Sokon Matsumura: What did he actually teach?

Sokon Matsumura is arguably the most influential Karate master who ever lived. He taught masters like Itosu, Azato, Kyan, Motobu, Yabu and Funakoshi, his life spanned almost the entire 19th century. He is thought to have created kata like Bassai and Naihanchi and passed on forms like Channan, Kushanku, Gojushiho, Jutte, Chinto and Rohai. He served as bodyguard to the king of Okinawa and so there was likely not a person in Okinawa who did not fear and respect his skills. He was also a master of a Japanese sword style Jigen Ryu and of the Okinawan bo form Sakugawa no Kon Sho. Matsumura’s life was variously recorded as His life is reported variously as (c.1809-1901) or (1798–1890) or (1809–1896) or (1800–1892), therefore for the sake of simplicity a fair average to bear in mind is that he was born in about 1800 and died in about 1900.

So it seems like we know rather a lot about him. But do we really? Let’s examine the evidence and try to piece together the life of the man who is the great grandfather of styles like Shotokan, Shito Ryu, Matsubayashi Ryu, Ishin Ryu, Chito Ryu and Kobayashi Ryu.

Sokon Matsumura - pioneer of Naihanchi and Bassai

Sokon Matsumura – the most famous drawing of him

It has been suggested that the two men flanking the regent on this picture are Matsumura and Itosu. There is certainly a resemblance

It has been suggested that the two men flanking the regent on this picture are Matsumura and Itosu. There is certainly a resemblance

The following biography was taken from a Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu website (edited for brevity only)

Bushi Matsumura was born in 1797, and died in 1889. According to some sources, Bushi’s family name was Kayo. Matsumura grew up in Yamagawa village of the city of Shuri, Okinawa. He was partly Chinese. Sakugawa began training Bushi at Akata when he was 14 years old, in 1810. According to tradition, it was at Bushi’s father’s request that Sakugawa teach him. Some say that to train Bushi to block, Sakugawa tied to him to a tree so he could not move. Then he threw punches at him.

Sakugawa trained him up until his death, and then Sokon was probably on his own for a while. According to oral history, he studied under Sakugawa for 4 years.

Bushi was recruited into the service of the Sho family. At that time, Sho Ko, the king of Okinawa, desired to have him change his last name, as was the custom, and suggested the name Muramatsu (Muramachi), or “village pine.” After discussing the matter with some friends and relatives, he decided that Matsumura (Machimura), or “pine village”, would be more appropriate. Sokon asked the king to let him change the name to that, and the request was granted. Some say this happened at age 17, which would probably put it around 1813.

Many sources say that Bushi Matsumura trained in China, and it is certainly a strong tradition. Hohan Soken said that Bushi trained at “Fukien Shaolin” for 26 years and some months [nobody else suggests he trained there for such a long time]

Some prominent students of Bushi Matsumura were Yasutsune Itosu and Chotoku Kyan, although there were many more. Itosu’s head student and successor was Chosin Chibana, who formed Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu from Itosu’s version of Shuri-Te. Kyan’s students formed Shobayashi Shorin-ryu from his personal brand of Shuri-te. Another student of Itosu was Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan. Once in a while, Itosu would take him to study under Bushi Matsumura. He was also a student of Azato.

Keeping with Samurai tradition, a close family member was selected as his successor in his personal system. His grandson Nabi Matsumura was chosen. Nabi’s birth and death dates are kept secret.

Bushi’s senior student was Itosu. Because of that, it is assumed by some that Itosu was his successor. However, Nabi was the heir to Bushi’s personal system. Itosu added some to it, creating his own system. He was not a blood relative to the Matsumura family, and could not be the successor to the family style therefore, although he was a great master. In 1928, Chosin Chibana became head of Itosu’s system following Itosu’s death. It was at that time that Chibana designated Itosu’s version of Shuri-te as Shorin-Ryu. The pure and unchanged Matsumura Shuri-te taught by Nabi and Soken was not known as Shorin-Ryu until Soken changed the name later.

Some say Nabi Matsumura was very strict and secretive. Others received the glory, but he remained in obscurity. Possibly, he wished it to be that way. Not much information is available about him. His birth and death date are either not known, or are kept secret. It is said he was born in the 1850’s and died in the 1930’s. Nabi inherited everything his grandfather possessed, including his title “Bushi Matsumura.” Nabi’s wife and first child died soon after the child’s birth. He did remarry later.

That’s the accepted history of Matsumura. But what do we really know?

