A magazine of martial and movement arts, with a focus on the internal style of Tai Chi Chuan
(Ohara Publications, 1971, 96 pages)
Bo: Karate Weapon of Self-defense
(Ohara Publications, 1976, 184 pages)
Sai: Karate Weapon of Self-defense
(Ohara Publications, 1974, 160 pages)
Nunchaku: Karate Weapon of Self-defense
(Ohara Publications, 1971, 144 pages)
with Dan Ivan
(Ohara Publications, 1976, 160 pages)
Review by Christopher Dow
Clearly Taijitu Magazine—including its book review section—is focused on the internal Chinese martial arts, but I have a number of books in my martial arts library on karate, tae kwon do, and other external styles. While I tend to be a proponent of the internal martial arts, external stylists also demand high standards of themselves and achieve impressive results. And a few practitioners among them really stand out. One such is the Japanese-American karate master Fumio Demura, who currently holds a rank of 9th dan in Shito-ryu karate.
Demura, born in 1938, began training in karate and kendo at age 9. He received his first dan black belt in 1956 and won the East Japan Championship the following year. For the next few years, he trained in a number of other martial styles and weapons until he met martial arts scholar Donn Draeger in 1963. Draeger introduced him to Dan Ivan who brought Demura to the United States in 1965. Representing the Japan Karate-do Itosu-kai, Demura became well known for his skills and for his many books on karate and karate weapons. During the 1980s, he served as technical advisor and stunt double for Pat Morita in the Karate Kid films, and he has been involved in a number of other films and documentaries.
In 1986, Demura was promoted to 7th dan in Shito-ryu karate. Five years later, he was expelled from the Itosu-kai, and he took up directorship of Shito-ryu Karate-do Genbu-kai. He earned his 9th dan in 2005. I give you all of this background to show that Demura is a sincerely kick-ass guy who really knows what he’s talking about.
Beginning in about 1970, Demura began penning books on karate and karate weapons. I own five of the earliest, so these are the ones I’ll talk about. I can shoehorn these five into one review because they’re all pretty basic Category I-type of books containing a smattering of background information but primarily presenting how-to text and photos.
I’ll start with Demura’s first, Shito-Ryu Karate. Demura was in his early 30s when he produced this book, and he looks fighting fit in the photos. He starts out with a preface which begins with a statement I don’t necessarily agree with in several respects: “Karate, literally translated as ‘empty hand,’ is one of the oldest and most effective means of fighting known to man, and is considered to be the ultimate in unarmed self-defense.”
The roots of karate might be old, but they don’t rate “one of the oldest.” The history of karate begins in the 14th century, with the introduction of Chinese kung fu fighting forms to Japan’s Ryukyu Islands, particularly Okinawa. From there, the art spread to the rest of Japan. This makes formalized karate barely older than the earliest-known Chinese internal martial arts styles and certainly much younger than a great number of older Chinese kung fu styles as well as the martial arts of India. And as for the ultimate in unarmed self-defense, I’ll vote for the Grand Ultimate—tai chi—which does so much more than teach you to protect yourself.
But we all know it’s the master, not the art, that counts, and like I said before, Demura is quite competent and could spread me over the floor like so much sand and in so many pieces. I won’t quibble with him too much, especially since he redeems himself with statements like: “Karate movements may seem very odd to the layman, but each movement has been analyzed and geometrically calcuated so that whatever the action—a block or punch—it is the maximum the human body can achieve. One quickly learns that it is not size and strength alone that win; rather, speed and knowledge are the deciding factors in determining who will emerge victorious in physical combat.” Change “karate” to “tai chi,” and this could have come from any number of books on the latter.
The major text of the book begins with a very brief history of Shito-ryu karate, which had no fixed system until about 1907, when its progenitors were two different systems: one developed by Yastune Itosu of Shuri and one by Kaneryo Higaonna of Naha. The latter’s style later matured into the present-day Gojo-ryu style under the hand of Chojyun Miyagi. The subject of Demura’s book, Shito-ryu style, was devised by Kanwa Mabuni, who studied under both Itosu and Higaonna. It is now one of the four major karate styles in Japan.
A chapter titled “Striking Points” shows more than two dozen hand, elbow, and foot strikes along with ideal targets for the particular strike. The photos primarily show hand and foot forms rather than demonstrate applications. An illustration of the human body, front and back, points out a large number of particular points that are vulnerable to strikes, such as the solar plexus, armpit, temple, and so forth. Similar charts are present in a number of martial arts books, some better than this one, some worse.
