Sakugawa Ryu Toshu Jutsu: Hereditary tradition detailed

The name of our Karate tradition in Bushinkai is Sakugawa Ryu. And with good reason – Kanga ‘Tode’ Sakugawa who lived in the 18th century was one of the main pioneers of the art of Toshu Jutsu (Karate). He taught people like Sokon Matsumura, who in turn taught men like Itosu and Azato. Azato’s famous student was Gichin Funakoshi, and Itosu also taught people like Mabuni, Chibana, Toyama and many more. Funakoshi was the teacher of masters like Nakayama, Kanazawa, Enoeda, Ohtsuka, Mochizuki and many more. But there is also our family tradition in the martial arts since Bushinkai headteacher Simon Keegan, follows in a family tradition since his great-great-great-great-great grandfather served in a shipping vessel in Okinawa at precisely the time Sakugawa also worked on the cargo ships. The family boxing tradition over eight generations is detailed on this page. Much of what is on this particular page is not germain to the martial arts we teach but acts as a record from a genealogical point of view of the family succession.

Primary Lineage:

1) Tode Sakugawa (student of Takahara and Wang Zongyue)
2) Sokon Matsumura (also trained with Iwah and Ason)
3) Anko Azato
4) Gichin Funakoshi (also trained with Itosu, Matsumura and Kojo)
6) Hirokazu Kanazawa (also trained with Nakayama, Chibana and Higa)
7) PAJ Handyside (also trained with Kato, Chew)
8) Simon Keegan (also trained with Carruthers, Parsons, Bullough, Nobetsu, Keegan)

Family lineage:

1) Nils (contemporary with Tode Sakugawa in Okinawa circa 1790s)
2) Johannes Nilsson
3) Nils Johann Nilsson
4) August Nilsson (Swedish Navy 1880s)
5) William Henry Nelson (British Army WWI)
6) Jim (British Army WWII) and Bill Nelson (Jujutsu blackbelt, British Navy WWI)
8) Simon Keegan (grandson of Jim, great nephew of Bill)

Is the Bushinkai school of Toshu Jutsu one of the oldest Okinawan lineages to be passed on in a hereditary tradition outside of Japan? It may well be  – as the present Sakugawa Ryu head teacher Simon Keegan is eight generations removed from his ancestor Nils who lived in Okinawa over 200 years ago in the time of Tode Sakugawa. Since then his father, uncles, grandfather, great uncles, great grandparents and so on have to varying degrees studied the martial arts, practised pugilism, serving in the army and navy and in some cases returned to the Far East. This page is a working document that will present all the findings and evidence we can find of this tradition.

Sakugawa Ryu: Eight generations of the Nilsson family

Sakugawa Ryu: Eight generations of the Nilsson family

In brief:

The oldest family traditions in Okinawa are those of the Motobu family and the Kojo family but even they were only formalised in the 1940s. Our family tradition is the same. Nils went to Okinawa in the 1780s but it was not until his great great great grandson Bill Nelson became a blackbelt in the 1940s that the tradition became formal.

Simon Keegan is the son of David Keegan who is the principal of Bushinkai’s Metal Tiger Academy. Simon’s great uncle Bill Nelson (originally Nilsson) was a Jujutsu blackbelt and he and Simon’s grandfather were taught to box by their father and grandfather (Simon’s great great grandfather August Nilsson). August was the son of Nils Johann who was believed to be the son of Johannes Nilsson of Kalmar, whose father Nils (the original “Nilsson”) lived in Okinawa for around 20 years.

Nils worked for a shipping firm at the same time as Karate pioneer Tode Sakugawa and later the Nilsson family fathers always taught their sons to box. Did this boxing tradition begin with Nils observing the Karate of Tode Sakugawa and subsequently this boxing being passed through the generations? If so, this quite basic and haphazard boxing tradition could be the oldest Okinawan pugilistic tradition to be passed down a hereditary line outside of Okinawa and Japan.

This page will look at the research into this tradition. There will be no hard and fast answers, only the pieces of the puzzle that we may some day get to assemble. The second key theory looks at whether the Okinawan Karate master Matsu Kinjo was related to the Nilsson family. We will produce all possible pictures and documents in a bid to solve this riddle.