Firstly, sources which quote Matsumura as teaching a variety of kata (typically including Chinto, Rohai, Jutte, Gojushiho etc) are possibly making one of two errors 1) Confusing Matsumura with Matsumora (even the Karatedo Kyohan makes this translation error and 2) assuming that because Itosu taught certain kata, because Matsumura was his teacher he must have taught them too. But this theory does not take into consideration the possibility that Itosu learnt them from someone else.

In his 1932 book, “Watashi no Tode Jutsu,” Motobu is quoted as saying: “Sensei Itosu was a pupil of Sensei Matsumura, but he was disliked by his teacher for he was very slow (speed of movement). There (in the dojo) for although Itosu sensei was diligent in his practice his teacher did not care about him so he (Itsou) left and went to sensei Nagahama.”

Nagahama may be the same man who Funakoshi cited as a Naha Te teacher and fellow student (along with Aragaki) of Wai Shinxian.

Bassai: One of the most importaant kata in Shorin Ryu yet little is known of it

Gichin Funakoshi practicing Bassai Dai a kata almost always associated with Matsumura

The testimony of Gichin Funakoshi

Funakoshi also seems to say that while Azato was a primary student of Matsumura, Itosu, while a student of Matsumura was mainly a student of Gusukuma of Tomari.

In his book To-te Jutsu Funakoshi states, “It is confirmed through written documents and collections that … Asato followed Matsumura and Itosu followed Gusukuma, according to what has been told through generations.”

In his later text, “Karate-do Kyohan” (page 8, 1973 edition), Funakoshi says again that “It is stated that masters Azato and Itosu were Students of Matsumura and Gusukuma respectively. Masters Azato and Itosu were the teachers who instructed this writer and to whom the writer is greatly indebted”

So if Itosu learnt let’s say Jutte, Chinto, Chinte and Rohai from Gusukuma it is still a reasonable bet that he learnt Kushanku and Bassai from Matsumura. We should note that styles which claim descent from Matsumura seem to include the kata Seisan but it would appear this was not an Itosu form. In the Lost Book of Kushanku I suggested that Matsumura brought Seisan back from China in 1828.

In the Karate-do Kyohan Funakoshi lists Matsumura’s teacher as Iwah. He writes:

Matsumura of Shuri and Maesato and Kogusoku [Kojo] of Kume, with the military attache Iwah.

In The Lost Book of Kushanku I made the argument that Matsumura learnt Wansu Quan (derived from Hsing-I Quan) and Kushanku Quan (derived from Taiji Quan) from Sakugawa, and learnt Bazi Quan from Dong Hai Chuan (Hai Wa or Iwah) from which he developed Bassai. I also detailed his training in Jigen Ryu Bujutsu in Japan. But now let’s go directly to primary sources. Funakoshi is a good source because he personally trained with Matsumura but trained at greater length with Matsumura’s students Itosu and Azato.

In Karatedo My Way Of Life, Funakoshi calls Matsumura “one of the greatest Karateka.” He tells a story about Matsumura as an old man.

A stone engraver asks “aren’t you Matsumura, the Karate teacher?” and he finds that Matsumura has grown disillusioned with Karate. The reason is because of an incident in which Matsumura was teaching “the head of the clan”. Matsumura asked the chieftain to attack him and the chieftain lunged in with a double kick (presumably a double jumping kick as in Kanku Dai) and Matsumura blocked the kick with a shuto and slammed his body into the chieftain. He knocked the chieftain across the room, almost knocked him out cold and was immediately fired. The engraver ended up challenging Matsumura to a fight, which Matsumura won simply by staring at his opponent who lost his never and became paralysed with fear. Matsumura was subsequently re-appointed by the clan chief.

In this book Funakoshi also mentions learning the Pinan kata, Naihanchi, Chinto, Bassai, Seishan, Jutte, Jion and Sanchin from his teachers, but he does not say from which teacher he learnt each form.

[Edited par] In Karate Do My Way of Life Funakoshi recalls learning kata from Azato. He writes: “Often in the backyard off the Azato house, as the master looked on, I would practice Kata time and again, week after week, sometimes month after month until I had mastered it to my teacher’s satisfaction… Practice was strict and I was never permitted to move on to another kata until Azato was convinced that I had satisfactorily understood the one I had been working on.” So although Funakoshi does not name the kata he learnt off Azato, the implication was that he learnt at least three (he went through the progress of learning a new kata at least twice). It is not thought Azato taught the Heian forms so it is likely these first forms were Naihanchi or perhaps Seisan although it is also possibly Funakoshi learnt Bassai and Kanku off Azato.

