Seal of the North American Beikoku Association

Okinawan Karate on Postage Stamps

Mark W. Swarthout

Shido Kan Kanji

Postage stamps have long been used to show historically and culturally significant items in a country's life. And the countries in the Far East are no exception.

These were the first stamps issued in the Ryu Kyu islands, now known as Okinawa, depicting the art of Karate. The Japanese kanji on the stamps translate as "Ryu Kyu Yubin" or Ryu Kyu Postage. Okinawa is the main island of this chain in the Pacific. The stamp denominations (three cents) are in U.S. currency. From the end of World War II until it reverted to Japan in 1972, Okinawa was governed by the United States of America.

The images on the stamps are based on photographs of important instructors taken at the Nagamine Kodokan Dojo.

Issued October 5, 1964 - The position after the third count of the Naihanchi Shodan kata. There are three kata in the Naihanchi series, the others being Naihanchi Nidan and Naihanchi Sandan. In Japanese styles, these kata are referred to as Tekki Kata. Prior to the development of the Pinan kata in 1907, Naihanchi was the first kata most Okinawan karate students learned. This was the kata that many of the early practitioners spent several years perfecting before learning other kata. The actual purpose is not clear but it could have been designed for use in narrow areas, the primary stance is as if one is riding a horse, the knees grasping the horse firmly to prevent being knocked off.

Issued on February 5, 1965 - Yasuhiro Matayoshi punching the makiwara. Consisting of a wooden post that tapers toward the top and is of varying degrees of flexibility, the use of the makiwara is a distinctive aspect of Okinawan Karate. The top of the post is wrapped in canvas, rice straw or rope. While it certainly does toughen the skin of the knuckles, the primary purpose is to teach balance, focus and the proper alignment of the knuckles, wrist and arm. It also assists the student to feel the strength that comes from the toes all the way up through the legs, the torso and to the target. Without putting all of these items together, the student will find that he is ineffective.

Various styles of the martial arts use a variety of methods to toughen the skin of the hands. Items include punching bags of flour, sand, grain or pebbles. These types of training aids should only be used under the supervision of a knowledgeable instructor to avoid injury. They should be avoided by young people who are still growing.

Issued on June 5, 1965 - Grand Master Shoshin Nagamine (founder of Matsubayashi-Ryu Shorin-Ryu) and Seiei Shiroma performing the final movement of Yakusoku Kumite Number 1. Nagamine developed seven kumite forms, based in part upon his training with Choki Motobu, who was also one of Katsuya Miyahira’s instructors. Hanshi Miyahira is the current head of my Shido-kan Shorin Ryu style. The movements consist of the attacking partner stepping into a short right front stance with a right middle punch, which is blocked with an outside block. Then the attacking partner steps left with a left middle punch, blocked by an inside block and stepping right with a right high punch followed by a right low punch, appropriately blocked and then a middle punch counterattack. When working with partners no actual contact is made with the knuckles.

These drills are still learned and done today in most styles of Okinawan Karate. The number of Kumite varies with the style. My school teaches fifteen kumite. Note the use of the word partner rather than opponent in describing the participants.

You should also know that these stamps are not expensive. A set of one each of the three can normally be obtained from a stamp dealer for a few dollars. I have seen them sold on the internet for as much as $12 for the stamps alone! Check with local stamp dealers or your favorite philatelist!

I encourage you to Get in the Car!

A version of this article was originally published on Suite101 February 20, 2003

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