Who was the first member of the family to visit Okinawa?

Nils Bengtsson was born in 1762 in Jönköping, Sweden to Bengt Andersson and Annica Nilsdotter. Bengt Andersson was the son of Anders Jonsson and Sigri Persdotter. Annica Nilsdotter was the daughter of Nils Hakansson and Elin Jonsdotter. Nils Bengtsson had brothers named Lars, Sven and Johannes and sisters called Andreas and Maria. He joined the Swedish East India Trading Company and he and his girlfriend Torborg Jonsdotter set sail for Canton.

Here is a record of one of the voyages in 1784:

Resor under tredje oktrojen: 1775.01.19-1776.06.09 Till Kanton under Kapten Charles Chapman. Superkargörer: Henric König P:son, Carl H. Rappe. 1778.01.18-1779.07.27 Till Kanton under Kapten Gabriel Ström. Superkargörer: Jacob Arfwedson, Henric König P:son. 1782.04.04-1783.07.29 Till Kanton under Kapten Jonas Israel Ekman. Superkargör: Lars Gothen. 1784.04.29-1786.06.29 Till Kanton under Kapten Nils Almroth. Superkargörer: Henrik König P:son, Nils Torb

So it could be that on the 29th April 1784 Captain Nils Almroth sailed bound for Canton. In charge of cargo were Henrik König Peterson and Nils and his companion Torborg.

At some point in 1784 they settled in Okinawa and on August 17th 1785 they married in Okinawa.

This ship has records of some other crew, including:

David Fredrik Neuendorff (1746-1808) son of Master ship-builder of Karlskrona. Martin Christoffer N and his wife Barbara Busch. “He was mate-aprentice in 1775 on the ship Terra Nova and 1770 lieutenant and 5th mate on the Terra Nova. He was engaged in the Swedish East India Company (SOIC) in 1776 (see Börjeson). Later on he was engaged in the Swedish Navy and onboard when the fleet retreated from Viborg (close to St. Petersburg) in 1790. Later on he became a lieutenant-colonel.” Lars Olof Lööf, 1st Curator of the Göteborgs Stadsmuseum

A reconstruction of the SwedIsh East India Trading Company vessel the Gotherborg:

How unusual was it for Swedish people to be visiting Japan?

Not as unusual as you may think. In fact another Nilsson, named Carl was a pioneer in oriental studies.

In 1609, around the time the Dutch East India Trading Company opened up a factory in Japan, the Swedish Anders Nilsson Laso arrived in Okinawa. Over one hundred years later another expedition to Japan took place, now using the tiny island of Dejima as a base. Among this voyage were the disciples of Carl Nilsson (later Carl Linnaeus) who studied the botany of the Japanese islands.

Carl Nilsson, a pioneer in the field of oriental study

Carl Nilsson, a pioneer in the field of oriental study in traditional costume

In 1616 Japan banned trade with foreigners. the only exception was that traders in Nagasaki bay were entitled to import from China. The powerful Dutch East India Trading Company got round the ban in 1634 by partitioning off part of Nagasaki with ditches to in effect make their own island called Dejima (read about Dejima here). In 1667: The first Swedish book about Japan and China was written by two Swedish sailors who had been there on Dutch ships. In 1731 the Swedish East India Trading Company was created, inspired by the likes of the Dutch East India Company to trade with the Far East as far as Japan and Guangzhou and in 1745 the Swedish Ship Gotheborg was famously sunk on the way back from China.

The company got a 15-year monopoly on the trade, and the goods exchanged were Swedish timber, tar, iron and copper against tea, porcelain and silk. The company was situated in Gothenburg. The company existed for 82 years and its vessels made 132 expeditions with 38 different ships. Even though the company in the end went bankrupt it made an enormous profit in most of its years of operation and it has influenced Swedish history in several ways.

Swedish ships arriving in Canton harbour

Swedish ships arriving in Canton harbour

Why did Swedish people want to go to Japan and China?

For one of the same reasons people might want to go now – for delicious food and beautiful art.

