Wanikan-Ryu Karate, a style born for sailors (first part)


At the beginning of the 1900s, oriental martial arts arrived in Western countries thanks to the overseas activities carried out by the various navies operating in the Far East, in what at the time was called "South-East Asia".

It is therefore no coincidence that the first Italian black belts in Judo (but also in Ju-Jitsu) were non-commissioned officers of the Regia Marina stationed in China on the Regia Nave Vesuvio, in Tientsin and later in Shanghai, immediately after the so-called "Boxer Revolt" (1899); a revolt that was fueled and supported by many schools of Kung-Fu (more properly than "Wushu"), improperly called "boxers" (in English "boxers" hence the name).

Among many things, it should be remembered that also the first Italian black belt in Karate was a sailor.

In September 1907 aboard the RN Vesuvio the six-monthly competitions imposed by the Ministry of the Navy were held to keep the crews in training. The jujitsu competition was won by the under-chief scorer Raffaele Piazzolla di Trani over the chosen scorer Carlo Oletti (following photo), a nineteen-year-old from Turin who was however destined to leave a profound mark on the history of the discipline in Italy.

Favorably impressed by the "exercises of stick fencing in force on the Japanese ships", in September 1907 the commander of the Vesuvio Eugenio Bollati also introduced a kenjitsu ("sword art") course on board which he considered "very useful, together with jujitsu, to develop the courage and strength of our crews". At the end of 1921, always a sailor, the first class gunner Carlo Oletti, was called to direct the jujitsu courses introduced to the Central Military School of Physical Education a Roma.

There is still a link between the various navies and the development, within them, of certain "Styles" or "Military Combat Systems" particularly suitable for use in confined, limited and confined environments such as the structures of a ship or in those operational situations in which Navy departments may be involved, for various reasons. In this context we can mention a particular and little known style of Karate, the Wanikan Ryu, established for a specific "naval" use.

To fully understand its facets, it is appropriate to make several considerations in general terms. Anyone who has studied and practiced a fighting discipline clearly has in mind the fact that each one has its own historical and cultural origin, has its own ethical rules, its own concepts, its own baggage of knowledge and technical experience.

Throughout the world, from ancient times to the present day, especially bearing in mind the differences between the West and the East, the approaches to combat disciplines have been very different, particularly in Japan. Many aspects of Japanese life and culture are in fact subject to very strict rules, they must respond to strict codes of conduct or must strictly follow specific procedures… just think of the chado (the tea ceremony), allo Shodo (the art of writing with a brush on rice paper), at theIkebana (the art of arranging flowers), theOrigami (the art of paper folding), al Bonsai (the art of growing trees in miniature), al karesansui (the art of arranging rocks and raking the Zen garden)… and, absolutely not least, to Japanese martial arts (Karate-do, Kobudo, Judo, Aikido, Kendo, Kyudo, Iaido...).

Martial arts, like any other form of art or discipline, have their pillars in the roots of tradition with their doctrines, techniques, terminologies, behaviors, rites and rituals, but, contextually, they are subject to continuous enrichments, developments and personal interpretations leading to inevitable changes. In practice, they too are subject to a certain "evolution" over time.

photo: ancient school of Karate at the Shuri Castle, Naha (Okinawa), 1938 – Source The Japanese book “空手道大観” (A Broad View of Karate-do)

Karate, for example, had its origins on the island of Okinawa (with just four schools and related styles) and only later, after the acquisition of Okinawa (and its archipelago) by Japan (1879), did it developed in Japan through the creation and development of further styles (more or less forty).

At the end of the Second World War, following a Japanese political will, karate spread thanks to the sending or permanent transfer of Japanese masters all over the world, a fact which allowed a considerable proliferation of styles, some of which were too "Westernized" ” (in the opinion of many “purists”) as some of them abandoned the traditions and technical dogmas of the “founding fathers” of karate schools.

Currently in the world there are about forty styles among the most authoritative or best known, compared to a larger number of about a hundred, if not more, developed in different fields.

But how many types of karate are there?

Before answering this question, it is necessary to make some considerations because, as the Orientals often say, karate is like a diamond: the nucleus is only one but has many faces all around.

There are some approaches, both historical and technical, which help to provide a correct framework for further considerations. In fact, there are various types of initial approach that allow you to classify karate in different ways.

Classifications can be made on the basis:

  • to martial purposes (concepts of Bugei, Budo and Kakugi);
  • to the ancient origins (Shorin and Shorei streams),
  • to the technical roots (schools and styles of Okinawan Karate and Japanese Karate);
  • technical training and combat rules (Traditional Karate and Modern Karate).

As is well known, each of the topics mentioned has an encyclopaedic scope and it is unthinkable to be able to summarize them in a few lines and therefore a fairly pragmatic approach is necessary, which should not be considered superficial for this reason.

I deem it appropriate to point out that the topics that I will discuss have always been the source of great debates, of heated discussions, both among historians and among scholars of the subject as well as among masters and practitioners of martial arts (at all levels).

Concepts of bugeiBudo and Kakugi

These are the concepts with which a martial art is classified in relation to its martial purpose:

bugei it represents the practice of a martial art to acquire offensive and lethal capabilities for warfare, or to develop a discipline for the battlefield;

Budo it is the practice of a martial art to achieve, as far as possible, the perfection of one's inner balance through rigorous discipline, hard training and physical conditioning, in order to become a better and stronger person;

Kakugi it is a much more recent concept and represents the practice of a martial art solely and exclusively for sporting purposes.

Currents Shorin e Shorei

These two ancient currents probably represent the origins of two great Chinese schools, already a synthesis of many other forms of combat, which arrived on the island of Okinawa and contributed to the creation of two different types of teaching and practice of karate (with the respective schools and styles):
lo Shorin Ryu (see video), from which were born all those karate styles that favored agility and speed and the Shorei-Ryu, from which those who favored physical strength and muscular power were born.

In reality, all styles of karate always present a harmonious fusion of agility, speed, balance, strength, power… and much more!

Okinawan Karate and Japanese Karate

Although the island of Okinawa has been Japanese for more than a century, many differences still remain between Okinawan and Japanese karate. All these diversities have strongly influenced the descending schools and styles, which cover almost all aspects of karate:

  • physical conditioning;
  • the “traditional basic practices” (kihon);
  • body movements:
  • training;
  • the “traditional forms” (kata);
  • types of breathing:
  • power development:
  • the fighting techniqueskumite):
  • the terminology:
  • and combat tactics.

We will see them in more detail in the second part.

Marco Bandioli

Read: "Wanikan-Ryu Karate, a style born for sailors (second part)"

Admiral MMI (ris) Marco Bandioli has to his credit long periods of embarkation in which he participated in naval, amphibious and maritime security operations, both in national and multinational and/or NATO contexts. He commanded three naval units in full operational activity and was also employed in the joint forces as well as in the staff reporting directly to the Minister of Defence. He has written an "Amphibious warfare" manual for use by the Naval Academy and an operational manual for the anti-terrorist defense of ports for the IBN publishing house. Furthermore, he is the author of numerous articles, both at a strategic and tactical level, for various sector magazines, both institutional and of normal dissemination. As a 5th Dan black belt in karate, and specialist in military combat techniques, he periodically writes articles for an international martial arts organization.

Photo: web

(article originally published on https://www.ocean4future.org)