Okinawa History

Go Back

Okinawa History

In the general history of Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Karate-Do. It is estimated that probably 90% of American Karate-ka know little, if anything, about their art other than the physical aspects. Most of these Karate-ka seem content merely to practice Karate and have little interest in studying the origins of their art. Those of us in the Shorin Ryu Kenshin Kan Association are of a different mentality. While we enjoy the physical aspects of Shorin Ryu, we also have a burning desire to learn the history and the origins of our art.

Generations of secrecy have shed a veil of mystery around the history and origin of Okinawan Karate. To a certain degree this veil of secrecy still exists. This, coupled with a general lack of written records, has created avoid of information on the early years of Ryu Kyu martial arts. What little information we have has come to us through scattered bits and pieces that somehow have come into the possession of modern Karate historians or from those of us who were fortunate enough to have been told some of the history from an Okinawan Sensei.

Nevertheless, any attempt to write on Karate history will leave “many stones unturned”, and the following attempt is no exception; a lot of questions are left unanswered. Perhaps, one day we will have more information.


Early Okinawan Karate or Tode (Tuide) as it was called owes its origin to a mixture of indigenous Okinawan fighting arts and various “foot-fighting” systems and empty hand systems of Southeastern Asia and China. The Okinawans, being a seafaring people, were almost in constant contact with mainland Asia. It is quite likely that Okinawan seamen visiting foreign ports of call may have been quite impressed with local fighting techniques and incorporated these into their own fighting methods.

Interest in unarmed fighting arts greatly increased during the 14th century when King Sho Hashi of Chuzan established his rule over Okinawa and banned all weapons. A more rapid development of Tode followed in 1609 when the Satsuma Clan of Kyushu, Japan occupied Okinawa and again banned the possession of weapons.

Thus Tode, or Okinawan-te, as the Satsuma Samurai soon called it, became the only means of protection left the Okinawans. Thus, it was this atmosphere that honed the early Karate-like arts of Okinawa into such a weapon that they enabled the island people to carry on a guerilla-type war with the Japanese Samurai that lasted into the late 1800’s. So, Tode or Okinawan-te developed secretly to keep the Japanese from killing the practitioners and teachers of the deadly art. Tode remained underground until the early 1900’s when it was brought into the Okinawan school system to be incorporated into physical education method.


Chatan Yara was one of the early Okinawan Masters of whom some information exists. Some authorities place his birth in about 1670 in the village of Chatan, Okinawa; others place his birth at a much later date. In any case, he contributed much to Okinawan Karate. He is said to have studied in China for 20 years. His techniques with the Bo and Sai greatly influenced Okinawan Kobudo. His kata, “Chatan Yara no Sai”, “Chatan Yara Sho no Tonfa”, and “Chatan Yara no Kon” are widely practiced today. Most modern styles of karate can be traced back to the famous Satunuku Sakugawa (1733-1815) called “Tudi Sakugawa”. Sakugawa first studied under Peichin Takahara of Shuri. Later Sakugawa went to China under the famous KuSanku. KuSanku had been a military attaché in Okinawa. Upon Master KuSanku’s return to China, Sakugawa followed him and remained in China for six years. In 1762 he returned to Okinawa and introduced Kenpo; this resulted Karate as we know it today. Sakugawa became a famous Samurai; he was given the title Satunuku of Satonushi; these were titles given to Samurai for service to the Okinawan King. Sakugawa contributed greatly to Okinawan Karate; we honor him today by continuing many of the concepts he introduced. Sakugawa’s greatest contribution was in teaching the great Soken “Bushi” Matsumura. Bushi Matsumura (1797-1889) studied under Sakugawa for four years. he rapidly developed into a Samurai. He was recruited into the service of the Sho Family and given the title Satunuku, later rising to Chikutoshi. At some time during his career Bushi Matsumura was sent to China to train in ht famous Shorinji (Shaolin Temple). He is alleged to have remained in China for many years. Upon his return to Okinawa, Matsumura established the Shuri-te or Suidi that later became known as Shorin Ryu when it was named that by Grandmaster Choshin Chibana.

