May 20, 2024

As noted in the article “Difference between Sensei and Shihan,” Motobu Udundī has a system of shihan licenses. In addition, Motobu Chōki’s karate organization, Nihon Karate-dō Motobu-kai, also has a system of shihan licenses.

In Okinawa, Chinen Masami Iemoto issued a shihan license to Higa Seitoku, as described in “Yamane-ryū Bō-jutsu.” (Note 1)

However, shihan licenses and shihan certificates are derived from the tradition of Japanese martial arts. Therefore, originally there was no shihan license system in Okinawa. The dan and belt system of karate is also an imitation of judo.

It was in 1974 that Uehara Seikichi first issued dan ranks to his students in Motobu Udundī. Until then, there were no dan ranks in Motobu Udundī. Before that, the All Okinawa Karate and Kobudō Federation was established in 1967, and the titles of hanshitasshi, and renshi were issued for the first time. (note 2)

When the Sōke (Motobu Chōsei) visited the home of Nakama Chōzō in the 1970s, he once saw a 9th dan certificate from Chibana Chōshin on display in Nakama Sensei’s living room. However, such an example must have been rare in Okinawa at that time.

Because of this, there must have been many schools in postwar Okinawa that did not have a shihan license system. Therefore, it is important to note that in the case of such schools, one cannot simply assume that a person cannot teach karate or kobudō simply because he or she has not been issued a shihan license.

By the way, when did the issuance of shihan licenses in the field of karate and Okinawan kobudō begin? As far as I know, there are prewar Shihan licenses issued under the signatures of Yabiku Mōden, Mabuni Kenwa, and Miyagi Chōjun.

The shihan license issued by Yabiku Sensei was issued to Taira Shinken in 1933.

Shihan License
Ikaho Onsen
Taira Shinken

The above-named has trained for many years in Ryukyuan bō (staff) and sai-jutsu,
I hereby grant him the title of Shihan.

August 15, Shōwa 8 (1933)

Ryukyu Kobujutsu Workshop
President Yabiku Mōden

Ikaho Onsen is a hot spring town in Gunma Prefecture. In “Karate Studies” (1934), it is written that “Taira Shihan of Gunma continues to instruct members in Ikaho” (p. 76), indicating that Taira Sensei was teaching karate and kobudo in Ikaho at that time. According to “Karate Studies” (p. 94), Taira Sensei’s title was “Branch Chief” of the Gunma Branch of Nippon Kenpō, and he apparently belonged to Mabuni Sensei’s organization at that time.

The Nippon Kenpō referred to here is not Nippon Kenpō founded by Sawayama Muneomi, a disciple of Mabuni Sensei, but the “Dai Nippon Kenpō Kansai Karate-jutsu Research Association” established by Mabuni Sensei.

Then it is likely that Yabiku Sensei visited Ikaho, where Taira Sensei was staying, to teach bō and sai-jutsu, and issued him a shihan license.

In addition, according to “Karate Studies,” the second dan promotion ceremony of the Dai Nippon Kenpō Kansai Karate-jutsu Research Association was held on September 1, 1934, at which Kinjō Kensei (金城兼盛) was granted a shihan license by Mabuni Sensei.

The photo shows the executives of the Kansai Karate-jutsu Research Association. The pink part is the name of the awardee written as “Shihan Kinjō Kensei.” From “Karate Studies”, p. 69.

Kinjō Kensei is said to have founded Kūshin-ryū with Ueshima San’nosuke, but some sources claim that he was a Goju-ryu shihan. According to “Okinawa Karate Kobudo Encyclopedia” (2008), he was granted 9th dan by Chibana Chōshin in 1967, together with Nakama Chōzō and others.

Incidentally, according to Uehara Seikichi, there was a man named “Kanagusuku’s Yacchī” (Brother Kinjō) in the evening karate kata class taught by Motobu Chōyū. (Note 3) I believe that this Kanagusuku’s Yacchī may possibly be Kinjō Kensei.

The next shihan license I saw was issued to Iwata Manzō (岩田万蔵) by Mabuni Sensei in 1944.

Shihan License
Iwata Manzō

The above-named has practiced karate-dō deeply and diligently for many years, and has attained a high degree of proficiency in both mind and body, and has mastered the profound secrets of karate-dō. I hereby grant him permission to be a karate-dō shihan.

May 1, Showa 19 (1944)

Dai Nippon Karate-dō Organization Headquarters
President Shihan Mabuni Kenwa
Advisor Shihan Miyagi Chōjun

Iwata Sensei studied karate under Mabuni Sensei at the Toyo University Karate Club from 1941. The first shihan of the Toyo University Karate Club was Motobu Chōki, but when he closed the Tokyo dojo in 1941 and returned to Osaka, Mabuni Sensei became the second shihan.

What is interesting about the above certificate is that it is signed by Miyagi Sensei as well as Mabuni Sensei. As far as I know, this is the only shihan license issued in Miyagi’s name.

However, the year 1944 was in the middle of the Pacific War, so it is not clear to what extent Miyagi Sensei was involved in the issuance of this license. What kind of agreement was made between Mabuni Sensei and Miyagi Sensei regarding the issuance of the shihan license?

The above photos of shihan licenses were published in a book and magazine after the war, and I have not seen them in person. There may be other Mabuni Sensei’s shihan licenses, so once an exhaustive academic study is conducted, we may be able to learn more about them.

Note 1: Iemoto (家元) refers to a family that inherits an art style from generation to generation or the head of such a family. It has the same meaning as sōke, but in Japan it is used in styles such as tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and Japanese dance, while few styles use this title in the martial arts field.
Note 2: Hanshi (範士), tasshi (達士) and renshi (練士) are prewar titles issued by the Dai Nippon Butoku-kai.
Note 3: Kanagusuku is the Okinawan dialect of kinjō. Yacchī means brother of the samurai class in the Okinawan dialect.

Karate Kenkyusha (ed.), Karate Studies, №1, Kōbukan, 1934.
Monthly Karatedo, October 2001, Fukushōdō.

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Written by:

Motobu Naoki  

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Shihan, Motobu Kenpō 7th dan, Motobu Udundī 7th dan. Discusses the history of karate and martial arts, and introduces Japanese culture and history.