About fifteen different types of stances are shown next, followed by eight hand techniques, five elbow techniques, and ten kicking techniques. The latter includes photos of applications against an opponent. Twenty blocking techniques close out the book.
Bo: Karate Weapon of Self-defense begins with a history of the bo. The first sentence states: “As with many weapons of ancient heritage, the exact origin of the bo, kon, or straight staff is obscure.” That’s because it happened when one caveman picked up a stick and hit another caveman over the head with it. Since then, that basic stick has been developed into several sorts and its uses have been significantly refined. Demura gives a brief history of these developments and refinements before giving thumbnail bios of a number of masters of the weapon.
The kinds and types of bo are covered next, which include spear, oar, and naginata (a long sword similar to a pike crossed with a spear). Demura demonstrates several types of grips for holding the bo, then he moves on to warm-up exercises and stances before going into a great variety of striking, blocking, and sweeping techniques. These occupy about two-thirds of the book.
Sai: Karate Weapon of Self-defense is the next Demura book we’ll look at. It follows the template of the previous book, beginning with a short history of the weapon, which was one of those originally modified from farm implements. For the next eighteen pages, the author takes us through sai basics, from an anatomy of the weapon to its care, the various manners of gripping it, and three ways to flip it.
A chapter depicting a large number of stances comes next, all of which pretty much seem to be various karate stances done while holding a sai. Blocks are the subject of the next chapter. This is followed by a chapter on the interlinked movements of both karate and sai. Several examples are given, with Demura demonstrating the movement barehanded and then with the sai. Most of these are against a bare-handed opponent, but some are against an opponent armed with a staff.
Basic movements with footwork are the subject of the next chapter. This is essentially a text-plus-photograph explication of a number of katas performed with the sai. The chapter after that samples a few combinations of different movements. In these photos, Demura is demonstrating solo, but in the final and longest chapter, he’s shown performing applications against an opponent who is most often armed with a staff.
Demura continues the theme he’s chosen for these early titles with Nunchaku: Karate Weapon of Self-defense. Like the previous two books, he starts off with a history of the weapon, which also was developed from a farm implement, and moves on through its anatomy and care, how to grip it, various stances, and a number of gripping positions that can be used in any stance.
He goes into blocking, striking, and choking in the next chapter, and after that, warm-up exercises. Hey, maybe blocking, striking, and choking are warm-ups for the warm-ups. Basic movements come next, followed by “Karate and Nunchukau Similarities,” which, like the similar chapter in Sai, shows how to utilize karate movements to power and direct the weapon. Demura demonstrates these with a partner.
Basic whipping techniques, plus footwork, are next, with most applications demonstrated solo, though a few are with a partner. It’s in the next chapter that Demura kicks an opponent’s ass on every page, multiple times a page, for about forty pages.
Advanced Nunchaku, co-authored with Dan Ivan, takes the weapon into really fancy territory following some prefatory material that is very similar to the prefatory material in the earlier nunchaku book. If you haven’t knocked yourself silly trying to do the movements in the first book, you might want to essay the fancier maneuvers presented here, about half of which are demonstrated against an opponent.
Demura wrote several other books during this early burst of publication, such as Tonfa: Karate Weapon of Self-defense, but I don’t own that one or others, so they aren’t included here. It was easy enough to review these five books together because they are all very basic manuals, though quite good ones from a real expert. If you can learn forms from books, then Fumio Demura’s books can help you learn to kick, smash, and destroy anything in your path with hands, feet, and weapons of various sorts. Or, if you already practice Shito-ryu or one of these weapons, these books might make nice comparative references.
If I’m ever in a fight with Fumio Demura, I want it to be one where he’s on my side. If Demurio was a musician, we’d call him a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and composer. But I must say that these books don’t offer much information beyond instruction in physical movement and ways to deal with physical confrontation. So, while they’re excellent reference books on their individual subjects, unless you’re into the style of karate he’s involved in or the weapons he demonstrates, you won’t find much of interest. Perhaps he waxes more philosophical in some of his later books.
But even if Demura's early books lack a philosophical dimension, I must say that, aside from benefitting from viewing Demura’s obvious expertise, I also like to look at photos, videos, and films of a variety of martial arts styles from around the world, even external ones. Rather than disparage the differences, I prefer to see the similarities and how these arts relate to one another. How they are all siblings sharing family traits.
Siblings. No wonder we squabble so much!
Background on Fumio Demura from the Wikipedia entry: “Fumio Demura”