Ryukyu Martial Arts Research 琉球武道研究

The Ryūkyūan Military forces in the islands

The Ryūkyūan Military forces in the islands / by Itzik Cohen
Already by the 14th century, the residents of Ryūkyū possessed gunpowder and firearms (“Ishibiya”/“Fire Pipe” 火筒). Korean and Chinese records considered reliable attest of an inventory of firearms that arrived to the Islands from China, in order to protect the kingdom from aggressive forces such as unbidden foreigners, pirates and hostile military forces.

By the 15th century, King Shō Hashi 尚巴志, the head of Chūzan中山 (The Ryūkyuan Mid-Kingdom), occupied the Northern Kingdom circa1416, and then proceeded to destroy the Southern Kingdom in 1429. At the end of these military clashes, King Shō Hashi unified the Sanzan 三山 (The three kingdoms). Prior to the unification each of the kingdoms enjoyed autonomy and even sent separate delegations to China. Chinese records provide dates, names details and the number of delegations sent by each kingdom. In order to surmount the complexed political relations between China and Japan in relation to Ryūkyū, and yet still retain some socio-economic autonomy, the people of Ryūkyū adopted an outwardly serene and pacifist atmosphere.
Ryukyū Kingdom
Tamaudon 玉陵 The mausoleum of the Ryūkyu dynasty

King Shō Shin 尚真 banned the possession of weapons throughout the kingdom, but he empowered the Royal House by establishing a faithful army, thereby strengthening the centralized rule of the monarchy.
He gathered his warlords and stationed them in Shuri, close to him, granting them prestige and aristocratic status while at the same time maintaining close supervision and wielding supreme authority over their military power. A stringent policing mechanism was needed in apt to maintain order and ensure his rulership. He therefore instituted methods in which the land was divided into districts named “Hiki”. Each Hiki had administrative and economic autonomy including police forces and local armies. Four Hiki were integrated into one “Ban”. This structure enabled the inspection over the entire region.

Ryūkyū military also used heavy weapons such as cannons to protect Naha port. Castles such as Shuri and Nakijin, were equipped with firearms in order to prevent from unfriendly forces to invade the islands.

Ryukyū Kingdom
Shuri-jo 首里

Over the years, the walls that protected the castle of Shuri were strengthened. Access paths for military forces and structures to protect the ports were built. The initial Satsuma attack on Naha Port failed and Satsuma forces had to retreat. In following attacks on Ryūkyū, Satsuma warriors suffered heavy losses and only after occupying Urasoe Castle and isolating Shuri Castle, they eventually succeeded to occupy the Islands.
These facts indicate that Ryūkyū’s military forces were well developed at that era.
Ryukyū Kingdom
Stone Paved Road - "Kinjo-Cho"

The Ryūkyūan Army and the Official Security Forces, armed and bear-hand, were developed by same skilled warriors, guards and security professionals. These forces were determined, efficient and effective.
Despite the heavy Chinese and Japanese influences as well as Korean and even Siamese one, the evidences indicate that the Ryūkyūan had succeeded to create their own original approach.

Itzik Cohen

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