Okinawa, Japan is the birthplace of modern day karatedo and kobudo. The following is a compilation of different sources of information about the evolution of Kobayashi Shorin Ryu and Okinawan Kobudo. Historians believe that the art of Okinawa Te, first originated independently of any other combat system. it is also believed that this system on unarmed combat can be traced back over 1000 years. Because the islanders were of not of wealthy status, weapons were scares. Also the islands own un-unification gave rise to many aggressive warlords, each battling for supremacy of the island. As a result these circumstances rendered a strong incentive for the evolution of unarmed combat.
By the mid 1340’s, Okinawa entered into a trade relationship with China. This trade and political friendship allowed the Okinawan people to observe the different aspects of China, and were thus exposed to Chinese boxing systems. Furthermore, by the late 1300’s, in a tributary relationship, 36 Chinese families and businessmen settled on Okinawa. These families brought with them a variety of skills, including Chinese martial arts.
Through the 1400’s, the island experienced much turmoil. At first the island was unified by King Sho Hashi in 1429. At this time the Okinawan’s were still able to posses weapons. However in 1470, King Sho Hashi destroyed the former dynasty and made due with his own. Soon all arms were banned on the island, in fear that the reign might be over thrown. As a result, the emphasis on the fighting arts further progressed. The main villages of Okinawa are credited with the main styles that emerged from Okinawa Te. From the village of Shuri, came Shuri Te. From the village of Naha, came Naha Te. Finally from the village of Tomari, came Tomari Te.
Beside empty hand combat, the Okinawan’s also began the practice of Kobudo (weapons). Because of King Sho Hashi’s ban on the traditional weapons (such as the samurai sword), the Okinawan’s began using their everyday farming implements as weapons. From this practice the most commonly thought of weapons became known as the: Bo (six foot staff), the Eku (six foot oar), the Kama (grass or cain sickle), the Tonfa (utility handle), and the Nunchaku (horse bit, and even rice flail). However because the Okinawan’s never restrained the practice of survival, it is conceivable that these particular weapons might not have been the only weapons practiced. In fact the Zen Okinawan Kobudo Renmei (Matayoshi Kobudo), makes use of the Kuwa (Japanese Hoe), the Timbei and Rochin (Shield and dagger), as well as the Nunti (Japanese like spear).
These styles of unarmed and armed combat were practiced in secrecy for years. Differences between Te styles suggest the different influences of various Chinese styles. Shuri-Te seem to utilize the external system of Shaolin boxing. While Naha-Te incorporates the use of internal Taoist techniques. Tomari-Te appears to be a mix of both internal and external fighting systems. These variances alone, are responsible for the evolution of the different systems into the distinct martial art styles they are today.
In 1609, Okinawa was seized by the Japanese Satsuma Samurai clan, for refusing to recognize Japan’s newest Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. As a result, the Shogunate banned the Okinawa people from carrying weapons. This only further fueled the importance of further developing the martial arts as a means of survival.
Although at this time the Japanese had banned all trade relationships with other countries. The Japanese still, however, allowed Okinawa to trade with China. As a result, around the mid to late 1700’s a Chinese diplomat named, Kusanku, moved to Okinawa for 6 years. During his stay he began teaching the Chinese system of Ch’uan-Fa. As these influences became introduced into the different local martial arts, they gradually became known as Tode (or Chinese Hand). By the 1800’s these styles were again re-named. Shuri and Tomari-Te formed the basis for Okinawan Sho Rin Ryu, while Naha-Te formed Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu.
Although Kusanku is often believed to be a culmination of different Chinese officers, he is often referred to as one person. As is recorded, Tode Sakugawa began studying under Kusanku-sensei. The teachings of Kusanku enabled Sakugawa to combine the essence of both Te and Chinese Boxing principles. These principles form the basis of modern day Shorin Ryu.
The following is a record of the lineage of Shorin Ryu Karatedo. Each master featured was the direct instructor of the next. Listed art the names of the kata’s each instructor was either known for or even introduced into the system.
Kusanku = Kusanku Kata (no photograph available)
Tode Sakugawa = Passai Kata
Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura = Passai Kata & Chinto
Ankoh Yasutsune Itosu = 5 Pinan Kata, Naihanchi Nidan, Naihanchi Sandan, Passai Sho, Passai Dai, Kusanku Sho, Kusanku Dai. Itosu-sensei was such an incredible instructor, that in 1903, he became the first martial artist to introduce karate-do into the public schools of Okinawa. His students include Gichin Funakoshi-sensei. It was not until the late 1800’s that Funakoshi-Sensei termed the essence of Te as “Karate-Do” meaning, “The Way of the Empty Hand.” Funakoshi-sensei later founded ShotoKan Karate.
