Excerpt from the article of Savvas P. Mastrappas in the 6th issue of the “To Monopati tou Polemisti” (the warrior’s path) magazine:
(Translation by Dimitris Petrakis)


In 1932, after the request of the King of Ryu-Kyu, Satto, a team of Chinese metics was settled in the village of Kume, in the area of Naha (the most important town of the island). This team was called “the 36 families“, but it isn’t for certain whether this number really represents their mass. Those families and their descendants, were living in a closed circle, remaining adherent to the Komfucian and Taoistic persuasions. Enjoying many privileges, those families were holding the editing of the official documents and had a leading role in the procedure of concentration of authority and power, and in preservation of relation of dependence with China. Furthermore, they had knowledge of more developed techniques, especially in whatever concerned naval architecture and sailing, which they expanded.
Most likely, the inhabitants of this closed village were practicing a martial art. This art, was a demonstration of their rights and at the same time it enforced their authority, as well as their ability for defense. In 1429, the king Sho Hashi united Okinawa and restricted the possession of any kind of weapon. It was then, when the island met some kind of a “golden century” and the merchandising business became much more intense, not only with China, but also with Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Korea… The fermentation of several techniques, turned out to enrich the local martial art.


In 1609, the Japanese clan of Satsuma, imposed its domination in Ryu-Kyu. The possession of any white weapon (note: with a blade), was strictly restricted anew. Chinese Kenpo and Okinawan Tote trainees decided then to unite in secret. Their union gave birth to Te (hand), the martial art of Okinawa. During this era, Te reached its highest level of effectiveness: training was performed during the night, in extreme secrecy. They practiced the hardening of physical weapons of the body, with an aim to be able to kill with bare hands a samurai in armor. The development of Kobudo, that is, the use of farming tools as weapons, also belongs to this era.
Transmission, from instructor to student, was obviously verbal, something that explains the lack of documents, which concern this period. Nevertheless, history withholds two names: the first is the one of a Chinese expert, Kung Syanag, who remained known with the name Kusanku (or Kushanku or Kanku in Japanese), and is dated by that time. The second name is the one of Sakugawa. Born in 1782 (?) in Shuzi, he was a student of Kusanku, as well as of a monk, Peichin Takahara. After the death of the two men, Sakugawa began to teach his art and became famous then with the name Tode Sakugawa. He died in 1865 (?). All known genealogies begin from Sakugawa, the first “official” teacher.


Karate of Okinawa, contains several elements of the Chinese martial art. The majority comes from the stream of the School of the North.
Sakugawa, was granted by exception the permission to reside in Beijing, where the School of the NORTH was practiced. We can easily assume, that the introduction of elements of the School of the North from a traveller from Okinawa, exists because of Sakugawa. Until then, the majority of people who hailed from Ryu-Kyu, resided in the town Fuzhou, in the South of China, in which merchandising with Ryu-Kyu was focalised. Therefore, before Sakugawa, the dominating elements of Karate were mainly based on the influences of the Chinese martial art, the school of the South. An innovation starts the tradition of Karate in Okinawa, beginning from Sakugawa, with the introduction of new elements. These elements, characterise the stream of Shuri and in continuance the stream of Tomari, which of course hails from Tomari.
According to the encyclopedia of Budo, Sakugawa went to Chine three times, making his journey up to Beijing. With the chance of his third journey, he demonstrated his knowledge from Beijing to the younger Sokon Matsumura, who was about to have a grand influence in Okinawan Karate later on. During his stay in Beijing, Kanga Sakugawa got sick and died in 1837. The body of Sakugawa, was buried in a prefecture of Beijing, and a descendant of 5th generation, discovered his grave in 1932.
However, it is for certain that the name Todei Sakugawa, that is “Sakugawa expert of the martial art of China“, has been carved in the collective memory of Okinawa. A kata with Bo, under the name Sakukawa no Kon, has been transmitted up to our days. According to S. Nagamine and T. Miyagi, contemporary masters of Karate, the phrase Todei Sakugawa, suggests a comparison, and therefore proves, that there was a comparable martial art in Okinawa during that time.This is a simple assumption. There is another interpretation. In Okinawa, the provision “Το” (China) is used as an adjective, to indicate the perfection in something Chinese. The meaning “Todei Sakugawa“, can then express the perfection of the expert Sakugawa, without presuming the contradiction between the Chinese art and a local art. The history of Karate in the tradition of Okinawa, takes a form which is a little bit more specific, beginning from Sokon Matsumura (1809-1899). In fact, research for the first School of Karate, of which the influence in today’s practice is visible, leads to him. He was the first to transmit a systematic method. What we call Shuri-Te comes from his art and his influence contributed explicitly, in the creation of Tomari-Te. It is possible that Matsumura received the teaching of Sakugawa, but, according to verbal tradition, he indicated as his teacher in Chinese martial art, a Chinese named “Iwa“. No script indicates that he was connected with Sakugawa.


