As many of you will know, in his book “Karate-Do: My Way of Life”, Gichin Funakoshi talked about Tegumi (Okinawan Wrestling) and its link with karate.
“Okinawan wrestling has certain unique features. As with karate, its origins are unknown, and many Okinawans suppose that there must have been a relationship of sorts between the two … The Okinawan name for our style of wrestling is Tegumi, and should you write the word, you would use the same two Chinese characters that are used to write karate's Kumite, except that they are reversed … Tegumi is, of course, a far simpler and primitive sport than karate. In fact there are few rules … The bout begins, as sumo does, with the two opponents pushing against each other. Then, as it proceeds, grappling and throwing techniques are used.”
What I want to draw out in this thread is the specific technique that Funakoshi references:
“One [technique] that I recall well was very similar to the ebigatama (leg block and three quarter nelson) of today's professional wrestling. When I watch wrestling on television nowadays, I am often reminded of the Tegumi of my Okinawan youth”
To my mind, the combination of a “leg block” and “three quarter nelson” would look something like this.
The arms are applying the three quarter nelson, while the leg is blocked in order to prevent the recipient rotating. You can see it in this video from 1:00 onward.
You can see another example of it here:
Funakoshi describes how Tegumi bouts were often decided by submission:
“To stop the fight, all that any boy who felt he had had enough needed to do was pat his opponent's body. Some boys, however, were so dauntless that they would go on fighting until they were knocked out. In such cases, it would be the duty of the referee to try to stop the bout before that happened.”
Funakoshi continues to talk about his own experience of Tegumi and how such training – aside from having a link with karate from the past – should also be also be a part of current karate training:
“Like every other Okinawan boy, I spent many happy hours engaging in or watching Tegumi bouts, but it was after I had taken up karate seriously that I came to realise that Tegumi offers a unique opportunity for training …”
I think we’d be wise to listen to the “Father of Modern Karate” and include such “old” techniques in our practise. If Funakoshi is referring to the above, here are some instructional videos that explore the technique and its variations further.
Three Quarter Nelson Wrestling Move
Three-Quarter Nelson From Sprawl Control
Front Headlock to Three-Quarter Nelson
Another possibility is that Funakoshi is describing the professional wrestling hold known as “The Boston Crab” in English? If we take the technique being described to be "Ebi-gatame” – literally meaning "Shrimp hold" (エビ固め), which is the name for the Boston Crab in Japanese wrestling – then it could be this he is describing.
Boston Crab (aka "Shrimp Hold")
逆エビ固め (reverse shrimp hold)
It would certainly fit with the “pro-wrestling reference” made by Funakoshi, but the “three-quarter nelson” reference is a little confusing.
It’s also possible that Funakoshi is referring to a knee-bar as that also goes by the name “Ebi-gatame”; as shown by this Japanese Sombo group:
サンボ エビ固め (Sambo shrimp hold)
I think it is perhaps most likely that Funakoshi is referring to much of the above and not a single technique. By this I mean that commas should have been used instead of brackets in the translation? So instead of “One [technique] that I recall well was very similar to the ebigatama (leg block and three quarter nelson) of today's professional wrestling", it should instead read as, “Techniques that I recall well were very similar to the ebigatama, leg block and three quarter nelson of today's professional wrestling.” That would certainly remove the confusion between the equating of the “shrimp hold” with the “three quarter nelson”.
From the name alone, we can’t know for sure exactly what technique, or techniques, Funakoshi was thinking of. But what we can know is that Funakoshi saw a connection between wrestling, tegumi and karate and that it was a connection to be encouraged.
What is ironic is that nowadays relatively few people would recognise such techniques as having anything to do with karate. However, if you were to practise any of the techniques showcased in the above videos, it would be recognised as being “Tegumi” by the past masters and its link to karate is unlikely to be questioned. Indeed, the practise of such techniques would be strongly encouraged.
Some cool stuff in these videos that, to echo Funakoshi, offer unique opportunities to modern-day traditional karateka.
All the best,