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When you begin to feel like you are a tough guy, a warrior, a master of the martial arts or that you have lived a tough life, just take a moment and get some perspective with the following:

I've stopped knives that were coming to disembowel me

I've clawed for my gun while bullets ripped past me

I've dodged as someone tried to put an ax in my skull

I've fought screaming steel and left rubber on the road to avoid death

I've clawed broken glass out of my body after their opening attack failed

I've spit blood and body parts and broke strangle holds before gouging eyes

I've charged into fires, fought through blizzards and run from tornados

I've survived being hunted by gangs, killers and contract killers

The streets were my home, I hunted in the night and was hunted in turn

Please don't brag to me that you're a survivor because someone hit you. And don't tell me how 'tough' you are because of your training. As much as I've been through I know people who have survived much, much worse. - Marc MacYoung


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Okinawan Samurai

Okinawans were Okinawans, historically speaking. Even today they tend to remain Okinawans. So, when I read a story about one of the famous karate masters and I come to the line in the story that speaks of the master as a Samurai or of Samurai family I have to ask, "Samurai?" The greatest influences of a positive nature to the Okinawans, according to the limited history written in English, were the Chinese.

Mainland Japanese of Samurai lineage don't just allow anyone to suddenly refer to themselves as Samurai, you were born into that status or so I have been led to believe. The Japanese only came to direct their influences on Okinawans in the 1600's when they decided to "conquer" them and subjugate the peoples as Japanese citizens.

I believe that Okinawans, before edged weapons were removed by their King, had a military of sorts but I doubt they were considered Samurai. Even if they were the word doesn't fit because Okinawans didn't speak Japanese. They spoke a uniquely Okinawan dialect, uchinaguchi. I also doubt that they insisted they be called Samurai during the more heated times when Japanese Samurai governed or policed the island. This smacks of the audacity we Americans have when we speak of ourselves as Samurai simply because we practice with a sword.

Is this some urban type legend that was used to spruce up the stories that are told of the masters of old? When does fact fade into fiction in any story of martial arts? Isn't it natural for humans to kind of express their views with a bit of drama and dramatic license? Is this like calling myself a "warrior" when or if the term is defined could mean a yes or no?

Question, question, question .... regardless, the stories are good. I enjoy them immensely. Even if they tend to go beyond mere fact they still provide some cultural indications we can learn from so that is good, right?


Samurai Girl Sahara said...


"During the 11th century, a number of Japanese warriors fleeing from the Taira-Minamoto wars made their way to Okinawa. Many of the Minamoto samurai took Okinawan wives and remained upon the island for the rest of their days. The bujitsu of the Minamoto samurai had a large influence on the fighting methods employed by the Okinawan nobles. One part of the Minamoto bujitsu that had an influence on the development of karate was the idea that all motion is essentially the same.


In 1377, the kind of Okinawa expressed his allegiance to the emperor of China dn this resulted in a huge influx of Chinese culture and customs. Chinese combative systems and the ideas were included in this importation of information. It was in 1392 that thirty-six Chinese families emigrated to Kume village in Okinawa as part of cultural exchange. Amongst these thirty-six families were a number of Kempo experts who had a huge influence on the growth and development of the native Okinawan fighting systems.


In 1429 Kin Sho Hashi wished to improve the standing of Okinawa and as a result the Okinawan people began to look outward to other countries. This resulted in trade with Indonesia, South-East Asia, Korea, Japan and, of course, China. The towns of Shuri and Naha became famous as trading centers for luxury goods. Later these towns would also gain notoriety for the systems of fighting that bore their names. This influx of trade also led to the exchange of combative ideas that further influenced the native fighting systems and the katas used to record these systems.


In 1609, Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate, which maintained power through the skillful playing off of one faction against another. The Tokugawa clan had previously subjugated the Satsuma clan but they still considered them to be a threat, and hence they were sent to invade Okinawa.


The Satsuma clan maintained control over Okinawa for nearly three centuries until Okinawa officially became part of Japan. The system of fighting employed by the Satsuma Samurai was Jigen-Ryu Bujitsu. Some of the Okinawan nobles were instructed in this system and hence it will have had an influence on the native traditions. Indeed, Bushi Matsumura (A Karate master who was employed by the kind of Okinawa as a bodyguard) gained his teaching certificate in Jigen-Ryu. It is Matsumura who is accredited with synthesizing Jigen-Ryu with Chinese and indigenous Okinawan systems to form what became known as Shuri-te style of karate."

Exerts from pages 4 - 9 of Bunkai-Jutsu, Chapter One, A brief history of kata.