In the Karatedo Nyumon Funakoshi says “as far as I know the only styles that have been handed down from the past are the Goju Ryu of Master Miyagi and the Shito Ryu of Master Mabuni. I have never given a name to the Karate I am studying but some of my students call it Shotokan Ryu.” He later mentions Shorin Ryu and Shorei Ryu but points out these are not styles but “types” of Karate, therefore Shotokan or Goju Ryu could contain both Shorin and Shorei type forms.

Here other styles are conspicuous by their absense. It may be that Funakoshi considers Shito Ryu and Goju Ryu to have both developed from the teachings of Aragaki and Higaonna, and that he alone is the successor of Itosu, Azato and Matsumura. Or perhaps the other Okinawan masters just did not use Ryu names for their styles.

In this book Funakoshi does not name a single kata taught by Azato or Matsumura. He states that he and Azato’s son used to go and train with Itosu together. And states that Itosu taught him the Pinan and Naihanchi forms, however despite Itosu being a student of Matsumura we need not assume that Itosu learnt all his kata from Matsumura.

In this book Funakoshi repeats the story of the stone engraver, but this time he is a metal craftsman called Uehara. In this version of the story the clan chief would appear to be the king himself since it is at the castle that Matsumura loses his job.

Anko Itosu, pioneer of the Pinan forms

Anko Itosu in the only known photograph of him (according to Kinjo Hiroshi). He was the best known student of Matsumura

Which kata did Itosu teach?

Chosin Chibana claimed to teach Karate exactly as it had been taught to him by Itosu. Chibana was of exceptional character and we have no reason to doubt this. The kata taught by Chibana to Higa in Shorin Ryu (also written Kobayashi Ryu) were as follows (source: Mark Bishop):

  • Pinan Shodan and Nidan (possibly developed from a kata called Channan)
  • Pinan Sandan, Yondan, Godan (possibly created by Itosu)
  • Naihanchi (Itosu likely learnt this from Matsumura)
  • Naihanchi Nidan and Sandan (developed by Itosu)
  • Bassai Dai (Itosu likely learnt this from Matsumura)
  • Bassai Sho*
  • Kanku Dai  (Itosu likely learnt this from Matsumura)
  • Kanku Sho**
  • Chinto (Itosu probably learnt this from Gusukuma)
  • Chinte (Itosu probably learnt this from Gusukuma)
  • Unsu (usually attributed to Aragaki but possibly learnt from Nagahama of Naha)
  • Jion (possibly based on Jutte, either learnt from Matsumura or Gusukuma)
  • Gojushiho (source unknown, perhaps learnt from Matsumura)

* It is often written that Itosu developed Bassai Sho and Kanku Sho but it seems they were developed from local versions of the kata such as Bassai Gwa and Chatanyara no Kushanku.

1920s Karate demo by Funakoshi and his students. The inset pics may be Itosu and Azato

1920s Karate demo by Funakoshi and his students. The inset pics may be Itosu and Azato

Azato Ankoh “A Short Story About My Teacher” by Funakoshi Gichin (Translated and edited by Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy). Edited for brevity:

My teacher, Azato Ankoh, held the honorable rank of Keimochi (not unlike that of a lower Daimyo in Japanese society.) In spite of his first name being Ankoh, he used the pen name Rinkakusai when signing the plethora of literary compositions he authored. Since his youth Azato had been referred to as the “child prodigy” because he excelled in both the fighting traditions and in his literary studies as well. By the time that the Ryukyu Kingdom was abolished, Azato had become a well-known politician holding the post of Minister of State.

A contemporary of Itosu Ankoh, Azato was more than just his esteemed colleague; they were also very close friends. Responsible for fountain heading the movement, which introduced the defensive tradition into the public school system, Itosu had such an enormous impact upon the growth and direction of karate that even local children knew his reputation. In fact, both Azato and Itosu were both regarded as brother bushi (Bujin) and respected as such.

Together, Azato and Itosu had diligently studied the martial arts under the strict tutelage of Matsumura Sokon. An advocate of Chinese ways, instruction under that taskmaster was always conducted early in the morning before dawn until the sun came up, without change or observation of holidays. During those times, Azato sensei was also studying at the National school where he was peerless. Especially in the study of the Chinese classics, Azato was an honor student and received financial scholarship amounting to more than his tuition.

