July 13, 2024

The photo below is titled “Samurai Town” (士族街) from a photo book titled “Travel Souvenir” (1901). The “Samurai Town” refers to Shuri, the capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom.

From “Travel Souvenir” (1901), published by Mitsumura Photograph Company. Source: Okinawa Prefectural Archives

As shown in the photo above, Shuri used to be an aristocratic town lined with samurai residences (士族屋敷). Each residence was surrounded by a high stone wall. The residences shown in the photo above are the most magnificent, and were probably the residences of royalty and nobility, called udun (lit. palace) and tunchi (lit. residence). The exact location is unknown, but it may be Tounokura, Akahira, or Gibo.

In Okinawa, masonry technology was more developed than in mainland Japan, thanks to the abundance of limestone, which is easy to process. If you go to Okinawa, you will probably see magnificent stone walls remaining at the ruins of old castles and other places. Samurai residences were also surrounded by high stone walls, as shown in the photo.

If you were to be attacked by enemies while walking in such a place, it would be very difficult to escape. You would have to climb over a stone wall. In fact, Motobu Udundi had a practice to climb over a stone wall. Uehara Seikichi’s “Martial Dance” (1992) describes the following:

Pole vaulting
As a way of escaping when surrounded by enemies, I trained to use a bamboo pole to jump from stone wall to stone wall, or to jump onto a tiled roof or the roof of a turtleback tomb. (p. 59)

If one did not see the photo of Shuri above, one might not believe that ancient karate practitioners practiced pole vaulting. They studied not only how to fight, but also how to escape. To understand the old martial arts, we also need to understand the old streets.

The original Japanese article was posted on April 1, 2020 on Ameblo.

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Motobu Naoki

Motobu-ryu Blog

Written by Motobu Naoki

Motobu-ryu Blog

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