Kata Taught by Matsumura Sōkon (1)

yoshimuraSince I read about Matsumura Sōkon in social networks recently and about the kata he presumably taught, I thought it might be a good idea to remind Karate circles of an eyewitness account about the eminent master. In his 1941 autobiography, Yoshimura Chōgi remembered when he learned Ūsēshī (i.e. Gojūshiho) and Kūsankū from Matsumura Sōkon.

The following translation excerpt appeared in my Karate 1.0 (2013). Joe Swift also provided a complete translation of it in one of his works.

It is a source not to be ignored:

“At the age of seventeen, around 1883/84, I had reached the handsome age of manhood. It was around that time that I began to seriously pursue training with Bushi Matsumura. I remember the honorable Matsumura had already passed the age of seventy at that time. We served together as royal guards at the Southern Parks (=Shikina-en). […] I mainly trained Ūsēshī (i.e. Gojūshiho), as well as Kūsankū. Since about that time my eyes gradually opened up to the martial arts and an incentive began I undauntedly maintained throughout my life. With Bushi Matsumura’s personal instruction, I was to become an expert myself, and one day my conduct was to become a reflection of it. The years of my awkward age had passed, giving way to a time of life experience. By the way, from the honorable Matsumura I also learned the forms of fencing with the Bokutō, i.e. the saber made in one-piece from solid wood. Matsumura’s teacher had been the fencing master Ijūin from Kagoshima, a master of the Jigen-ryū.”

Yoshimura Chōgi around 1941, wearing the formal dress of an Aji.

Yoshimura Chōgi around 1941, wearing the formal dress of an Aji.

Well, progenitor of the Yoshimura family was Yoshimura Ōji Chōgi 義村王子朝宜 (aka Shō Shū 尚周), third son of King Shō Boku 尚穆王 (1739-1794; reigned 1752-1794) and in this a member of the royal family of Ryūkyū. This Yoshimura Ōji Chōgi was also called Yoshimura Udun no Umē. Umē is the Ryūkyū-reading of the Japanese gozen 御前, pointing to an elevated personality. It means as much as gozen sama 御前様, i.e. Your Highness!, or tono sama 殿様, i.e. feudal lord. Thus it constitutes a honorific term towards a lord or ruler in the rank of an Udun (Cf. Shuri Naha Dialect Dictionary).

Initially, he had been assigned the office of Aji-jitō of Katsuren, and–as it was common practice–took on the name of his fief as his family name: Katsuren. Later, since the use of the character Katsu 勝 within names came to be forbitten, the name was changed to Yoshimura. He was later appointed Aji-jitō of Kochinda district (modern-day Yaese-chō Kochinda), a fief the family administered for many generations afterwards, but kept the name Yoshimura. Rank and status of Yoshimura Chōgi are indicated by the fact that from 1798-1802 he acted as regent (sessei) for King Shō On, i.e. he acted as the highest authority of government on behalf of the actual king of Ryūkyū. Lacking a son and heir, he is said to have adopted children repeatedly.

Third generation was Yoshimura Aji Chōmei (aka Shō Shirei 向志禮, 1830-1898), who was the responsible Aji-jitō of Kochinda district in 1873. Chōmei had nine sons from various wives and mistresses. At age fourteen he tied up his topknot, i.e. the ceremony of reaching manhood, and at age fifteen he followed the emissary Yoshimura Ōji Chōshō–his older brother–to Kagoshima as an attendant. In 1847, he assumed the headship of the Yoshimura family, moved into the hereditary family lodgings in Shuri and succeeded the hereditary family fief as Estate-steward general of the Kochihira district, worth 300 Koku. In the following 25 plus years he served the royal government in a large number of duties. For example, he was appointed Magistrate of Temples and Shrines and Magistrate of Genealogies, as well as other magistrate posts. In Nishi no Hira, i.e. one of the three districts of Shuri, he served as Magistrate of the Police inspector-general, Ombudsman, and as Magistrate of the District School. And as a member of the princely Shō-clan, he was dispatched to performed prayers on behalf of the King for the nation’s health and security at Kudaka Island and in Chinen Tamagusuku. Then, late in 1896, together with a small group he set sail at the Kowan coast during night time and left for the ocean. Aboard the ship were his sons Oshiro Aji Meiryō (1863-1906) and Meitsū, and Urasoe Chōbin. The ship owner and captain was a member of the Higaonna family going by the official title of Ryōbō Chikudun. Two more persons, one Aharen and one Uehara, both came late and missed the ship, but took a later one the following day, were blown to Taiwan, and reached Fuzhou several days later.

