April 22, 2010

The short end of the historical stick

These pictures were taken at the Okinawa Peace Memorial Park at the southern end of the island. This was the site of some of the heaviest fighting during the Battle of Okinawa in WWII.

Some places have been dealt unlucky hands by history. That's one thing El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia has in common with Okinawa. In different ways, both places got the short end of the stick.

Okinawa's bad luck jag began in 1609, when the Satsuma clan of Japan invaded and established hegemony, imposing a tributary relationship. Okinawa was already paying tribute to China. The Japanese didn't eliminate the Sho monarchy but they limited its autonomy. The Japanese also banned weapons and attempted to suppress martial arts, which pushed karate further underground.

In 1872, shortly after the Meiji Restoration of imperial power in Japan, Okinawa was annexed to that country and the monarchy was abolished. Efforts were made to suppress indigenous culture and "Japanize" the residents.

The next decades would be a time of increasing Japanese militarism and imperialism, and Okinawans were conscripted into these projects, up to and including the Second World War. Residents suffered horribly during the Battle of Okinawa--known locally as "the typhoon of steel"-- near the end of the war.

Civilian casualties were probably well over 100,000. I saw estimates of 200,000 while there. The Japanese army committed atrocities against Okinawans, using them as human shields, forcing them to commit suicide, engaging in massacres, etc. Many also were "collateral damage" to the US bombardment and invasion.

Even though the war wasn't exactly their idea, Okinawans bore the heaviest post-war burden of any Japanese territory. The US directly administered it from 1945 to 1972 and built massive military bases, displacing local landowners. Crimes such as rapes committed against Okinawan civilians by some military personnel continue to be a sore spot.

Given all that it's a wonder to me 1. that Okinawans are so nice; and 2. that they are probably the longest lived people on earth, with quite a few alive and well and active up to 100 years of age and sometimes beyond. This is particularly surprising given all that people from that age group there had to live through.

I've been interweaving Okinawan history with that of karate this week, and here's another thread. One Okinawan who was not thrilled with being conscripted into the Japanese army was the young Kabun Uechi, 1877-1948, who went to China in 1897 where he studied a kung fu style called Pangai Noon. He excelled as a student and even taught in China before returning to Okinawa around 13 years later. His style came to be known as Uechi Ryu karate. One reason I wanted to go to Okinawa was to see this style first hand and learn its most basic katas, Sanchin and Kanshiwa.

This is an extremely effective and fierce style (though fortunately practiced by nice people as far as I could tell). The level of physical conditioning--including the ability to absorb punishment--was amazing. Sanchin kata practice routinely includes "testing" in which a partner punches and kicks all over the body student to see if they maintained proper tension. These aren't love taps either. They also practice kote kitae or forearm condition, in which practioners basically pound on each others forearms to toughen them.

The hands and forearms of advanced practitioners look exactly like the weapons they are. It is also characterized by strikes that use the knuckle of the thumb, the extended knuckle of the forefinger, and the fingers as well as kicks that use the toes as points of impact. Uechi ryu stylists in action remind me of big tigers pouncing on their prey.

FROM COAL TATTOO, Ken Ward's uber-blog, three items caught my eye yesterday. First, there's coverage of the latest from Massey Energy and the board's defense of CEO Don Blankenship. Second, whatever you think about carbon capture and storage (and whether it will work), a report suggests it could create a lot of jobs in the next 20 years.

TALE OF TWO MINES. Here's one from the NY Times comparing the culture of Massey Energy to another mine with similar gas issues when it comes to mine safety and rule violations.

AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT, here's another one on the "culture of fear" and intimidation.


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