Kobudō 5: Soken Hōhan and Shiroma Taisei
Kobudō 4: Kameshima Shinsuke and Chinen Masami
Kobudō 3: Nakamura Shigeru and Higa Yūsuke
Kobudō 2: Irei Matsutarō and Nakamura Heisaburō
Kobudō 1: Kina Shōsei and Shinjō Heisaburō
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
[Okinawa Times] November 22, 1961
Soken, the successor of “Matsumura”
Soken Hōhan (70)
He was born in 1891 in Gaja, Nishihara Village. Presently, he teaches students as an instructor of Shōrin-ryū (1) karate and kobujutsu.
Mr. Soken started karate when he was 12 years old. He was initiated by his mother Kamī’s elder brother, Mr. Matsumura (3rd generation of Shuri) (2).
He explains that although having reached a certain age, if a boy keep loafing, he won’t become a man which is why he was introduced to karate. But for the boy that Soken was still, it seems that training at that time was extremely strenuous. At 20 of age, leaving his parents’ home, he started living at the Matsumura Dōjō. He recalls that he would wake up before others students and undergo morning training, while training occurred also until late in the evening. At the beginning, training was light, but as his level improved, he event underwent training like the way to remove one’s geta clogs and escape. He explains that as the maxim “Karate ni sente nashi” tells, people who train in karate should also research “how to escape in any situation”.
In 1924, a martial art demonstration gathering martial artists from the entire island was held at the Taishō Theater in Naha. Mr. Soken performed next to Kyan Chōtoku, (Chanmī-gwā), Motobu Chōyū (Motobu Sārū) (3) and others.
Mr. Soken has 58 years of martial art experience. During these years, although he has crossed over to Miyako and Argentina, he has kept practicing diligently martial arts. Returning to his home town after WWII, he, as an orthodox (4) successor of Matsumura sensei took the name Shōrin-ryū and opened a dōjō in Gaja, Nishihara Village.
Since then, he has taught almost 200 students and still today, some 20 disciples train hard daily. During the coming demonstration, he will performed Kusarigama while 6 other students will also demonstrate on stage.
(Resides in Gaja, Nishihara Village)
- Written Sukunai Hayashi
- Most likely the master known as Nabī Tanmē. According to the “Okinawa Karate Kobudo Encyclopedia”, a theory is that he was Tomimura Pēchin, one of the demonstrators during the last Ryukyuan reception for Sapposhi.
- While Motobu Sārū is the nickname of Motobu Chōki, in the original text it is written after Motobu Chōyū, the eldest son of the Motobu family.
- Seitō in Japanese can be translated in orthodox, legitimate and traditional.
- Master Soken passed away in 1982.
Shiroma demonstrating Ufutun Bō
Shiroma Taisei (77)
He was born in 1885 in Ōzato Village Aza Ōshiro. At a young age, he became interested by watching the soul-stirringly Bōjutsu performances of the youth of the hamlet during festivals.
At the age of 17, he started practicing by visiting the house of Futenma Ōfu (1) sensei who was teaching Bōjutsu in the village. As he was gifted for athletics, his teacher told him “No mistake you will become skillful” and thus he was taken care of more than others. From then on, he kept practicing until 2-3 years after the end of the war. Remembering his young years, speaking with an impatient expression, he tells “No one can’t win over age, only now am I able to swing the staff…”
In 1928, he performed during the imperial commemorative demonstration for the present emperor that was held at Yonabaru Elementary School. His demonstration on that day is his most cherished memory.
“I would like for the youth of the hamlet to temper their body by learning Bōjustu, but the youngsters of today ignore the bō. Yet, this is a physical activity that one can have fun alone with at any time, and that is perfectly suitable within the countryside. If through the coming demonstration, some youth of the villages understand, even if young I will teach them. Now I am troubled as there is nobody. Even myself, only now am I confident on being capable of performing correctly at least the moves of Ufutun Bō.” So speaks humbly Shiroma.
He has been teaching his first son Seikō since a young age, and although he has learned Ufutun Bō, he presently lives in Sawatsu City in Shizuoka Prefecture. Because he was my son, he accepted my selfishness and whim; on moonlight nights, I more than once woke him up during the night and taught him on the hill.
He goes on saying “With the coming soon Kobudō demonstration, having notified him by letter that I was going to perform Ufutun Bō, my son was happy telling me to be careful but also encouraging me to do my best.” Then, grabbing the Bo that was placed in the Tokonoma alcove, he said “This is Ufutun Bō” and went on to perform the kata.
(Resides in Aza Oshiro, Ozato Village)
(1) The name’s reading is unclear.