So, really while Okinawa is the birth place of Karate and is very much independent in its cultures and customs, we can see very strong influences of both Japanese and Chinese as well as other countries. And while there may not have been such a thing as an "Okinawan Samurai" verbatim, Samurai were at least present in Okinawa as early as the 11th century. And if the Minamoto Samurai or the Satsuma Samurai married Okinawan women, (which there is record of the Minamoto samurai doing and I'm sure after being in Okinawa for 300 years some of the Satsuma clan married local women) then their offspring would, in theory, have been born with the Samurai heritage, making them effectively Okinawan Samurai, even if they weren't considered exactly Samurai by Japanese standards.

Just sayin'...

Charles James said...

Hi, SG: Absolutly. Nothing you propose is refutable except maybe as to accuracy but only in that historical documents were few if not lost during the war.

Nothing said in your comment actually refutes my hypothesis as to Okianwan Samurai. So your comment quote of

"while there may not have been such a thing as an "Okinawan Samurai" verbatim, Samurai were at least present in Okinawa as early as the 11th century"

Is actually true and kind of validates my post. Yes, Samurai as well as Chinese - one forced presence and the other a welcome presence - did reside on Oki but my hypothsis still stands as to "Samurai" status even when Japanese Samurai married Okinawans it still does not allow for or accept them the status of Samurai - maybe.

Samurai Girl Sahara said...

I don't think the Minamoto Samurai were necessarily a hostile or unwelcome presence, but I'd have to do more research.

Obviously the Satsuma samurai were, but even so, if my dad were a Japanese Samurai, even if my mother was from wherever, I would still claim Samurai as my heritage. I could trace my family tree to him and his Samurai heritage, therefore, I too am Samurai. Hence, Minamoto or Satsuma Samurai's offspring are also Samurai. You even said its a lineage thing. So if the bloodline is Samurai, and you are part of that bloodline and you bear the family name, no matter what country you are in, if you parent was a Samurai, so are you. The fact of the matter is, if your father was a samurai and your mother was Okinawan, then you have both Samurai and Okinawan linage, so you are by effect, an Okinawan Samurai.

Now, the Okinawan government may not recognize the TITLE of Samurai, but its still in your bloodline. So I guess what it boils down to is are you talking about the government title and status of Samurai, or are you talking about having the family name and lineage/bloodline of a Samurai?

I don't think an Okinawan Samurai is impossible, or even an Okinawan martial arts master having had a Samurai somewhere in his family history.

Also, your post is a little vague, so without any context or point of reference (I.E. Which martial arts master, or what story you are reading, etc) its hard to make a valid argument one way or the other. You could be totally right in that the particular person you are reading about has no Samurai heritage at all and the story is just made up, but there is such a genre as Historical Fiction. Unless you're reading a text book. EITHER WAY, without more details I stand by my opinion that an Okinawan Samurai (by blood) could have existed and could have been a martial arts master.

Charles James said...

Ah-Hah, excellent point - well made and very valid, cool :-)

Charles James said...

SG: I really like and appreciate your argument but:

It is with clarity that I say that for anyone outside of a pure Japanese cannot be a Samurai even in the most advantageous of situations is impossible means to me that no Okinawan can achieve Samurai status regardless.

I quote, "Japanese have historically been unable to accept non-Japanese into their society (this culture and society has Samurai as an intricate/interwoven fabric of said society). This intolerance goes beyond both race and language. Persons of Korean or Chinese ancestry who are physically identical to the Japanese and whose families have lived in Japan for generations and are totally assimilated into the culture are not accepted as Japanese. "

To further express this it is clear that even those who are Japanese tend to be removed from the culture and society upon their return from living and working outside of Japan, etc.

I also quote, "To be regarded as and treated as a Japanese you have to be born in Japan, of Japanese parents, and raised as a Japanese in the full cultural implications of the word."

Both quotes tell me emphatically and irrefutably that Okinawans even when married to a Japanese cannot nor can their offspring lay claim to and be "Okinawa Samurai" in the most literal sense.

Although your arguments make a lot of sense they are predicated on our perceptions, beliefs and understanding from an American system of beliefs, perceptions and understanding where the only means by which we could understand otherwise is through total immersion in the Japanese social fabric for at least two decades to even achieve a modicum of understanding as I gleamed from the study of Japan Kata where one person did just this and then exclaimed that even with this they were treated as gaijin - foreigners.

You made an excellent argument but in the literal kata like environment that is Japan it fails to persuade - me.

Kindest Regards,

Charles J.

Anonymous said...

Well then maybe one would be considered Okinawan Samurai, due to having bloodline traced back to Japanese Samurai. It would not make a deference if Japanese acknowledged you as a Japanese Samurai. The point would be that you could claim through heritage/bloodline Samurai heritage. The only difference is you would in a sense be an Okinawan Samurai. Kind of like a new breed or branch. So maybe it would not be a Samurai of the Japanese kind, but instead an Okinawan kind.