(Note: The following is the translation of the abstract of Yoshifumi Hayasaka’s “Martial arts of the Satsuma Domain that influenced the martial arts of Ryūkyū (Tsuken no Kon)” presented at the 55th Conference of the Japanese Academy of Budo in 2022.)
As regards Okinawa’s martial arts, since Okinawa was ruled by the Satsuma domain during the era of the Royal Dynasty of Ryūkyū, the martial arts of the Satsuma domain had a great influence on the samurai of Ryūkyū. Among them, Jigen-ryū and Ten-ryū were most influential on ancient Okinawan martial arts such as bōjutsu (techniques of the staff), kaijutsu (techniques of the paddle), and kuwajutsu (techniques of the hoe).
Tsuken no Kon, which I learned when I was a student, is the oldest Okinawan bōjutsu. I want to pass on this martial art of Okinawa and its history, as I have studied so far, to future generations.
Tsuken no Kon
1. Founder Tsuken Uēkata Seisoku
Birth and death dates are unknown (estimated between 1558 and 1629). He was a member of the Shuri samurai class (shizoku), his rank was Uēkata, he was the originator of Tsuken Bō, a pioneer of horseback riding, his name was Seisoku, his Chinese-style name was Zen Kōsei. He excelled in horseback riding, and his name was known as far as Satsuma.
“In the Keichō period (1596–1615), there was a spear-staff-method (sōbōhō; The Tradition of Jiryō). There was also a staff method (bōhō) handed down by Tsuken Uēkata Seisoku as Tsuken Bō, which was very similar to the swordsmanship of the Jigen-ryū. Ryūkyū bōjutsu was divided into six-foot-staff (rokushaku) and three-foot-staff (sanshaku, AKA shaku-gwā). At the end of the Edo period (–1868), Tsuken Bō was passed down from the fishermen of Tsuken Island in Katsuren Village to Bushi Agena Chokuhō [transl. note: AKA Gushikawa Tērā-gwā], and was learned by Matayoshi Shinkō. This is the Tsuken no Kon as currently performed.
(Kyūyō, Appendix Volume 1; Okinawa Issen-nen Shi)
2. Techniques of Tsuken no Kon
The content of the performance is solo kata. In the performing line (enbusen), there are virtual enemies on all sides. The techniques include a strike (uchikomi) from the posture of carrying the bō on one’s shoulder, followed by a sliding thrust with the bō (nukibō), and a “prey drop”( emono otoshi) followed by a thrusting technique (tsuki-waza). It consists of techniques that combine strikes (uchikomi) and thrusting techniques (tsuki-waza), a rear thrust (ushiro-zuki), a reversed harai-uke followed by a butt-end thrust, and a variation of a naginata technique called “five consecutive strikes” (gorenda).
Martial arts of the Satsuma Domain that influenced martial arts of Ryūkyū
1. Jigen-ryū swordsmanship
The Jigen-ryū style of swordsmanship, which is representative of the Satsuma domain, was founded by Tōgō Shigekata (1561–1643), and has been passed down from generation to generation in the Tōgō family. For several years since 1609, Tsuken Uēkata Seisoku stayed (in the Satsuma Domain), and completed Tsuken Bō between 1617 and 1625, after he had returned to Ryūkyū.
The shaku-gwā (sanshaku-bō) or jōjutsu passed down in Okinawa include the form of striking from a dragonfly posture (tonbo no kamae), and it is inferred that the sword was transformed into shaku-gwā (sanshaku-bō) or jōjutsu.
The Ten-ryū of Satsuma has been passed down from generation to generation by the Ijichi family, whose founder was Ijichi Matazaemon Muneaki. Ijichi became a disciple of Saitō Denkibō (1550–1587), a resident of Hitachi [in today’s Ibaraki Prefecture) [and founder of Ten-ryū]. Ten-ryū is a comprehensive martial art that includes methods such as the sword and naginata.
The Ten-ryū had a great influence on Ryūkyū’s bōjutsu (techniques of the staff), kaijutsu (techniques of the paddle), and nagakama (techniques of the pole sickle), and encompasses excellent naginata techniques. It has been handed down to the present day as a unique form of martial arts of Okinawa.
I once saw the last will of Ryūkyū samurai Aka Chokushiki, in which he mentioned about “a scroll of the Jigen-ryū, a scroll of the Ten-ryū spear (yari) and naginata” which he “kept as a family heirloom and passed it down” to his descendants. By this, I learned that these martial arts (bugei) had already been practiced in Ryūkyū during the Kyōhō era (1716-1736). In addition, after reading Katsuren Moritoyo’s book “Okinawa’s Staff Dance,” I learned that the bōjutsu developed by Tsuken Uēkata Seisoku has been passed down to the present day as Tsuken no Kon under the guidance of the late Matayoshi Shinpō Sensei.
