Genseiryu (玄制流) is a karate style with roots in Shuri-Te, one of the three original karate styles on Okinawa (a Japanese island). It was developed by Seiken Shukumine (1925-2001) who combined classic techniques with his own thus developing special characteristics of Genseiryu. Sensei Shukumine had two known teachers, Sadoyama and Kishimoto. The name of Genseiryu was first used in 1953. In Japanese the name consists of three different characters (Kanji):玄制流. The first one is Gen (玄) and has meanings like ‘mysterious’, ‘occultness’, ‘universe’ but also ‘a subtle and deep truth’, the second one is Sei (制) and translates into ‘control’, ‘system’, ‘law’ or ‘rule’ but also ‘creating a form’. The last one is Ryu (流) which simply means ‘style’ or ‘school’. The combination of Gensei (玄制) could be translated as ‘to control the universe’, but reading Japanese Kanji is not that simple. In this combination the meaning becomes something like “to pursue the deep truth and making it clear through the form”, which can be regarded physically as well as spiritually.
Genseiryu has its roots in an old karate style called Shuri-Te. Some sources speak of Tomari-Te being the source, but the differences were minimal since both styles were derived from Shorin-Ryu. In the 1920s and 1930s there were three major karate styles on Okinawa. They were all named after the cities where they were developed: Naha, Tomari and Shuri. These three styles (Naha-Te, Tomari-Te and Shuri-Te) are sometimes called more generally Okinawa-Te.
Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura (1809-1898) was one of the masters of Shuri-Te. He gave lessons to famous people such as Gichin Funakoshi (creator of Shotokan Karate) and Yasutsune (Anko) Itosu. A lesser known pupil was Bushi Takemura. He developed a version of the kata (型) Kushanku that is still trained in Genseiryu today. One of sensei Takemura’s pupils was Soko Kishimoto (1862-1945, some sources speak of 1868 as birthyear). He became the later teacher of Seiken Shukumine.
The young Seiken Shukumine, born 9 December 1925 in Nago-shi on the Japanese island Okinawa, started at age 8 with karate lessons from Anko Sadoyama, a grandmaster in Koryu Karate (“Old style/school Chinese techniques”). He trained him for four years. When Shukumine was about 14 years old, he was accepted by sensei Soko Kishimoto. Kishimoto was very selective, he had only nine kōhai (=pupils/students) throughout his life and also Seiken Shukumine had to insist many times, before Kishimoto decided to teach the young man. The last two students of Kishimoto actually were Seiken Shukumine and Seitoku Higa (born 1920).
During the Second World War the 18 year old Shukumine was drafted into the navy and had to join the Japanese Kamikaze Corps where he became a “kaiten“ pilot, a one man submarine or more a manned torpedo, used as kamikaze (suicide attack) against American warships. Seiken Shukumine was trained to guide this small craft through the protective maze of steel netting that was laid down in the water around the ships, to prevent them from being attacked by these kaiten. He thought in a martial art way to manoeuvre between these steel nettings and he tried to think of techniques to avoid enemy torpedoes. He learned that he had to work hard to penetrate the enemy’s defences, and the imagination of the martial artist in him saw how such an approach could be adapted to traditional karate to make for a more supple and dynamic form of combat.
Fortunately Shukumine was never appointed for a suicide attack and he survived the war. But when he came back home he found Okinawa demolished by the bombings and his master Sensei Soko Kishomoto was killed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Shukumine retreated in solitude for a couple of years and started to develop his karate style with in the back of his head his training as a kaiten pilot. He combined his new techniques with the classique techniques he had learned from his masters Sadoyama and Kishimoto, thus developing special characteristics of Genseiryu.
In 1949 in the town of Itō (Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan) Seiken Shukumine demonstrated publicly his karate techniques for the first time. In October of 1950 Seiken Shukumine participated in a karate exhibition arranged by Nippon TV. In this demonstration also participated other masters like Hidetaka Nishiyama (of the Japan Karate Association, JKA), Yasuhiro Konishi (Ryobukai) Ryusho Sakagami (Itosukai), H. Kenjo (Kenshukai), Kanki Izumikawa and Shikan (Seiichi) Akamine (both of Goju-ryu). Shukumine demonstrated a.o. the kata Koshokun dai, Tameshiwari (=breaking technique, in this case Shukumine broke 34 roof tiles with shuto, the edge of the open hand) and Hachidan-tobi-geri (jumping kick with 8 kicks in one jump). In the early 1950’s Shukumine creates Sansai no kata, a masterpiece of Genseiryu karate.
