Ryū’ei-ryū 劉衛流 (self-narrative)

Recently, the Motobu-ryū detected various contradictions in the personal histories of Karate styles told up to now in Okinawa, Japan, and elsewhere. In this connection, he touched one oral tradition – or maybe better self-narrative – of the style called Ryū’ei-ryū.

By the way, the name Ryū’ei-ryū 劉衛流 is composed as follows:

  • Ryū 劉 refers to Ryū Ryūkō (Ch.: Liu Longgong), a Chinese person who is said to have taught Nakaima Kenri.
  • Ei 衛 refers to the Ei-clan, of which the Nakaima House was a branch family.
  • Ryū 流 means style or school that came through a tradition.

Therefore, Ryū’ei-ryū means: the (martial arts) school of Ryū Ryūkō and (the Nakaima House of) the Ei-clan.

Here follows the self-narrative by 4th generation Nakaima Kenkō.

Ryū’ei-ryū is an ancient comprehensive martial art that inherited the legitimate Chinese Kenpō (unarmed methods) and Chinese Heihō (armed methods) from Ryū Ryūkō (Ch.: Liu Longgong) – according to one theory also referred to as Sho Tsushō (1852–1930), or by the common name Rūrūkō. The style was brought about by Nakaima Chikudun Pēchin Kenri of the Nakaima House from Kume village during the era of the Chinese Daoguang emperor (1820–1850).

Kenri’s uncle from a branch family was a doctor and at the height of his career and prosperity at that time. Additionally, his sister worked as a midwife. Born into a wealthy family like this, from a young age Kenri followed the path of the skills of the Kume Shizoku and studied sciences and practiced the martial arts (shubun renbu). As a young adult, at the age of 19, he took the opportunity to study abroad in Beijing or otherwise to Fuzhou.

There he was introduced to a former military escort officer of a Chinese investiture mission to Ryūkyū (sappōshi) called Ryū Ryūkō. Before long, among the students of Ryū Ryūkō, Kenri became an uchi-deshi or in-house disciple of the master.

After several years of unswerving determination in training, not sparing his life for the worthy cause, Kenri was granted the formal confirmation of a student’s awakening by his master of Hōden (transmission of the method). Not only did he receive approval of technical skill, but he was also granted the secret books “Account on Military Preparation” (Bubishi), the “Account on Criticism” (Heironshi), the “Methods of Healthcare” (Yōjōhō), the “Tokitsuke” (Twelve double-hours spread throughout the day and assigned to the twelve signs of the zodiac), and the “Method of Boxing with a Brave Heart” (Kenyūshin-hō). This was when he was 25 years old.

In the year before his return home, in order to gather experience Kenri betook on a warrior pilgrimage from Fujian via Canton to Beijing. When he returned home to Okinawa he also brought with him various kinds of ancient weapons.

Asked about the whereabouts of the above-mentioned secret books which had been granted to Kenri, 5th generation Nakaima Kenji clearly recollected that these scrolls had been placed in two large oblong chests stored in a wall closet. Regrettably, during the air raid on the 10th of October 1944, together with the weapons having been brought from China and stored at home, they ended up in ashes and dust.

3rd generation Kenchū would often tell his son 4th generation Kenkō that “When converted to today’s money, the amount of money spent by Kenri for training in Qing China would probably be worth several hundreds of millions of Japanese Yen”. Evidence of the pains Kenri took to cover the instruction fees and for traveling back and forth between China and Ryūkyū can be seen in the genealogical records (kafu) and in extant promissory notes.

Since Kenri, the style was handed down within the Nakaima family, silently keeping the bloodline consecrated over three sons, and preserving the doctrine until today. The style was “carefully preserved and not given out the house” (mongai fushutsu) and “transferred as a secret technique from father to son” (isshi sōden) as follows:

  • 1st generation Ryū Ryūkō
  • 2nd generation Kenri
  • 3rd generation Kenchū
  • 4th generation Kenkō
  • 5th generation Kenji

As the designated successor to Ryū’ei-ryū, 4th generation Kenkō was strictly trained by his father Kenchū since his childhood. He was born December 23, 1911. At the age of 37, he received “Initiation into the mysterious principles of Ryū’ei-ryū” (Ryū’ei-ryū kaiden). During his time at the Okinawa Teacher’s College, he studied Kendō with masters Tomikawa Moritake and Ishihara Hiroshi. Later he studied under Ishihara Masanao (8. Dan Hanshi). His Karate instructors at the Okinawa Teacher’s College were master Ōshiro Chōjo of Shuri-te (his Karate was of the Itosu system, his kon [bōjutsu] was of the style of Yamanni from Shuri Kanagusuku village) and Yabu Kentsū (his Karate was Matsumura system). At the end of his life, Kenkō was a Hanshi of Karate-dō, a Hanshi of Kobudō, and a Kyōshi of Kendō. His legal domicile was in Kume 2-8-8, Naha City, his actual address was Miyazato 166, Nago City. As an occupation, he served as a principal of public elementary and middle schools in Okinawa.

