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By Jikishin Kobudo, Jun 22 2016 11:35AM

War crimes are often deliberately forgotten so that post conflict peace can be encouraged. The Japanese committed many atrocities during WW2 which are well documented, but less popular in the west are reports of the cruelties and indignities perpetuated by the American soldiers to the Japanese during the years of their invasion and occupation. However, the history and testimony is there for anyone seeking it out.

It was during the post war period that the Yakuza became very strong. Established and understood by the world to be organised criminals who pose threat and danger, alternatively many Japanese consider the Yakuza to be honourable and worthy of respect and gratitude. Why you may ask?

In the 1950s and 1960s the Yakuza offered protection to the ordinary Japanese against the American soldiers who threatened pillage, insult, assault, damage, imprisonment, theft, rape and death to the indigenous population. The Yakuza would facilitate the black market that kept many Japanese supplied during occupation. They provided security against the Americans for shops, bars and local businesses. They befriended and bribed American officers to infiltrate them. They patrolled the streets to protect the women from drunken GIs. For this reason, the Yakuza are admired by many.

Today Yakuza organisations rarely hide and are considered to have a functional role in Japanese society. They are the criminals, but they commit crime whilst being mindful of their obligations and position in society and they demonstrate the possession of a respected and honourable criminal moral code (if such a concept of criminality can make sense to a western mind).

The martial arts have a long historical connection to organised crime all around the world and this is also true in Japan and Okinawa. There are strong ties between some martial arts schools and organised criminality that for obvious reasons go unreported however, they are/were nevertheless there.

This was particularly true in the post-war years when many martial artists took on the responsibility of protecting their fellow countrymen against the invading force through whatever means was necessary. Rather than enter into direct conflict some Yakuza (like some Samurai) took the role of educating the Americans Soldiers in the ways of the arts, thus providing them personal discipline and respect for the culture. This approach in turn led to a great rise in popularity of Japanese martial arts amongst US servicemen, since the disciplines of budo were similar but much more meaningful than those found within the army of the time.

Jurisprudence in Japan during and after WW2 is deeply complex and this article can make no further comment than that. Were some martial arts masters in Japan and Okinawa connected with organised crime? Yes, they most definitely were. Some were/are Yakuza. This fact has been kept secret for many years for obvious reasons. Does that have any relevance to the future of the arts? Probably not, but it provides a fascinating insight into the past.

EDITOR COMMENT [This article is in no way suggesting that all American soldiers committed crimes during occupation nor that all martial arts teachers in Japan are connected with organised crime. Evidence indicates these are minority phenomenon. This article is based on the first hand testimony of Japanese people, Japanese and Okinawan martial artists, Western martial artists and American soldiers collated through primary and secondary sources].

By Jikishin Kobudo, Nov 6 2014 04:55PM

Some histories of Okinawa and some modern Sensei portray the people of Ryukyu as a peace loving nation who never demonstrated any acts of aggression. However, this is in contrary to contemporary accounts from neighbouring countries during the middle ages. Japan and China both document violent acts of internecine aggression between the islands and expansionist movements from the kingdom of Ryukyu to the North and South. Okinawa has its own histories and legends of great warriors and fighters from the islands and it is important the experience of Okinawa during WW2 and after does not reinterpret a nation of warriors and fighters as historical victims and pacifists.

This image taken from a historical wood block print shows a knight of Ryukyu fighting furiously amidst the surrounding Shimazu Samurai attackers. Of note to researchers is that the unique weapons on display are far more akin to the Chinese arms than the Japanese with a Guan Dao in full flurry. This mounted halberd use is something that demonstrates incredible horsemanship and leg strength in order to control a horse, hands free and with only a rudimentary saddle.

The prohibition of weapons in Okinawa is a historical fact, but perhaps we should ask ourselves why would that be necessary in a nation of pacifists? Tentatively we might wonder if the truth may well be as the King Sho Shin claimed, that the only way to stop the Ryukyuans fighting each other was to take away their weapons. However, even then, in contravention of the King's wishes, the Kobudo traditions of turning any tool or implement into a weapon, and the Karate tradition of making the empty hand lethal, meant the warrior traditions of this great fighting nation never died.

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