Okinawa, Birthplace of Karate

Most American karateka know little, if anything, about their art other than the physical aspects.  They are content merely to practice the physical aspects of karate and have little interest in studying the origins of their art. Those of us in the Okinawa Matsumura Orthodox Karate and Kobudo Federation are of a different mentality. 

While we enjoy the physical training of Matsumura Orthodox Shorin Ryu Karate and Kobudo, those in our association have a burning desire to learn the history and the origins of our art.  Generations of secrecy, limited written histories and the destruction of records in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 have shed a veil of mystery around the history and origins of Okinawan karate.  To a certain degree this veil exists.  This, coupled with the general lack of written records, has created a void of information on the early years of Ryu Kyu martial arts.  What little information we have has come to us through oral traditions scattered bits and pieces of information that somehow have come into the possession of modern karate historians. 

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. Grand Master Fusei Kise has written an autobiographical account of his training and our style, The Spirit of Okinawan Karate, first published in 2003.  Additional information concerning our style – its origins, history and the status of our Association in this century, is provided in his 2nd book, Okinawa Karate-do: A Selection of Readings and Documents in the History of Shorin-Ryu Matsumura Seito. 

Okinawa is a prefecture of Japan consisting of a string of 66 islands; the main island is also called “Okinawa”.  Before it became part of Japan, the islands were called the Ryukyu Islands and were governed by an Emperor.  Due to Okinawa’s position east of Taiwan and south of mainland Japan, it was a frequent stopping place for European explorers, trade ships and military vessels. The Okinawans worked at fishing and farming and their culture is rich in tradition that includes - in addition to karate and kobudo – dance, pottery, glass making, music, bingata (a form of fabric dying), as well as a culture of great respect for family and their ancestors.

World War II

Okinawa was the location of a pivotal battle of World War II.  The Japanese army took up positions in caves throughout the hilly main island and the Okinawan people fled their homes and hid in caves as well.  The onslaught that came from the sky in the form of bombs from American planes is known as the “Typhoon of Steel”.  Hanshi Fusei Kise was 10 years old at the time.  After the war, the U.S. maintained a presence there and Okinawa is currently a strategic location of American military bases, including Army, Navy, Air Force and a large contingent of Marines.

Early history of Okinawan karate

Early Okinawan karate or Tode (Tuidi) 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 in almost constant contact with mainland Asia.  It is quite likely that Okinawan seaman visiting foreign ports of call may have been impressed with local fighting techniques and incorporated these into their own fighting methods. 

Interest in unarmed fighting arts greatly increased during the14th century when King Sho Hashi of Chuzan established his rule over Okinawa and banned all weapons. 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 Okinawa-te, as the Satsuma Clan soon called it, became the only means of protection left to the Okinawan.  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 guerrilla- style war with the Japanese Samurai that lasted into the late 19th century. 

So, Tode or Okinawa-te developed secretly to keep the Japanese from killing the practitioners and the teachers of the deadly art.  Tode remained underground until early 1900 when it was brought into the Okinawan school systems to be incorporated into physical education methods. 

Development of Styles and Systems of Karate-Do

Chatan Yara was one of the early Okinawan Masters of who 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",  "Yara Gua no Tonfa", and "Chatan Yara no Kon" are widely practiced today.


Most modern styles of karate can be traced back to  Satunuku Sakugawa   (1733-1815) called  "Tuidi” Sakugawa.  Sakugawa first studied under Peichin Takahara of Shun.  Later Sakugawa went to China to train 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 6 years.  In 1762 he returned to Okinawa and introduced his Kempo; this resulted in the karate we know today.  Sakugawa became a famous Samurai; he was given the title of Satunuku or Satonushi; these were titles given to Samurai for service to the King.

Sakugawa had many famous students; among them were: 

1. Chikatosinunjo Sokon Matsumura 

2. Satunuku Nakabe (nickname:  Mabai Changwa)

3. Satunuku Ukuda (Bushi Ukuda) 

4. Chikuntonoshinunjo Matsumoto (Bushi Matsumoto) 

5. Kojo of Kumemura (Kugushiku of Kuninda) 

6. Yamaguchi of the East (Bushi Sakumoto) 

7. Usume (aged man) of Andaya (Iimundum) 

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 Sokon "Bushi” Matsumura.   

