73 years old at death
Taira Shinken was among the first to establish a systematized method of training with the
nunchaku, while Bruce Lee was the first to popularize the weapon.
The Father of Modern Kobudo Born Maezato Shinken in Nakazato village1897 on the off-island of
Kumejima, Taira Shinken was the second son to a family of three boys and one girl but was given up for
adoption as a child. Not an uncommon practice in old Japan, adoption was, especially for childless
relatives, an accepted and popular alternative through which the family name could be carried on. Some
say that Taira was first introduced to the weapon traditions through the tutelage of his grandfather
Gimu (1862-1921), however, an alternative source suggests a different upbringing. After completing the
required education at his rural village elementary school in Nakazato, Taira ventured out on his own.
Landing a job at the sulfur mines in Minamijima, a neighboring off island, Taira worked very hard until a
near fatal mishap changed his destiny. One tragic day Taira nearly perished when a support beam
collapsed while he was working down in the mineshaft. Trapped under the rubble he was finally able to
way back to the surface. Fortunately, he escaped with his life but not without injuries. Suffering multiple
lacerations and contusions, along with a badly broken leg, Taira was unable to continue his job at the
mine and was forced to return to Kumejima.
Following a rather lengthy recuperation which resulted in walking with a limp, Taira found another job in
Kita-Daitojima but ultimately quit because he was often treated badly and ridiculed by fellow workers.
Deeply offended by the mockery, Taira's melancholy prompted him to improve his physical condition by
changing his life. With the hub of Japanese culture and economy centered on the mainland, Taira set out
Tokyo to start a new life. Like many other young men, during that radical era of Japanese history, Taira
had heard of Kano Jigoro's reputation, and had entertained the idea of devoting himself to the study of
judo in an effort to build his strength, develop his character and overcome his physical handicap.
However, the task of finding a job and locating some modest accommodation, to support his endeavor,
took precedence over his eagerness to study budo.
Fortunately, like other Uchinanchu (Okinawan's) whom had recently ventured up to the capital city,
Taira found adequate lodging at the Meisei juku (the Okinawan student's dormitory), in Koishikawa's
Suidobashi. And, it was also where he first met fellow countryman Funakoshi Gichin, the man most
responsible for propagating karate (thendescribed as karatejutsu) in the Kanto district. By September of
1922, Taira Shinken had become a deshi of Funakoshi Gichin and diligently pursued his ambitions
through the study of karatejutsu. Taira's deep conviction, relentless training and perseverance not only
restored his health, but also ultimately transformed his physique into that of a circus strongman. In the
years that Taira spent under the guidance of Funakoshi he became quite well acquainted with other
Okinawan masters who had also come to the mainland. Seven years of instruction under Funakoshi
Gichin sensei had, in addition to providing Taira with a strong foundation, also encouraged him to expand
his perspectives. By 1929 Taira began to study Kobudo directly under the tutelage of Yabiku Moden,
the principal authority of the art on the mainland at that time. Three years later, in 1932, Taira moved to
Gunma prefecture where he established his first dojo at the hot springs resort of Ikaho. And then, in
August of the following year, during a seminar at the Ikaho dojo, Yabiku Sensei awarded Taira with his
own Shihan Menkyo.Taira's enormous appetite for learning seemed only to be satisfied through his
continuous research and assimilation of more knowledge. Amassing a comprehensive understanding
while under the guidance of Master Yabiku, Taira, seeking to expand upon that knowledge, petitioned
Funakoshi Sensei, during his 1933 visit to the Ikaho dojo, to
recommend him to Mabuni Kenwa for further instruction. Gichin Sensei's introduction resulted in Taira
becoming Mabuni's student in 1934.
Having studied directly under Itosu Ankoh and Higashionna Kanryo etc., Mabuni Sensei,together with
Motobu Choki, Funakoshi Gichin, and Miyagi Chojun, was among the first to introduce karate to the
mainland. In spite of the futile efforts of Yabiku Moden, Mabuni was also the first to effectively introduce
kobudo on the mainland. As such, Mabuni was a highly respected master of both karate and kobudo.
