Okinawa: Home to a wealth of cultural assets

6 days ago 31

OKINAWA - Karate grandmaster Minoru Higa's powerful strokes belie his 80 years of age, while his commanding presence inspires awe and respect in his disciples.

Mr Higa, who first picked up the martial art at the age of 11, is now grandmaster of the Kyudokan school of the Shorin-ryu technique, which incorporates elements of free fighting, pressure- point attacks and grappling.

"Karate is a strictly defensive martial art that can help train self-discipline, strength, focus and gracefulness," he told The Straits Times. "The key tenet is that one never makes the first move. It is not about using violence."

Mr Higa has witnessed karate's popularity surging through the decades, with the Kyudokan school branching out and going global.

The sport also made its debut at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, with Ryo Kiyuna winning gold in the men's karate kata event to become Okinawa's first Olympic champion.

Surveys have shown that while many Japanese know karate hails from their country, less than half are aware of its origins in Okinawa during the time of the Ryukyu Kingdom from 1429 to 1879, before the empire was invaded and forcefully annexed by Japan.

There are 130 million karate practitioners worldwide, hailing from 198 regions, according to data from the Okinawa prefectural government, which hopes the martial art can be recognised by Unesco on its intangible cultural heritage list.

"Karate survived the decline of many of Okinawa's unique cultural forms when it transitioned from the Ryukyu Kingdom to Okinawa prefecture," Mr Hayato Sawada, director of Okinawa's karate promotion division, told ST.

This makes preserving and promoting the martial art's heritage all the more crucial, added the 54-year-old, who has 34 years of karate experience under his belt.

What has been recognised by Unesco in Okinawa is the Shuri Castle. The revered palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom - and a symbol of Okinawa's resistance in World War II, when relentless shelling by US forces reduced it to rubble - has been granted Unesco World Heritage status.

The castle wa...

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