History of Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan

     Any history of Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu must begin with a discussion of the Okinawan art of Te. Te (also ti, meaning hand or fist) is a martial art that is roughly 1000 years old and seems to have developed independently on Okinawa. The Okinawans of old were not rich and weapons were in short supply. In addition, the land was not united and a variety of warlords struggled over the land preying on the people. These conditions provided a strong impetus for the development of unarmed systems of self-defense by the Okinawan people.

     By 1340, Okinawa was divided into 3 rival kingdoms, Hokuzan (north), Chuzan (middle), and Nanzan (south). The largest of these (Chuzan,1372) entered into a tributary and trade relationship with China. They were thus able to establish trade and diplomatic relations with China and were exposed in their travels to the Chinese boxing systems. In 1392-3, 36 families of clerics, artisans, and other Chinese professionals settled in Okinawa. They introduced to Okinawa a variety of skills including the martial arts.

     In 1429, after some internal fighting, Okinawa was unified under Sho Hashu and the Sho dynasty was formed. This ushered in an age of trade and prosperity and even greater exposure to china and all its arts. However, around 1470 the dynasty collapsed and a new (also Sho) dynasty was formed. The new Confucianism king Sho Shin banned the carrying of weapons by anyone. This was an attempt to deal with entrenched rebellious warlords. He also decreed that all the nobles move next to him in the royal capital of Shuri. This disarmament lead to further refinement in the unarmed Te systems, as well as, the birth of the combative use of tools and farm implements for self-defense (ryukyu bujutsu).

     These systems were practiced in utmost secrecy, but 3 separate styles of Te emerged. These styles are named for the regions in which they were developed. The styles are Shuri-Te, Tomari-Te, and Naha-Te. The differences in these styles suggests influences from various Chinese styles. Shuri-Te seems to have incorporated the external system of Shaolin boxing, while Naha-Te incorporates internal Taoist techniques (possibly Hsing-I or Pa-kua influence). Tomari-Te seems to have had a mix of both internal and external styles. The Chinese arts were made and adopted uniquely by the Okinawan people and are a separate martial art stylistically. Features that have proven popular on other sites are updates on related books, article excerpts from martial arts magazines, and inspirational quotes.

     In 1609, Okinawa refused to recognize the newly unified Japan and its Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. The Japanese Satsuma clan invaded and crushed people of the island. The king was taken to Edo and a puppet government was put in place. It is interesting to note the Satsuma clan was given the `privilege` as well as the cost of this enterprise (since they had backed the wrong side in the Battle of Sekigahara and had lost prominence on their home isle of Kyushu) by Ieyasu. The Samurai in Okinawa were allowed to carry their weapons but the Okinawan weapons ban was strictly enforced. Further additions to this ban blocked all importation of weapons, ending even the making of ceremonial swords in Okinawa. The Samurai exploited Okinawa heavily and it gradually declined economically. These factors lead to an explosive development in both the systems of Te and Bujutsu.

     Throughout this period, Okinawan Te was used against the Satsuma Clan frequently, with devastating results. A story, handed down by the generations throughout centuries, tells of a company of heavily armed Samurai whom attacked a lesser number of Okinawans' working in a sugar cane field. The Samurai, expecting an easy victory since their opponents were without weapons, were dealt a surprising and brutal defeat. Those who managed to escape had witnessed a method of unarmed combat which transformed uneducated farmers into superior fighters.

     Heavy hand conditioning was undertaken to permit the lethal blows and to penetrate the wooden or chain armor worn by the Samurai. Practice sessions were held in secret. Crude farm implements were fashioned into weapons whenever possible, but defense of life and property was primarily dependent on skills of hand and foot fighting. Traditions, ideology, and techniques were born at this time which play a decisive role in Karate as we know it today.

     Peace was gradually restored to Okinawa. The overthrow of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868 after brief civil war in Japan and the final crushing of the Satsuma rebellion in 1877, restored supreme power to the Imperial Emperor of Japan. However, throughout this time period, the Japanese kept the tributary relations with China for Okinawa even though the xenophobic Japanese had broken all ties with foreigners at this time. This was done in order to continue trade with China.