In the 1750s the art of China was the height of fashion in Sweden. A small Chinese palace was even built in Sweden. Count Carl Fredrik Scheffer, who was the governor to the young crown prince Gustaf (Later King Gustaf III) who was well informed about the Confucian ideas. He had as a six years old boy acted at the inauguration of a small Chinese pavilion presented to his mother Queen Louise Ulrica of Prussia on her birthday the 25th of July 1753. The small palace was built secretly at Drottningholm, the royal summer palace, in Chinese taste.

Map of Canton that is held in Stockholm

Map of Canton that is held in Stockholm

In 1759 Anders Ljungstedt was born in Sweden, he later worked for the Swedish East India and in 1820 was appointed Sweden’s first consul in China. He was well loved in Macao where he was called Long Sital 龍思泰.


By 1774 90% of tea in Sweden was imported from China. In 1775 Swedish physician Carl Thunberg moved to Dejima near Okinawa. In 1776 he met the Shogun in Edo, and in 1779 he returned to Sweden. Thunberg was a student of the earlier Swedish physician Carl Nilsson.


A lithograph of Okinawa made by western visitors

When Nilsson met Sakugawa

In 1784 when Nils and Torborg arrived in Okinawa they would have been treated with extreme caution. Japan did not permit any westerners at all and Nils, who we can imagine may well have been six feet tall with blonde hair would have stood out considerably in Okinawa which at the time was known as Ryukyu (sometimes badly westernised as Lew Chew).

At the time the King of Ryukyu was Shō Boku (1739–1794) whose reign began in 1756. Although a period of relative stability he had to contend with a tsunami in 1771 that devastated the Miyako Islands and Yaeyama Islands. His reign also saw the Chinese envoy Chou Huang who wrote a sixteen volume topography of the islands for the Qianlong Emperor.

King Sho Boku

King Sho Boku

It may have been at this time that the Chinese envoy remembered as Kushanku visited, although in my study The Lost Book of Kushanku, I have argued that he should be identified with the Kung Fu master Wang Zongyue. In any case, Kushanku/Wang taught one Tode Sakugawa who became the pioneer of Toshu Jutsu or Karate in Ryukyu. Sakugawa’s skills were not honed on the Dojo floor however, they were honed on board cargo ships, like the one that docked in Naha with Nils and Torborg on board.

The Okinawans and the Skandinavians did not always take too kindly to each other. Richard Kim tells the story of one trawlerman attempted to give an Okinawan Karate man a “Danish kiss” (headbutt).

Therefore the likes of Nils would have been investigated closely and there was one man who king Sho Boku trusted to check out such nautical visitors – and that was Tode Sakugawa.

A member of the East India

A member of the East India

Who was Tode Sakugawa?

Kanga Satunushi Sakugawa (佐久川 寛賀) lived from 1733 – 1815. He was born in Akata village, Okinawa.

Sakugawa began his martial arts training under Takahara Peichin who is believed to have studied under masters such as Hama Higa. It is likely he was taught to use the Bo staff and probably developed the routine we know as “Sakugawa no Kon sho.”The empty handed Karate he practiced is thought to have been related to the Chinese art of Hsing-I Chuan. For a brief description of how Hsing-I influenced the Karate of Sakugawa, click on this page about Empi kata or refer to The Lost Book of Kushanku.

In the 1750s Sakugawa met a man known as Kushanku. In my study The Lost Book of Kushanku I presented the hypothesis that Kushanku was actually a name for the Taiji Quan teachings of Wang Zong Yue. Sakugawa and his peer Chatan Yara developed a form or forms from this liaison which we know today as “Kanku Dai” and “Kanku Sho” or simply as “Kushanku” and “Chatan Yara no Kushanku.”

Tode Sakugawa

Tode Sakugawa

Sakugawa had at least four students including Sokon Matsumura, Satunuku Makabe, Bushi Ukuda, Bushi Matsumoto, Kojo of Kumemura, Yamaguchi of the East and Usume of Andaya. He gained his reputation as a fearsome hand-to-hand fighter while working for a shipping company defending the cargo against pirates. There’s a good account of this in The Little Bubishi.

Therefore not only would Sakugawa have been sent to check out Nils and his crew, they may very well have been colleagues as Nils imported cargo from Canton to Okinawa and Dejima, Sakugawa would have defended it.