Nakaima Kenchu (1856-1953)

Nakaima Kenchu (1856-1953)

Even today it is said that secrecy is very strong in China and that “walls are thick when trying to research other schools”. However, at the age of 60 years, 4th generation Kenkō opened the doors of the school and took disciples. It doesn’t mean that he took the family constitution lightly. It was around this time, during the 1970s, that the name Ryū’ei-ryū was first used to describe the school.

The Technical Contents of Ryū’ei-ryū

  • Kenpō (unarmed methods) (present-day Karate-dō)
  • Heihō (weapon methods, Chinese Kobudō)
  • “Methods of Healthcare” (Yōjōhō)
  • “Method of Boxing with a Brave Heart” (Kenyūshin-hō),
  • Others (Ninjutsu-ish actions)

Dan no mono (called “kata” today)


1) Sanchin, 2) Sēsan. 3) Nisēshī. 4) Sansērū. 5) Sēyunchin. 6) Ōhan. 7) Pāchū. 8) Ānan. 9) Paikū. 10) Heikū. 11) Paihō

Heihō (the use of weapons)

1) Sai, 2) Kama, 3) Renkuwan, 4) Tinbē, 5) Gekiguwan 6) Kon, 7) Bisentō, 8) Yari, 9) Taofā, 10) Suruchin, 11) Dajō, 12) Nunchyaku, 13) Tankon, 14) Gusan.


1. We take pride in passing down legitimate Ryū’ei-ryū as has been handed down by Ryū Ryūkō.

2. By excessive sportification and competition-ization, Budō will lose its life.

3. Ryū Ryūkō was the supreme instructor at the “Military Officers Cadets Training School” at the time, and supreme censor at the “Official Examination Place for Military Officers”. (story told by Kenchū)

4. Sakiyama Kitoku crossed over to the Qing Dynasty together with Nakaima Kenri and studied with Ryū Ryūkō. He was a person from Naha Wakuta Village. His childhood name was Tarū. He especially excelled in leg techniques, for which talented military officers envied him. His grandchild generation migrated to Kumejima and their subsequent information is unknown.  (story told by Kenchū)

5. A disciple of Sakiyama was Bushi Kuniyoshi (Kuniyoshi Shinkichi) from Kumoji. He had an outstanding power and the best boxing method of that time. He also excelled in horsemanship (bajutsu), and for some time also lived in the root house (negami-ya) of Nago Miyazato. There is no person that descended from this orthodox line. Kuniyoshi and Higaonna were called the “two walls” of east and west Naha. Kuniyoshi and Higaonna did not differ much in age and they were close friends, but they did not try to determine superiority or inferiority of technique between each other but respected each other. Kuniyoshi said to Higaonna, “If I get kicked by your leg, I will break into pieces”. Higaonna said to Kuniyoshi, “No! If I get punched by your fist, I will break into pieces. (story told by Kenchū)

6. Bushi Higaonna’s boxing was a kenpō that he personally learned in China. His light footwork was particularly outstanding. It is well-known that he was the teacher of Gōjū-ryū founder Miyagi Chōjun. (story told by Kenchū)

7. Kuniyoshi and Higaonna were junior colleagues (kōhai) of 2nd generation Kenri, and senior colleagues (senpai) of 3rd generation Kenchū. Also men of Naha, and in the line of Chinese Kenpō, they were particularly good friends. Incidentally, Higaonna and Nakaima were related by marriage.

8. Master Miyagi Chōjun was 4th generation Kenkō’s most revered, much older Senpai. Kenkō would personally listen to him with the utmost respect. (story told by Kenkō)

9. Ryūkyūan exponents of Chinese Kenpō during early modern times

  • Nakaima Kenri – Naha Kume Village, the same period
  • Sakiyama Kitoku – Naha Wakuta Village, the same period
  • Higaonna Kanryō – Naha Nishi Village
  • Sainokami Arakaki – Naha Kumoji Village
  • Shimabukuro West – Naha Nishi Village
  • Kinjō Matsu (alias Machā Buntoku) – Itoman Village in Kaneshiro District
  • Uechi Kanbun – Motobu Izumi, (roughly) the same period
  • Ahagon Motobu – Tōbaru, (roughly) the same period

The above are arranged in chronological order. They are the persons who have personally traveled to and learned in China after the Daoguang period (1821–1850).

If someone was left out, please forward the information.

10. Age at Time of Death

  • Nakaima Kenri: 77 years
  • Nakaima Kenchū: 98 years

11. As a matter of convenience, the titles of honor were omitted in the many personal names. I ask your understanding for this.

12. In the oldest character dictionary of Chinese writing, the “Shuowen Jiezi”, the character jutsu is defined as “a path within a village”. During the feudal era, the bujutsu or martial arts of Japan were referred to as jūjutsu, kenjutsu and the like. After the Meiji era these martial arts came to be referred to as jūdō, kendō etc. and were considered budō, or martial ways towards character formation. These martial arts were also implemented into school education in the form of budō, or martial ways. In today’s world of karate, there are still people who use the word kobujutsu. Isn’t this like going back through the eras?”


Gihō. Uechi-ryū Karate-do Kyōkai 1977, page 785–788.

Takamiyagi Shigeru, Nakamoto Masahiro, Shinzato Katsuhiko: Okinawa Karate Kobudō Jiten. Kashiwa Shobō, Tōkyō 2008, page 187, 442, 480, 550.

© 2017, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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