What is unique about Jiteki-Jyuku?

by Geoff Crouse

I had the good fortune of doing a Zoom workout with Aaron Willette (3rd dan; Vancouver, BC) this morning and he asked me which aspects of Jiteki-Jyuku are unique to Sensei Nakamatsu’s (9th dan; Kitanakagusuku-son, Okinawa) system of Uechi-Ryu training besides the hip training and the block. I found his question to be an interesting one, in that it sent us both down the path of discussing other technical aspects that are somewhat “unique” to the way Sensei Nakamatsu teaches Uechi-Ryu karate beyond the hip and the block. I explained other technical aspects of the training that are unique such as the use of the legs and especially the back leg for the generation of power. I talked about wrenching the shoulders back and focusing on the structural position of the shoulder as a source of power that connects the entire technique to the back heal being grounded 2 inches into the floor. I talked about the timing of the punch being released only after the hip has been totally torqued into the target. I began discussing the unique nature of the kick.

Frankly, I could have gone on for hours discussing various “unique” aspects of Jiteki-Jyuku training accept I ran into a problem.

I explained the speed of lifting the heel and torquing it as close to the hip while bending the supporting leg and how to torque the hip prior to releasing the kick. For those of you who have trained with me, you can imagine that I discussed the power driving from the supporting leg, the speed of the release, the all-important “hajike” return of the kick, and posting a strong finish.

So what is the problem?

Well, as I broke down the elements that make a powerful shomen-geri (front kick), I realized that Sensei Nakamatsu never taught me that. His training method on the shomen-geri, at least as I learned it from him in the 90s, was more traditional. I had actually taken the mawashi-geri (roundhouse kick) technique that the late and truly great, Nobuhiro Higa, had taught me in Okinawa in the late 90s. Through my individual practice I had incorporated the techniques that Nobuhiro had shown me into my shomen-geri throughout the 2000s. I remember training with him in 2012 and he complimented me on the speed and power of my shomen-geri and said he had trouble blocking it because he kept expecting a mawashi-geri. When I told him I learned it from him, he looked perplexed. I must say it was a highlight of my karate practice to show Nobuhiro how I had taken his mawashi-geri technique and adapted it to the shomen-geri. The best part was when he started practicing it and adopted it too.

That fun Nobuhiro story aside, I realized in my conversation with Aaron that the technical differences in the techniques, many of them slight and nuanced, and all of them interpretations and teaching methods, were not the essence of what makes Jiteki-Jyuku unique.

The only true difference between Jiteki-Jyuku and other training methods of Uechi-Ryu Karate-Do is in the name: self-reliance. Jiteki-Jyuku can be translated as self-reliance, but the meaning of the Kanji is deeper in that it means having the confidence to find one’s own path.

When I lived and trained in Okinawa, it was a very common occurrence to enter Mr. Nakamatsu’s dojo on Monday or Friday night prior to formal class and find Sensei training on his own with the lights out as he broke down his movements and explored his technique for new findings and deeper understanding of his technique.

I am aware of the fact that many, perhaps most, Uechi-Ryu practitioners disagree with my interpretation of the shomen-geri. Many practitioners disagree with Sensei Nakamatsu’s hip technique or his block technique. These are perhaps the most common visible differences in the way Sensei teaches Uechi-Ryu. However, the discussion of technique actually misses the point. The brilliance of Sensei Nakamatu and the beauty of Jiteki-Jyuku is not the technique, but rather the path to learning it. Sensei Nakamatsu’s gift to all of us is that by breaking down the technique and the process to learn good technique, he is teaching us to explore for ourselves. He hasn’t developed a new form of Uechi-Ryu at all. What he has given us is a much more powerful methodology to learn and enjoy our practice. He has shown us that karate-do is not a technique; it is an art. As with all art, it starts with many years of practice and evolves into a powerful form of self-expression.

The essence of Jiteki-Jyuku is self-exploration. Karate-do is an art form that we explore together, yes, but perhaps more importantly one must explore alone also to find self-expression. Relying on one’s self and indulging in self-exploration: that is the essence of self-reliance, that is Jiteki-Jyuku.

Jiteki-Jyuku is art in its purest form. It is the path to self-expression.

Shinjo Kyohide promoted to 10th dan

Shinjo Kiyohide receiving his 10th dan certificate from Master Takara Shintoku

by Robert A. Kaiser

The “Okinawan Superman”, Shinjo Kiyohide (Nov 3, 1951) was awarded the rank of Judan, 10th degree, presented by 10th dan Master Takara Shintoku. Master Shinjo received this promotion on his 70th birthday.

There are few Uechi-Ryu teachers ever awarded this highest of ranks in our system and certainly few, if any, who have done more to promote Uechi Ryu around the world. One only needs to open YouTube and search his name or search through Facebook to see the plethora of videos and articles highlighting his seminars, demonstrations, and travels promoting traditional Uechi training.

Apart from the Uechi family itself, no Okinawan family could be called Uechi Ryu royalty other than the well-known Shinjo family. The current generation is led by Shinjo Kiyohide, the 9-time champion of the Uechi karate tournament in both kata and kumite, for which he was dubbed the “Okinawan Superman.”. Internet sources say he stopped competing when his father became gravely ill and died in 1982. I remember hearing, many years ago, the reason he stopped competing was so others could have an opportunity to win the tournament; such is the respect for his skills and abilities. Well, that and the ubiquitous demonstrations he and his younger brother, Narahiro, often put on, including the spectacular breaking of baseball bats, and the hardest of Sanchin shime of Narahiro who, in his own right, is a tournament kata champion many times over.

Author Christopher M. Clarke writes as far back as Kiyohide’s great grandfather, Shinjo Seizan, the Shinjo name is associated with Okinawan martial arts. Seizan was widely known as a master of the Okinawan bo. Kiyohide’s grandfather and father both studied with Uechi Kanbun, and Uechi Kanei. Born in 1951, Kiyohide began his study of Uechi Ryu under his father, Shinjo Seiyu, at the age of ten.

In an article by travel67, first published in Okinawa Living Magazine November 2006, Master Shinjo made it very clear how he sees his role in the global expansion of Uechi-Ryu:

“Twice a year I go abroad to give seminars, judge competitions and check that overseas Uechi-ryu dojo’s [sic] are not diverging from the traditional Okinawan techniques. Karate is like a gayjumaru (banyan) tree with its roots based in Okinawa. Sometimes branches grow from the main trunk and it is my job to prune these outgrowths back so that Uechi-ryu remains in its pure form and is not mixed with other styles of martial arts or even gymnastics. It is my calling to make sure the traditional skills of Uechi-ryu are handed down to future generations.”

Having the honor, more than once, of training in front of Master Shinjo, I can easily say he is one of the clearest and most focused teachers with whom I have been on the dojo floor. There is so much more that can be written, and has been, about the Shinjo family and specifically about Kiyohide Sensei. Soon we will be reading about the 4th generation of the Shinjo family, Kiyohide’s two sons, Shuichi and Kiyohito, both tournament champions during their high school years and now senior Uechi instructors.

Today, however, we really just want to congratulate the Okinawan Superman on his promotion to 10th dan, a promotion of which he is most deserving. Congratulations Master Shinjo!