From 1762 to his death in 1815, Sakugawa ran the largest Karate school in Okinawa. His students included; Chokun Satunku Macabe (the birdman), Satunuku Ukuda, Chikuntonoshinunjo “Bushi” Matsumoto, “Bushi” Kojo, “Bushi” Sakumoto, and Bushi Unsume. Just maybe one of sakugawa’s elusive students was Bushi Nils!

Sakugawa apparently as an old man

Sakugawa apparently as an old man

How long were the Nilssons in Okinawa?

Genealogical records tell us that on August 17th 1785 Nils and Torborg married in Shuri, Okinawa.

Their children were as follows:

Ingeborg Nilsson: August 3, 1785 in Okinawa
Johann Nilsson: June 26, 1788 in Okinawa
Bengt Nilsson: December 9, 1790 in Okinawa,
Olof Nilsson: April 13, 1794 in Okinawa

So we know that they were in Okinawa for at least 10 years. That’s potentially 10 years of working alongside Sakugawa on the ships. In that time Nils must have learnt the language, culture and exchanged ideas.

What could Sakugawa have taught Nils?

The martial arts practiced by Sakugawa and peers like Chatan Yara were not sophisticated Karate like today. They may have had a few Hsing-I type drills which developed in Tomari as what we know as the kata Wansu (Empi) and Sakugawa and Yara developed versions of Kushanku (Kanku Dai and Kanku Sho) based on what they had learnt.

On old version of the Wansu kata – it looks very different to Shotokan’s Empi:

An old version of the Kushanku kata – again it doesn’t quite look like Kanku Dai:

Note in both of these forms, the gait and movement is more like a western boxer than a modern day Shotokan man. Kicks are used sparingly. It emphasises light strikes, weaving and evading.

A burly Swedish sailor like Nils, would likely relish the opportunity to add punching techniques to his repertoire.

Three years after Nils’ son Olof Nilsson was born, another young man was born in Shuri. His name was Kiyo Sokon, but he later became known by the name Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura.

Nils did not stay in Okinawa much after 1794. But, strangely his wife and children did. We do not know why he decided to leave.

What happened to the Nilssons in Okinawa?

Ingeborg, Bengt, Olof and Johann probably would have adopted Okinawan ways and taken Okinawan wives, perhaps even taking Okinawan names.

In around 1830 when the Nilssons were in their 30s a man named Nio Kinjo was born (see genealogy record). If Johann wanted to call his son after his father (as was common with Swedes) then his son would be Nils son of Johann. Perhaps Nils Johann became Nio Kinjo? This theory is interesting because Nio Kinjo’s son Matsu Kinjo was known as a half Okinawan-half Skandinavian Karate master.

Kinjo can also be pronounced Kanagushiko and he had the nickname Itoman Bunkichi. His name Matsu was also in the Okinawan dialect Machiya.

Matsu Kinjo, the Okinawan Karate master with a Swedish father

Matsu Kinjo, the Okinawan Karate master with a Swedish father

Like Sakugawa (who may well have been the teacher of Matsu Kinjo’s grandfather), Kinjo practiced a slow, Tai Chi like form of Karate (see Bishop).

I cannot yet prove that Nio Kinjo was the son of Johann Nilsson but given the stories of the giant Aoinagi (half breed) Karate master it would certainly make sense.

In Sakugawa Ryu the kata Matsu pays tribute to Matsu Kinjo.

Matsu Kinjo is recorded by both Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu schools:

The Uechi Ryu school records the following:

Matsu Kinjo (Matcha Buntoku) was from Itoman and he was born in Keio 3 (1867) and died in August, Showa 20 (1945) at the age of 78. He moved to China in Meiji 24, just after the birth of his first son Matsu, (same name as father). He was 24 years old at that time, and so was l0 years older than Kanbun Uechi.
He already had 5 years experience in China before Kanbun Uechi moved to China, and he stayed in China for 18 years during which time he trained at Ken Jutsu. He returned home in Meiji 42 (1909) when he was 42 years old. Kanbun Uechi also returned from China in Meiji 42, both Bujin happened to return at the same time. Matcha Buntoku is known as the last Bushi in Itoman.
He followed Kanryo Higaonna to China with Akamine. It was the second time that he went to China. At the time, Higaonna was 32 years old, so he was getting to be mature in his Bu as well as his character. Matchu Buntoku was praised by RyuRyuKo for his great courage and he was famous in Fukien-sho as a rare warrior. RyuRyuKo is the third successor of the Ryuei Ryu main family. RyuRyuKo taught Hanchi Kenko Nakaima and Kitoku Sakiyama. Hanchi Kenko Nakaima was
the grandfather of Kenri Nakaima. Both Matcha Buntoku and Kenko Nakaima were taught by RyuRyuKo in China).
There is no connection between Matchu Buntoku and Kanbun Uechi, although they were both in the same place at the same time. They do say that Kanbun Uechi heard of the reputation of Matcha Buntoku when he was in Fukien, so he paid respect to him as a great expert of Bu.
Kanbun Uechi respected him not only because he was senior in experience, but also for his courage and his character.
Kinjo displayed his Kata to the public at the Butokuden with Chojun Miyagi and Jinsei Kamiya and others. He also took Part in displays with Chojun Miyagi2 Jinsei Kamiya, Seiko Higa, and K.Nakaima of Ruyei Ryu. He also gave a demonstration at the wedding ceremony of his third son Sanjiro in Showa 9.
He was not a severe man; he was a sincere man who kept his own way of living. He never kept his form secret – he would display his technique whenever he was asked, but he would never teach in case his skills would be used for violence.

The headteacher of Goju Ryu, Chojun Miyagi also met Kinjo:

Hearing about Machaa Buntoku, Miyagi Sensei, the founder of Gojuryu, visited him together with Sensei’s disciples, Jin-an Shinzato and Seiko Higa. Miyagi Sensei asked him to show them his best Kata that he mastered in China. Then Machaa Buntoku put on Hachimaki (=headband) and performed a strange dance in front of them. He danced and danced. Seeing his strange dance, Seiko Higa thought this old man must be crazy or mad because of his old age. Jin-an Shinzato who was yet young at that time lost his temper to see his dance and told him “OK. Dance is enough! Show me your fighting technique! I will be your opponent.” Shinzato delivered a karate blow at him, but Shinzato was thrown down by the dancing old man and hurt his back. He lost face. Everyone there felt awkward about it, so they bowed to the old man and went home. On the way home no one spoke.” –  by Kiyohiko Higa.

Second Generation

Nils moved back to Sweden and re-married. And remarried again, having children with both wives and finally settling in Kalmar.

Nils married Marit Jonsdotter (source) in 1794 and Sarah Helena Jonsdotter (source) in 1799. His daughters Anna (born 1795) and Maria (born 1797) were born in Sweden. Nils’ third wife Sarah was from Kalmar, southern Sweden. Their son Johannes was born in 1805. Sarah moved back to Kalmar, where she died in on May 5 1842.

Nils Johannes Nilsson (Circa 1830-1910, son of Johannes, grandson of Nils):
Third Generation (my great great great grandfather)

Nils Johann Nilsson

Nils Johann Nilsson

Nils Johann was born in around 1830 in Kalmar, Sweden. He married a woman called Gustavea and they had several children including August, Carl Johann, Johann, Gustavus, Anna and Marie. We should note that the names of his children Johann, Anna and Marie were shared by the children of Nils of Okinawa, a family naming tradition. His son August changed the family name to Nelson and so listed his parents on documents as Nels John and Gustavea Nelson. There is a family photograph of the Nilssons in 1914. Nils Johann is not on the picture, so presumed dead. Nils Johann may have been taught “boxing” by his grandfather Nils of Okinawa and almost certainly passed on what he knew to his son August.

August Nilsson (Circa 1866-1956, son of Nils Johann, grandson of Johannes, great grandson of Nils):
Fourth Generation (my great great grandfather)

August plays a pivotal role in our family tradition. He was born in the 1860s, therefore early enough to have known his grandfather Johannes but also lived later enough – the 1950s for my grandparents to remember him well. His great grandfather was Nils of Okinawa and his grandson Bill Nelson was a blackbelt. Therefore August is the link between the original Swedish-Okinawan Nilssons and the present Nelson family. Indeed it was August who changed the family name. He was also a formidable man, who served with the Swedish Royal Navy, learnt several fighting methods and travelled the world before settling in Liverpool and teaching his sons and grandsons how to box.