[Okinawa Times] November 21, 1961
First ever demonstration of Dōchin
Kameshima Shinsuke (64)
He was born in Yonabaru Town in 1897. He served as the second mayor of Yonabaru and is presently the chairman of the town assembly. On the side of his busy assembly related activities, he opened the Shōbukan Dōjō and devote himself in instructing his juniors.
From the age of 15, he learned from Motobu Choyū sensei (elder son of Motobu sārū) among others. Since then and for more than 50 years, he has kept practicing karatedō. At the coming demonstration, he will perform the kata Dōchin.
Dōchin is a kata never seen in Okinawa therefore it will be the first ever demonstration in public. It is one of the many secrets that Mr. Kaneshima has in his repertory. He learned this kata from Chin Handō sensei (1) when traveling to Taiwan at the age of 17.
Kaneshima has dedicated his life to karatedō and he is eager to demonstrate, his face being filled with confidence. Very involved with the preservation of kobudō, he together with President Higa Seitoku, has gone all around the island to gather the authorities of kobudō. He is a driving force for kobudō’s revival.
He tells about his aspiration as follow. “I am deeply sadden as I see that native kobudō is slowly disappearing. It is partly due to the fact that authorities are passing away. With the coming public demonstration, we intend to film and thus preserve the kata demonstration of each masters. Through kobudō, we wish to nurture highly spirited and healthy youth that will be the leaders of tomorrow.”
Only the white vanishing hairs are a sign of the man’s old age. Indeed, his movements and his verbal attitude are filled with energy. From the days he started learning karate, he has never been sick once said this man who has developed a powerful physical appearance. And he will prove it as he will perform Dōchin for the first time in public. Wiping his sweat he goes on saying that he is not at all short of breath because as he explains karate built great physique and spirit.
(Yonabaru Town Morishita Ward 35)
Extra notes: According to the “Okinawa Karate Kobudō Encyclopedia”, Kaneshima sensei passed away in 1990 at the age of 93. He studied in his younger years in Taiwan under Tokuyama Chōgi who himself studied under Shurite expert Onaga Ekata. In his 30ies, he studied with Chin Handō. Later, Kaneshima named his system Tozan-ryū which is written with the 1st and 3rd characters for Tokuyama.
Today, some of his students continue his legacy using the name “Shōrinpa Kenpō Tozan-ryū.”
Learning the staff from his grandfather
Chinen Masami (63)
Sakugawa no kon
He received direct transmission of Sakugawa no kon (Bōjutsu) from his grandfather Saburō (1).
It is said that “Sakugawa no kon” came from China, and there are few experts in Okinawa. Mr. Chinen began his career at the age of seventeen. When he was a child, he used to study karate with his younger brother Seishō (2), but tormented by the practice, he switched to Bō. He says that the reason is that while he took a break in his karate training, his younger brother Seishō improved. He says that he had given up martial arts for a while as he was vexed from losing to his brother, but on the recommendation of his grandfather he started Bōjustu. Chinen's grandfather Saburō was known as a Bō expert, his technique being called the “form of Yamannī”.
Sakugawa no kon is one of the special skills of Grandpa Saburō. It's somewhat different from other cudgels’ techniques; you pretend to strike but actually thrust. When thrusting, you do so while twisting the cudgel. Mr. Chinen received instruction from his grandfather, and as a legitimate inheritor Sakugawa no kon, he will perform this kata at the demonstration, but he adds “Bōjustu is a martial art my grandfather devoted his life to. I want to do my best during the demonstration with the meaning of preserving the kata of my grandad”. Sakugawa no kon is still preserved in the Kakazu district of Madanbashi (3), but now there are only a few experts as it is a forgotten martial art. It is only inherited by a few elders.
With the coming demonstration, Mr. Chinen said that “he would like to become a good adviser for President Higa and also wants to do his best for Kobujutsu”.
(1) Most likely Chinen Masanra, known as the founder of Yamannī-ryū.
(2) The name’s reading is unclear.
(3) The Kakazu district is presently in Tomigusuku. Not far from there can be found the Ryūkyū Kobudō Shimbukan founded by Akamine Eisuke sensei. Akamine sensei was born in Kakazu and studied the Bō of Kakazu that was taught directly by Chinen Masanra. He is followed by his son Akamine Hiroshi, present head of the Shimbukan.