During my teacher’s youth, few martial arts enthusiasts could ever afford the supplementary training equipment, which is commonly associated with the practice these days. However, Azato was an exception because he was from a family of wealth and position that could afford such things. In fact, his home virtually looked like one big training facility. Both standing and hanging makiwara (impact equipment) were located in various rooms of the Azato residence, along with other training equipment, which included wooden cudgels and swords of various configurations, a wooden-man, stone weights, iron balls for grip-strength development, shield & machete, flails, iron truncheons, and even a wooden horse for mounting practice and archery spotting. Master Azato had created a living environment where he could train at anytime and anywhere he liked.

Sensei also loved archery and diligently studied under Master Sekiguchi, and, like his teacher (Matsumura Sokon) before him, so too did Azato study Jigenryu swordsmanship directly under the noted Japanese instructor Ishuin Yashichiro. However, among all the combative disciplines, it was the swordsmanship of Jigenryu that sensei most ’s favored. I remember that whenever sensei got excited he used to say to me, “I’m ready to compete anytime if the opponent is serious.” In my opinion, sensei was peerless in karate but judging by his preoccupation with Jigenryu, swordsmanship was his real passion.

One day sensei and his good friend, Itosu Ankoh, were confronted by a small throng of 20 or 30 young men. Seriously mismatched, and in a less than accommodating location, the two decided to bolt taking refuge in a nearby house. At least there they could wait until the throng decided to disperse and leave, or fight them on more equal terms. Set upon fighting, the young men were excited and swarmed over the house like bees a hive. During their assault on the house Azato leaped out from the window and surprised the hoodlums when he began to dispatch them. Engaging the gang on the other side of the house, Master Itosu was able to quickly discourage anyone else from continuing to act foolishly.

In spite of using only a single blow to dispatch each of the hoodlums that he confronted, Azato’s defense was brutally effective, leaving some of the young offenders seriously injured. In contrast to Azato’s confrontation Itosu left more victims lying around the back of the house, but seriously injured no one. Judging by this anecdote one might be able to better understand the varying ways in which two experts might handle the same dangerous situation.

“Actually,” sensei told me, “It doesn’t matter if it is swordsmanship or karate, the principles of combative engagement remain the same regardless. For example, if I purposely make an opening in an attempt to deceive my opponent, the chances are that he will try to attack it . Expecting such a thing, I can exploit his movement and overcome his weakness.

An old saying maintains that people of lower rank like to copy the actions of the upper ranks. During Azato’s time there were a group of brave young men in his village with little or no moral constitution. They often took pleasure in showing off and sometimes even picked on weak or helpless passers-by at night. As such, Azato’s village developed a terrible reputation for unprovoked violence. Learning of this situation, Azato sensei decided to remedy the problem and developed a plan. Changing his cloths to look like a commoner, he strolled through the village late one night. Sure enough, not long after he entered the village district, a person jumped out from the cover of night and attacked him without warning or provocation. With no intention to mortally injure the man, sensei dropped him with a single shot to the head.

Among his favorite books were Sun Tsu’s “Art of War,” “The Six Strategies of War,” Lao Tsu’s “Tao Te Ching,” “San Lue,” Wei Ryao Zi,” “Su Ma fa,” and “Tang Ling Wen Dui.” Master Azato believed that “The Art of War,” was the Bible for all martial artists. Whenever I recall the fact that sensei had not published his knowledge, philosophy and application for future generations, I can not help but feel empty. 

New section: Lost interview with Choki Motobu

An interview with Choki Motobu confirms he was taught by Matsumura (as well as Matsumora) and states that Matsumura taught the kata Naihanchi.

“I was taught by the renowned Matsumura and the renowned Sakuma, both from Shuri. I was also taught by Matsumora from Tomari, Pēchin Kunigami (Kunjan in Okinawan) and Itosu, as well as on occasion by “Yanbaru” Kunishi from Kumoji. Among all these instructors, the two with whom I was closest and shared emotional bonds with were Matsumora from Tomari, and Sakuma from Shuri.”

It may well be that Choki Motobu’s Naihanchi is the closest we have to a glimpse of Matsumura’s Karate:

Motobu Naihanchi 2

Or perhaps his “great grandson” Hohan Sokon:

Other stories about Matsumura’s exploits

Richard Kim tells us some information with at least dates, but he does not attribute a source:

Once under the tutelage of Sakugawa, Bushi Matsumura developed quickly into a proficient martial arts expert. By the winter of 1816 [when he was 19 by my preferred birth date of 1797] he was deemed valuable enough to be recruited into imperial service as a Chikudin, allowing him to feel secure enough to marry two years later. Her name was Yonamine Chiru.

