An Introduction to Ryusei Karate

The Meaning of Ryusei

“Ryusei” translates into English as “Dragon Spirit.” It is an honorific title for the bujin or warrior who devotes himself to the practise of karate and understanding the art’s ultimate meaning. Ryusei is also a term of respect used to honor the spirit of such a fighter.

The term “Ryusei” was coined by Tei Junsoku, the “Saint of Nago,” in 1705. Junsoku was an 18th-century Confucian scholar from Okinawa who made trips to China and returned with books on Chinese science and philosophy.

The Origins of Todi

“Todi” is the name of the martial art used by warriors in the old Kingdom of Ryukyu (Okinawa) to protect the “sappushi,” envoys sent by the emperor of China. Todi is said to be a kempo-bujutsu (an ancient Chinese fighting system), which was passed on down within the South Shaolin Temple in Fujian, China, until the Min dynasty.

Todi also greatly influenced ti (pronounced “tee”), the indigenous Okinawan fighting system. Ti developed into two distinct branches: Shuri-ti, in the capital of Ryukyu (Shuri), and Naha-ti in the kingdom’s commercial centre of Naha.

What Is Ryusei Karate-Do?

Ryusei Karate-Do is a traditional Okinawan fighting art (kempo-bujustu) that is a legitimate successor to the techniques of both todi and Chito-Ryu. The latter fighting system was founded by Master Chinen Kinchoku (who renamed himself Tsuyoshi Chitose), the Sixth Todi Master.

The Lineage

Ryusei Karate Do is based on the todi technique of kaishu-naiko-ho (an open-hand method designed to develop inner power or ki).

Shuri-ti is known for its sharp, agile and very quick techniques. For its part, Naha-ti is famous for its powerful defensive and attacking techniques. Chito-Ryu is the karate created by Chinen Kinchoku (Tsuyoshi Chitose) to incorporate the strengths, and avoid the weaknesses, of Shuri-ti and Naha-ti. Ryusei Karate-Do was developed to incorporate the essence of both todi and Chito-Ryu, and to become a legitimate part of their lineages.

Philosophical Background

Sakamoto-Sensei classifies the kata of his system into four groups: Basic, Kei-I I, Kei-I II and Koryu. The basic kata are Seisan and Niseishi, and are performed pretty much as they are in traditional Chito-Ryu. Kei-I I kata are inspired by the moves of animals and Kei-I II kata express human emotions.

The following comes from a poor translation of Sakamoto-Sensei’s description of his system. We apologize for not doing his words justice. The translation will be redone when time and money permit.

Basic theory of the Kei-I Kempo

In our world, there are five kinds of spirits that are symbolized by wood, fire, earth, metal and water. Everything, animate and inanimate, is brought into being and given form by means of one of these five spirits. A form has both yin and yang (negative and positive) aspects.

When the positive (yang) met the negative (yin), with these five spirits in harmony, “I”(meaning, mind) was born to become “form.” Then the road to be followed by human beings was made: “Kendo” for men and “Kondo” for women. Finally, this famous definition was developed: “Ten” (Heaven) is the big cosmos (Daiten), and “hito” (people) are the small cosmos (Shoten).

Animals got a partial measure of “ki” (spirit) and “ri” (reason, logic), whereas human beings got the full measure of both. Animals, who only received partial ki, can live harmoniously with the “law of the nature” given by Heaven. The human beings, on the other hand, who got full ki and ri from Heaven, are completely ignorant of how to make good use of the ri. Human beings have to study more about ki from the animals, who know the “law of the nature,” and they must investigate more about the ri, as well as the “law and logic of Heaven” (governing all animate and inanimate things).

The meaning of Kei-I originated in the “Five Yin-Yang (Negative-Positive) Samskara” theory, which explains the growth and change of all things in the world.

Go-Keiken and Purposes of Training

1. Ryu (dragon)-ken—heart & mind
2. Ko (tiger)-ken—bone
3. Hyoh (panther)-ken—muscle & power
4. Ja (snake)-ken—spirit
5. Tsuru (crane)-ken—energy

Ryusei Kata

Kei-I Kata I

1. Bassai (moves of a snake, Taikyoku-karate Kata no. 1)
Having an exquisite spirit and an extraordinary character, snakes are very energetic creatures that can make sharp turns. It is said that when two snakes fight, they radiate heavenly spirit. The snake corresponds to the yang in the kidney of a man’s body, and is one of Kan in eight Ka of I Ching (Classic of Changes). Using the snake moves, you can train your waist to make quick moves, because the positive and negative Samskara merge with each other during the actions.

2. Chinto (moves of a hawk)
The hawk is an aggressive animal that can see any movement of its prey. In a body, this bird can bring up the yang (positive) spirit in the kidney towards the head. As an alchemy book says, “It goes up to the head through the spiral cord.” If your Ken is right, the true energy comes back to your brain with the yang spirit and strengthens your eyesight.

3. Sochin (moves of a bull)
More than any other animal, a bull respects justice. It corresponds to the spleen in a body. If your Ken is right, you can have a completely determined will. One of our karate pioneers said, “If you have an honest will, your mind will be right. If your mind is right, you will get a powerful Ken through proper training.”

4. Tenshin (moves of water spiders)
Among all the water insects, the water spider can move its body with the utmost freedom. In a human body it is symbolized by the liver, and can calm a troubled mind. If your Ken is right, you can make your bones and muscles strong and keep your muscles flexible. This is “to follow the logic of Heaven.”

5. Rohai (moves of crane and heron, Taikyoku-karate Kata)
The objective of this kata is to boost our energy. The harshness of technique is hidden in the elegance of each move of this kata. It symbolizes the first move of yin spirit in a body. With this kata you can get the power of your lower limbs to come upwards and make the spirit in your head go down. If your Ken is right, then you can radiate the real spirit from your body and limbs.

Kei-I Kata II
The following kata, part of Kei-I Kata II, can engage our feelings as well as our mind.
1. Sanshiru (Emotional Kata)
This kata nourishes feelings of joy and happiness, and can absorb the real spirit of the earth into your body. (Note: Sakamoto-Sensei performs the kata as if he were drunk.)
2. Kusanku (Lyrical Kata)
This kata encourages and expresses feelings. It is also called “moving Zen.”

Koryu Kata
1. Ryushan
“Ryu” means “dragon” and “shan” means “mountain.”
2. Tensho
3. Unsu
4. Seichin (includes the movements of a monkey)
5. Hoen (a primitive kung fu form)

In addition to these kata, Ryusei Karate-Do includes training in bunkai, such as Niseishi, Henshuho and Nage no Kata, and weapons: kon (bo), sai, tonfa, nunchuku, kama, sansetsu kon, hidden weapons and others.

The Organization

Ryusei Karate-Do’s organizing body is the Ryusei Karate-Do Federation, based in Kumamoto, Japan. It is headed by Ken Sakamoto-Hanshi, who provides technical guidance to Ryusei Karate-Do organizations in Australia, Canada and the United States. The Ryusei Karate-Do Federation licenses instructors to teach, issues dan (black belt) certificates and disseminates teaching materials.