After four days and nights Yoshimura’s group arrived at Wenzhou (between Ningbo and Fuzhou) in China and reported to the Qing government. Two soldiers were dispatched by the Fuzhou government as escort. Several days later they reached the Ryūkyūkan in Fuzhou. Some time later they visited the governor-general and the Chinese Provincial Administration (buzhengsi), and presented written petitions, most probably related to the Kōdōkai-undō (see note below) attempting to restore the Royal Shō-clan to a hereditary governor post in Okinawa prefecture. In 1898 Chōmei died and was buried in Fuzhou. In the same year his son Meiryō went to Beijing, and again presented a petition. Remaining in Fuzhou, he died young in 1906 and was buried in a tomb in Fuzhou Xiadu.

Note: In 1896, Shō In (1866-1905), King Shō Tai’s second son, established the Kōdōkai-undō. Its aim was to provide the post of consul of Okinawa Prefecture to the Shō family as a hereditary right to be responsible for local government under supervision of the Meiji government. This included strong local autonomy which was to be approved by the parliament. Furthermore, they proposed that Governor Narahara be dismissed. The Kōdōkai received much of its support from the non-stipended lower gentry which it wanted to restore to their former positions of authority. In 1897 Kōdōkai representatives went to Tōkyō with 72,767 collected signatures. Their petition was rejected.

Yoshimura Chōgi, aka Shō Meitoku (1866-1945) was the 4th generation of the Princly Shō clan, house Yoshimura. He was the second oldest son of Chōmei and Makamado-kane, the oldest daughter of Ie Ōji Chōken from the royal Shō-family. In 1876, as a young boy, Chōgi was appointed Ko-akukabe–or junior red-cap vassal–at the Office of Inner Palace Affairs in Shuri castle, and in 1877 he worked in the royal study on a daily basis. After his father and older brother went into exile to Fuzhou in 1897, he assumed the head of the family and received the hereditary stipend of more than 300 yen. In 1898, following his father’s demise, Chōgi traveled to the Fuzhou Ryūkyūkan for the funeral. In spring 1900, at a time when only a few royalists of the stubborn party were still active, Chōgi traveled to Fuzhou in order to fuse the remaining stubborn movement with the newer royalist movement of the Kōdōkai. Accompanied by Yomitan Chō’ei and two other persons, they met with Chōgi’s older brother Meiryō, Urasoe Chōbin and another person for consultation and the fusion accomplished. At the time Chōgi’s group left Fuzhou, the Boxer rebellion (Giwadan no Ran) in Beijing took place. In 1903 Chōgi travelled to Fuzhou again to deliver financial aid, either for his brother or the movement. And in 1906, following the demise of his older brother, he again traveled to Fuzhou for the funeral. Two and a half decades later, in 1933, Chōgi returned the remains of both his father Chōmei and his older brother from Fuzhou to Okinawa, where they were buried in a tomb in Shuri.

He is the person who mainly trained Ūsēshī (i.e. Gojūshiho) and Kūsankū under Matsumura Sōkon. He is shown in the photo above. As Chōgi left his autobiography which includes his martial arts career, an excerpt of which has been given earlier, a closer look at an aristocrat’s martial lifestyle and the persons involved during the late 19th century is possible.

It also allows to establish as a fact that Matsumura Sōkon taught Ūsēshī (i.e. Gojūshiho) and Kūsankū.

Biblio (excerpt):

Narahara Tomomitsu: Okinawa-ken Jinjiroku. Naha, Okinawa-ken Jinjiroku Hensansho 1916. 楢原翠邦 [友満] 編:沖繩縣人事録。那覇:沖繩縣人事録編纂所、1916。

Quast, Andreas: Karate 1.0. Parameter of an Ancient Martial Art. Düsseldorf 2013.

Yoshimura Nisai: Jiden Budōki. In: Gekkan Bunka Okinawa. September issue, September 15, 1941. 義村仁斎: 自伝武道記. In: 月刊文化沖縄. Republished in: Yoshimura Chogi Ten (Shōsasshi). Okinawa Kenritsu Hakubutsukan 1981. 義村朝義展 (小冊子). 沖縄県立博物館.

© 2018, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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