Well established in the Kansai district Mabuni's highly eclectic convictions and charismatic personality
attracted a considerable following, many of which also later supported Taira's independent kobudo
movement. Among the most well known advocates of Mabuni's Shitoryu whom also supported Taira's
campaign, were Sakagami Ryusho (Itosuha), Kuniba Shiyogo (Motobuha), Hayashi Teruo (Hayashiha),
Konishi Yasuhiro (Shindo Jinen Ryu)and Mabuni's own son Kenei (Shitokai). Although there are others
like the Shimabuku's(Tatsuo and Eizio), it was these men who were largely responsible for introducing
Taira's kobudo to the Western World, through their success as international teachers of karatedo. Taira
the Innovator Taira's relentless comparative analysis ultimately generated a myriad of remarkable
Improvements in kobudo. Helping to expand the boundaries of kobudo he was able to establish a
standard teaching format, where one had not previously existed. Through Taira's inexhaustible efforts
enthusiasts were able to more easily improve their understanding of the weapon phenomenon through his
Responsible for collecting, studying and preserving literally dozens of neglected traditions, Taira was
regarded as the restorer of Okinawa's ancient weapon heritage.
Much in the same way that Itosu Ankoh Sensei had first brought together a myriad of formal exercises
(kata) to establish a more comprehensive system of training, so too did Taira Shinken bring together
many of the island's oldest and most prominent weapon traditions. Moreover, in an effort to facilitate his
own practical hypotheses, Taira developed his own innovative training exercises (kata), many of which
themselves later became popular traditions.
The brilliant exercises he contrived included two kata for the nunchaku (the 2 sectional cudgel), and an
other to accommodate his preoccupation with the sansetsukun (the 3 sectional cudgel). Furthermore, by
incorporating the essential elements of attack and defense, in practical geometrical paradigms, Taira also
went on to contrive a series of short exercises through which to safely explore and teach the actual
combative applications to the various traditions that he was responsible for having revived.
With such an extensive collection of bojutsu knowledge (more than twenty separate traditions) Taira
decided to create a single kata which embodied the central elements of cudgel fighting and did so.
Subsequently, the kata "Kongo-no-kun," made by Taira, best illustrates his mastery of this tradition.
In an effort to teach the central principles of tekkojutsu (knuckles dusters), Taira also developed another
special training exercise. Called Maezato no tekko (perhaps after his own name), the unique
configuration is believed to have been based upon the foundation he developed while learning under
Jigen no Saijutsu Having done so much to encourage the growth and direction of kobudo there is an
interesting story, which discloses Taira's innovative aptitude. One day Taira was meditating at a local
temple in Gunma Prefecture. Contemplating how best to facilitate a unique theory in saijutsu (the use of a
truncheon) he noticed an unusual religious ornament, which commanded his full attention. Reminding him
of an Uchinan-no-nunte (Okinawan fishing gaff) shaped something like a swastika, Taira quickly
resolved that this unique configuration would unquestionably accommodate his fragmentary theory
surrounding saijutsu. Taking advantage of this opportunity he later forged a modified weapon designed to
meet his specifications and brought the concept to life in a formal exercise he called Jigen no manjisai.
The Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinko Kai
Having established a following in both Kansai and the Kanto districts Taira, longing to put foot back on
native soil, returned to Okinawa in 1940 where he continued his research and teaching. However, by
1944, the dramatic affects of the war were taking its toll in Okinawa as island morale grew thin. Taira
Sensei and a few students along with a group of local entertainers teamed up and toured the island in an
effort to pick up the dilapidated spirits of both soldier and civilian.
Returning to his hometown of Kumejima after the war, Taira, supporting the allied forces, helped to
rebuild the widespread destruction the tiny island had suffered. In doing so Taira gained considerable
notoriety for his unselfish efforts to help others.
In the summer of 1948 with a new and vibrant outlook on life Taira Shinken resumed his crusade as a
torchbearer of Okinawa's plebeian combative heritage. A rewarding acquaintance with Kamiya Jinsei
(1894-1964), left Taira adding the bojutsu of Choun and Soeishi along with the saijutsu of Yaraguwa to
his already extensive repertoire.
Realizing that the depth of his study was simply beyond the scope of one man Taira decided to organize
a fraternity to strengthen the support his movement. Dedicated to the collection, preservation and
promotion of Okinawa's civil combative legacy Taira founded the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinko Kai in
1955. With the establishment the fraternity, Taira Sensei traveled back to the mainland in an effort to
solicit a more sizable patronage.
On the mainland, Taira's close liaison with Mabuni, Konishi, Sakagami, Hayashi and Kuniba had
provided a unique opportunity through which to transmit his extensive research. Disclosing the
importance of studying Kobudo and its affinity to karatedo he succeeded in establishing a fairly
Back in Okinawa, the association had also gained the support of many. However, it would be an
exaggeration to say that unprecedented multitudes gathered to study under Taira. Rather, he attracted
many notable karate teachers who, representing a cross section of styles, all sought to explore the value
of their native weapon heritage.
