Anyone who ever started Okinawa kobudō will inevitably get to know Shūshi no Kon 周氏の棍. Often the first kata taught in bōjutsu, it is found in many kobudō styles. Shūshi 周氏 means “Mr. Shū”, and kon 棍 refers to techniques of fencing with the long staff. Accordingly, the designation Shūshi no Kon means “the techniques of staff fencing of Mr. Shū”.
Well, Shū is not a Japanese or Okinawan name, but a Chinese name, which is actually pronounced Zhōu. Shū is simply the Japanese reading of the character.
Hokama (2001: 24) noted on Mr. Shū:
“Around the year 1831 the Bōjutsu-master Shū from Shanghai lived at the rear of the Sōgenji in Naha Asato. Shūji no Kon was passed down by him in Okinawa.”
That is, Shūshi no Kon describes the cudgel fencing methods of a certain Mr. Shū, a native of Shanghai, who settled in Okinawa and whose stick fencing methods were passed on in Okinawa. That’s all we can tell about Mr. Shū.
However, we can get ourselves an impression of what Okinawa looked like at the time and in the area Mr. Shū lived there. To this end, I here present to you an illustration of the Sōgenji in full bloom, as it once looked. The illustration is from the Nantō Kiji Gaihen of 1886. We see a beautiful, park-like terrain with the temple building, situated at the river Asato-gawa over which the stone bridge Sōgenji-bashi leads, as well as a few people on foot and on water. Just for the fun of it: there are various people who use poles either for carrying stuff, as a punt pole to propel their boats, or to fish.
Still today Asato-gawa flows therealong, parallel to the monorail overhead railway. However, the Asato-gawa now is a few meters further away from the Sōgen-ji as could be assumed from the scale of the old illustration. Most probably it had been redirected in an artificial riverbed.
At the time of the Ryūkyū Kingdom, the Sōgenji served as a national mausoleum. In its main hall commemorative plaques for each of the past kings were placed. Based on one of these stone tablets archaeologists dated the construction of the temple to the reign of King Shō Shin (1477-1562).
The stone gate was the first gate of the temple and is the only part of the original building that has survived. The main hall and all other temple buildings were completely destroyed during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.
But, besides the above “Mr. Shū”, Shūshi 周氏 might also have been meant to refer to a whole family named Shū. In fact, the Shū-clan 周姓 was an official household from Kumemura, with its own genealogy. It is one of the so-called 36 families and this should be an interesting topic for future studies. As there are no informations readily available, data need be generated first about the clan, the households that belonged to it, the typical duties of the family members and other informations.
© 2016, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.