As if karate history were not confusing enough, one eventually realizes that Japanese writers and karate masters enjoy a very special relationship with the truth. It confounds the naive Western reader to discover that respected Japanese sensei casually conceal, distort or fabricate stories about karate's historical origins for their own purposes. In Japanese culture this is the normal thing to do, and it would not occur to them to do otherwise. In Japan, the official story is more important than the actual truth. In fact, they consider the official story to be another kind of truth, even if the story is completely inaccurate and deliberately misleading. For a person to question the official story is shockingly rude. People who insist on digging for verifiable facts are derided as rikutsuppoi, or "reason freaks."Not to put too fine a point on it, but I'm pretty much convinced that--despite flaws elsewhere in the book--Dr. Clayton has touched on something here. The more I dig into the history of karate, the more I am convinced that there has been almost as much of an effort to obfuscate as to reveal. One of the most glaring examples that comes to mind comes from a simple perusal of two books: Shoshin Nagamine's The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do and Kiyoshi Arakaki's The Secrets of Okinawan Karate: Essence and Techniques. I say this simply because Arakaki says he learned karate punching from Nagamine, and yet the methods illustrated by Nagamine and Arakaki in their respective books are polar opposites. You cannot read both books and rationally conclude, in my opinion, that they are trying to teach the same material. One is left with very little option but to conclude that some people, to this day, are trying very hard to leave most karate practitioners with incomplete or erroneous knowledge and that therefore it is quite possible that much of what you might learn from some people is, in fact, erroneous, and quite possibly through no fault of their own.
We can lay this philosophy at the feet of Ieyasu Tokugawa, the master of mind control. The Tokugawa edicts forced the Japanese people to adopt a double standard of truth. Every person had their private opinion, their secret honne, which was not safe to share even within the family. Instead, they all staunchly supported the official government story, the tatemae. It was the only safe thing to do in an era when a careless word could doom an entire family, or even a village.
This distinction between honne and tatemae appears again and again in karate history, right down to the present day. Honne refers to a person's true feelings, underlying motives, or the true facts of the case, and is written using the kanji for "true or real" plus the kanji that means "sound." Tatemae means the cover story, and is written with kanji that mean "to build" and "in front." In other words, tatemae is the screen we erect to hide the truth.
For example, in 19th century Okinawa, the tatemae (official story) was that the Sho kings were in charge of the kingdom, and they reported only to the Emperor of China. The hidden honne (the real situation) was that the Satsuma overlords were secretly in control. The Sho kings didn't make a move without Satsuma approval. That's the difference between honne and tatemae.
This curious relationship to the truth has an important corollary: Japanese citizens are quite comfortable with information that is inconsistent, contradictory, ambiguous and incomplete. They're used to it. Ambiguity is a major feature of the language itself. It's normal. Contradictions cannot be investigated, because that would question the tatemae. Incomplete explanations cannot be researched and explained. Japanese citizens simply assume that they are being kept in the dark for a good reason that will be revealed to them, or not, in due course.
For instance, Japanese authors seem quite comfortable with the jumble of disjointed, self-contradictory information they have assembled on the history of karate. They often repeat tatemae directly to their readers as if it were real history.
Just something to be aware of.