. The founder of Isshinryu karate, Tatsuo Shimabuku, stated in a 1960 interview in the Okinawan Times, “Even if we cannot promote friendship between Okinawa and America through karate, my true hope is that if karate becomes popular in the United States and Hawaii, then Okinawa would also become more well understood.” Since 1994, his student, AJ Advincula, has been carrying out the vision and wishes of his teacher by conducting these cultural martial arts tours.

Okinawan man stopped gardening to tell us stories of the old dojo

Okinawa is known as the Isle of courtesy. The people are friendly, polite and go out of their way to help. For instance, we were taking a walking tour of the area where Tatsuo Shimabuku’s first dojo was. The dojo is no longer there, but we wanted to find the property. An elderly couple out for a stroll pointed us in the right direction, but soon we came to a crossroad and took a wrong turn. They followed us and corrected us before we went too far the wrong way. I ask you, would you follow a group of foreigners to be sure they arrived at their destination? Then there was the man who lived across from the property we had searched for. He stopped working in his garden to talk with us and tell us stories about watching the foreigners (American servicemen) training at the dojo.

Another day, our car’s battery had died. Fortunately, we spotted a tow truck stopping at a red light at a nearby intersection and my husband ran to the guy and asked for help. The driver asked if we were members of whatever organization he worked for (Okinawa’s version of AAA?). Scott said no. The light changed and the tow truck made his left turn away from the parking lot and our car. A few minutes later, after going around the busy city block, he pulled in our lot. The man jump started our vehicle, and refused to charge us. We happened to have a nice bottle of awamari (Okinawan liquor) in the car and gave him the presento as a token of our gratitude.

Higa Bridge - We met a woman nearby who took time from her busy day to talk history.

I don’t speak the language, and only know a few phrases, however, the people we had come in contact with were patient, friendly and helpful. There was no anger toward us foreigners. No one yelled, “You’re in Okinawa, learn the language!” And it made me realize that Americans can stand to be a little more polite and offer a little more assistance to those in need. We can’t allow rudeness and disrespect to be the norm. It is my hope that one day America can be known as the Land of Courtesy.

Click here for Okinawa Part 2 – Courtesy, Kings & Castles, Oh My!

~K.M. Fawcett

Long Live The Okinawans

Okinawa, Japan (the birthplace of karate) is home to a people with one of the longest life expectancies in the world. Not only do Okinawans boast the highest rate of centenarians (people who are 100+ years old), their incidence of heart disease, stroke, and cancer is extremely low. Women in Okinawa experience fewer complications from menopause, such as hot flashes and hip fractures. 

Why do Okinawans live so long, and why are they so remarkably healthy into their senior years? Some credit can be given to genetics, but most evidence points toward their lifestyle.  

DIET – Okinawans eat a low calorie plant based diet. They eat many colorful veggies (more colorful = more nutrients), fruits, seaweed, soy products, green tea, fish, and some pork. They also practice Hara Hachi Bu. That is, they eat until they are 80% full, unlike American’s who tend to eat until their supersized plates are clean even though they’ve already loosened their belts a notch.

EXERCISE – Okinawans have an active lifestyle. They engage in regular exercise, like walking, gardening, dancing, and practicing karate as a part of their daily life. Just think of the core muscles that are constantly engaged in order to sit on the floor rather than a chair. It’s not as easy as it looks.

IKIGAI – A reason for getting up in the morning. A sense of purpose. Okinawans discover which activities bring them joy and contentment, and engage in those activities. A sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in what they are doing gives them a sense of purpose, and brings meaning to their lives. In the US, so much of our ikigai is tied to our careers, and then retirement strips that away. Finding something to retire to will increase longevity, though you don’t have to wait until retirement to find your ikigai. I believe I’ve found mine in fiction writing (even if I never *gasp* get published, writing brings me joy).

FAMILY/COMMUNITY – Being surrounded with a support network increases longevity. It is not unusual for aging parents and grandparents to live with their children. Okinawans also seek out like-minded people to be with, for example, a gardening club, dance circle, or friendship club.

SPIRITUALITY – Faith and religion keep many centenarians feeling balanced and protected from life’s troubles.

LOW STRESS –  Whereas punctuality is paramount in Japan and the US, Okinawans believe in an unhurried lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if a task is finished in an hour or three hours, as long as it gets done.

How does your longevity stack up to the Okinawans’? What area (or areas) do you need to improve? Do you have an ikigai? What is it? Please leave your thoughts in the comments. 

Live long and stay healthy!

~K.M. Fawcett

It’s Hidden in the Dance

This weekend some of our karate students, my husband, and I were invited to a kanpai (celebration), where we had the pleasure of being entertained by Okinawan dancers. What I find fascinating about traditional Okinawan dance is that karate techniques are hidden within them, especially in the traditional young men’s dance. I’ve seen some of these dances before, and enjoy pointing out the techniques and stances we do in our katas (forms) as the dancers perform.

Below are pictures of the Sachiyo Ito & Company dancers (located in Manhattan) performing a traditional Okinawan court dance, a yotsudake dance. The performers wore beautiful, brightly colored bingata kimono and lotus flower headdresses. As they danced, they sounded the yotsudake, which are four bamboo pieces held in their hands and clapped together similar to castanets.  I tried to include video, but had trouble.  If I can get that working, I’ll put it up.

After doing a little internet research on this graceful and elegant dance, I learned that the dance is about welcoming the guest and showing the host’s gratitude, as well as joy of entertaining.

After their performance, they asked if anyone wanted to come up and dance. You bet I did! I downed the rest of my awamori (a distilled Okinawan liquor) and joined in along with most of the women there and a few men too. I had a great time! No video of me dancing. 🙂  But here is a picture of me from the back.

