Of bulls and mice

“Famous persons are inherently accompanied by various romantic anecdotes. The same thing can be said about Matsumura Sōkon. While anecdotes are handed down in exaggeration, important truths are sometimes not handed down. As for anecdotes related to Matsumura, and while not saying this it is true for all of them, I have the feeling that many of them are similar to fiction.

For example, the most famous story is the one were Matsumura had been summoned by King Shō Kō, confronted with a ferocious bull, and knocked the bull down with a single blow. Knocking a ferocious bull down with a single blow is roughly like the fable, and I wonder if it is just a story. Since there are a great number of similar stories, they may be mere “chat over tea” ( =gossip).

As an important aide who had the trust of the king, the idiocy to pit Matsumura against a raging bull, where making one wrong move would mean losing one’s life, is far detached from common sense.

At a time when foreign vessels were coming and going, and while inside the country one after another people were starving to death from famines caused by extreme rainfall, King Shō Kō composed the following Ryūka (Okinawan poem).

Even though the bell peals, heralding the daybreak, the people do not arise. Alas, doesn’t it seem as if this world has fallen into darkness?

Even though it was a time of drastic changes with very important events both at home and abroad, this is not cabinet ministers devising a strategy to address the problems of the era, but it is song poetry filled with deep sorrow. In one more anecdote about Sōkon, it was said that night after night a mysterious boxer appeared, who challenged young men who took pride in their skills, and easily defeated them all. Finally it was Sōkon’s turn. The first bout ended in a draw, but in the next bout Sōkon was victorious. But wait, what? His opponent was a woman named Tsuru! So, Sōkon fell in love with her and they got married.

Not only that. There’s a sequel to it. The story is that his wife was such an incredibly strong person that, when doing the cleaning, she lifted a bag of rice with one hand while sweeping the dust from under the bag with the other hand. This is also a cock-and-bull story, isn’t it? Because, in Okinawa, even when it comes to our epoch, there were awfully many mice. At night-time, mice were running around in the gap of the intermediate ceiling and in the kitchen as if they owned the place.

In my childhood years, during night-time, when mice ran around in the gap of the intermediate ceiling, we would say “And once more, the Mice Athletic Meet has begun!” and start laughing together. In such a living environment, what would happen if you leave one straw bag of rice in the corner of the kitchen for so long that dust piles up? It would be devoured by the mice.”


Kinjō Hiroshi: Karate kara karate made (From karate to karate) . Nihon budōkan, Bēsubōru Magajin-sha, Tōkyō 2011. 439 pp. 20cm. ISBN: 9784583104294. 金城裕:唐手から空手へ。日本武道館・ベースボール・マガジン社, 東京2011。

© 2019, Andreas Quast. All rights reserved.

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