Shorin-Ryu Karate: A Brief History

Our lineage here at the National Institute of Modern Martial Arts is traced back to Grandmaster Fusei Kise.Grandmaster Fusei Kise began studying karate in 1947, under his uncle Master Makabe. In 1958, Fusei Kise studied under Grandmaster Hohan Soken (1889-1982). In 1960, Fusei Kise studied under Grandmaster Nakamura Shigeru, who founded the Okinawa Kenpo Karate Do Federation. Fusei Kisei received his 9th Dan qualification by Hohan Soken on September 1, 1976. In 1977, Fusei Kise founded the Shorin-Ryu Karate Kenshin Kan Karate and Kobudo Federation, which he renamed to the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Matsumura Seito Foundation in 2001. Fusei Kisei received his 10th Dan promotion from Master Shigaru Tamaiya on October 25, 1987.

Fusei Kise’s instructor Grandmaster Hohan Soken hailed from a farming family. Hohan Soken’s mother introduced him to karate when he was 13 years old, through her brother, Nabe Matsumura. Therefore, Hohan Soken studied under his uncle, Nabe Matsumura (c. 1860-1930) making him 3rd generation from Sokon Matsumura, the originator of all the Shorin styles of karate, including Shorin-Ryu. From his uncle, Hohan Soken learned kata and kobudo. He also learned kobudo from Ushi Komesu Tanmei. Hohan Soken worked as a farm laborer from 1920 until 1952 in Argentina, leaving Okinawa because of work shortages. Then he returned to Okinawa in 1952 and taught karate to Okinawans and to members of the United States military, naming his style Matsumura Orthodox Shorin-Ryu Karate Do.

Grandmaster Hohan Soken’s instructor Nabe Matsumura hailed from an upper-class Okinawan family, yet worked as a guard and pulled a rickshaw for income, which was typical of people in his social class during that time. Nabe Matsumura studied under his grandfather, Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura (c. 1809 – 1901). Sokon Matsumura is considered the father of Okinawan karate. Sokon Matsumura studied the first martial art on Okinawa called ti from the time he was a youngster. Ti dates back to the 1600s and emphasizes grappling techniques. It was practiced by the nobility for self-defense and personal development, and eventually became known as “te” in Japanese, meaning hands. Sokon Matsumura formally trained martial arts under Satunushi “Tode” Sakugawa, from whom he learned the kata Kusanku, and how to use the bo. During visits to China, Sokon Matsumura learned Chinese boxing and Japanese swordsmanship. His legacy includes the katas Chinto, Wansu, Passai, and Seisan.

Satunushi “Tode” Sakugawa (1762-1843), has been cited as a key influence in modern karate. He was one of the first to combine the techniques of te and tode together. Tode, which means Chinese hand, was first seen on Okinawa in the late 1700s or early 1800s. The karate that is studied today is based on Chinese boxing from Fuchou (the location of a Shaolin Temple) that was brought to Okinawa between 1850 and 1950, mostly during the late 1800s. Around 1950, tode became known as karate, meaning empty hands.

Sakugawa studied Chinese Kempo with Kusanku on Okinawa, and continued this training with visits to China where he also studied bojutsu. Sakugawa’s legacy includes the kata Kusanku, the bo kata Sakugawa No Kun, and the concept of dojo etiquette. Kusanku, who was from China, was reported as the first to demonstrate tode and grappling on Okinawa. He was another key influence in the development of Okinawan martial arts.

Bishop, M. (1999). Okinawan Karate: Teachers, styles, and secret techniques. Boston, Tuttle Publishing. (2001). Okinawan Shorin Ryu and Kobudo History.
In addition, many talks and discussions with other martial artists, as well as personal experiences, were used to compile this history.