And another… (Am I dancing or making a dog shadow puppet?)

All this hidden meaning got me wondering. Are there dances from other cultures with secrets buried within them? Irish dancing maybe? Hmm…

~K.M. Fawcett

The Devil Is In The Translation

This past weekend I attended another outstanding karate seminar given by my teacher’s teacher, AJ Advincula. Though I learned a lot while training, my biggest lesson came later that evening after dinner. I learned the language barrier is a tough wall to scale, and sometimes the things you believe you understand, you don’t really.

An Oni Mask

During a discussion of ghosts of Okinawa, the conversation turned toward oni. Oni are demons or devils from Japanese foklore. I first learned about them in 2008 on a trip to Okinawa. I had visited a relative of Sensei Advincula’s and saw hanging on the wall a scary looking mask of a red devil face with horns. His relative told me the name of the mask (my notes say “Yasamen” but I must have written it wrong as it doesn’t come up in Google searches), and that it was for good luck and a protector in the same way shisa are. Then she told me the mask was no oni. Umm, ok. If the nice Okinawan lady tells me the devil mask wasn’t a demon, who am I to argue? Right?

Fast forward to this past weekend and our oni conversation. Sensei said the mask on his relative’s wall was an oni. “But sensei,” I replied, “she assured me it wasn’t.”

Well, with the power of the iPad, we did some research and sure enough I learned that not only was the mask an oni, it was a NOH mask. Noh is a traditional Japanese musical drama where the characters are masked. So all this time I thought she was saying that the mask was “no oni” (not a demon) when the mask was “Noh oni” (a demon mask from a play)!

So what does this lesson have to do with martial arts?

Many American soldiers stationed on Okinawa after World War II studied Isshinryu karate. Upon their return to the US, they opened up their own dojos (schools). Unfortunately, most of these first generation American pioneers of Isshinryu had been stationed on Okinawa for a short time. A typical tour of duty was only thirteen months. They didn’t have time to learn all the finer points and, therefore, didn’t understand how to make their karate work best. They also got much of the history and terminology incorrect because of language barriers. For example, the founder of Isshinryu karate, Master Tatsuo Shimabuku, created a kata (form) called Sunusu or Sunsu for short. Sunusu is translated to mean “father of the old man” or “father of the old man’s house”. Meaning that Master Shimabuku had named this kata after his grandfather. A marine student had asked the master about sunsu, and the master replied, “strong man”. To this day some Isshinryu sensei incorrectly teach that sunsu translates to strong man. What got lost in translation was that the master’s grandfather (for whom he named the kata) was a very strong man.

I had often wondered why there was so much incorrect information being passed down in certain lineages of Isshinryu karate. I now know it’s because what one person believes they understand may not, in fact, be understood at all. The devil is in the translation. DesiSmileys.com

~K.M. Fawcett

How Karate Came to the US

Today’s guest blogger is my husband and sensei, Scott Fawcett.  Scott is a godan (fifth degree black belt) in Isshinryu karate and owns the NJ Academy of Martial Arts in the Lebanon Plaza in NJ.  He blogs about how karate came to the United States.  Welcome Scott.

Scott and Kathy on Tsuken Island, Okinawa in 2008

Karate originated on the island of Okinawa. I had the opportunity to visit Okinawa with my Sensei, Arcenio Advincula for 10 days in 2008 and again for 10 days in 2009.  To fully understand Okinawan karate, one must understand and have an appreciation for Okinawan culture, customs, traditions and history.

Okinawa is a small island located about 200 miles south of Japan.  It is approximately 60 miles in length and about 15 miles wide at its widest point.  During World War II one of the most fierce land campaigns was fought on Okinawa.  This battle was known as Operation Iceberg or The Battle of Okinawa.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States entered the War in the Pacific with the ultimate goal of defeating mainland Japan.  The United States would use Okinawa as a strategic launch point to defeat mainland Japan. The Japanese realized how important Okinawa was and arrived there well before the American troops.

The United States arrived on Okinawa on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945.  At first the American troops advanced with little resistance.  The troops were later met with great Japanese resistance. The Battle of Okinawa lasted just under three months and resulted in 10,000 American casualties, approximately 40,000 dead Japanese soldiers and 1/3 of the Civilian population of Okinawa being killed.  This island of peace-loving people had their world turned upside-down.

US Navy SeaBee, Harold K Fawcett on Okinawa 1945

Following World War II, Okinawa was under American administration.  During this time, America rebuilt much of the infrastructure on Okinawa and also built a number of military bases.  Some U.S. Marines who were stationed on Okinawa in the late 1950’s and 1960’s became interested in Okinawan Karate (Kara meaning empty and te meaning hand).

Most Marines were only stationed on Okinawa for one 13-month tour of duty and therefore did not have time to fully understand this system, which takes years to learn. Tatsuo Shimabuku wanted Americans to learn more than kicking and punching.  He wanted them to understand Okinawan culture.  He is quoted in the April 30, 1960 edition of the Okianwan Times as saying “Even if we cannot promote friendship between Okinawa and America through karate, my true hope is that if karate becomes popular in the USA and Hawaii, then Okinawa would also become more well understood.”

Isshinryu Founder, Tatsuo Shimabuku

Today there are hundreds of Isshinryu dojo (karate schools) in the United States teaching Isshinryu karate.  Many have unfortunately lost the connection to Okinawa and appreciation for Okinawan culture, customs, traditions and history.  Sensei Arcenio Advincula is one of the few who returned to Okinawa many times to continue his studies under Shimabuku.  To this day Mr. Advincula continues to conduct annual Okinawan cultural martial arts tours to keep the true spirit of Isshinryu karate and his teacher Tatsuo Shimabuku alive.