Kyō Ahagon Jikki, the sword and karate
The unveiling of the statue of Uechi Kanbun
Following the steps of Matsumora Kōsaku
Brushwork of late Matsumura Sōkon
Maekawa bō performed at the Shihan Gakkō
The declaration of the "Karate Day"
A district connected to karate, Uebaru
The beauty of Okinawa karate
In 1522, Nakasone Toyomiya Genga of Miyako donated a treasured sword to the king (1). As the king's guardian sword, it was named Jiganemaru (2).
Kyō Ahagon Jikki, (birth and death dates unknown) was entrusted with King Shō Shin’s precious sword and travelled to Kyōto to have it examined. In Kyōto, he contracted a sword sharpener and after the task was completed, he successfully brought the treasured sword back to the king.
However, it turned out that the sword that he brought back was replaced for another one by the sword sharpener. So fine was the Jiganemaru that it raised the desire of the sharpener. Realizing that the sword he brought back to Ryūkyū wasn’t the original one, Kyō Ahagon returned to Kyōto. After three years of search for the sword, he finally found it and succeeded in bringing it home safely.
The king was delighted and gave Kyō Ahagon many rewards. The fame of Kyō Ahagon’s bravery increased more and more. The more the fame rises, the more people would envy him until they were finally able to attract the attention of the king. As he could not punish Kyō Ahagon on false charge, the king invited him to the court room for a chat, offering him some tea. After a while, a young man looking for an opportunity moved forward and stabbed Kyō Ahagon with a dagger.
This story is written in the book “Kyūyō”, retracing the history of the Ryūkyū. In the part depicting the episode, it is written as follow. “He broke the youth's femora (3) using karate (4)”. While it is unclear if karate was studied as a martial art, at that time, Chinese were already established in the Ryūkyū. Furthermore, since 1372, tribute trade was actively being held, it can be imagined that Chinese martial arts influences on the local art of Tī were happening. All this make this record quite interesting.
Episodes about Kyō Ahagon can also be found in the books “Ryūkyū Yūraiki” (1713) and “Ryūkyū koku Kūki” (1731).
It is unknown if the historical figure Kyō Ahagon Jikki was a disciple of karate. Yet, his grave is still preserved in Shuri. It is located in Shuri Samukawa, behind the Mezura Dake - peak.
Source: Okinawa Karate no Teihon (Unpublished resource compiled by Tsuha Kiyoshi as ordered by the now terminated Okinawa Karatedō kobudō Support Center)
(1) Most likely it is King Shō Shin who was on the throne between 1477 till 1526.
(2) The Jiganemaru is preserved at the Naha City Historical Museum. A photo is available at this link.
(3) In the Japanese text, “Mata” could also be translated in “the crotch, the thigh, the groin”.
(4) In the Japanese text, karate is written “open hand".
Uechi Kanbun (1877 - 1948) is the founder of one of the three major styles of Okinawa karate, Uechi-ryū. On April 21st, the unveiling ceremony of his statue was held in Mount Yaedake "Sakura no Mori Park", close from where Uechi Kanbun was born. More than 500 people participated. Here are some photographs introducing this historical day.
During the Ryūkyū Kingdom, Tomari was a port city involved with the foreign trade of the Shuri court. It was the entrance for foreign visitors and the culture they brought. Along the way, the area became the birthplace of many experts in the fields of Chinese classics, performing arts, music, martial arts among others.
It is said that Tomari’s temple Seigenji, commonly known as Ameku’s temple, was the base of activities of foreigners who disembarked in Tomari port. Among these were drifted ashore Chinese and Korean merchants. Tomari people were instructed in martial arts by these foreigners, which later gave birth to Tomarite, a martial art differing from the martial arts of Shuri and Naha.
Tomarite is said to have started with Teruya Kishin (1804-1864) and Uku Karyū (1800-1850). The one who inherited their art was Matsumora Kōsaku (1829-1898). He is considered as the one who rejuvenated Tomarite.
Today, there are at least 6 sites in the Okinawa prefecture that are landmarks in regard to the Tomari master’s legacy.
The most famous is indeed the praising monument located in the Shinyashiki Park. Raised in May 1983, it is located between Route 58 and the Tomari international cemetery.