Kim tells half a dozen stories about Matsumura. One is Funakoshi’s Uehara story, another is a strange incident where Matsumura fights a strange who turns out to be his own wife. In another he is forced to fight a bull and so secretly broke the spirit of the bull leading up to the fight by stabbing it with a needle. He does however tell one story of actual combat, where Matsumura ducks a Sai and destroys an opponent’s wrist by striking it with a Tessen fan,

Kim also states that in 1846, Itosu became a student of Matsumura who, it is implied taught him strictly for eight years.

Matsumura Seito: Is it really his family system?

Founder of Matsumura Seito, Hohan Soken gave an interview (read the original here):

“My style comes from Kiyo Soken. To mark the occasion when Kiyo was appointed the chief bodyguard to King Sho Ko (and later to Sho Iku and then Sho Tai), he was allowed to change his name. This was a custom back then, especially if something important or notable happened to you; he changed his name to Matsumura — Matsumura Soken. It was later that King Sho Tai officially gave Matsumura the title of “Bushi,” and to this day he is, with affection, referred to as Bushi Matsumura.

“When Bushi Matsumura died he left the “hands” of his teachings to my uncle, who was his grandson, Matsumura Nabe. My mother was Nabe-tanmei’s sister. Tanmei means “respected senior or respected old man.” This was and still is a title of much respect in Okinawa. I became a student of my uncle around 1902 or 1903 and learned the original methods of Uchinan Sui-di, as it was then called.”

When asked about Kata, Hohan replied that Kushanku (ie Kanku Dai) was the most important form:

“The most important Matsumura Seito kata is the kusanku. Sometimes we would practice the kusanku (Kanku) with kanzashi (hairpins) held in the hands – this was a common method of fighting. The hairpins were symbols of rank and many Okinawans carried them for decoration and also for protection.”

When asked if he taught the white crane kata Hakucho, Hohan replied:

“No, hakucho is another kata that, I believe, came from the Chinese tea seller, Go Kenki. He moved to Japan but my kata is much different. I call it hakutsuru. It was about… no, it was after ten years of training my uncle taught me the most secret kata of Matsumura Seito shorin-ryu, the hakutsuru (white crane) kata.”

When asked to elaborate on the kata he taught, he replied:

“I teach the Matsumura kata. The kata that I teach now are pinan shodan, pinan nidan, naihanchi shodan, naihanchi nidan, patsai-sho and dai, chinto, gojushiho, kusanku, rohai ichi-ni-san, and last, the hakutsuru. The last one is my favorite kata that I demonstrate – because it is easier to do. When I was young, the best kata was the kusanku. This is the Matsumura kusanku — the older version that is not done much now.

Note: The Shotokan names for the above kata are respectively: Heian Nidan, Heian Shodan, Tekki Shodan, Tekki Nidan, Bassai Sho and Dai, Gankaku, Gojushiho, Kanku Dai, Meikyo and it has been said Hakutsuru resembles Nijushiho.

The trouble with Hohan Sokon’s testimony is that there is no credible reference to Sokon Matsumura’s grandson Nabe. People who we know trained at that time like Gichin Funakoshi wrote about Matsumura and mentioned his students such as Itosu and Azato, but none of all of them it seems neglected to mention the man who Matsumura left his legacy to and who inherited his secret family kata.

On a martial arts forum one poster summed up the inconsistencies when he wrote:

[Hohan Soken’s]  karate was pretty much Itosu’s karate or rather Chibana’s karate. Apparently at least some of the senior students of Chibana are saying this. Matsumura Seito currently contains also some of Kyan’s karate in it, courtesy of Fusei Kise (such as kata Ananku, which was created by Kyan).
Here are, however, some other inconsistencies as to why the story of learning from Bushi Matsumura is a debatable:

The kata that Hohan Soken taught contain some that we know with relative certainty were not taught by Bushi Matsumura. The kata that are known to have been taught by Bushi Matsumura are Seisan, Gojushiho, Kusanku and Naifanchi. However, Hohan Soken also taught Chinto, Rohai and Wansu, all “Tomarite” kata. Where did those come from? It is likely that Matsumura knew at least Chinto, but apparently he never taught it to anyone. Maybe he didn’t know it all that well, and was just familiar with it.
Additionally Hohan Soken taught at least two Pinan kata. Where did those come from? Because with almost absolute certainty we can say that Bushi Matsumura did not have those
The most “damning” evidence to me is the physical appearance of kata. Let’s look at kata Chinto: Hohan Soken performing Chinto versus Shorin ryu Shidokan Chinto (Shorin ryu Shidokan is the Shorin school of Katsuya Miyahira, a student of Chibana). To my eye they look very similar. Now comparing those to Seibukan version and the differences in execution come even more apparent.
Also, Matsumura Seito apparently teaches two versions of at least Passai kata (Sho and Dai), another “trademark” of the Itosu lineage

