History: Early Okinawan karate
The islanders lived a simple existence based on fishing and crude agriculture with little outside interference until around the 5th century when Japanese and Chinese traders began to use Okinawa as a staging post for trade with each other, South East Asia and Korea.
As early as the 7th century a crude home-grown martial art had developed on Okinawa. Over time this was influenced in no small part by the foreign fighting methods exported to the islands by traders and visitors. This rudimentary martial art became known as Ti in Okinawan or Te in Japanese (literally - "hand"). By the 11th century, the Taira-Minamoto wars in Japan led to a large number of Taira clan refugees settling in Okinawa. As many of these were skilled in Japanese martial arts, particularly in weapons arts, it is not unreasonable to assume that this knowledge was absorbed into the "melting-pot" and specifically influenced the development of Okinawan Kobujutsu/Kobudo.
Okinawa's relationship with China
By 1429, Okinawa, now united under one King, Sho-Hashi and entirely involved in a subordinate relationship with China, entered into a golden era. The people of the Ryukyus became accomplished sailors, travelling throughout Asia in their small boats and trading with far off countries. Okinawa became the great trading post of the region and established a network of trade links that encompassed not only Japan and China but also Taiwan, Indo-China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. This obviously proved highly beneficial for the development of the Okinawan empty-handed and weapons-based martial arts.
Most important was Okinawa's proximity and links to the Fujian (Fuzhou) province of Southern China, a community rich in fighting traditions and the birthplace of the Southern Shaolin Temple Boxing. There is much evidence that many styles of Chinese Boxing flourished in and around the Southern Chinese Fujian/Fujian province - such as the Monk Fist, Ancestor Fist and Crane Fist boxing systems. However, many of these fighting traditions have either vanished into the annals of time, been absorbed by other systems, or have found homes in neighbouring provinces or other lands such as Okinawa.
In fact it was this ancestry that made the most significant contribution to the development of Okinawan martial arts and established their reputation for combat effectiveness. In particular, it was Crane Fist Boxing, one of the Fujian district's most prominent fighting styles, that was a major contributor to the development of Okinawan Goju-ryu Karate.
Banning of weapons
A natural consequence of this action was to further stimulate the interest in the weaponless fighting arts of China and other Asian lands. The Okinawans, being traders and sailors, particularly needed to be able to defend themselves from the Wa-Ko, pirates that terrorized the towns and cities of the South China coast as well as the seas surrounding the Ryukyus.
The Japanese invasion
The Japanese occupation made the islanders even more determined to develop their weaponless fighting skills. Some Okinawans journeyed to China to study Chinese martial arts which they incorporated into their indigenous fighting art Okinawa-te or as it became known later Bushi-no-te ("Warriors hands").
Naha-te, Shuri-te and Tomari Te
In 1669, the ban on weapons was joined by a further edict banning the practice of martial arts. Okinawa-te was forced to become an "underground" activity and began to be practised in great secrecy, usually late at night or before dawn. Over the next two centuries the techniques of the both the empty-handed art and the weapons art of Kobujutsu were refined and systematized. Three main centres became known for the teaching of Te and this gave rise to three styles; Naha-te, Shuri-te and Tomari-te, each named after the village in which they were taught. It is important to note that the three villages were only a few kilometres apart and any differences in their arts would have been only in emphasis, the methods and aims being one and the same.
Curiously enough, there is no record of any organized resistance by the Ryukyu islanders to the Satsuma clan occupation of Okinawa. Nor is there anything to suggest that either Te or Kobujutsu was developed for this purpose. In fact, it appears that the arts were practised and used purely as a means of self-defence and self-development, primarily by the upper classes and certainly not by the bulk of the population. In addition it may have been a point of national pride to nurture and maintain their secret arts under the noses of their Japanese overlords.
Te becomes Tode
By the mid-nineteen century, the distinction between the various Te taught in particular areas became blurred and Okinawan martial arts became known by the style of the teacher(s), rather than the location in which they taught. Chinese boxing was now well and truly integrated into the native arts and the term Te had fallen into disuse, being replaced by Tode. Tode had been introduced and was now being taught by either Chinese expatriates like Ku Shanku or Okinawans who had studied Chinese boxing in China (mostly from the Fujian province).
Tode becomes Karate
Matsumura, along with other Shuri youths from upper class backgrounds had learned Ti from an early age. In addition he was fortunate to have studied the use of the staff or kon (bo in Japanese) from the famous master, Satunushi Sakagawa who had learned the art in China and was then living in Shuri. Whilst working as a bodyguard and martial arts instructor to the last three Ryukyuan kings Matsumura had many opportunities to travel overseas on affairs of state.
