A Cultural Legacy
The Biography of Akamine Eisuke
By Douglas Daulton
Wednesday, January 13, 1999, Okinawa lost a living treasure when Akamine Eisuke Hanshi passed away. Often, it is simple to delve into the past. However, with Ryukyuan busaa (fighting arts), this is seldom the case. So, when one has the discipline to maintain a significant piece of this history and the devotion to pass it on to a new generation of students, it is important their contribution be noted. Such is the case with Akamine Eisuke of Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai (The Society for the Preservation and Promotion of the Ancient Martial Ways of the Ryukyu Islands).
The following article is largely based on conversations held between Devorah Yoshiko Dometrich and Akamine Eisuke from 1974 through early 1999.It is offered in the interest of accurately chronicling Akamine’s life and preserving the art he inherited from Taira Shinken.
An Historical Synopsis
Prior to modern, global interest in the busaa of the Ryukyu Archipelago, most history and tradition was handed down orally. As always, physical techniques were learned by repetitive practice. Due to the strategic trade and military position of Okinawa and her sister islands, the people of the Ryukyu Archipelago have long been subject to foreign occupation and rule. (Sansom, 1963: 220) While foreign influence brought much advancement, it often brought subjugation as well. Occupying governments often prohibited instruction and practice of busaa. (Bishop, 1996: 28-31) To keep their arts alive and pure, many practitioners had little choice but to train and teach in secret. Lessons were frequently held at night in the family gardens or tombs of a teacher or student.
Often, busaa were used as a means of self-policing among the Ryukyuan peoples. To publicly expose a technique or training method provided others an opportunity to develop techniques or methods to counter them. As a result, even after occupying governments lifted prohibitions, Ryukyuan busaa were most often entrusted to a select circle of family and friends. (Silvan, 1998:74)
In 1912, the Ryukyu Archipelago entered the Taisho Era along with the rest of Japan. Slowly, modern civilization and its trappings led the people away from the busaa now seen as archaic and unnecessary. With each passing year, there were fewer students to teach. As most knowledge was passed on orally, portions of Ryukyuan heritage were lost with those teachers who died with no one to carry on their traditions. Men like Funakoshi Gichin (1868-1957) and Taira Shinken (1897-1970) recognized the value of preserving Ryukyuan busaa both as a piece of cultural heritage and a means of training the body, mind and spirit of the next generation. Now themselves gone, Funakoshi and Taira left rich legacies.
Taira Shinken (1897-1970)
Taira Shinken left Okinawa for Tokyo in 1922. While there he would learn karate from Funakoshi Gichin and kobudo from Moden Yabiku (1882-1945). In 1942, he returned to the Ryukyu Islands and researched the various Ryukyuan weapons knowledge slowly being lost with the passing of each teacher. In 1945, Taira began teaching kobudo in various dojo across Okinawa. About this time, he also formed the Ryukyu Kobudo Kenkyukai, (The Society for the Research of the Ancient Martial Ways of the Ryukyu Islands) to carry on the teachings of Moden Yabiku and the other teachers who had since passed away. During these early days, he researched and developed thirty kata and developed a solid, comprehensive curriculum that would become the foundation of the dojo he opened in 1959 in Naha, Okinawa.
In 1964, he published Ryukyu Kobudo Taikan (The Encyclopedia of Ryukyu Kobudo); the first comprehensive book about Ryukyu Kobudo written in any language. (Bishop, 1996: 129) Currently, no authorized version of this important work is available to the public in any language other than Japanese. In failing health in 1970, Taira did not want his life’s work to disappear and took steps to entrust his legacy to his students. First, he changed the name of the organization to Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai to more accurately reflect it’s goals. Next, he gave Akamine Eisuke the first and only Shihan (teacher’s license) he ever awarded. Shortly thereafter, around fifty of his students were at his bedside when, at the age of seventy-three, Taira died of cancer. Later that year, the board of directors of Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai appointed Akamine Eisuke as the second president of the organization.
Akamine Eisuke (1925 – 1999)
Akamine Eisuke was born May 1, 1925 in the last years of the Taisho Era. Until his death on January 13, 1999, he lived in the Nesabu section of Tomigusuku, the small village in southern Okinawa where he was born. In 1942, at the age of seventeen, he began the study of Yamani Ryu bojutsu (staff art) under Higa Seichiro, Higa Raisuke, Akamine Yohei (no relation) and Higa Jinsanburo. Higa Raisuke was known for his particularly strong waza (technique). Akamine Yohei was widely known for his mastery of the bo or kon (staff). From his early teachers, Akamine learned these kata: Soeshi no Kon, Sakugawa no Kon, Shirataru no Kon and Yuniga no Kon.
Shortly after Akamine was married in 1944, he was drafted into the Japanese army where he served one year in Taiwan. When he returned to Okinawa, he resumed vegetable and sugar cane farming and his study of Yamani Ryu bojutsu. During his early days as a farmer, Akamine became known for his unorthodox harvesting methods. Rather than using a kama (sickle) or machete to cut down sugar cane, Akamine used his bo.