To me, the logical explanation for these is that Hohan Soken learned karate from Chibana. As to why he would feel to need to fabricate the lineage, I honestly don’t know (if that is what actually happened, after all, I’m just speculating). He certainly wouldn’t be the first nor the last to do so. 

It all comes down to whose story you choose to believe. I’ve “chosen” to believe that Nabe Matsumura most likely didn’t exist, based on the evidence above and discussions with my seniors. If anyone disagrees with me, I would love see their evidence.

Richard Kim presents a Kata, Matsumura Bassai, While it seems some confused Matsumura with Matsumora it does not appear Kim had any trouble differentiating between the two.

Choki Motobu, who at least knew of Matsumura and trained with Matsumora listed kata too but did not attribute them to any particular masters. He did however allocate Wansu and Rohai (Empi and Meikyo) to the Tomari schools and lists Sanchin, Seishan, Gojushiho, Seiunchin, Naihanchi, Bassai, Chinto, Chinte, Wansu, Rohai and Kushanku as being “from ancient days.” He identifies Sanchin, Gojushiho, Seisan and Seiunchin as being old Chinese forms. (Here I note that Seiunchin contains movements similar to Rohai). Motobu identifies Naihanchi, Chinto, Bassai and Rohai as being forms no longer found in China.

Clips of the Matsumura Seito style:

Places and items associated with Matsumura

The website Karate by Jesse identifies the place Matsumura used to teach and also shows the room where Matsumura’s Bo is kept.

According to Jesse, the space where Matsumura used to teach

According to Jesse, the space where Matsumura used to teach

According to Jesse a Bo belonging to Matsumura

According to Jesse a Bo belonging to Matsumura

Matsubayashi Ryu

Matsubayashi Ryu (which like Kobayashi Ryu may also be pronounced Shorin Ryu) was developed by Shoshin Nagamine based on his studies under masters like Chotoku Kyan and Choki Motobu whose Karate was more influenced by Matsumura and Matsumora than by Itosu.

The kata taught in Matsubayashi Ryu are (source: Bishop):

  • Gekisai (developed by Nagamine and Chojun Miyagi)
  • Pinan 1-5
  • Naihanchi 1-3
  • Ananku (developed by Kyan)
  • Wankan
  • Rohai
  • Wansu
  • Bassai
  • Gojushiho
  • Chinto
  • Kushanku

To understand where these kata came from, we can go back to Joen Nakazato, a student of Chotoku Kyan who listed origins for Kyan’s forms (source: Bishop):

  • Seisan, Naihanchi and Gojushiho (from Matsumura)
  • Kushanku (from Chatan Yara)
  • Passai (from Oyadomari)
  • Wansu (via Kosaku Matsumora)

Matsumura’s letter to a student:

On May 13, 1882 Sokon Matsumura sent a makimono (hand written scroll) to his student, Ryosei Kuwae:

“Make a firm resolution to master the secrets of martial arts, otherwise go away. You must have the firm determination to accomplish the resolution.

The sword and the pen are but one. Literature consists of poetry, exegetics, and Confucianism. A student of poetry works at words and produces sentences in order to seek fame, peerage and fief. A student of exegetics studies Chinese classics to instruct people. He may make a scholar but ignorant of the world. Poetry and exegetics only make people woo fame, thus they are not the true art. Confucianism, however, makes us understand the nature of things. By the teachings on knowledge, honesty, and righteousness one may not only be able to manage a household but govern a country. Thus peace will reign over the land. These are Confucian ideas, the true art.

In the case of martial arts, there are three kinds of pursuers. A scholar pictures many ways of training in his mind so that his moves become like movements of dance; superficial and of no practical use for offense and defense. A normal student of martial arts is a good promiser of victory, but a bad performer. A dispute caused by such a man will harm people as well as himself. It will even bring disgrace upon his parents, brothers and sisters. The true pursuer of martial arts, however, does not idle away his time but accomplishes his talk ingeniously. He controls his mind and watches for a chance. His calm arouses a disturbance among enemies. He then grabs this chance and defeats the enemy. Everything ripens and the mystery of nature shows its secret to the master of martial arts, who has no hesitation or disturbance in his mind even in case of emergency. The power of a tiger and the swiftness of an eagle dwell within him. he defeats enemies completely and shows his loyalty and filial piety. 