Chosin Chibana = Gojushiho Kata. As Sho Rin Ryu began to branch further and further, and other styles evolved from Itosu-sensei’s karate. An attempt was made by one of Itosu-sensei’s students to preserve his instructors teachings. Itosu-sensei’s most loyal and dedicated student, Chosin Chibana-sensei, renamed the style Kobayshi-Ryu (Shorin Ryu – “Young Forest Style”) to indicate that he taught Itosu-sensei’s original style.
Shuguro Nakazato = Shorin Ryu Shorin Kan. Chibana-sensei’s most notable student, Shuguro Nakazato-sensei, who became the head of Shorin Ryu-Shorin Kan branch of Kobayashi. Chibana-sensei’s other most notable student, Katsuya Miyahira-sensei, became the head of Shorin Ryu-Shido Kan branch of Kobayashi. Nakazato-sensei first began training in Shito Ryu Karate-do (1935-40), under Seiichi Iju-sensei. While training in Shito Ryu, Nakazato-sensei also began training in Kobudo, under Seiro Tonaki-sensei (from 1936-40). Nakazato-sensei then entered the Japanese Army, it was during this time that he taught bayonet techniques. By the end of World War II, Nakazato-sensei returned to Okinawa, and became a disciple of Chibana-sensei. In 1951 Nakazato-sensei opened a dojo together with Chibana-sensei, naming it Chibana Dai Ichi Dojo. Then in 1955, he opened the Sho Rin Kan dojo, which he presently operates. Until 1958, Nakazato trained in bojitsu under Tonaki-sensei’s son, Masami Chinen-sensei, of the now famed Yamani-Chinen Ryu Bojitsu style. Nakazato-sensei believed that Chibana-sensei had taught Anko Itosu-sensei’s style without altering it. However, because Itosu-sensei’s style had little kumite, Nakazato-sensei took it upon himself to add the Kihon and Fukyu kata.
Tadashi Yamashita-Hanshi is a 9th Dan Kobayashi Shorin Ryu Karatedo and 9th Dan Zen Okinawan Kobudo. Sensei Tadashi Yamashita has dedicated over 40 years of his life to the practice Okinawan Karatedo and Kobudo. A highly respected man in all circles of the martial arts, Yamashita-Sensei is sought after for karatedo and kobudo seminars from all over the world. He currently retains the rank of ninth degree black belt in both karatedo and kobudo. Sensei is also the President and Director of the U.S. Shorin-Ryu Karate Association, and U.S.A. President of the Zen Okinawan Kobudo Association. Yamashita-sensei has traveled as far as South America and regularly visits Greece. Sensei also keeps a close connection with his birthplace of Japan and Okinawa. Not only is Yamashita-Sensei recognized as a leading authority in the martial arts, but his accomplishments also include his study with several notable high ranking masters. These masters include the late Chibana Chosin of Shorin Ryu, and Shuguro Nakazato founder of the Shorin Ryu Shorin Kan. He also trained directly under the late Shinpo Matayoshi, founder of the Zen Okinawan Kobudo Renmei. Well known for his explosive open hand techniques, Sensei combines many progressive fighting tactics with traditional aspects of karatedo, thus resulting in a devastating fighting system. Sensei’s dynamic fighting system known as “Suikendo” translates to “fist flowing like water.” This non-stop flowing system of fighting allows the karateka to simultaneously block and strike his opponent with blinding speed and accuracy. Yamashita-Sensei is also a world renowned weapons master. During the 1973 Pro-Am Karate Tournament, Sensei brought over 7,000 spectators to their feet in a standing ovation after demonstrating his mastery and skill of ancient kobudo weaponry.
It is very difficult to tell the true story about the development of the Okinawa Kobudo because almost all written documents about it were destroyed during the second world war. However, it seems that in the 12th century, regional lords called aji emerged and exerted power over the island. Soon power was divided among three small kingdoms in 1326, which led to a lot of internal and continuous warfare until 1429. This time frame was indeed a perfect time in history to develop martial arts combat techniques.