Our Lineage

Sokon Bushi Matsumura

Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura

Bushi Matsumura (1797-1889) studied under Sakugawa for 4 years. He rapidly developed into a Samurai.  He was recruited into the service of the Sho family and was given the title Satunuku, later rising to Chikutoshi.  At some time during his career Bushi Matsumura was sent to China to train in the famous Shorinji  (Shaolin Temple).  He is alleged to have remained in China for many years.  Upon his return to Okinawa, Matsumura established the Shurite or Suidi that later became known as Shorin Ryu. 

Shorin Ryu is the Okinawan-Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese writing 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 and 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 Shorinji in China.   His wife (name unknown) was also purported to be a talented practitioner of the martial arts.

Bushi Matsumura passed on his menkyo kaiden (certificate of full proficiency) to his grandson, Nabe Matsumura. 


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 are unknown.  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 practitioners of his time.   He passed on his menkyo kaiden to his nephew Hohan Soken.


Hohan Soken

Hohan Soken was born in 1889; this was a time of great social changes in both Okinawa and Japan, known as the Meiji Era.  The feudal system was giving way to modernization.  The aristocracy and the samurai class were 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 the old Shorin ways.  

Master Soken retired from karate in 1978.  For many years he was the oldest living and active karate master.

Grand Master Fusei Kise

One of Grand Master Soken's top students was Grand 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 Grandmaster Zenryu Shimabuku and received his Yondan.  In 1958, Master Kise began studying under Hohan Soken, the third successor of Matsumura Orthodox Karate-do.  In 1960, he was a student of Grandmaster Shigeru Nakamura, Okinawan Kenpo Karate-do Federation. 

At that time Master Kise taught and practiced Shorinji-Ryu Karate-do; also during this time he was studying Shorin Ryu under Grandmaster Hohan Soken. 

On January 1, 1967 Master Kise passed the examination for 7th Dan under Grandmaster Hohan Soken, Shorin Ryu Karate Matsumura  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 to the Hanshi title by passing the 8th Dan examination held by Grandmaster Hohan Soken and Master Makabe.  

On September 1, 1976 Grandmaster Soken promoted Master Fusei Kise to 9th Dan.  In 1977, Master Kise founded the Shorin Ryu Kenshin Kan Karate  & Kobudo Federation.  Master Shigaru Tamae promoted Master Kise to 10th Dan on October 25, 1987. 


Kaicho Isao Kise

Kaicho Isao Kise is President of the All Okinawan Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito (and Kenshin Kan) Karate and Kobudo Federation. 

He is the son of Grand Master Kise Fusei and his designated successor. Kaicho holds the rank of Judan, 10th degree Black Belt. Kaicho ("president" in Japanese) teaches at the Main Dojo, Okinawa City, Okinawa Japan. 

He was the All Okinawan Kata, Kobudo, and Kumite Grand Champion.Kaicho teaches Traditional Karate, Sport Karate, Sport Kumite as well as full contact Karate. He is a senior judge for tournaments throughout the Island of Okinawa. Kaicho has been training since the age of 4 and was born July 27, 1957. 


Hombu Dojo in Okinawa City

Kaicho and his instructors teach all the classes at the hombu dojo in Okinawa City, Okinawa, Japan. A banner hangs at the front of the dojo with kanji that has been translated as "strength with gentleness," an excellent phrase to represent our style. A banner with this kanji can also be found in our dojo.


US Federation

Our US Federation is under the leadership of Hanshi Jeff Ader, Hanshi John Shipes, Kyoshi Loren Engelby and Kyoshi Francisco "Taco" Aguilar (Offshore Director). 

Our school is chartered through the OSMKKF out of Okinawa, Japan, and participates in training opportunities with other chartered schools throughout the year.