Close-by, near the Tomari temple of Seigenji is the Kāmi-nu-yā cave where Matsumora Kōsaku is said to have train with a man who lived there.
A passage about this cave can be found in the 1970 published book "Karate (Tomarite) Chukō no So, Matsumora Kōsaku Ryakuden" (1) by Matsumura Kōshō. Previously named Matsumora, the author is the grandchild of Matsumora Kōsaku.
It is said that after receiving instruction in karate from Uku Karyū and Teruya Kishin, “Kōsaku went to ask for karate instruction to a Chinese who lived in a cave called ‘Kāmi-nu-yā’ on the shore of Tomari (although according to another version, it was a Ryūkyū man who hid from the royal government and thus dressed as a Chinese; anyway, the truth is unknown). At first, his request was refused but due to Kōsaku’s ardent desire, he received instruction…”
The third monument in Naha is located close by the Tomari elementary school and is known as the Bushi Matsumora relief sculpture.
Next to these three monuments and sites, there are 3 other sites that relates to the master.
One of them is the Fērē rock in Onna Village where Matsumora subdued some bandits.
Mainly remembered as a martial expert, Matsumora Kōsaku actually personifies a true Okinawan Bushi, meaning that next to having acquired great martial skills, he also contributed to the society. An example of his contribution is inscribed on the monument as follow.
“In the past in Tomari Village, in addition to community property received from the Ryūkyū royal administration, existed a common property called ‘Nēwagumuchi’. It was donated for the welfare of Tomari villagers by Yamazato Chōken, who passed the royal government examination and became a government official (2).
When came the abolition of feudal domains and establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879, Japanese government officials planned a policy to pull up this fortune. However, at the risk of his life, the bujin of Tomari Matsumora Kōsaku demonstrated his strong spirit and the project was abandoned. Today still, the donation is utilized as funding for the Tomari Senkaku Kenshōkai, the Tomari Pioneers Praising Association. We hand to posterity the name of the fist saint Matsumora, a man who persisted in the path of crushing evil and spreading the true.”
(1) The title could be translated as “Short biography of the rejuvenator of Tomarite Karate, Matsumora Kōsaku”.
(2) Born in a poor family, Yamazato Chōken (1820-1893) raised to become a royal clerk. It is said that after passing the royal examination, he gave a huge sum of money to Tomari that was to be used for the education of local nobles.
Sources: Karatedō and kobudō preliminary survey report, Okinawa Prefecture Board of Education, Matsumura Kōkatsu’ s "Bushi Matsumora Kōsaku Ryakuden" (published in 1970)
In the Archives of the Okinawa Karate Kaikan is exhibited a brushwork once calligraphed by late Matsumura Sōkon, the great karate master.
The sentence composed of 10 characters was once introduced in Miyagi Tokumasa’s book “Karate No Rekishi” published in 1987 by Okinawa Bunko. The piece exhibited in the Archives is a replica of the original.
It seems that this phrase was taken from the “Zhuzi yulei”, a collection of conversations relating to neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Xi.
In his book, Miyagi Tokumasa wrote “Bushi Matsumura is known as a Bujin who also excelled in Bunbu Ryōdō, scholarship and the martial arts. The brushwork hereby appearing is a good and suitable material to prove this fact. The phrase reads as ‘Hito, tsuneni keikyō nareba, sunawachi kokoro wa tsuneni kōmyō nari’ (1). It was written by Sōkon when he was 76 years old of age. From the strength of the brush work and the phrases, it is indeed the artwork of a Bujin.”
In this splendid calligraphy by Matsumura Sōkon who adopted the calligrapher name “Unyū” and was also called “Buchō” the head of martial arts, the second character on the right from top reading “常 - Tsune” or always is particularly beautifully written. The viewer can easily imagine a revolving sai, the trident of kobudō or an ornamental hairpin called jīfā in Okinawa.
Do not miss to visit the Okinawa Karate Kaikan to admire the calligraphy of Matsumura Sōkon, a man who is considered as one of the “Chūkō no so (2)” of karate.
(1) One translation could be: If one is always respectful, that is the heart will always be bright.