August Nilsson was born in 1866 to Nils Johann Nilsson and his wife Gustavea who were born in around 1835. They were from the town of Monsteras in the province of Kalmar and August’s siblings were Carl Johann, Johann, Gustavus, Anna and Marie.

August Nilsson

August Nilsson

August Nilsson was born in 1866 in a Sweden that was undergoing change. In 1810 French Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, one of Napoleon’s top generals, was elected Crown Prince Charles by the Riksdag. In 1813, his forces joined the allies against Napoleon and defeated the Danes at Bornhöved. In the Treaty of Kiel, Denmark ceded mainland Norway to the Swedish king. Norway, however, declared its independence, adopted a constitution and chose a new king. Sweden invaded Norway to enforce the terms of the Kiel treaty—it was the last war Sweden ever fought.

August's application for citizenship

August’s application for citizenship. Note he refers to his father as Nels John (anglicising Nils Johann)

Sweden—much like Japan at the same time—transformed from a stagnant rural society to a vibrant industrial society between the 1860s and 1910. The agricultural economy shifted gradually from communal village to a more efficient private farm-based agriculture. There was fewer need for manual labour on the farm so many went to the cities; and about 1 million Swedes emigrated to the United States between 1850 and 1890.

August's oath of allegiance to the British king

August’s oath of allegiance to the British king

When August was 14 compulsory gymnastics was introduced in Swedish schools in 1880 teaching youngsters the importance of physical as well as intellectual training. He was therefore taught a great deal of discipline and fitness training.

In the 1880s, August joined the Swedish Navy at Karlskrona, site of Sweden’s most renowned naval base.

Sword techniques of August Nilsson

In the Swedish Royal Navy a variety of weapons were drilled, including:

– Swedish Naval Cutlass (British style)
– Swedish Naval Cutlass (Svenska Blankvapen)
– Swedish bolo Naval cutlass (Svenska Blankvapen Faskinkniv)
– National Guard Cutlass (‘Viking style’)
– Swedish Naval Boarding Axe
– Swedish Naval Boarding Axe (‘Viking Style’)

Swedish marine cutlass made in 1810

Swedish marine cutlass made in 1810

Swedish close quarters cutlass made in 1848

Swedish close quarters cutlass made in 1848

In the 1880s or 1890s August and his brother Carl Johann emigrated to Liverpool, and married two sisters Bessie and Alice Wood.

August and Carl Johann changed their name from Nilsson to the more British sounding Nelson and having both been bosuns, they got jobs working on ships again, this time for the world famous White Star Line in Liverpool, the Shipping line that built the Oceanic, the Britannic and of course the Titanic.

August's discharge papers

August’s discharge papers


Nilsson family gathering in 1914. August is standing on the back row. His mother Gustavea is the oldest lady in the front row.

As a young man August was considered formidable but as an old man he was very gentle. Although on one occasion somebody set their dog (a large Rottweiler type) on August and he caught the dog by its throat and calmly broke its neck.

August is fondly remembered in the family – in 2014 my grandmother still remembers him. A link to a bygone age – a man who was born almost 150 years ago. He was the last of the Nilssons and the first of the Nelsons.

William Henry Nelson (Circa 1896-1970s, son of August, grandson of Nils Johann, great grandson of Johannes, great great grandson of Nils):
Fifth Generation (my great grandfather)

William Henry Nelson was born in Bootle in 1896. Unlike his father, Willy was not a big man but he was certainly tough, living by the motto “it’s not the size of the gun that matters but the strength of the powder inside.”At the age of 18 William Henry, usually known as Willy, joined the King’s Regiment as one of the Liverpool ‘Pals.’

He had been taught ‘boxing’ by his father August and taught basic Jujutsu-based combatives in the army.

Simon's great grandfather William Henry, who fought in WWI

Simon’s great grandfather William Henry, who fought in WWI

Willy saw combat in France and Belgium and was awarded three medals for his service. William Henry Nelson is fondly remembered in the family. A hard, disciplined man but also one who was witty, artistic and intelligent.