In 1429, Sho Hashi united the island and founded the Kingdom of the Ryukyus. During the 14th to 16th centuries, a period known as the “Golden Age of Trade”, the Kingdom of Okinawa flourished as a trade center for China and other nations. However, trade vessels were constantly threatened by Japanese pirates and the Okinawa sailors needed to protect themselves while in foreign lands. Around 1580, Toyotomi Hideyoshi stated laws again that prohibited the possession or the carrying of weapons, in order to restore peace and bring some sort of prosperity to a resource poor Ryukyuan kingdom. It helped to prevent unnecessary loss of life among the people and was a deterrent to insurrection and civil wars. But that left the peasants of Okinawa more or less defenseless against the Samurai, which were the only ones allowed to carry weapons.
Although the empty hand techniques developed on the battlefields were very effective and refined, they were not so for use in massive defense or offense operations. In 1609, the Satsuma Samurai Clan attacked and ravaged the Okinawan defenses. The islanders used turtle-shields and shortstrabbing daggers, but they were of very little use against horse backed, sword carrying samurai or bows. The only instruments the farmers had were their simple farming tools. The unique martial arts of Okinawan karate and kobudo were born from this background. Over long years, the techniques of Chinese and South East Asian martial arts were incorporated into Okinawa Karate and Kobudo to establish the forms known today. The Chinese methods were a combination of techniques with empty hands and with weapons.
Varied distinct styles emerged during the heyday of the Ryukyuan kingdom: Shuri-ti forms were centered in the Ryukuan capital of Shuri, Naha-ti in the commercial center of Naha, and Tomari-ti in the Tomari district located between the first two. Each style had its distinguished masters who established the traditions preserved to our present day. The techniques of Karate and Kobudo were, by their nature, to be kept from the uninitiated.
Thus, there are but few historical records and the arts were conveyed almost entirely through personal oral transmission from master to disciple. Since the invasion of the Satsuma Samurai Clan, Okinawa was ruled by a weak government under orders of the Shogun, until the upcoming of the Meiji restoration, halfway the 19th century where, following the dissolution of the kingdom and the 1879 annexation of Okinawa as a prefecture, new institutions came into effect and Karate and Kobudo were incorporated into the Meiji public education system, led by Ankoh Yasutsune Itosu.
There followed a movement to present these arts to the general public: during the Taisho Era (circa 1910-1926), demonstrations were made throughout mainland Japan, and in the early Showa years (circa main schools – ryu): Shorin-ryu, Gojyu-ryu, Uechi-ryu and Matsubayashi-ryu. Today, there exist many more sub-schools (ryuha) and factions (kaiha). Each boasts its own distinctive kata derived from the basic movements (kihon kata) common to all schools as the systematization of techniques of attack and defense.
Modern Kobudo was founded by Shinko Matayoshi (1888-1947), born in the Naha region from a wealthy family. His kobujutsu training began in his early teens and included kobujutsu, kamajutsu, ekujutsu, tonfajutsu and nunchakujutsu. At the age of 22, he ventured into Manchuria by way of northern Japan. There he joined a team of mounted bandits and learned several other weapons arts, including the bow and arrow, all from horseback making them unique from other Okinawan Kobujutsu styles. Later, after returning to Okinawa, he traveled to Fuchow and Shanghai were he learned even more weapons arts in addition to acupuncture, herbal medicine and another form of Shaolin boxing.
Shinko Matayoshi, along with Gichin Funakoshi, was the first to publicly demonstrate Okinawan kobudo to mainland Japan in 1915. With the 1921 royal visit of Emperor Hirohito on Okinawa, Matayoshi performed kobudo at a demonstration with Naha-te master Chojun Miyagi.
Shimpo Matayoshi (1922-1997), Hanshi 10th Dan, son of Shinko, started his martial arts training at age 8 under Chotoku Kyan. Upon his father’s return in 1934, began to train in karate and kobudo under his father’s tutelage. In 1935, he began studying with Gokenki, learning the same Hakutsuru (White Crane Chaun’ fa) that his father had been taught. Upon his father’s death, he continued the legacy and assumed the teaching responsibilities.
In 1970, he formed the All Okinawa Kobudo Federation (Zen Okinawa Kobudo Renmei) and until his untimely death in 1997 was the technical advisor for all Okinawan Kobudo styles. He was also one of the last surviving students to learn to rare Hakutsuru directly from an authentic Chinese master. In his travels demonstrating his unique style of Kobudo, he was constantly besieged to demonstrate the Hakutsuru, which he never taught openly to anyone. His knowledge of the elusive Crane was unparalleled.