(2) Chūkō no so: There are 3 masters considered as the rejuvenators of karate: Matsumura Sōkon (Shurite), Matsumora Kōsaku (Tomarite) and Higaonna Kanryō (Nahate).
Photo credit: Okinawa Prefecture Karate Promotion Division – Okinawa Karate Kaikan
From 1925 until 1927, His Highness Prince Chichibu studied in England. On his way to Europe, he stopped in Okinawa in May 1925. On this occasion, a karate demonstration was organized for him at the Okinawa Shihan Gakkō, the Okinawa Normal School. The leader of the karate demonstration was Miyagi Chōjun, who would later established Gōjū-ryū.
While this demonstration is widely known as a karate event, there is another side to it that proves that karate and bōjutsu - staff martial art are inseparable.
Located in Maekawa, Tamagusuku, Nanjō City, Okinawa World is one of the major cultural theme parks of Okinawa. Also known as Gyokusendō for the marvelous limestone cave located inside the park, Okinawa World also managed the Valley of Gangala situated opposite to the main park. Inside the premises can be found the Bugeidō (above photo), a martial art cave that relates to the local staff, Maekawa-bō.
According to a staff member, before WWII and the battle of Okinawa, bōjutsu was performed during local festivals and one of the performing groups used to train inside the Bugeidō. Indeed, there is a large space inside the cave that would allow martial practice.
It is common knowledge that in the past, martial experts trained secretly. In the Maekawa Village Annals, it is written, “At the occasion of village celebrations and the likes, people would rehearse their performances. The sense of rivalry between each group was fierce. After dark, people would gather in the house of their respective group’s chief or in caves to train late at night, away from other parties’ eyes.”
Furthermore, like in many other districts of Okinawa, bōjutsu was popular in the Maekawa district. In the annals previously mentioned, a chapter is dedicated to a particular bōjutsu demonstration. It reads as follow.
“On May 12th, 1925, while His Highness Prince Chichibu stopped by Okinawa on the way to Europe, Oshiro Jūrō (Naka ufugushiku gwa), chairman of the Maeda Youth Association, a group once awarded by the Okinawa Prefecture, was asked to perform in front of his highness during a Kobujutsu demonstration as a representative of Tamagusuku Village. The notice from the prefecture was addressed to the ward chief, Oshiro Gensaku.
On the date, in the school grounds, a Kobujutsu demonstration with representatives of each municipalities of the prefecture was held. Students of the normal school performed karate and kumite. The Maekawa Youth Association representing Tamagusuku Village performed the kata “Sūji nu kun (Shū shi no kon)” and received a huge ovation from the floor. All travel expenses and uniforms were provided by the Okinawa Prefecture.
Furthermore, at the same period, a person from Shuri by the name of Bō Ufugusuku was appointed as a bōjustu instructor by the Okinawa Prefecture and dispatched to the Maekawa ward. It is said that for 14 days, visiting Maekawa daily, he taught diligently bōjutsu Sūji nu kun from PM2:00 till PM5:00 for 3 hours, on the square of the ward office.”
(The above photo is the youth association members who participated in the Kobujutsu demonstration, dated of May 12, 1925)
The valuable document that is the Maekawa records depicts the society of the time and the situation of Okinawan martial arts during the Taishō era (1912-1926). It also tells that martial arts in Okinawa comprised karate (kata?), kumite and bōjutsu.
Today, a monument stands where used to be the Okinawa Shihan Gakkō or Normal school and it is also possible to visit the training site that used to be Bugeidō.
As for the Maekawa Youth Association, it is nowadays active as a “performing arts troup”. Next to the traditional dance “Ayagu” (1), it strives to preserve “Yushiguē” (2), “Mēkata-bō” (3) and “Tinbē” (4), performances past down since ancient times in Maekawa.
Source: Tamagusuku Village Maekawa Annals, Okinawa Karate News Issue 58
(1) Ayagu is a male dance emphasizing the importance of cooperation between people.
(2) Yushiguē is a dance depicting agriculture work with the hoe as main prop.
(3) Mēkata-bō is a martial dance performed with a staff.
(4) Here, Tinbē is a fighting dance performance using a shield and a blade weapon similar as in traditional kobudō.