     In 1791 a Chinese diplomatic official, Kusanku (Kung Syanag?, Kosu Kun?, Ku Shanku?) moved to Okinawa for 6 years and taught Ch`uan-Fa. (Some historians believe this was in fact an amalgam of several people lost to history since Kusanku roughly translates to Chinese official). As these Chinese influences became felt in the local martial arts they gradually became known by the general name T`ang-te (or Tode, To-Te, Toti, all meaning china-hand). Later in the nineteenth century, these styles were again renamed. Shuri and Tomari-Te formed the basis for Shorin Ryu and Naha-Te formed Gojo-Ryu. The amalgam of the Te and Chinese boxing styles later taught by Sakagawa form the basis of Shorin-Ryu. Shorin translates to mean Shaolin in deference to its roots in the Chinese martial arts.

     The overall name of karate was not adopted until the early 1900`s still with the original meaning of China hand retained. In 1936, the present meaning of Karate (empty-hand) was adopted to speed its acceptance in the pre-war militaristic Japanese state, as well as, expanding the philosophical meaning of the art.

     The Shorin-Ryu style is composed of numerous branches: Kobayashi-Ryu or Shorinkan ("small forest school"), Matsubayashi-ryu ("pine forest school"), and Sekunihiashi ("Matsumura orthodox"), as well as, a variety of other Shorin styles. All of the above refer to the small pine forest where the Shaolin Temple was last located, and all three can be read to mean Shorin-Ryu or "Shaolin way." As an example, the first kanji character Ko, Matsu or Sekunai can also be read as Sho. The second character hayashi translates to Rin. Instructors in the Shorinkan style trace their teaching transmission back to the late 1600's with evidence that some techniques were practiced in the mid-1500's.

     As stated in the brief history, Tode "Karate" Sakugawa studied under Kusanku who taught the form later titled the Kusanku kata. Sakugawa introduced the Passai form as well as the development of Shuri-Te katas. One of his more famous students was Sokon (Hohan) "Bushi" Matsumura. Matsumura completed the Passai Kata and introduced the Chinto kata into Shorin. Katas currently taught in practiced in Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan are Kusanku Sho, Kusanku Dai, Passai Dai, Passai Sho, and Chinto.

     Matsumura was recruited into the service of the Sho family (Royal family of Okinawa) and eventually became the chief martial arts instructor and bodyguard for the Okinawan King. At some point in his career, approximately 1830, he went to China and studied the Shaolin style of Chinese Kenpo (fist method) and weaponry. It is also known that he traveled to Foochow in Fukien province, China on numerous occasions as an envoy for the Okinawan King. After his return from China he organized and refined the Shorin Ryu system of Okinawan Karate. Matsumura is credited with passing on the kata or formal exercises of Shorin Ryu Karate known as Naihanchi I & II [there is evidence that the Naihanchi katas find their roots in the katas originally taught in the Shaolin temple], Passai Dai, Seisan, Chinto, Gojushiho (fifty-four steps of the Black Tiger), Kusanku (the embodiment of Kusanku's teaching as passed on to Tode Sakugawa) and Hakutsuru (white crane). The Hakutsuru kata contains the elements of the white crane system taught within the Shaolin system of Chinese Kenpo. Another set of kata, known as Chanan in Matsumura's time, is said to have been devised by Matsumura himself and was the basis for Pinan and II [also currently taught]. Matsumura's Ryu has endured to the present day and the above mentioned kata are the core of Shorin Ryu Karate today. Matsumura was given the title "Bushi" meaning warrior by the Okinawan King in recognition of his abilities and accomplishments in the martial arts. In fact, Matsumura fought many times but was never defeated. His martial arts endeavors, specifically the organization of Okinawan Shorin Ryu system, has been the progenitor of many contemporary karate styles, Shotokan Ryu and Shito Ryu, for example. Ultimately all modern styles of karate that evolved from the Shuri-Te lineage can be traced back to the teachings of Bushi Matsumura.

