Questioning the weapons’ hunt
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
On March 7th and 8th, 2019, the Ryūkyū Shinpō Newspaper published a cultural column titled “Easy to understand Okinawan history - Interpreting social changes.” The author is Mr. Kurima Yasuo. Born in 1941 in Naha City, he is an Okinawa historian, agricultural scientist and emeritus professor at Okinawa International University.
In this article, professor Kurima writes about the “Katana-gari” or sword hunt that is said to have occurred at the time of King Shō Shin (1465 - 1527). The event is often mentioned in the history of Okinawa karate. Therefore we take the liberty to reproduce a part of the article in Japanese and present a translation below.
First of all, let's introduce the most detailed description of official history available in the “Achievements of Shō Shin – ‘Kyūyō’”. The Kyūyō Study Group has read through the ‘Kyūyō’ and compiled 33 points. The fourth point reads as follows. (……)
(4) Swords, bows and arrows were stored to prepare for the defense of our kingdom.
Next, let's look at the inscription “Momo Urasoe Rankan no Mei”. This asset has not survive history and its author is unknown. Yet, this inscription written in Chinese is mentioned in the "Ryūkyū Kokuhi Bunki". The inscription praises the achievements of King Shō Shin, with 11 items being listed. Some of them are also featured in "Kyūyō". (……)
ⓔ Swords, bows, arrows and similar weapon articles were collected and used exclusively for the defense of the nation.
Were the weapons surrendered?
From ④ and ⓔ, until now, there was an understanding that Shuri Royal Court itself had given up arms, but it was pointed out by many researchers that it was not the case. This is not a royal weapon abandonment, but a statement that the royal court seized weapons in its sole hand. This is fine as an interpretation of the phrase.
Since weapons were collected, some say it was a "sword hunt". If you do not clarify the distinction from the “sword hunt” in Japanese history, it can lead to a misunderstanding. In Japanese history, there was a sword hunt in Toyotomi Hideyoshi's era. However, weapons were not taken away from samurai, but from peasants (farmers) in order to clarify the distinction of social status. In the case of Ryūkyū, it is said that weapons were taken away from "Aji (1)" which are regarded as "Samurai."
So, were weapons really taken away from Aji? Originally, there was no organized armed group in Ryūkyū. While it is undeniable that there must have been some weapons, it is most likely that they were no important items for Aji. From the fact that there was really no weapon stocked, it is hard to believe that the weapons’ recall was written out as an achievement of King Shō Shin. (……)
(1) Local chieftain
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