In the several interpretations of the History of the Okinawan martial art, the face of Matsumura is a legend. It is important, in order to apprehend the influence that he had, to have in mind that he studied the martial art of Okinawa, in Japan and in China. Matsumura Sokon Bucha was hailing from an noble family of Ryu-Kyu. In his 20 years of age, he was announced a bodyguard of the Prince, in the Palace of Shuri. We do not know from which age he began to teach a martial art, but his position as a bodyguard of the Prince, leads us to the assuming that during the moment of his announcement, he had already obtained a certain level. During the year that followed his announcement, Matsumura meets a judge, Satsuma, and he secures his exceptional license, to study the art of the sword, of the Jigen-ryu school. The practice and the teachings of this school, were destined exclusively for warriors who adhered to the court and under normal circumstances, it was not allowed to Matsumura, who served the King of Ryu-Kyu, who was homager of Satsuma. We can imagine, with what power this judge must have recommended Matsumura, in order for him to be allowed to go through the entrance of the dojo, of the Satsuma House, in Ryu-Kyu. According to the custom, he vows with his blood, to preserve under extreme secrecy, all that he learns.


In 1832, on his 24 years of age, Matsumura is sent to the court of Satsuma, for a mission of twenty six months. From the government of Ryu-Kyu and from the palace of Satsuma, he is granted permission to train in the School of the sword Jigen-ryu. Basic training of Jigen-ryu is called “Tategi-uchi“. It is recommended in the hitting of a tree bole, with a very solid piece of wood, approximately 1,30 meters long. Starting from a distance of four or five meters, one has to run with three steps towards a tree, making a scream, in which one puts so much energy, as if it was the last of his life, to hit the tree bole with the whole of his strength.
In the School of Jigen-ryu, training of Matsumura is recommeded mainly in “Tategi-uchi” – three thousand times in the morning and eight thousand times in the evening – followed by training in the dojo. After two years of stay in Satsuma, his teacher, Ijuin, confers him the diploma of Jigen-ryu, which certifies that he received the pure knowledge of his School. Matsumura then returns to Ryu-Kyu. He is twenty six years old. In 1836, two years after his return to Ryu-Kyu, Matsumura departs for Beijing in a mission of the King of Ryu-Kyu, to the Emperor of China. During his fifteen months stay in Beijing, Matsumura learns the martial art, next to a Chinese master, named Wei Bo, whose name is read “Iwa“, with the Japanese accent of Okinawa. Usually, we divide the Chinese martial art in two streams, the one of the North and that of the South. We can assume that the school of “Iwa“, belonged to the stream of the North.


It is possibly about the school of Xingyi-quan, one of the three main schools of the North, because it was the school with the largest acceptance from the thousands of the military of Beijing, that Matsumura used to meet. From the other side, in the Karate kata, “Matsumura no Bassai (Passai), we can observe a technique similar of zuan-quan, one of the five basic movements of Xingyi-quan. This kata, contains also techniques very close to Ma-quan, the hit of the horse, of Xingyi-quan. From the point of technical moves, Karate of the Shuri-Te stream, presents many similarities with Xyngyi-quan and other schools of the North of China.
Returning to Ryu-Kyu in 1837, Matsumura takes over again the duties of the King’s bodyguard. During this era, he changes the ideograms of his title, “Sokon“, which meant “main descendant”, choosing the ideograms which, with the same accent mean “teacher of the art of the stick“. It is narrated that this name had been given to him by his teacher, “Iwa“, who judged him as a master in the art of the stick. From the other side, in Beijing, they called MatsumuraWu-Cheng-da“, meaning “he who consummates in the art of the battle”. This name, was also given to him from a Chinese teacher. Matsumura retains the position of the King’s bodyguard, under the orders of three sequential kings and parallel with his official duties, he deepens his art, by meeting Chinese masters who used to live in Ryu-Kyu or by studying martial arts of the Ryu-Kyu inhabitants.


Matsumura, slowly starts to teach his art. His school is later named “Shuri-Te“, from the name of the area where he used to live. A variation of this School, with the name “Tomari-Te” was developed in the neighbour village Tomari. The training of the punch on the makiwara is used in Okinawa, but does not exist in China. Could it possibly be an extension and an implementation of “Tategi-uchi” that Matsumura used to do in the School of Jigen-ryu? Even if the makiwara is appeared after Matsumura, it is for certain that his experience has affected the way of its use a lot.
In the nineteenth century, Okinawa-Te was about to have its final form. In 1875, the Satsuma possession reached its end and the island became officially a prefecture of Japan. Teaching was no longer secret, but we had to wait up to 1905, to see Karate finally having popularity. During that year, with the initiative of the teacher Anko Itosu, one of the greatest karateka of his era, the martial art of Okinawa officially entered public schools.


