About Okinawa Karate Gishiki (Ceremony)

Sometimes things and facts that happened seems unrelated, but..

In february, 8th IOGKF World Budosai (IOGKF 40th Anniversary Event) changed name in 8th Okinawa Traditional Karate Gishiki (Ceremony). Ceremony, mmm, interesting…

In July, I saw a movie Born Bone Born, centered on “bone washing,” the Okinawan ritual of washing the bones of the deceased four years after their entombment. Okinawan ritual, mmm, interesting…

In July, Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper reported the news “The Committee for Okinawa Karate UNESCO Listing was recently formed with the goal of getting Okinawa Karate registered as an intangible cultural asset with the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).” Okinawa Karate and UNESCO, mmm, interesting…

(Extract from 8th Okinawa Traditional Karate Ceremony booklet)

The Okinawan people have worshiped our ancestors as guardians and have passed down their traditions and rich culture from generation to generation. We show our respect and appreciation to our ancestors through GISHIKI – traditional ceremonies or rituals and these ceremonies are an important part of our lives.

Okinawan Traditional Karate is a martial art, but it is much more than that. It has played an important role in traditional ceremonies in Okinawan culture. Throughout history there have been demonstrations of karate and kata as part of significant events.

There is no precedent for UNESCO registration in other Japanese martial arts such as Judo or Kendo. We believe that it will be very difficult for traditional karate to register under the UNESCO heritage if we apply in the same manner as other Japanese martial arts have done.

We need a new and different approach. We think that is better to go to register traditional karate as GISHIKI or “traditional ceremony”.

Okinawa Traditional Karate exemplifies the supreme techniques and spirit acquired through years of training. When the great masters perform the kata, the audience can sense timelessness and authenticity through the performance. This is the essential difference between traditional karate and sport or competion karate.

The Ryukyu Kingdom ruled Okinawa up until the 19th century and as part of their ceremonies included demonstrations of Okinawan martial arts. As recently as 2018, when the Japanese Emperor came to Okinawa, the Okinawa Government organized a special ceremony focusing the masters’ demonstration at hte Karate Kaikan.

Is is difficult to know where to draw the line between traditional and other styles thar have evolved over time. But we also believe that is vert meaningful for Okinawan people to discuss this issue more openly toward the UNESCO registration.

Kobayashi Ryu, Shorin Ryu, Goju Ryu, and Uechi Ryu are the four major schools of karate that are widely recognized as traditional Okinawan karate styles. All these styles have a rich history and are a part of special ceremonies in Okinawa and Japan.

In conclusion, we would like to use the term GISHIKI for the events that are recognized by these four major styles from now on. By using GISHIKI we clarify which styles are aiming to register for the UNESCO world heritage designation and differentiate our authentic traditional karate from sport karate and continue the tradition of the Ryu Kyu Kingdom started centuries ago.

© 2019, Roberto Ugolini

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