Sakugawa Ryu: Ryu-ha keizu (Hereditary transmission of a tradition)

Simon Keegan is the 8th generation head of Sakugawa Ryu since his great-great-great-great-great grandfather arrived in Okinawa. Since this time – around 1780 there have been numerous martial artists, soldiers, sailors and adventures in Japan and China. This page marks the family history of over 230 years of this tradition.

Simon’s father and uncle are martial artists and his great uncle was a Jujutsu blackbelt. Before that his grandfather and great uncle were taught to box by their grandfather. His father was in turn taught to box by his grandfather who spent 15 years in Okinawa working in shipping at the time Tode Sakugawa was working in shipping. For more information on the research side of this lineage read this article about the Bushin Ryu traditions.  This page is just designed to be a family tree of martial artists for those who may be interested.

Sakugawa Ryu: Eight generations of the Nilsson family

Sakugawa Ryu: Eight generations of the Nilsson family 1778-2014


Carl Nilsson, a pioneer in the field of oriental study

Carl Nilsson

B1762, Jönköping, Sweden
Great-great-great-great-great grandfather

Nils left Sweden in around 1778 to sail with the Swedish East India Trading Company. He followed in the footsteps of the earlier Carl Nilsson, a pioneer in oriental studies. Nils worked with Tode Sakugawa whose job it was to protect the cargo from pirates. Nils married Torborg on August 17, 1785 in Okinawa, Japan and his first son Johann was born on June 26, 1788 in Okinawa. In 1794 he returned to Sweden, remarried and had several other children including Johannes. My latest research suggests Nils worked with Sakugawa for around 15 years at a time when Sakugawa was honing his Kushanku-based fighting method and when he returned to Sweden, taught boxing to his sons and grandsons.

1805 in Visingsö, Jonkoping, Sweden
Great-great-great-great grandfather

Johannes was one of several sons of Nils and lived in Jonkoping and Koping (Kalmar). His two eldest brothers were born in Okinawa and Johannes like them was taught boxing. One of his sons was thought to have been born in around 1835 and was my great great great grandad Nils Johann Nilsson.

1837 in Finistere, Brittany
Great-great-great grandfather

Herve was born near Brest in Brittany and was the son of a magistrate. He joined Napolean III’s Royal Navy and in the 1850s the French fleets were sent to Japan and China. When the sailors returned they had a martial art called Chausson which was like a form of Kung Fu or Karate and based a lot on kicks. It was later refined on the streets of Paris to Savatte. Herve deserted the Navy in Newfoundland and then made his way to Liverpool.

Nils Johann Nilsson

Nils Johann Nilsson

1835 in Kalmar, Sweden
Great-great-great grandfather

Nils Johann was born in around 1835 and married Gustavea. They lived in Kalmar and had several children including August, Johann, Carl Johann and Gustavus. He is thought to have been named after his grandfather who lived in Okinawa.

Simon's great great grandfather August Nilsson, son of Nils Johann

August Nilsson great grandson of Nils of Okinawa

1866 in Kalmar, Sweden
Great-great grandfather

August Nilsson was a formidable man. Standing around 6’4″ he joined the Swedish Royal Navy in around 1880. He travelled all around the world – from Africa to New York – before making his home in Liverpool and changing his name to Nelson. He taught his sons and grandsons boxing. He died in 1956.

William Henry Nelson

William Henry Nelson

1896 in Liverpool
Great grandfather

William Henry was not a strapping six-footer like his father – in fact he prided himself on his small stature saying don’t judge a gun by its size, but by the strength of its powder. He served in World War I where he saw combat on the fields of France. When he returned he was known as the hardest man on the Liverpool docks and nicknamed The Mighty Elmo after an action film star of the time. He held boxing classes in his back yard for local children including his sons Jim and Billy.

Simon's grandad Jim Nelson

Simon’s grandad Jim Nelson

1923 in Liverpool

Charles James Nelson was taught to box as a child by his dad and recalled to me that one day in sparring his dad broke his nose (no pulled punches). Jim followed his dad into the army and served with the East Yorks. On D Day, his 21st birthday he landed on Sword Beach where Lord Lovatt’s commandoes entered the battle to the sound of bagpipes. Jim who specialised in the mortar rocket fought his way up the beach to Pegasus Bridge. After the war he served in Egypt and Palestine.

Bill Nelson's Navy pass

Bill Nelson’s Navy pass. He took after his grandad August who in turn followed in the tradition of his great grandad Nils

1924 in Liverpool
Great uncle

William Henry Nelson was also taught to box as a child by his dad but did not share his father and brother’s love of discipline to joined the merchant navy aged 14. He saw active service and was sunk in the battle of the Atlantic. After the war he joined Gerry Skyner’s Kawaishi Ryu Jujutsu school in Catherine Street and then studied Koizumi Ryu in Walton. He was a very early Jujutsu blackbelt in the 1940s.

Bill's Jujutsu instructor Professor Skyner

Bill’s Jujutsu instructor Professor Skyner

Simon's great uncle Ted a master at arms who served in Japan and China

Simon’s great uncle Ted a master at arms who served in Japan and China

1909 in Liverpool
Great uncle

Edward Molloy joined the Royal Navy aged 15 a few years before his father Edward (who fought in World war I and the Boer War) was murdered. In the Navy Ted rose to the high rank of Master at Arms, the only non NCO rank the required wearing a sword. He saw active service in Japan and China and also in the Spanish civil war.

2013: David Keegan performing an Iaido demo for a Japanese festival

David Keegan: Great great grandson of Herve Briant

1950 (Year of the Metal Tiger) in Liverpool

My father began his martial arts training over 50 years ago, training in Jujutsu under the Blundells in Kirkby. He later trained in Karate, Kobudo and stickfighting as well as various Yoga and meditation systems. In the 1980s he went to live and work in China which led to an interest in Tai Chi and Chi Kung which he began learning informally. He began formal study of Yang style Tai Chi, Sun style, Chinese weapons and Hsing-I Chuan around 18 years ago and trained under world champion students of Professor Li De Yin, a Chinese National Treasure whose family pioneered Tai Chi in Northern China. As well as training with Chinese masters like Li, he also competed in Tai Chi and was presented a trophy by the Mayor of Shanghai. While studying the classical Japanese art of Iaido Dave was recognised as a 4th Dan in Tai Chi by Japan’s oldest martial arts fraternity the Kokusai Budoin. In December 2013 he was awarded the grade of 5th Dan.


Paul Keegan

1950 (Year of the Metal Tiger) in Liverpool

My uncle and father trained in the same Judo/Jujutsu club in circa 1959 under the Blundells in Kirkby. My uncle however also studied Goju Ryu Karate and was a member of the To-Ken Society for Japanese swordsmanship.

Simon Keegan: Godan 5th Dan: Shobukan Karate 4th Dan Renshi: Jujutsu/Karate Jutsu 3rd Dan: Nisseikai Karatedo (Goju Ryu) 2nd Dan: Kodokwan Judo wnd Dan: Kung Fu (Taiji Quan)

Simon Keegan

1979 in Liverpool

I am eight generations removed from Nils who knew Tode Sakugawa in Okinawa, but the circle is complete through my study of Sakugawa Ryu Toshu Jutsu and my studies the Lost Book of Kushanku.

9th generation of the family: My daughter Poppy pictured on her 3rd birthday

9th generation of the family: My daughter Poppy pictured on her 3rd birthday


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