History of Toshu Jutsu (Karate) part 2: 1800-1870

In Part 1, I discussed the history of Karate from Wang Ji’s arrival in Okinawa and Hama Higa’s visit to Japan, which both happened in about 1682. Throughout the 1700s we met other pioneers including Takahara, Yara, Sakagawa, Matsumoto and Makabe. We now come to the turn of the 1800s.

The 1800s were also the approximate lifespan of Sokon Matsumura. There are four different theories on his date of birth and date of death, and they are all within a few years of him being born in 1800 and dying in 1900.

The dates are: 1809-1901 or 1798–1890 or 1809–1896 or 1800–1892.

So whichever theory you subscribe to Matsumura saw pretty much all of the 1800s (the second theory is the best fit in my opinion).

The young Matsumura’s first teachers were Sakugawa and Yara, two old men who taught him the old Toshu Jutsu arts of Shuri and Tomari. From these men, he learnt the Tomari method of Wansu and the Shuri method of Kushanku. From Sakugawa he also learnt a system called Channan, related to the Pinan (Heian forms).

And as a young man he entered service at Shuri castle, a bodyguarding role that saw him make trips to Satsuma (Japan) and Fujian (China).

In 1828, aged about 30, Bushi Matsumura and his colleague Bushi Kojo made their first trip to China. Taking a Kojo to China was the key to the door. The Kojo family of Kume were already Chinese boxing experts, and with Matsumura’s diplomatic role and knowledge of Toshu Jutsu, they were able to find tuition there.

This date is significant because it meant breathing new life into both Shuri Te and Naha Te. Whereas the old Shuri forms were largely based around Kushanku, and the old Naha Te (the forms practiced in Kume) were very old style Chinese boxing, this 1828 visit led to the introduction of the so-called “Shaolin” forms.

This visit debunks another myth. Most will say that Goju Ryu came from Naha Te which was only developed when Higaonna Kanryu went to China in the 1860s, but Goju Ryu founder Chojun Miyagi himself denied this and cited the 1828 visit as the true origin of Naha Te.

Miyagi wrote: “In 1828, our ancestors inherited a kung fu style of Fujian province in China. They continued their studies and formed Goju-ryu Karate. Even today, there still exists an orthodox group which inherited genuine and authentic Goju-Ryu karate.”

The “orthodox” Goju Ryu that Miyagi referred to is the similar sounding “Kojo Ryu”.

This led to new forms for both schools:

Matsumura Shuri Te:

– Original Kushanku and Channan forms (Kanku Dai and Heian katas)
– Seishan, a Fujian form meaning 13 steps (Hangetsu)
– Useishi, a Fujian form meaning 54 steps (Gojushiho)
– Jutte, a Fujian form meaning 10 hands (Jutte, Jin, Jion)

Kojo Naha Te

– Sanchin – 3 Battles
– Seishan – 12 Steps
– Suparimpei – 108 Hands

The name of the man who taught them was Iwah who taught a cross between Southern Shaolin (Tiger Boxing, Lion Boxing, Monk Fist) and the Taoist art later known as Pakua.

I have theorised that Iwah’s art was referred to as Bazi Quan – translated as White Lion Boxing.

Matsumura created new forms called Bazi Da and Bazi Xiao (known in Okinawa as Matsumura Passai and Passai Gwa) which we know today as Bassai Dai and Bassai Sho.

Following his excursion to China, Matsumura made another trip, this time to Japan. There, he trained in Satsuma with the Jigen Ryu school where he mastered the art and received Menkyo Kaiden.

So what does swordsmanship have to do with Karate. Well, three things spring to mind.

1) Jigen Ryu is a very unusual sword school that practices not only Tameshigiri (test cutting) but also Tameshiwara (test hitting). Jigen Ryu practitioners hit a Makiwara with a wooden bokken. This could be the origin of the makiwara in Karate

2) JIgen Ryu teaches unorthodox weapons such as so-called farming implements in order to have a “Dad’s Army” style home guard to support the armed Samurai. This is one explanation for the popularity of weapons like Nunchaku, Tonfa, Eku and so on.