Anko Itosu was born in 1830, in the town of Shuri. He was the external student of Sokon Matsumura, while his internal student was Anko Azato. Itosu and Azato, used to be close friends in the past. Itosu stayed for 8 years next to Sokon Matsumura, from 1840 up to 1848. He profited a lot from the teaching of Shinpan Gusukuma, as well as from the teaching of the internal student of Iwah (military attendant), named Yasuri. Itosu remained in history for one special reason: In 1905, he introduced Okinawa-Te in the program of gymnastics of highschools and senior high schools of Okinawa. Thanks to that, the interest of the Japanese for the martial art of Okinawa, grew stronger and stronger. It was then, when the first demonstration of Okinawa-Te was performed, in front of a wide audience. The rise of the number of those who started to study Okinawa-Te, made Itosu to realise, that the old kata were too big and complicated, in order to be teached in highschools. This way, the five Pinan (Heian) kata were created (Itosu was then 77 years old). These small kata are simplified, in comparison with the kata of the classic and more strict training: “Hito Kata San Sen“, one kata in three years, is what an old motto says. The series of Pinan, was created, having as a basis the form and the feeling of Kushanku, Passai, Chinto and Jion. The initial form that was given to them by Itosu, is in Matsubayashi-Ryu, of Nagamine Sensei..
Anko Itosu, was tall and strong for an Asian, especially for that era. During his life, he was forced to encounter many challenges. In Okinawa, his gigantic strength and his fist, now constitute a legend. In 1905, on his 85 years of age, he neutralised the attack of a young judoka, with only one move. Another time, a young student who wanted to try him out, hit him in his back. Itosu accepted his tsuki with no complain and continued walking as if nothing had happened, without even turning around to see, something that caused perplexity to the young man. One day, a young warrior attacked him on the street and Anko Itosu blocked and grabbed his fist with one hand. Afterwards, without even paying attention to his opponent’s complaints, he dragged him to a restaurant, and over there – with his one hand – he threw him on a table and forced him to sit. After he had loosen strength from his fist, which was extremely strong, Itosu sensei called the young man to drink, while at the same time, he reproved him: “Is it a right thing, to attack an old man like me?”.
The most important challenge he had to face, he received during his youth. The student of Ason (Naha-Te), Tomoyose, was especially experienced and older than Itosu in his age. He challenged Itosu to fight him, in an era when challenges between Shuri-Te and Naha-Te were quite frequent, especially between young students, and when Tomoyose had the title of the champion of his School. In such a challenge between the two dojos, Itosu took over the obligation to represent Shuri-Te. With his first punch, Tomoyose broke his forearm, from Itosu‘s shoto-uke. The duel was obviously interrupted… One of the most eminent students of Itosu, was Gichin Funakoshi, the man who contributed substantially in the propagation of Karate Do.
He was also the teacher of Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Moden Yabiku, Choshin Chibana, Shinpan Gusukuma, Anbun Tokuda and Kenwa Mabuni.
Anko Itosu, whose tutorial abilities were unquestionable, passed away in 1915, the same year as the grand master of Naha-Te, his good friend Kanryo Higaonna.