[ Okinawa Times ] November 17, 1961
Studying with Chanmī-gwa and others
Nakamura Shigeru (67)
He was born in 1894 in Nago Town (1). When he was 15 years old, he entered the Okinawa Prefecture Junior High School (2), joined the school’s karate club and started to learn karate. From a young age, Mr. Nakamura was extremely interested in karate, listening to many tales and stories from elders and seniors. For this reason, and because he redoubled of enthusiasm, he quickly progressed in karate. During the coming demonstration, he will perform “Niseshi” kata that he learned from the nicknamed “Kuniyoshi no Tanmē” (3). The kata itself doesn’t have many various techniques, however there are very few experts of it in Okinawa making this kata a precious work of art.
In the past, Mr. Nakamura zealously studied karate together with Chanmī-gwa and Motobu-sārū (4) which makes him a karateman from the roots. Next to karate, he also knows Bō (staff) and Sai (trident) amongst others.
However, in the 50 some years of his martial art life, he had to face many hardships. He explains that he had to go to training sessions in cold winter nights and travel on many journeys in order to study karate. Such types of hardships built Mr. Nakamura’s temperament and helped him nurture an indomitable force of will that never bends in front of something. Today, he has a dōjō in his house and it is said that the number of his students goes up to 1,000.
Nowadays in Okinawa karate, there are many various styles, however, Mr. Nakamura said that “In the past, there were no styles in karate. To develop Okinawa karate, all styles must be united (5).”
In the dōjō of Mr. Nakamura hangs a framed picture on which is written in large letters “Jinkaku Kansei” (6). There, obeying the teaching of their master, students zealously train days and nights.
(Lives in 489 Nago Town)
(1) Today Nago City.
(2) Today’s Shuri Senior High School was once the “1st Okinawa Prefectural Junior High School” while today’s Naha Senior High School was the “2nd Okinawa Prefectural Junior High School”.
(3) Alias for Kuniyoshi Shinkichi (1848-1926), “Tanmei” being a word that could be translated into grandpa or old man. According to the “Okinawa Karate Kobudo Encyclopedia”, Kuniyoshi was born in Kumoji Village (present Naha) and learned Nahate from Sakiyama Chikudun nu Peichin (who himself studied in China with Ru Ru Ko). Kuniyoshi’s mastery was considered equal to Higashionna Kanryō’s mastery. When 60 years old, Kuniyoshi Shinkichi moved to Nago.
(4) Nicknames for respectively Kyan Chōtoku (1870-1945) and Motobu Chōki (1870-1944).
(5) The word “united” could also be translated in “standardized”.
(6) “Character completion” as in personality brought to perfection.
Extra note: According to the “Okinawa Karate Kobudo Encyclopedia”, Nakamura studied under Itosu Anko when in junior high school and passed away in 1969.
Father and son demonstrating Tenbē together
Higa Yūsuke (70)
As kobudō is slowly being forgotten, the only person who performs “Tenbē”(1) today is Mr. Higa. Devoting himself to the preservation of Tenbē, the role of Mr. Higa is very important. Showing a strong volition, Mr. Higa explains: “With the fear that the art of Tenbē might cease to exist, I had some helpless feelings but today, as I am speaking with kobudō concerned people in order to restore this martial art, I am quite happy. With people capable of performing Tenbē all passing away, we cannot spare our efforts. Myself, although I am getting old, I wish to perform Tenbē in my own way.”
Tenbē is a fight between someone armed with a woven hat (2) and a sword and someone armed with a spear. During the demonstration, Mr. Higa will perform with a hat and a sword while his 5th son named Yūfuku will perform with a spear. As a familial combination with good spirit, they will do their best for the resurrection of Tenbē. In the case of the sword and hat handler, he must jump freely over the opponent. It is said that it is because it is hard to jump high over someone that this martial art is not really popular.
Imitating the jump and speaking in Okinawan, Mr. Higa says, “When I was young, it was nothing for me to jump over you.” A small but solid and muscle tightened man, it is easy to imagine that when he was young, this energetic old man could jump freely over somebody.
Born in 1891 in Kudeken, Chinen Village, he joined the Oita Infantry 72 regiment in 1911. He was discharged in 1913. He explains than after being discharged, when he was 24 years old, he received instruction from Arakaki sensei from Shuri. The hard training he received when in the infantry helped him in the study of Tenbē, an art that he quickly mastered. After the death of Arakaki sensei, he taught the art to the youth of Chinen, Takagusuku and Sashiki but the incessant hard training was too much to cope with and many quit training, letting him with his son Yūfuku as only partner.
Keeping himself busy working on a farm on one side, Mr. Higa trains hard in view of the demonstration.
(1) Also called Tinbē.
(2) Written kasa in Japanese, it could also mean umbrella.