     This includes Taekwon Do (Korean Karate). Taekwon Do was founded in 1955 by General Choi Hung Hi, a member of the Korean Army. According to General Hi, "Taekwon Do is a synthesis of Taekyon, an ancient Korean form of unarmed combat which mainly employs kicking and karate, a Japanese martial art which chiefly relies on hand techniques". General Hi, the father of Taekwon Do, studied Shotokan Karate in Kyoto, while he was a college student in Japan.

     According to Hohan Soken (1889-1982), the purest teaching of Matsumura's Shorin Ryu was carried on by Matsumura Nabi (c.1860-1930). He received training in the family style of Matsumura Shorin Ryu which also included the secret techniques of the white crane. The white crane system was reputed to be a secret family style that was only taught to immediate family members. In his later years, Nabe Matsumura was referred to as Nabe Tanme or "old man" Nabe. He was known to be a stern and disciplined teacher. Matsumura also trained Yasutsune "Anko" Itosu. Master Itosu, is quite possibly the most influential teacher in Shorin, expanded Shorin the most by adding the Pinan katas' as well as Naihanchis' Nidan and Sandan. He also split both the Kusanku and Passai katas' into the Sho and Dai versions. In circa. 1901, he introduced Karate into the public schools in Okinawa. This was a critical step in the expansion of the martial arts. Since prior to this, the art of Tode or karate was considered a "secret"art. This introduction into the mainstream quite possibly may have paved the way for the availability for ALL styles of the martial arts to reach the general public.

     One of Master Itosu most prominent students was Gichin Funakoshi. Master Gichin Funkakoshi went to Japan and founded the Shotokan system in 1922 and several years later, changed the name from Okinawan-Te or Tode to KARATE. Master Funkakoshi has been widely regarded as the father of modern karate. Another one of Itosu`s students was Chosin Chibana [a Grand Master in Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan]. He renamed the style Kobayashi to indicate that he taught Itosu`s original style. He added the Gojushiho kata and the Kihon katas to our style. Several of Chosin Chibana's students started their own subdivided styles. Shugoro Nakazato [the current Grand Master of Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan] became Kaicho of Shorin Ryu Shorinkan and Katsuya Miyahira became Kaicho of the Shorin-Ryu ShiDoKan branch of Okinawan Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu.

     Another of Matsumura`s students, Chotoku Kyan (Shobayashi Shorin-Ryu?) was also very influential in karate history. He taught a variety of students who went on to found a number of their own styles. Among his students are: Shoshin Nagamine founder of Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu, Joen Nakazato founder of Shorinji-Ryu, Tatsuo Shimabuku founder of Isshin-Ryu, and Eizo Shimabuku founder of Shobayashi Shorin-Ryu. Several of these individuals also trained under Anko Itosu as well. Among the above, Eizo Shimabuku preserved Kyan style most and thus Shobayashi is very similar to Kobayashi due to this.

     Another style descended from Matsumura is Sekunihiashi ("Matsumura Orthodox") which was devised by Hohan Soken, who is said to have studied with his uncle Nabe Matsumura, who in turn studied from Sokon Matsumura. There are many, many others teaching modified forms of Shorin-Ryu, such as, Kenwa Mabuni`s Shito-Ryu (incorporates Goju-Ryu with Shorin-Ryu), Zenryo Shimabukuro`s Chuba Shorin-Ryu and Shigeru Nakamura`s Okinawa Kenpo. The age-old origins of the Shorin-Ryu style have proven fertile ground for a galaxy of variations with different emphasis but the base is still the same in most of these styles. Which style is best? These questions are not really worth asking and we should take a lesson from the old masters who trained under a variety of styles and Sensei`s to find what worked best for them. Since each individual has different strengths and weaknesses we should train in a classical style to garner a strong base and then seek out other styles to complement our base knowledge and expand as martial warriors.

by Richard Richardson