Tsuken no Kon is a great kata with great technical variety. It seems to be rooted in the culture of Okinawa and I made a short video about the starting posture, which is an intruiging detail. Another interesting point is that there are several versions of the kata, which all claim the same or a similar history. So there is the question: Which is the real one? Is there more than one real one? Or, are they all modern 1950s / 60s creations?
Due to my inquisitive nature, I have a few questions which I will direct toward the above article. However, the same questions may be asked towards any other tradition of Okinawa kobudō. Please be benevolent.
- Where kaijutsu (techniques of the paddle) and kuwajutsu (techniques of the hoe) really martial arts practiced in the 18th century?
- In his story of Tsuken no Kon, the author mentions Jiryō, and then Tsuken Uēkata Seisoku. Then he continues the lineage with Agena Chokuhō and Matayoshi Shinkō, and says, “this is the Tsuken no Kon as currently performed.” Only after this paragraph he presents the Kyūyō and Majikina Ankō’s Okinawa Issen-nen Shi as the sources for it. However, while the Kyūyō and Majikina do mention Jiryō and Tsuken Uēkata Seisoku, they neither mention Agena Chokuhō nor Matayoshi Shinkō. Therefore the question arises when and who exactly made the connection between Matayoshi’s Tsuken no Kon and the historical source.
- Neither the Kyūyō nor Majikina called the technique Tsuken no Kon, but Tsuken Bō, and here it must be noted that Tsuken Bō exists as an individual kata. Couldn’t it be that despite the same name Tsuken no Kon and Tsuken Bō are two different things?
- It remains unclear what technical feature is supposed to qualify today’s Tsuken no Kon as a tradition influenced by Jigen-ryū. How does it represent any specific method of the Jigen-ryū
- This tradition of Tsuken no Kon has been established in Matayoshi Kobudō for quite some time and already appears in the Matayoshi Shinkō memorial publication of 1999. Then, I think it is still difficult to establish the connection to Tsuken Uēkata Seisoku simply by the name Tsuken, because there are so many kata named Tsuken, such as Tsuken Bō, Tsuken no Kon, Tsuken Shitahaku no Sai, Tsuken Hanta-gwā no Kon, Tsuken Sunakake no Uēku, Tsuken Akan’chū no Uēku, and probably others. Wouldn’t it, therefore, be in the best interest of Matayoshi Kobudō stakeholders to research historical material to clarify the origin and transmission?
- The written acounts on Tsuken Uēkata Seisoku existed long before Tsuken no Kon appeared as a kata. Why?
- Even after reading the technical description, it remains unclear what technical feature is supposed to qualify today’s Tsuken no Kon as a tradition influenced by Jigen-ryū. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how and why this kata is traced back to Tsuken Bō of Tsuken Uēkata Seisoku some hundred years back.
- It is typical for Okinawa karate and kobudō to mix self-created traditions with actual historical facts. What’s wrong with someone simply taking a village bō and Matayoshi-izing it?
- Even more confusing, while Tsuken Bō of Tsuken Uēkata Seisoku was originally said to have been similar to the swordsmanship of the Jigen-ryū, the technical description has suddenly become one to include naginata techniques. Why?
- It is said that Tsuken Uēkata Seisoku completed Tsuken Bō between 1617 and 1625. This wording seems insinuate that a solo kata was already created by that time, which came to be handed down under the name of Tsuken Bō, or otherwise as Tsuken no Kon. Wouldn’t it be more realistic to assume that a kata was created in a village much later, and became the kata of Tsuken no Kon as seen today only in the 20th century?
- As regards nagakama (techniques of the pole sickle), while technology and techniques of Japanese martial arts existed in Ryūkyū, there was no such tradition found in the Matayoshi lineages so far, isn’t it? When, how, and by whom did these specific techniques and weapons supposedly have entered the Matayoshi lineage?
- Aka Chokushiki handed down scrolls of Jigen-ryū swordmanship and Ten-ryū spear (yari) and naginata. However, when exactly, how, and by whom was any of these traditions supposedly handed down in Okinawa from the 19th to the 20th century?
Source: Yoshifumi Hayasaka (Kobudō Kenkyūkai): “Martial arts of the Satsuma Domain that influenced the martial arts of Ryūkyū (Tsuken no Kon)” (in Japanese). In: 55th Conference of the Japanese Academy of Budo (Budō Gakkai). Abstracts of Research Presentations. Date: September 3 and 4, 2022. Venue: Tōin University of Yokohama. Page 51.
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