3) Jigen Ryu teaches a form called Empi (flying swallow) which could explain why this name was later applied to the kata Wansu. The style also had a notable “ancestor” called Jion which could account for the kata of that name.

Matsumura came to be called the “restorer” of Shuri Te and in the mid 1800s he began to teach some very notable students who were largely comprised of his fellow Shuri Castle employees.

In the 1840s and 1850s, Shuri Te and Tomari Te took another notable turn as another two Chinese masters visited Okinawa.

The first was Ason, who taught a highly unusual form known as Naifanchin (later Naihanchi and Tekki). This form was adopted into Shuri Te and became a key form of Toshu Jutsu in the capital. Just like Sanchin was the cornerstone of Naha Te, Naihanchi was an important fundamental form in Shuri.

Ason taught  his Naihanchi form to: Bushi Matsumura, Kitoku Sakayama, Gushi and Tomoyori.

The second was Anan (also called Chinto) in 1854 who may have been Vietnamese of Southern Chinese descent and a practitioner of an old White Crane style. Matsumura met Anan in Tomari and this gave rise to a new Tomari Te. Anan’s students included Kosaku Matsumora and Oyadomari who were also disciples of two Shuri Te masters, Kishin Teruya (1804-1864) and Giko Uku (1800-1850).

The Shuri style and the Tomari style were very closely linked and included some of the same forms. Headed by the likes of Matsumura (Shuri) and Matsumora (Tomari), these forms included, in approximate order of study:

1) Naihanchi (Tekki 1-3)
2) Channan (Pinan/Heian 1-2)
3) Passai and Passai Gwa (Bassai Dai and Sho)
4) Jutte and Jion
5) Chinto (Gankaku)
6) Seishan (Hangetsu)
7) Kushanku (Kanku Dai)
8) Useishi (Gojushiho)

Matsumura’s students included Kosaku Matsumora, Yasutsune Itosu (more on him later), Yasutsune Azato, Chotoku Kyan, Choki Motobu, Seisho Aragaki, and later Kentsu Yabu, Gichin Funakoshi and apparently Matsumura’s grandson Nabe Matsumura.

Of these, one of the shining lights was Aragaki Seisho, who had journied to China himself and trained at the same place at Matsumura and Kojo (which historians sometimes call the Kojo Dojo). Aragaki’s coach was Wai Shin Xian, a Hsing-I and White Crane stylist who taught him a number of forms.

Aragaki’s repertoire included:
1) Seishan
2) Sanchin
3) Niseishi (24 steps) related to the Shotokan form Nijushiho and the Goju form Sanseiru
4) Sochin
5) Wankan (Matsukaze) – possibly a corruption of the name Wai Shin Xian
6) Unsu related to the  Goju form Shisochin

In 1867, Aragaki led a public demonstration of Karate and Kobudo. This was the first public demo of Karate in the world, in which Kata, Kumite and Kobudo were demonstrated as an artform and a way of life.

The running order of the event was:

  • Tinbei and Rochin (shield and straight sword) by Maesato Peichin
  • Tesshaku (iron ruler or Sai) and Bo by Maesato and Aragaki
  • Seisan by Aragaki
  • Bojutsu and Toshu Jutsu by Maesato and Aragaki (unarmed vs staff)
  • Chishaukiun (Shisochin? or perhaps Preying Mantis) kata by Aragaki
  • Tinbei and Bojutsu (shield vs staff) by Tomimura Pechin and Aragaki
  • Tesshaku (Sai) by Maesato
  • Kou Shu (Kou as in Ku in Kumite, Shu as in Toshu) Maesato and Aragaki in two man sets
  • Shabo (wheel staff) by Shusai Ikemi Yagusuku (maybe Nunchaku?)
  • Suparinmpei by Tomimura
  • Kogusuku Peichin reading poetry and playing the Biwa lute

After this event, Karate came to be seen not as something private, not any more as just a way to protect oneself, but as a way of improving oneself.

Bushi Matsumura himself wrote: “Maturity promotes harmony and that a master of the martial arts should stay away from violence, deal well with people, be self-confident, keep peace with people and become financially stable.”

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