Western New York Karate Center

Shihan Bill

May 16, 2016

The Journey… Part Two

Last week we explored the history of Isshin-ryu up to 1609 when the Japanese conquered the Ryukyu Kingdom and made it into a vassal state of Japan.  The Japanese maintained the ban on the open training of To-de as well as Ryukyu Kobudo.  We now jump ahead over one hundred years and examine the two men honored with being major contributors to the establishment of Te but also, by extension, major contributors to the modern roots of Isshin-ryu. 

Sakugawa Kanga

While generally ascribed as a major contributor to Okinawan Te, the root martial art of Okinawa, given that Te has its roots in the 14th century and that Sakugawa was born in the 18th century Akata village, it is my opinion for what it is worth that he is more accurately described as a practitioner of Shuri-te who had a profound influence on Tomari-te and Naha-te.

1750 – Sakugawa began his training in To-de, presumably in secret, with a revered Ryukyu peichin, Takahara.  Peichin (meaning scholar-warrior, similar to the Japanese Samurai) Takahara is attributed as being the first to explain the principles of “do,” martial arts as a way of life. Takahara instilled in Sakugawa that a martial artist should, first, be compassionate and have humility, second, strive for a complete understanding of all techniques and systems of karate, and third, dedicated to the seriousness of karate by engaging in actual combat.

1756 – Sakugawa is referred by Takahara to study with Shifu Kwang Shang Fu, also known as Shifu Kusanku, a Chinese ambassador residing in the village of Kanemura (the area of Okinawa formerly known as Naha).  Kusanku was a Chinese master of Ch’uan Fa or “Fist Law,” having studied with a Shaolin monk in Fukien province.  It is interesting to note that in Japanese the same kanji used for Ch’uan Fa are pronounced, “Kenpo.” Sakugawa studied with Kusanku until his death in 1762 and developed the kata Kusanku in his honor.

Matsumura Sokon

The year that Matsumura first started training with Master Sakugawa is unclear other than to indicate that Matsumura was young and Sakugawa was very old.  Sakugawa reportedly died in 1815 around 81 years old. Given that Matsumura is reported to have trained for five years with Sakugawa, if that corresponds with the year of Sakugawa’s death, this would mean that Matsumura started training with Sakugawa around 1810. Matsumura is reported to have been born in Yamakawa village in the Shuri region of Okinawa.  But his birth year is reported as early as 1798 and as late as 1809. Using the earliest birth year for Matsumura, 1798, would make him 12-years-old when he first started training with Sakugawa.  This is believable but also then fascinating as Matsumura reportedly had then developed, by twelve years of age, such a reputation for disobedience that Sakugawa trained him only out of an obligation to Matsumura’s father.

1836 – Matsumura, possibly around the age of 38, is recruited into the service of the Ryukyu vassal lord, King Sho Ko, and given a peichin title.

Matsumura would eventually become the chief martial arts instructor for the vassal state of Ryukyu and also the bodyguard of King Sho Ko as well as the last two vassal lords, King Sho Iku and King Sho Tai. It was reportedly during this time as the champion of Ryukyu that Matsumura was directed to deal with a Chinese sailor, possibly a pirate, named Chinto. Chinto had taken refuge in a cemetery of the mountains of Tomari after he was shipwrecked. Chinto was stealing from the local Okinawans and generally acting like a shipwrecked pirate. Matsumura has been described as blindingly fast and deceptively strong and possessing a pair of unsettling eyes; he reportedly was never defeated in a duel although he fought many. Legend has it that while Matsumura was not defeated, he was at least equally matched by Chinto.  Matsumura went on to train with Chinto for some time and eventually created Chinto kata in his honor.

In addition to creating Chinto kata, Matsumura is credited with installing Seisan, Naihanchi, and Kunsanku kata in the Shorin-ryu system.  He is also credited with teaching several major martial artists of the 20th century including Kyan Chotoku and Motobu Choki.

With the end of the 19th century, we can see how, through Sakugawa and his legendary student Matsumura, the foundation of Isshin-ryu has heavy influences of Chinese martial arts particularly in the influence of Shifu Kusanku on Sakugawa and the dread pirate, Chinto, upon Matsumura.  Next time, we will look at the 20th century instructors of Master Shimabuku: Kyan Chotoku, Miyagi Chojun, Motobu Choki, and Taira Shinken.