.Shorin Ryu is the Okinawan-Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters called Shaolin in China. in both languages Shorin or Shaolin means “Pine Forest”. Ryu simply means “methods handed down” or methods of learning such as those of a school.

Bushi Matsumura lived a long and colorful life. He fought many lethal contests; he was never defeated. He was the last Okinawan warrior to be given the title “Bushi”. He contributed greatly to Okinawan Karate. He brought the White Crane (Hakutsuru) concept to Okinawa from the Shorin-ji in China. He passed on his menkyo-kaiden (certificate of full proficiency) to his grandson, Nabe Matsumura. Nabe Matsumura brought the old Shorin Ryu secrets into the modern age. His name does not appear in many Karate lineage charts. He was alleged to be very strict and preferred to teach mainly family members. Not much information on him is available; his date of birth and death is not known. He must have been born in the 1850’s and died in the 1930’s. He was called “Old Man Nabe” and is said to have been one of the top Karate men of his time. He passed on his menkyo-kaiden to his nephew Hohan Soken. Hohan Soken was born in 1889; this was a time of great social changes in both Okinawa and Japan. The old feudal system was giving way to modernization. The aristocracy was forced to work beside the peasants.

Hohan Soken was born into a Samurai family; at an early age he chose to study his ancestors’ art of Shorin Ryu under his uncle, Nabe Matsumura. At the age of 13 young Soken began his training. For 10 years Hohan Soken practiced the basics. At the age of 23, Soken began learning the Secrets of Hakutsuru . So proficient did Hohan Soken become in the art that his uncle, Nabe, passed on the style of Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito Karate-Do to him.

In the 1920’s to 1945 Hohan Soken lived in Argentina. Upon his return to Okinawa the Matsumura Seito Karate-Do style returned also. Soken saw that Karate had greatly changed; sport Karate had all but replaced the ancient methods. Soken did not change, he valued himself as the last of the old masters. He refused to join some of the more fashionable Karate Associations. He stayed with the old ways and did much to cause a rebirth of interest in Kobudo and old Shorin ways. Master Soken retired from Karate in 1978. For many years he was the world’s oldest living and active Karate Master.

One of Grand Master Soken’s top students is Master Fusei Kise. Master Kise was born on May 4, 1935. He began his study of Karate in 1947 from his uncle, Master Makabe. In 1955 Master Kise became a student of Master Nobutake Shingake and received his Shodan. In 1958 Master Kise began studying under Grand Master Zenryu Shimabuku and received his Yondan. In 1958 Master Kise began studying under Grand Master Hohan Soken, the third successor of Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito Karate-Do. In 1960 he was a student of Grand Master Shigeru Nakamura, Okinawan Kenpo Karate-Do Federation and qualified for his 7th degree Black Belt after five years of training. Master Kise became a Shihan or Master on January 1, 1965 when he passed the 7th Dan examination under Grand Master Shigeru Nakamura, Okinawan Kenpo Karate-Do Federation. At that time Master Kise taught and practiced Shorinju-Ryu Karate-Do; also during this time he was studying Shorin Ryu under Grand Master Hohan Soken. On January 1, 1967 Master

Kise passed the examination for 7th Dan under Grand Master Hohan Soken, Shorin Ryu

Matsumura Seito Karate-Do Federation. Shortly after this, Master Kise switched completely over to the Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito (Orthodox) Karate-Do. On January 3, 1972
Master Kise qualified for the Hanshi title by passing the 8th Dan examination held by Grand Master Hohan Soken and Master Makabe. In 1977 Master Kise Founded the Shorin Ryu Kenshin Kan Karate and Kobudo Federation.

Thus we have Shorin Ryu Kenshin Kan Karate-Do, a Karate system that evolved from the ancient teachings of Sakugawa and Bushi Matsumura, a system led by Fusei Kise, one of the very few Karateka to have been taught the complete secrets of Hakutsuru.r..

Much mahalo,



Go Back
[Okinawa history]