There are seven virtues in martial arts: the prohibition of violence, the control of soldiers, the support for people’s need, the establishment of distinguished services, the relief of the poor, the settlement of disputes among people and the enrichment of assets. As seen in his teachings, Confucius also praised these virtues. Thus the sword and the pen are but one, whereas the scholar’s martial arts and the ostensible martial arts are useless. Therefore study the true literary and martial arts. Be sure to watch for a chance and then strike into the enemy. Keep the above words in mind and practice hard. I wish you understand my unreserved words.” 

Ishimine Ryu

A student of Matsumura’s who it seems was not influenced by Itosu was Bushi Ishimine. His style consisted only of a few kata, namely Kumade Sanchin (a unique bear form), Sanchin, Naihanchi and Bassai.

Once again there is the suggestion that Matsumura, like Motobu and seemingly Azato may have only practiced a few kata. In Azato’s case we have already established though that he taught at least three.

Matsumura’s grandson

Although Hohan Soken is most famous for his claims to be the descendant of Matsumura, there is another Karate master with that honour.

Tsuyoshi Chitose 10th Dan, founder of Chito Ryu (1898-1984) was the grandson of Matsumura. His style, as well as being it would seem a pun on his name Chitose, used the name Chito because Chi means 1,000 and To (as in Toshu Jutsu) means Tang Dynasty – he was therefore referring to his style as containing 1,000 year old Chinese Kung Fu.

Chitose was a maternal grandson of Matsumura. He began his training  under Aragaki Seishō in 1905. He was seven years old and continued to train with Seisho until 1913/1914. While there is some discrepancy as to whether Chitose’s first kata was Sanchin or Seisan, his book “Kenpō Karate-dō” states that he learned Sanchin from Aragaki for seven years before being taught another. Chitose’s Nijushiho is said to resemble Hakutsuru.

Interestingly a student of Azato (who it seems only ever studied Karate under Matsumura) also practiced Nijushiho:

“Although some sources say that Funakoshi was Azato’s only student, Hisataka Masayoshi (Kori) (1907-1988) learned the kata Niseishi (Nijushiho) from him. Hisataka founded his school of Shorinjiryu Kendokan Karatedo in 1945 (Ross).

Taiji Kase, a student of Gigo Funakoshi seemed to suggest that Sochin (along with Nijushiho usually considered an Aragaki form) also came from the Matsumura-Azato branch.

He stated: “Matsumura Sokon was the bodyguard of the king of Okinawa. With him he traveled to Kyushu, Japan and there he got to see Kendo. He was very impressed of the style Jigenji-Ryu therefore he studied this martial art in Kyushu. In Jigenji-Ryu they do big techniques as well and this influenced Matsumuras Karate. He taught it to Azato Sensei and Azato Sensei taught it to Funakoshi Sensei.

“And another example is the Kata Sochin, only in Shotokan we do sochin. A few years back Sensei Shirai went to Okinawa to study some Goju-Ryu. The instructors asked him to show one of his favourite Kata, and Shirai showed sochin. The Okinawan instructors were very surprised, because they said this must be samurai sochin, they thought the kata was lost”.

Chito Ryu also includes a unique version of Sochin.

Chito Ryu also includes a form called Sanshiryu which by some accounts resembles Gojushiho.

A biography of Chitose states:

From a young age he studied under the respected teacher Aragaki O. During his studies he was initiated into the secrets of the kata Sanchin, Koryu (ancient) kata, Bojutsu, etc. In May 1918 Aragaki O passed away (aged 82).
From Chinen Sanryo O of Shuri, he was initiated into Bojutsu at the same time as Shihan Chojo Oshiro and Gichin Funakoshi (O Sensei’s Elementary School teacher)
From Kinjo O of Shuri, he was initiated into Torite taiho at the same time as Choshin Chibana Sensei, an authority on Okinawan Karate-Do. 
From Kanryo Higaonna O of Naha, he mastered the katas Saifa, Seipai, Kururunfa and Tensho at the same time as Chojun Miyagi (who was a close friend of O Sensei).
Choyu Motobu Sensei of Shuri initiated him into the katas Unsu and Wansu.
From Chotoku Kyan Sensei of Kadena, Nakagamigun he mastered the katas Chinto and Kusanku. Along with Ankichi Aragaki he also mastered the katas Passai, Ananko.
From Chomu Hanagusuku Sensei of Sogenji he was initiated into the kata Jion.
From Kojo O of Kume Village, Naha and Maezato O he mastered Sai, Nunchaku, Tonfa and the kata Tsuken suna kake.