Charles James Nelson, William Henry Nelson (great great great grandsons of Nils of Okinawa, my grandfather and great uncle) and Ted Molloy (great uncle)
Generation Six

See article on Charles James Nelson here

See article on Bill Nelson here

My grandfather Jim Nelson (6/6/1923) and his brother Bill Nelson (25/12/1924) were the eldest sons of William Henry Nelson and as youngsters they were taught boxing by their father. My grandad vividly recalled sparring with his father. When the second world war broke out Jim took after his father (joined the navy) and Billy took after their grandfather (joined the Navy).

After the war Billy became a blackbelt in Kawaishi Ryu and Koizumi Ryu Jujutsu.

Their brother in law was Ted Molloy, a master at arms (the senior NCO rank to carry a sword) who served in Japan and China. The Molloys were also renowned boxers.

Simon's grandad Jim Nelson

Simon’s grandad Jim Nelson

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

Ted in China 1939

Ted in China 1939

Bill Nelson's Navy pass

Bill Nelson’s Navy pass

Martial arts have always been in my family. Here is my great uncle Bill's Jujutsu master Mikonosuke Kawaishi pictured in Liverpool in 1928

Great uncle Bill’s Jujutsu master Mikonosuke Kawaishi pictured in Liverpool in 1928

Statue of Fang Qi Niang the lady of White Crane left to me by my great uncle, a blackbelt in the 1940s

Statue of Fang Qi Niang the lady of White Crane left to me by my great uncle Bill

Bill's Jujutsu instructor Professor Skyner

Bill’s Jujutsu instructor Professor Skyner


Bill aged 18 in fighting mode

Bill and Simon, both blackbelts and descendants of Nils of Okinawa

Bill and Simon, both blackbelts and descendants of Nils of Okinawa pictured in 2008 shortly before Bill died

Sakugawa Ryu Generation Eight:
Simon Keegan
Grandson of Jim Nelson, great grandson of WH Nelson, great great grandson of August Nilsson
G-g-g grandson of Nils Johann, g-g-g-g grandson of Johannes, g-g-g-g-g grandson of Nils of Okinawa

Simon is the present and eighth generation headteacher of the Sakugawa Ryu. Like the generations before him, he began his training by boxing in his grandfather’s back yard and some 30 years later he has studied with dozens of masters and teachers to restore Sakugawa Ryu as a tradition.

Key Kata taught in Sakugawa Ryu:

1) Pinan 1-5 (Heian in Japan) created by Itosu (student of Matsumura student of Sakugawa)
6) Naihanchi (Tekki) created by Matsumura, student of Sakugawa
7) Bassai Dai and Sho created by Matsumura student of Sakugawa 
9) Kushanku (Kanku Dai and Sho) created by Sakugawa himself
11) Wansu (Empi) created by Sakugawa’s teacher’s Takahara and Hama Higa
12) Seisan (Hangetsu) brought from China by Matsumura

Other kata:
13) Gekisai (Fukyugata)
14) Niseishi (Nijushiho)
15) Wankan (Matsukaze)
16) Jutte
17) Rokai (Meikyo)
18) Useishi (Gojushiho)

Sakugawa Ryu Katana forged in the Far east but made of Swedish steel. Pictured with the book of Kawaishi, Bill Nelson's Jujutsu master

Sakugawa Ryu Katana forged in the Far east but made of Swedish steel. Pictured with the book of Kawaishi, Bill Nelson’s Jujutsu master

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

Simon’s father David Keegan

David Keegan, Simon Keegan, Poppy Keegan

David Keegan, Simon Keegan, Poppy Keegan


Sakugawa Ryu may be the oldest Okinawan boxing tradition outside of Okinawa. From Nils arriving in Naha in 1780 to his great-great-great-great-great grandson Simon Keegan treading the Karate path is almost 200 years of family boxing tradition. It has seen Nils return to Sweden, his son Johannes, grandson Nils Johann and great grandson August being born in Kalmar. It has seen August learn the swordsmanship of the Swedish Navy, teach the family boxing method to his son William Henry, who fought in World War I, it has seen Simon’s grandfather and his generation, Jim, Bill and Ted and now Simon, his father and daughter continuing the tradition.

Sakugawa Ryu: Eight generations of the Nilsson family

Sakugawa Ryu: Eight generations of the Nilsson family

Senior International instructor Simon Keegan 5th Dan

Simon Keegan, headteacher of Sakugawa Ryu



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