In 1953 sensei Shukumine started to give lessons on the Tachikawa military base to the Self Defense Forces and for the next 10 years he gave lessons at many dojos (like at universities and corporate groups) around the Tokyo area. It was in 1953, that sensei Shukumine officially announced his techniques were Genseiryu, but the year 1950 is often mentioned as the year of the beginning of Genseiryu. In January 2005 a joint celebration was held for 55 years of Genseiryu and 40 years of Taido in Tokyo, Japan, where also the wife, son and daughters of sensei Shukumine were present .
In 1962 Sensei Shukumine introduced a new martial art. This martial art is a further development of Genseiryu which he named Taido. Taido is not to be regarded as karate, but as a new martial art. From that point on, Sensei Shukumine was mainly involved with Taido and many of his pupils started to train Taido as well. However, some Taido people kept a friendly relationship with some Genseiryu people and sensei Shukumine was still occasionally involved in Genseiryu karate. For example he wrote books about karate (1964 and mid 1970s) and occasionally gave lessons to his former students of Genseiryu karate. Some say he wanted to convince them to join him in Taido. Pictures show he taught several Genseiryu karate kata during these unique lessons. He even held examinations under the name of Genseiryu. The organization Genseiryu-Butokukai claims that sensei Shukumine never held any examinations in Genseiryu after October 1961. However, several certificates signed and stamped show this claim is incorrect. After he started to focus mainly on Taido he appointed his successor; Sensei Yamada, one of sensei Shukumine’s first students. Sensei Yamada started the organization called the Nippon Karatedo Budo Kyokai (translation: Japanese Karatedo and Martial Arts Association) of which he became the first president. At the moment there are disputes about who is the official succesor and the current head instructor of Genseiryu. Some mention Sensei Yamada is the official successor. Others claim that Sensei Tosa, another early student of sensei Shukumine, was announced to be successor.
In 1964 sensei Shukumine published his book Shin Karatedo Kyohan in which he describes the techniques and kata, which among others are being used in the World Genseiryu Karatedo Federation. Some of the kata in the book are explained thoroughly, together with pictures.
- Ten-i no Kata
- Chi-i no Kata
- Jin-i no Kata
- (Koryu) Naifanchi
- (Koryu) Bassai
- (Koryu) Kusanku or Koshokun (dai)
There are many more kata mentioned in this book (however without pictures), a total of about 44 kata, including Taikyoku-Shodan, Tensho-no-Kata, Wankan, etc. In the book he mentions the name Genseiryu a few times. He refer to the contents of the book as being Koryu (古流), which is considered as ‘old tradition’ or ‘old school’ karate. In the book he added some kata that he created himself: Ten-i no Kata Chi-i no Kata Jin-i no Kata and Sansai. In the book Shin Karatedo Kyohan many kata and techniques and training materials are described. The book shows that Genseiryu is based on a combination of this ‘old school’ or classique karate (with the kata Naifanchi, Bassai and Kusanku (or Koshokun (Dai)) with new techniques and the typical Genseiryu kata Ten-i no Kata, Chi-i no Kata, Jin-i no Kata and Sansai.
From the 1960s Genseiryu started to spread also outside Japan, to countries like the USA, Spain, Finland, Holland, Denmark, Australia, Brasil, India, etc.
In the mid 1970s, Sensei Shukumine wrote another book which is much lesser known in the karate world as his first one. The title of this book is (translated into English) “The Karate training by complete drawing” and has about 200 pages where he describes karate techniques but also the differences between karate and judo, karate and aikido, karate and Taido, etc.
In 1988 Sensei Shukumine publishes another book, this time about Taido. In this book “Taido gairon” he describes the basic principles and techniques of Taido. In the book he also states that people interested in Genseiryu would find important information in his first book “Shin Karatedo Kyohan”.
On 26 November 2001 Sensei Seiken Shukumine died of cardiac arrest, after a long sickbed. He was 75 years old and left a wife, son and two daughters behind.
Characteristics of Genseiryu
Sensei Shukumine was also known as a philosopher and during the war he learned that to do something unanticipated or unexpected is the secret to victory, even in a war between two nations or in a mere personal conflict. In other words: the basic philosophy of Genseiryu pursues this idea which is that how to do unexpected things.
Shukumine studied long on this idea to apply this not only to life but also to Genseiryu Karate and it’s kata. Eventually he created the basic theory “Sen, Un, Hen, Nen and Ten“. These are the basic principles that make of Genseiryu a three-dimensional karate style:
- Sen (whirlwind): vertical circular movement of the body axis (rotating, turning);
- Un (waves): elegant up and down movement in the directions of front and back;
- Hen (clouds): falling movement in front and back, right and left by your own will;
- Nen (maelstrom, whirlpool): twisted hand and arm techniques, mainly executed on the spot;
- Ten (luminous): a technique in an unexpected situation created by front turn, back turn and side turn.