Initially, Naha-Te, from which later on Goju-Ryu was to emerge, was separated in two styles: Ason and Waishing. Ason will fade out with Tomigusuki. On the other hand, Waishing, with the help of Higaonna and his student Chojun Miyagi, will create the school of Goju. Kanryo Higaonna, was born in 1845 and is sometimes called Higaonna, other times Higashionna and other times Higahonna. He receives the nickname “Higaonna of the west“, so that he could be distinguished from his homonymous, who lived in the archipelago. During his youth, Kanryo studied Shuri-Te, under the guidance of sensei Sokon Matsumura, who died in 1896. Consequently, he had a knowledge on the principles of this style, from which, with the help of the teachers Itosu and Azato, the school of Shotokan will be created among others. In 1870, Higaonna works for some wholesale tea merchant. In one of his trips to China, in Fukien province, the last one will introduce to Higaonna, the teacher Woo Lu Chin. The Chinese teacher accepts him to be his student and teaches him several Wu Shu styles (of Glowing Spring, of the Praying Mantis of the South, of the White Crane), as well as Tai Chi Chuan. All the work related with energy that Higaonna developed later, especially in kata, through plangent breath from the stomach (Ibuki), comes from the processing of this training, which was straightly inspired from the Chinese Chi Kung. Initially, Higaonna would stay next to Woo Lu Chin only for one year. However, afterwards, his teacher did not want to let him go, as he considered it an offense for one’s reputation as a teacher, to let someone go, while he still hadn’t achieved perfect technique. Woo Lu Chin suggested him to stay in China for approximately 17 years. Before this long stay of his in Fukien, he had worked next to sensei Waishingzan, as we have already mentioned. But he owes the most substantial part of his training to Woo Lu Chin. In 1887 (the year of birth of Miyagi, his future student, although the birth register supports he was born in 1888), Kanryo Higaonna returns to Okinawa. He begins to spread his training in Naha and especially in Tondo Naha Shi. His style is straightly inspired from South China. We meet the same techniques, as well as the same viewpoints concerning internal energy, inspired from Tai Chi Chuan. Higaonna adopts for his dojo the name Naha-Te, which had already been used by Ason, contemporary of Waishing-zan. Let it be noted, that Waishing-zan, besides Higaonna, had other students as well, but Higaonna was the only one who ever worked by the side of Woo Lu Chin. Higaonna only had 5 students: Miyagi, Kyoda, Gusukuma, Shiroma and Motoda. Chojun Miyagi was his external student and Juhatsu Kyoda, who was a tutor in his profession, was his internal student.


In the nineteenth century, Okinawa-Te was separated in 3 branches: Naha-Te, Shuri-Te and Tomari-Te, named from the place of their origin. These three areas were so close, that Tomari and Shuri are today prefectures of Naha. From the other side, Shuri-Te and Tomari-Te were so similar, that the distinction between the two styles, was slowly reduced. Gichin Funakoshi in “Karatedo Kyohan” and Shoshin Nagamine in “The Essense of Okinawa Karate Do”, substantially distinguish to great tensions: Shorin-ryu or Shurite and Shorei-ryu or Nahate. Shorin-ryu was developed around Shuri and Tomari, while Shorei-ryu comes from Naha.
From a technical point of view, Nahate (this clause is used preferably towards Shorei-ryu, which was no longer used) is related with the styles of the Chinese South: Hand techniques that come from Tang Lang (Praying Mantis) and of Wing Chun, solid and strong stances, exclusively low kicks, deep breath and vibrant breath. The feet are shifting forming a hemicircle. The kata of this method, are Sandrin, Saifa, Seienchin, etc. Shurite or Shorin-ryu, is also related, with the styles of the North. Besides, Shorin is the transformed writing of Shaolin. More kicks, avoidances, a feeling more enduring and lighter from Nahate. The kata that characterise this school, are Bassai, Kusanku, Chinto, etc. The Tomarite branch of Shorin-ryu, with a similar form, is characterised by a larger emphasis in handgrips and drops. Two typical kata are Sochin and Unsu.


Parallel with the development of unarmed systems, the restriction of weapon possession, impelled the inhabitants of the Ryukyu islands, to develop at the same period that we investigate, a system of self-defense, based on their farming and nautical tools, of daily use.
By combining the basic techniques of unarmed systems, with the abilities of the tools that they knew so well from their every day professions, a wide spectrum of relative systems was developed, known with the name “RYUKYU KOBUDO“.
Common sense then, indicated that the tools the farmers used to choose for self-defense, could not be considered as weapons, neither to seem suspicious or threatening, nor to cause any anxiety.
This way, the farmer chose the scutch for the wheat or the scythe and the fisherman chose the oar. This way, armed with the tools of their profession, they could travel freely and without difficulties, while only a few could realise that a seemingly simple farmer, could crush a skull or decapitate an armed man, with his primitive tools or that a fisherman had the ability to kill an attacker, with a wooden oar as a weapon.
For centuries, under conditions of extreme secrecy, the twin arts of the armed and unarmed struggle, progressed together, hand by hand, coexisting, like the two wheels on the same cart, separately one from another, but equally important. After the introduction of Karate in main Japan, being exposed to the influence of original martial arts (Kendo, Kyudo), it’s developed and perfects in parallel lines and obtains a similar salient position, along with these ancient and deeply appreciated branches.
On the contrary, the arts that contain the use of traditional Okinawan weapons, did not indicate a similar successful pass in the main country.
The Japanese, while they expressed an almost unquenchable appetite for knowledge of the new unarmed method, considered the battle with weapons that were lower from the Japanese sword and bow as discreditable and offending towards their ancestors, the Samurai, despite the fact that their majority was hailing from farmers, who, until mid 19th century, used to live with the fear of the class of the Samurai.”