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Shinken Taira

Shinken Taira 1897 - 1970

Shinken Taira was morn Shinken Maezato on the 12th June 1897, in the villiage of Nakazato, on the island of Kumejima. Officially recorded as Shinken Maezato, he often used his mother's maiden name 'Taira'.

He graduated from Nakazato Elementary school and later worked at a mine in Minami Jima. It was during his days working in the mine that Shinken Taira's life was dramatically changed.

During one of his shifts he was caught in a cave-in and buried alive. Although badly wounded, he managed to dig his way to safety. He returned to Kumejima after the accident to rest and recuperate. Because of the accident he was left with a limp which he was to carry for the rest of his life. When he recovered, he continued to work as a miner, but his coworkers were merciless in their taunts to him because of the injury to his right leg. At first he felt embarrassed and ashamed, but resolved to make 
himself stronger and decided that Bujutsu was the best means to attain his goal.

At 25 he left his work and traveled to Japan with intent of studying Judo. Whilst in Tokyo he had a chance meeting with Gichin Funakoshi who, at that time, was working towards popularizing karate on the Japanese mainland. Taira was so impressed with what Funakoshi said to him, he reconsidered his plans to study Judo. He entered Funakoshi's dojo as a live-in student in 1922 and studied there for the next eight years, becoming his assistant instructor and one of his closest friends
Taira's interest in Budo did not stop at karate. In 1929, with Funakoshi's recommendation, he entered Moden Yabiku's dojo to study Ryukyu Kobudo. Yabiku, like his colleague Funakoshi, was also working to promote karate as well as kobudo in Japan. During his study under Yabiku, Taira mastered the use of such weapons as the Bo, Sai, Tuifa, Nunchaku and Eku.

After completing his training in 1932, he was granted permission to open a dojo, where he taught karate and kobudo. In 1933 he received his formal teaching license in Ryukyu Kobudo from Yabiku Sensei.

In 1934, Shinken Taira invited Kenwa Mabuni, and acquaintance of Funakoshi, from Osaka to receive instruction in karate and kobudo. He graciously accepted the invitation and taught Taira until his return to Okinawa in 1940. During those six yearsm Taira housed and paid Mabuni for his instruction. Taira expanded his knowledge of kata and techniques of the bo and sai under the close scrutiny of Mabuni Sensei. 

Whilst teaching in Gunma Prefecture, Taira began to experiment with the idea of full contact sparring. The armor he was trying to develop had to be flexible and strong, so as not to hinder any movement, but also to be able to resist the strike of a bo. He also developed an over size striking post for the bo, to help improve the accuracy and power. Taira's early attempts at developing full contact weapon sparring was later abandoned possible to a shortage of material due to Japan's increasing involvement in WWII. After Taira's death his most senior student Eisuke Akamine continued Taira's early attempts.

It was during his time teaching in Gunma Prefecture that Taira allegedly developed the Mariji sai and its accompanying kata. The mariji sai have had a long history in China and Okinawa, and Taira's inspiration for the weapon apparently came after visiting a Buddhist temple to pray for success of his newly opened dojo. It was there that he saw a large mariji, which in Taira's eyes resembled a kobudo weapon. Almost straight away Taira was inspired as to how to create a weapon from its shape. After he returned from the dojo, he formulated his ideas for the construction of the mariji sai and the kata Jigan No Sai. The kata takes advantage of the mariji sai's unique shape and employs many double handed thrusting techniques. The kanji that Taira selected for his new kata, can be translated as the foundation of love/compassion. This maybe due to the source of his inspiration; a Buddhist symbol.

In 1940 he returned to Okinawa and after the death of Yabiku Sensei in 1941, established the Ryukyu Kobudo Hozon Shinko-Kai, the association for the promotion and preservation of Ryukyu Kobudo in Naha. It is based on the organisation of Yabiku Sensei's Ryukyu Kobujutsu Kenkyu Kai.

Taira's Hozon Shinkokai included instruction in the use of nine different weapons and their respective katas that he had learned during his years of instruction or those that he created himself. He continued to make visits to the Kansai and Kanto areas to teach and promote kobudo in Japan. In the early 1960's he published his first book on Ryukyu Kobudo in Japanese entitled "Ryukyu Kobudo Taiken", which helped greatly to popularize the art in Okinawa.

Later in the 1960's, he formalized and strengthened his association by appointing his students to different positions in the Shinko Kai and established testing and licensing standards for his students. In 1963, to further the growth of karate and kobudo at an international level, the Kokusai Karate-do Kobudo Renmei was formed with Seiko Higa as the chairman and Shinken Taira as the vice chairman. In 1964 he was recognised as a master teacher of kobudo by the All Japan Kobudo Federation and awarded his Hanshi certification.

After Taira's death, Eisuke Akamine took over the position as chairman of the Ryukyu Hozon Shinko Kai. In an attempt to expand Ryukyu Kobudo, Akamine Sensei opened his own dojo on 1971, naming it the Shinbu Kan. This was followed by other students of Shinken Taira opening their own respective dojos.