[ Okinawa Times ] November 16, 1961
Irei Matsutarō (82)
Expert of Kusarigama - sickle and chain weapon, and the eldest senior, he started learning when he was 19 years old, which makes him a man with a martial art experience of more than 60 years. Kusarigama is a martial art that was developed in farm villages where people thought of linking the familiar chain and sickle into a single weapon. Therefore, while there is not one defined kata, many forms can be found depending of the region. Mr. Irei learned Kama-no-te from Asato no Tanmei (1) who lives in Goeku (2). However, his motive was quite simple. He explains that “I was aspiring to become a soldier and I didn’t want to be laugh at when going in Mainland Japan…” Also, at that time in farming villages, people who studied karate and sickle were hated as they were considered as savages and thugs. People kept away from them even to the point that they couldn’t find a spouse. For such reasons, most people were studying martial arts incognito at night, away from people’s attention.
He first started with karate and with his skill leveling-up, he studied many other techniques like Sai, Bō and Kama. At 25 years old, he demonstrated for the first time karate and Kusarigama in a play put on in a village and at 31, he performed a large demonstration together with 12 students.
People are told that “Gei ha mi wo tasuku (3).” Mr. Irei himself says that he was able to overcome many disasters because he studied martial arts. This is not simply a question of defending oneself but also to nurture naturally a spirit that helps one to endure hardships.
Nowadays, the number of experts in Okinawa Kobujutsu and especially sickle is diminishing but he is happily teaching all those who sincerely intend to learn the sickle. During the next coming demonstration, many experts of Okinawa Kobujutsu will gather to demonstrate their secrets and it is the purpose of all to popularize Kobujutsu. On his own, Mr. Irei is teaching Sai, Kama and other skill to his grandchild Tomita Nobuyuki (24).
(1) Tanmei is a word that could be translated into grandpa or old man.
(2) Goeku is located in Okinawa City or Koza.
(3) Learn a trade, for the time will come when you shall need it.
Becoming intimate with karate during student days
Nakamura Heisaburō (68)
He was born in 1893 in Motobu Town Aza Toguchi. When around 17 years old, he got to know karate and until this day, he has continue training as a spiritual cultivation and as a way of staying in good health. During the demonstration, he will perform Chisōchin (1), a kata he says he was initiated to when he was a student by Bushi Kuniyoshi (2) of Nago Town. During the time of Shihan (3), he received instruction from Yabu Kentsū sensei.
About the merits of karate, he tells with a peaceful tone that “Karate is a good exercise to build a strong body and to temper the mind...” A fervent karate enthusiast, after graduating from the Teachers’ College he spent his life as a school teacher until 1957. In each school he was newly appointed, he instructed karate to students. Especially to upper students, he taught Pin-an and kumite among other things, including karate as a regular item of school’s athletic meets. He retired as principal of Motobu Elementary school in 1957 (4). He is presently the head of the Board of Education of Motobu district.
A man who gives a pleasant impression, with a well-balanced appearance forged through karate, he looks much younger than he is actually. Most likely, he was much appreciated by his students when he was a school teacher. Since it is the first demonstration he is participating in, he went looking for a new karategi and now he devotes himself completely to his morning training. “As I will perform in front of the public, I cannot do anything irresponsible. Although I keep training, I am getting old, and I am worried if I can perform well” he says humbly. Yet he can perform karate very powerfully. As he demonstrates Chisōchin facing the camera, his serious facial expression tells anyone that is still in good health. The sounds of joints and the agile handling of his body are such a contrast with his ordinary quiet face, that it fills the space with a dignified feeling.
(1) In Japanese, it is written “Chi” and not “Shi” like for the Gōjū-ryu kata Shisōchin.
(2) Alias for Kuniyoshi Shinkichi (1848-1926). According to the “Okinawa Karate Kobudō Encyclopedia”, he was born in Kumoji Village (present Naha), learned Nahate and was considered the equal to Higashionna Kanryō. When 60 years old, he moved to Nago and taught the kata Nisēshi to Nakamura Shigeru of Okinawa Kenpō.
(3) Referring most likely to Shihan Gakkō, the Teachers’ College that was located where today stands the Okinawa Prefecture University of Arts.
(4) According to Motobu Town Motobu Elementary School records, he was appointed principal of the school in April 1946 (Showa 21) as the 15th principal.
[ Okinawa Times ] November 15, 1961
With the support of the Cultural Property Conservation Committee, the Ryūkyū Shimpō and the Okinawa Times Newspapers, the Okinawa Kobudō Kyōkai (President Higa Seitoku) will held its first demonstration on November 26th at 13:00 at Naha Theater. This is organized in order to help the resurrection of native kobudō on the verge to disappear. More than 50 authorities from all regions of the island will participate performing around 60 demonstrations among which Bō, Sai, Kama, Nunchaku, Tinbē, etc… From the venerable 83 years old Nohara Kamaichi (Kochinda Village) to 24 years old young men, all are enthusiastic preparing for this demonstration. At this stage, let’s introduce the major demonstrators.
