Ryukyu Martial Arts Research 琉球武道研究

The continuity of Matsumura Sokon

The continuity of Matsumura Sokon / by Itzik Cohen

In this article I would like to dwell on two points concerning to Matsumura Sokon continuity and the art of Karate.
  • The birth date of Bushi Matsumura and its implication on the sources of knowledge as we examine it nowadays
  • Trends and changes in knowledge transfer
Bushi Matsumura (Uchinaguchi: Machimura) Sokon was born in Yamagawa/Shuri (1809-1901).
His childhood name was Kamija and in his youth he was called Kiyo. He was also had several nicknames such as Bucho, Unyu, and Wu Chengda.
    Karate Uchina-Di 沖縄手/Itzik Cohen, P. 366
As we know, Matsumura Sokon was one of the most outstanding warriors of his era. He visited in Beijing and in Fujian/China as well as in Kagoshima Japan and he held Jigen-ryū Menkyo Kaiden from Satsuma. Matsumura served as head of security guards in the Royal House. He was well educated and he put his thoughts “Bucho Ikko” on paper and entrusted it to the hands of Ryosei Kuwae, his disciple. The records were carefully kept by the Kuwae family and in later time were even translated into various languages.
Bushi Matsumura influence on Karate development is significant since it was the transformation from special official government role to the civilian environment. This fact by itself has far-reaching implications on the nature and continuation of the local combat development in the islands.

Matsumura birth date is uncertain and according to some sources it was 1796 or 1797.
Most Karate researchers agree that Matsumura began studying Uchina-di (The local combat) as a disciple of Toadi Sakugawa at the age of 14. It was for quite short period of 4 year, until Sakugawa passed away in 1815.
The above details may be consistent genealogically if he was born in 1796/1797 indeed.
However if Matsumura was born in 1809 (12-13 years after 1796/1797), then there is a gap which raises genealogical question about a direct relation to Sakugawa as a disciple.
According to Nakasone Genwa (1895-1978), who is considered well respected reliable source, there is testimony that reinforces the assumption that Matsumura was, indeed, born in 1809.
There is evidence from a woman who brought her child in the year 1896 to the occasion of Matsumura’s 88th birthday, for a local custom that was called: “Lucky embrace” (It is a special ceremony to celebrate the lucky and special age when a man reaches the age of 88 years old).
In this case, a quick calculation reveals 1809 to be the year of Matsumura’s birth.
If so, then it is not reasonable that Matsumura started to learn at the age of 6 under Sakugawa. In that case it is much more reasonable to assume that Matsumura did not learn directly from Sakugawa but rather from Kangi (1762-1843) who was Sakugawa’s son, or from Makabe Choken/Chan-Gua (1769-1825) who was Sakugawa’s student.

Matsumura Sokon Lineage
Bushi Matsumura Sokon Lineage

Another issue is the continuity nature of Bushi Matsumura’s disciples. This is fundamental topic since the transformation of the art between these generations is critical in the evolution of Karate. Many stories about this topic related to the change in Kata(s) and the nature of the art.
    I discuss the subject into details in the book Karate Uchina-Di 沖縄, chapter: “The Status, Significance and Evolution of Kata” P. 479.

Additional interesting subject is the division of Karate to Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu.
Matsumura Sokon actually practised the Local-te and according to several sources he also practiced with Ason and Iwah. If so, then here we have direct bond between Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu. It is unsurprisingly that Kata(s) transmitted by Matsumura bear common motifs with Whooping Crane of Xie Zhongxiang, known as Ryu Ryu-Ko for example.
The conceptual division to Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu begins after Matsumura’s time, at the end of the 19th century and gathered momentum in the second decade of the 20th century, due mainly to the transition process of Karate from Okinawa to Japan.
The classification of karate is a subject in itself which is out of the scope of this article, and is worth reference in a separate article.

The book “Karate Uchina-Di 沖縄手”expands these entire subjects, puts focus and analyses the main points and offers possible explanations.

Itzik Cohen

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