Meeting and Learning from Taira Shinken
In 1959, Taira Shinken was teaching kobudo in a Goju Ryu dojo in Naha, Okinawa. While there, he heard of great bojutsu teachers who lived in the Kakazu section of Tomigusuku Village. To satisfy his curiosity, he left Naha for Tomigusuku and became a student of Yamani Ryu Bojutsu alongside Akamine Eisuke. One day, Taira was asked to demonstrate tekko (metal knuckles), nunchaku (horse bridle) and sai (truncheon). Akamine had never seen these weapons before. He was so impressed with Taira’s waza that he decided to become deshi or student for life.
As Taira’s senior student, Akamine was in the unique position of watching him research the various waza which would evolve into Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai. At the time, the study of more than one weapon was virtually unheard of. In addition to building a structured curriculum, Taira was adding a training element that would permeate all Ryukyu Kobudo waza and kata (form) and as a result become part of the signature of this weapons system.
Higa Yuchoku (1910-1995) was a student of Chibana Chosin and a noted teacher of ti, the origin of karate. (Radulovich, 1999) Higa and Taira Shinken were close friends. As he continued his relentless study, Taira recognized that kobudo as he knew it relied primarily on positioning and timing. While effective, kobudo lacked the explosive power found in ti. Specifically, it lacked gamanku (hip technique). Taira’s ability to effectively demonstrate it was limited by his rigid, muscular physique and a permanent ankle injury.
However, he insisted that his students know and understand how to apply the explosive power of the hips. So, he asked Higa Yuchoku to help infuse his system of kobudo with gamanku. After Taira’s death, Akamine continued to seek Higa’s counsel on the use of this hip technique. As a result, Higa sat on most Ryukyu Kobudo examination panels until his death.
The Torch is Passed
During his many years as Taira’s student, Akamine made a living as a farmer, factory worker and restaurant owner before becoming a carpenter. By all accounts, he was an exceptional carpenter and made most of Taira’s bo, sai and nunchaku. In his later years, Taira primarily taught in the garden at Akamine’s home. The torrential rains common in Okinawa often interrupted training. In 1970, at Taira’s request, Akamine built a tin roof over the garden and enclosed two sides.
In this dojo, Taira distributed the only certificates of rank he ever issued. Among these was Akamine’s shihan certificate. After Taira succumbed to cancer, Akamine finished the remaining two sides of the dojo with traditional stacking windows to provide ventilation. Once completed, Akamine named the dojo the Shinbukan in honor of his teacher. It is this same dojo that Akamine’s original students came to train. In the years since, the original building has been replaced by a more modern, three-story building which contains his home, dojo and his daughter’s koto (string instrument) dojo.
Little else has changed. Akamine kept the name, structure and goals of Taira’s organization intact. He taught waza and kata for the nine weapons of Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai: bo, sai, nunchaku, kama, tekko, tuifa (millstone handle), eiku (oar), suruchin (weighted rope/chain), and tinbe (shield and short spear). In addition, Akamine continued Taira’s tradition of research and with the help of his students, has brought several kata back from extinction.
A Worldwide Legacy
By all accounts, Akamine was a quiet and stern teacher whose primary focus was the development of waza. In an era where tournaments have made the modern student yearn for the next dynamic, winning kata, Akamine would say, “If I teach you kata, you will forget it tomorrow. But, if I teach you waza, you will have it for a lifetime.” In fact, his senior students recall never being taught a kata by Akamine. Instead, he would drill them incessantly on waza. It was the senior student’s responsibility to show their juniors the embusen (path) which chained individual waza together in the series of techniques and transitions that formed a kata. If the student’s waza were not correct, their kata would certainly be wrong.
With a limited space and a focus on quality rather than quantity, Akamine intentionally kept his student roster small. He only has fourteen first generation students: Oshiro Hidekazu, Yoza Masao, Tamayose Choichi, Yonamine Kousuke, Inomoto Masaru, Chigiri, Yoshiko Dometrich, Shinzato Yoshihiko, Kinjo Kiyoharu, Miyazato Kousuke, Takara Sachi Yoshi, Kuniyoshi Yukio, Taira Seizo, and his third son Akamine Hiroshi.
While most of his original students remain active in their training, three have had particular influence on the development of Ryukyu Kobudo in Okinawa and beyond her borders.
Inomoto Masaru (b. May 27, 1938)
Inomoto Masaru Kyoshi was born and raised in Miyazaki Prefecture, Japan. After joining the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force at the age of seventeen, Inomoto began the study of Chito-ryu karate, under founder Dr. Tsuyoshi Chitose. Taira Shinken conducted several kobudo clinics at Chitose’s dojo. Inomoto attended several of these seminars and became quite interested in Ryukyu Kobudo. However, he would not have the opportunity for regular instruction until some years later when his military career took him to Okinawa in 1973.
Knowing he would be staying in Okinawa for six years, Inomoto sought out Taira Shinken. Upon hearing of Taira’s death, he sought his successor and found Akamine. After explaining his interest, he was accepted as a student. Today, Inomoto is a kyoshi nanadan (seventh degree black belt) in Ryukyu Kobudo and responsible for its development in Kyushu, Japan. He is also kyuudan (ninth degree black belt) in Chito-ryu karate and nanadan in Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu iaido.