It is “Sansai no Kata” that is known widely as a typical kata of Genseiryu with lots of these techniques. The Sansai no Kata, as performed in the Genseiryu Karate-do International Federation, is by the All Japan Karate-do Federation recognized. Other genuine techniques of Genseiryu are for example the kicks Ebi-geri (back kick with both hands on the ground and the face close to the ground) and Manji-geri (side kick (mawashi-geri) with head close to the ground and both hands on the ground). Both kicks belong to the so called Shajo-geri group (leaning body) and are also trained in Taido. Besides kata, Genseiryu also practises Shihō (some other styles do too, but not all of them). Shihō (四方) translates into ‘four directions’ and comprises exercises in which a combination of techniques is repeated several times in four different directions (front, back, right and left).
Genseiryu masters continued in various directions
Throughout the years, some masters that learned Genseiryu started to make changes to the style, after sensei Shukumine in 1962 stopped training Genseiryu (apart from rare, occasional lessons). Some changed it a little more than others, thus creating new schools with names like Butokukai, Genwakai, Ryounkai, Keneikai and Seidokai. These are all schools that in fact used to train Genseiryu karate. One of Sensei Shukumine’s students, sensei Yamada, started the Nippon Karatedo Budo Kyokai (English: ‘Japanese Karatedo and Martial Arts Association’), of which sensei Yamada became the first president. Besides that he was appointed by Sensei Shukumine as the head instructor for Genseiryu karate.
In the beginning, these schools were not yet big organizations, but merely a couple of schools that trained Genseiryu and they used the name of their school as additional term, so you would get: Genseiryu Ryounkai, Genseiryu Seidokai, Genseiryu Butokukai, etc. Some have even grown to quite big organizations and some of these have adapted the old school name for their style and organization, like Ryounkai, and Genwakai. To a certain extent they have changed the techniques and/or kata. The style of Genwakai has done this to a further extent then the other organizations. But with the exception of Butokukai all these organizations train the kata Ten-I, Chi-I and Jin-I-no-kata as the basic kata.
There are different organizations that claim the name Genseiryu, both with their own story and reasons why they should have the right to carry the name. Some of them are organized in the World Genseiryu Karatedo Federation whom jointly agreed to follow the first book of Sensei Shukumine, Shin Karatedo Kyohan. Another is Genseiryu Karate-do International Federation, which is the oldest existing organisation of Genseiryu in the world dating back to its fist dojo being established in 1959 outside the Tachikawa military base. The headmaster of this organisation is Kunihiko Tosa, 9th dan, who was a direct student of Sensei Shukumine. The oldest living and still active master of Genseiryu in the world today.
Genseiryu karate according to “Shin Karatedo Kyohan”
Main article: World Genseiryu Karatedo Federation
When Genseiryu started to spread over Japan and soon also over the world, a Genseiryu headquarters (Honbu) was established in Itō, hometown of Sensei Shukumine. Since Sensei Shukumine was occupied mainly with Taido, he could not run this Genseiryu organization himself. So he appointed a head instructor to do this for him. The first one was sensei Yamada. When he died, Sensei Shukumine appointed sensei Saito as the new head instructor. After his death sensei Yasunori Kanai took over his job. This Japanese Genseiryu organization is indirectly (via Nippon Karatedo Rengoukai) a member of the Japan Karatedo Federation (JKF). Today all the Genseiryu clubs in the world that follow sensei Shukumine’s style and the first book of Genseiryu Shin karatedo kyohan, are combined in a federation called the World Genseiryu Karatedo Federation (W.G.K.F.). Japanese Genseiryu also takes a part of this federation. Members of this federation signed an agreement that a.o. states that they will always follow the first book of Sensei Shukumine “Shin Karatedo Kyohan” and therefore they also still train the basic kata Ten-i, Chi-i and Jin-i no kata.
Genseiryu Karate-do International Federation
Main article: Genseiryu Karatedo International Federation
The Genseiryu Karate-do International Federation (in Japan called “Nippon Karatedo Genseiryu Butokukai“) was founded by Sensei Tosa who still is the president of this organization. This organization claims to be the only official member and representative of Genseiryu under the Japan Karate-do Federation JKF. This organization expanded their curriculum with shitei kata from Shotokan and Shito-Ryu.