Direct transmission from the police officer
Kina Shōsei (79)
In the past, sai was worn by Chikusaji (hori) (1) and was used to protect the king, control the crowd or to arrest criminals. It resembles the Jitte of Mainland Japan.
Mr. Kina started the practice of sai at the age of 18, receiving instruction from the seniors and friends of the village. The birthplace of Mr. Kina, Shimabukuro (Koza City) is extremely famous for sai and it is said that it was popularized among the youth of the village as one kind of self-defense. However, it seems that this was only a self-taught style where people learned from mimicking policemen.
Today, there are many experts of sai in Okinawa but there exists no ryuha (2) and kata are not uniformed. The sai technique that Mr. Kina practices was directly transmitted from an Ufuchiku (official title) policeman who performed his duties at Shuri Castle, thus making it an orthodox school. The major techniques of sai are about “hitting, blocking, thrusting and knocking down”, thus making it a martial art for self-defense. Mr. Kina says that he teaches his students advocating, “Under the sky, one cannot commit bad actions, there is no first attack in sai.” For 32 years, he has worked as a teacher and nowadays lives the rest of his life quietly as a Christian. Among his students are Kyan Shin-ei, Izumikawa Kantoku and Kina Shōshin who are famous as sai experts. Laughing with a big voice Mr. Kina jokes saying, “I am already an 80 years old grandpa” but his handling of the sai is sharp. During the soon coming demonstration at Naha Theater, he intends to show the techniques and higher skills that he has spent a lifetime to learn. He was born in in 1882. (3)
(1) “Chikusaji” refers to police force or policeman. The term “hori” designates a policeman of the time of Edo era.
(2) “Ryuha” means school or style
(3) Kina sensei passed away in 1981.
Studying “jutsu” in Nanking
He was born in 1914 in Yomitan Village Aza Uza. His father being fond of karate, he became familiar with karate since his young years. On the suggestion of his father, he crossed over to Nanking China at the age of 17 and learned karate-jutsu at the dojo of Kan Mei sensei (2). Karate is not about Buki (weapon) or Gei (arts). The purpose is to temper the mind (3). Karate-jutsu… Mr. Shinjō explains that the meaning of “Jutsu” is the cultivation of the mind. During the demonstration, he is scheduled to put a wire through his arm (4). Since the wire is like a fine metal chopstick, encouraging himself with a kiai, he will pass the wire through his arm instantly. Not a drop of blood is shed. No pain is felt. It is hard to believe that such a skill is of a human being.
To master such a technique, one needs a considerable amount of spiritual training and Mr. Shinjō devoted six years. Although he has developed a strong body conditioned through karate and a thick wad of muscles, he recalls the pain that comes with conditioning.
After the war, he was evacuated to Mainland Japan (Kagoshima). When his Highness Prince Takamatsu visited Kagoshima, he demonstrated karate-jutsu at a welcoming party. So far he had put 18 times a wire through his arm, but the demonstration he did for the reception in honor of Prince Takamatsu was the one that marked him the most. Seeing the performance, the Prince asked him if it wasn’t painful.
Once the wire go through, it is fine. But the mental concentration until realization is very tiring both nervously and physically. “I am very happy to be able to show my skill in public. According to my capacity of applying technique on this day or not will be a turning point. Even if I am the only one in Okinawa to be able to do this karate-jutsu, the Kobudō Association has recommended me, therefore, I have to do my utmost…” says he enthusiastically grabbing a wire. Currently, he runs a shoe-making store in Nishinjō, Naha City (5).
(1) Shinjō Heisaburō is the uncle of Shinjō Heitarō, who is the master of Matsuda Yoshimasa. The 3 men participated to the demonstration. According to the latter, he performed the kata Chintō while Shinjō Heitarō performed Kusari-gama.
(2) No further information on Kan Mei. The reading of the kanji is not sure as it is most likely a Chinese name. It is not sure if it is Kan-mei or Kan as a family name with Mei/Akira as a given name…
(3) In the text, “Seishin no tanren”, that could be translated as tempering or conditioning of the spirit or mind.
(4) A 3.5 mm diameter wire.
(5) At the entrance of Kuninda, the Kume Village of nowadays’ Naha, was a gate called Kume Ufu-mon (big gate). At the end of Kume Street, north east, used to be Nishinjō-mon (East gate). Today, the police box at the end of the street is still called Nishinjō Kōban.