Devorah Yoshiko Dometrich (b. May 2, 1951)
Kyoshi Devorah Yoshiko Dometrich was born in Covington, Kentucky; U.S.A. As a teenager, she was adopted by William and Barbara Dometrich. Mr. Dometrich is the founder of the United States Chito Kai and the head of Chito-ryu karate in the United States. So, his adopted daughter began her martial arts study with Chito-ryu karate at the age of fourteen. By the time she began her Air Force career, she was a nidan (second degree black belt). In 1974, she was stationed on Okinawa and looking for a dojo. Her father asked Dr. Chitose to help her find a dojo.
In turn, Dr. Chitose contacted Inomoto Masaru, by now a student of Akamine’s. Inomoto introduced her to Akamine in 1974. Eventually, she was accepted as his seventh student. On February 7, 1977, Dometrich was appointed as Head of Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai in the United States of America. She is currently kyoshi nanadan in Ryukyu Kobudo. A retired police officer, she travels the US and Canada teaching Ryukyu Kobudo. To this day, she remains Akamine’s only non-Okinawan/Japanese student and the first woman promoted to kyoshi nanadan in the history of Okinawan kobudo or karate. (Jansak & Daulton, 1999)
Takara Sachi Yoshi (b. March 23, 1949)
Takara Sachi Yoshi Kyoshi was born in Oroku Village, Okinawa. At a very young age, he learned ti from his father. A rambunctious youth, he moved to mainland Japan at the age of sixteen. There he met Sugihara Kenpu and studied Shuri-ti Shorin-ryu karate. Sugihara’s dojo was also a shibu (branch school) of Konishi Yasuhiro of Shinto Shizen-ryu karate. As a result, Takara was exposed to a broad base of waza. After ten years of study, Takara returned to Okinawa.
Seeking to continue his training, Takara became a historian of Ryukyuan busaa. Through his research, he met and trained with many teachers from across the island. This path eventually led him to the Shinbukan and Akamine in 1975. In addition to Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai, Takara also learned Funakoshi-ryu karate from Akamine. A cheerful and powerful practitioner of an eclectic blend of karate, Takara is a kyoshi nanadan in Ryukyu Kobudo. Today, Takara shares primary teaching responsibilities with Akamine Hiroshi at the Shinbukan.
In 1977, Akamine received a Living Legend award at the Okinawan World Tournament and a Special Appreciation Award form the Zen Nihon Karate Renmei. In 1998, Ryukyu Shinpo, the Okinawan newspaper, conferred their Appreciation Award on Akamine for his work in preserving the cultural heritage of the Ryukyu Islands. Like Taira before him, Akamine remained actively involved in ensuring the future of Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai and instilled this sense of responsibility in his students.
Inomoto, Dometrich and Takara are committed to remaining in close contact. Since 1995, Inomoto and Takara have each traveled twice to the United States to visit and train with Dometrich. Sharing a close bond with her teacher, Dometrich regularly traveled to Tomigusuku Village to visit with and learn from Akamine. In the spring of 1999, Dometrich had planned to take with her a contingent of her senior students to meet the man who passed the torch to her and her peers. Sadly, Akamine passed away before this dream could be realized.
Like many Okinawans, Akamine suffered great personal loss when many of his family were killed in the battle of Okinawa during the waning days of World War II. Through it all, he continued his training and found in it a peace. In 1973, he put aside the feelings of mistrust his loss created when he accepted Inomoto Masaru, a Japanese soldier, as his student. He repeated this act of forgiveness when he opened his doors and his heart to Devorah Yoshiko Dometrich, a young service woman from the United States.
Today, these two acts are bearing fruit across the world and stand as a testament to a man who, while surely flawed as are all human beings, found a deeper purpose and meaning in the pursuit of his art. And, in preserving a piece of his culture, he has in no small way helped heal the culture of the larger world.
Bishop, M. (1996). Zen Kobudo: Mysteries of Okinawan Kobudo and Ti. Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Co.
Jansak, W. & Daulton, D. (1999). Focus and Commitment: The Biography of Devorah Yoshiko Dometrich Bugeisha, #7 54-60
Radulovich, S (1999) Higa Yuchoku. http://www.kenkyujo.com/yuchokuhiga.htm. Ottowa, Ontario: To-de Communications
Sansom, G. (1963) A History of Japan: 1615 – 1867. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.
Silvan, J. (1998) Oral Traditions of Okinawan karate. Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 7 (3): 73 – 95
About the Author
In 1983, Doug Daulton began his study of Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu karate under Bill George, Steve Rafferty and later, Frank Grant.In 1990, he began his study of Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai under Devorah Yoshiko Dometrich. He also studies Shinto Muso Ryu Jojutsu.
For more information on Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai:
Devorah Yoshiko Dometrich
Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinkokai Beikoku So Hombu
690 Huff Road
Dry Ridge, Kentucky 41011
Phone/Fax: (859) 824-3792