Skills Matsumura taught:

  • Japanese swordsmanship
  • Okinawan Bo staff
  • Deadly striking techniques and body evasion
  • The values of Bushido and Confucianism

Skills Matsumura probably taught (based on what Azato taught):

  • Wooden cudgels (perhaps Tonfa and Tanjo)
  • Chinese or Okinawan swords
  • Wooden-man and makiwara
  • stone weights and iron balls for grip-strength development
  • Shield & machete (Tinbei and Rochin)
  • flails (perhaps Nunchaku)
  • iron truncheons (perhaps Sai)

Kata almost certainly taught by Matsumura:

  • Bassai (Bassai Dai)
  • Naihanchi (Tekki) – confirmed by Choki Motobu
  • Seisan (Hangetsu)
  • Kushanku (Kanku Dai)
  • Useishi (Gojushiho)

Kata possibly taught by Matsumura:

  • Chinto (Gankaku)
  • Sanchin
  • Jutte and/or Jion
  • Rohai (Meikyo) and/or Seiunchin
  • Wansu (Empi)
  • Hakutsuru and/or Nijushiho
  • Bassai Sho
  • Channan (Heian Shodan and Nidan)
  • Sochin


1798: Sokon Matsumura is born
1810: Sokon Matsumura studies under Sakugawa and learns Kushanku
1816: Matsumura become a bodyguard
1818: Matsumura marries Yonamine
1828: Sokon Matsumura travels to China and studies Seishan under the Chinese master Iwah and develops the kata Bassai
1829: Kosaku Matsumora is born in Tomari
1832: Yasutsune Itosu is born
1834: Matsumura trains in Satsuma
1840: Seisho Aragaki is born
1846: Matsumura begins teaching Itosu
1848: Kojo Sho Sei and Kojo Isei travel to Fuchou to study under Iwah. In addition to forms he teaches them the “hand spear” and archery
1850: Ason comes to Okinawa and teaches Naihanchi to Sakiyama, Gushi and Tomoyori
1850: Matsumura’s grandson Nabe is apparently born
1853: Aragaki begins training in Shuri under Kitoku Sakayama. Higaonna Kanryo is born
1854: Anan (also known as Chinto) arrives in Tomari. He teaches Kosaku Matsumora.
1867: Aragaki begins teaching Higaonna in Naha.
1889: Hohan Soken is born
1900: Approximate death of Matsumura
1915: Death of Itosu

Matumura’s teachings in the Bushinkai Academy

  • Channan. A basic form which can be performed with a cudgel (Jo) now known as Heian Shodan and Heian Nidan
  • A basic flail (Nunchaku) form which resembles what we now call Heian Sandan
  • A basic cutlass form which resembles what we now call Heian Yondan
  • A basic Bo form derived from Sakugawa’s Bo teachings which we now call Heian Godan
  • Naihanchi, a fundamental form Matsumura learnt from Ason and passed to Itosu that we now call Tekki
  • Gekisai, a form developed by Shoshin Nagamine based on his studies with Matsumura’s students Kyan and Motobu
  • Bassai Dai, a form developed by Matsumura
  • Wansu, the oldest Karate kata passed on by Matsumura’s teacher Sakugawa which we now call Empi
  • Kushanku, according to Hohan Soken the most important Matsumura kata
  • Nijushiho a form related to Matsumura’s Hakutsuru
  • Bassai Sho, a form that can be performed using Jigen Ryu katana movements
  • Seisan (Hangetsu) and Jutte, Chinese forms taught by Matsumura
  • Kanku Sho, based on Chatan Yara’s version of Kushanku
  • Gojushiho and Rohai (Meikyo) two of the most advanced Matsumura forms

For information on joining Bushinkai simply email or email our chief instructor directly on


Van Dang Martial Arts (Hakutora Dojo)
Newton Street Manchester

when you hold your hands together in Bassai and draw inwards...

Bassai, favourite kata of Matsumura


Rohai (Meikyo) is sometimes attributed to Matsumura

Simon Keegan 5th Dan and Kicki Holm 2nd Dan

The long oak Bo was Matsumura’s weapon of choice

Read Part Two here


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