It would be no exaggeration to say that Taira's efforts to enhance the image of this ancient cultural legacy
were inexhaustible. His campaign ultimately attracted commendable appreciation in Okinawa. The fruit
of his labor gained the patronage of Higa Raisuke, Higa Seiichiro, Higa Ginsaburo and Akamine Yohei.
The remaining disciples of Chinen (Yamane) Sandra's, these experts served as special consultants to the
society, lending considerably more experience, and credibility, to Taira's crusade.
The support from Okinawa's Karate community read like a who's who and included:Chibana Choshin
and Higa Yuchoku (Shorinryu), Shimabukuro Tatsuo (Isshinryu), Shimabukuro Eizo (Shobayashiryu),
Higa Seiko (Gojuryu), Chinen Masami (Yamaneryu),Nagamine Shoshin (Matsubayashiryu), Yagi
Meitoku (Gojuryu), Uechi Kanei (Uechiryu),Sokun Hohan (Matsumuraha Shorinryu), Miyazato Eiichi
(Gojuryu), Kinjo Hiroshi(Shuridi), Miyahira Katsuya (Naha Shorinryu), Nakazato Shugoro
Fukuchi Seiko (Gojuryu), Toguchi Seikichi (Gojuryu) and Nakamura Shigeru (Shorinryu).
Enjoying such popularity and widespread support Taira Shinken had succeeded in bringing his
movement to the forefront of recognition. In 1960 Fujita Seiko (1899-1966, the 14th head master of
Kogaryu Ninjutsu and the president of the Institute of Ancient Japanese Martial Arts Studies, bestowed
an honorary shihan menkyo (teachers license) on Taira Shinken in recognition of his dedication and
Later in 1963 Taira formed the International Karate and Kobudo Coalition (Kokusai Karate Kobudo
Renmei) and named Higa Seiko its first president. In the following year, 1964, and by popular demand,
he published the first book on his research entitled Ryukyu Kobudo Taikan. With a brief explanation of
the disciplines evolution the book, now out of print, illustrated a few kata (the bojutsu of Shushi and
Sesoko, the sai and tuifa of Hamahiga, and his own nunchakujutsu) and presented a few capsule
describing the most acclaimed masters. The book was intended to be the first of five publications
detailing the magnitude of his research however, due to failing health, the other four volumes were never
published. Later that year, after the book was published Taira Shinken was awarded his hanshi menkyo
(masters certification) from the Zen Nippon Kobudo Renmei.
Taira's lifetime of dedication and accomplishment did not go unnoticed. Acknowledged by the American
Armed Forces stationed in Okinawa, the weapon disciplines and karatedo as a cultural bridge of
friendship, had a profound impact upon foreign interests. With the assistance of the Deputy Director of
the American Bureau of Media Relations Samuel Kitamura, Taira Sensei was petitioned to provide
demonstrations at the foreign schools on Okinawa's military bases, and did so.
Notice of the exhibitions aired on FEN (Far East Network) radio and was covered by the Morning Star
newspaper. Arousing considerable interest General Lambert's high commission described the tradition as
"a valuable piece of cultural heritage." The commission further concluded that through a deeper
understanding of these fascinating ethnic traditions their two countries and cultures might be brought that
together. Hence, Taira Shinken was petitioned to introduce his research directly to the United States,
and also did so.
Introducing fifteen different kinds of weapons, together with directions and complete set of photographs
illustrating their use and application, Taira Shinken succeeded in launching a new era for the weapon
disciplines. His contribution was acknowledged and placed safely within the venerable walls of the
Taira Shinken died at his home in September of 1970 from stomach cancer. Yet, in leaving this world
Taira Shinken shall not be forgotten. His efforts to research, preserve and promote the ancient fighting
traditions of the Ryukyu Kingdom shall live on forever through the enormous legacy he left behind. And,
if there's any truth to the expression"tall trees provoke the pride of winds" then, Taira Shinken was, by
far, the tallest tree in the forest of kobudo.
In 1964 Tiara Shinken published an instructors manual called The Encylopedia of Okinawan Kobudo
In the manual he gives instruction on the fundamentals of bo,sai,and tonfa. Also there is a step by step
photos of him performing a few weapons katas. Also a lot of old photos.