He twice visited the Fujian province in China and was able to train at several Boxing schools including the re-built Fujian Shaolin temple. He also visited the Satsuma clan headquarters in Kyushu and is reputed to have been initiated into the Jigen-ryu sword fighting system. After retiring, Matsumura taught Tode at an open space in Shuri and among his students were Anko Itosu and Anko Asato who were later to be the teachers of the famous Karate master Gichin Funakoshi - the "father" of Japanese Karate.
Yasatsune (Anko) Itosu
Itosu contributed directly to the Academy's Muidokan karate system in the following ways: 1) He developed the Chinese corkscrew punch into its present form. 2) He simplified the kata we now know as Naifunchin (also known as Naihanchi or Naihanchin) from the original version taught to him by Matsumura. 3) At around 1900, he also developed a series of 5 beginner's kata called Pinan by simplifying a form called Chiang Nan he had learned from his Chinese teacher in Tomari and combining it with elements of an Okinawan form, Kusanku. Note that the Pinan kata were developed with a view to being taught in schools to prepare the youth of Okinawa for military service.
They were designed to build discipline and fighting ability, Itosu quoting Napoleon in a letter to the Okinawan education department: "tomorrow's victory will come from today's playground". In the same letter, Itosu states: "Within ten years Tode will spread all over Okinawa and to the Japanese mainland. This will be a great asset to our militaristic society." Had Itosu known of the suffering that this "militaristic society" would inflict upon the world it is doubtful that he ever would have written this letter. The Muidokan kata Fukyugata ichi is partly based on the first of the Pinan kata, Pinan shodan.
Another of Itosu's students, Kenwa Mabuni (1889 -1952) went on to combine Shorin-ryu with elements of Shorei-ryu to create Shito-ryu. Shito-ryu remains in essence more similar to the Itosu's Shorin-ryu than Shotokan which has had much influence from the Japanese Samurai tradition.
Other modern styles that trace their lineage back to Sokon Matsumura are: Shorinji-ryu, Isshin-ryu, Ishimine-ryu, Matsubayashi-ryu, Okinawa kempo, Wado-ryu, Shukokai, Shotokai (a breakaway of Shotokan) and Tae-kwon-do.
Gichin Funakoshi died in 1957, but his work was carried on by his son Yoshitaka.
"Karate-do strives internally to train the mind to develop a clear conscience enabling one to face the world truthfully...mind and technique are to become one in true Karate".
Shorei-ryu is one of the Okinawan Tode styles that lays claim to being based on a "complete" Chinese boxing system along with Jukendo, Ryuei-ryu, Uechi-ryu and Kojo-ryu (collectively known as Naha-te meaning "hands of Naha"). Shorei-ryu was the name of the system brought back from from the Fujian/Fujian province of China by Kanryo Higaonna (1853 - 1917).
Kanryo learned the basics of Ti from an early age and then studied Tode in Naha. Despite living in Naha, Kanryo was unable to find a teacher that had the philosophical attitude and superhuman ability that he associated with Chinese Boxing. Thus at around 1867, at age 15, Higaonna decided to journey to China, a move supposedly prompted by his father's death in a fight. It seems that Higaonna may have travelled to China several times between the age of 15 and 23, as an aide to a diplomat called Udun Yoshimura and apparently trained on-and-off with a master called Wan Shin San whenever he was in China. Wan Shin San, a military attaché, apparently had another seven Okinawan students in addition to Higaonna.
After being accepted by Ryu Ru Ko, Kanryo worked in his teacher's cane furniture business and trained for five to six hours a day, much of it spent in the practice of Sanchin kata and what we now call Hojo undo. Apparently, Higaonna often became despondent with his life and wanted to leave, but the words of a song: "Anyone can put up with a little, but it takes a man to put up with a lot" - kept him going.
Once he had come to trust Higaonna, Ryu Ru Ko taught him the kaishu ('open hand') kata: Sanseiru, Seisan, and Suparinpei as well as Chinese weaponry. According to orthodox history1 he was also taught Saifa, Seiunchin, Shisochin, Seipai and Kururunfa however other writers2, 3 postulate that these kata were introduced later by his student Chojun Miyagi.
The training was reportedly so hard that it was almost beyond comprehension and Kanryo often passed blood with his urine. Higaonna continued to train hard however so that after a few years he bettered all of the other students and became an assistant instructor - well known in boxing circles as "Higaonna of Okinawa".
Upon his return to Okinawa, around 1881, Higaonna became a respected Tode master in Naha and was given the nick-name "Ashi-no-Higaonna" ("Legs" Higaonna) because of his lightning fast kicks. Higaonna taught his art in the courtyard of his family home, with very few students surviving the first three or four years of practising only Sanchin kata. He named his art "Shorei-ryu" ("Enlightened Spirit Style") to distinguish it from the Shorin-ryu being taught at Shuri and Tomari, however it became commonly known as Naha-te.
Only three of Kanryo Higaonna's students persisted beyond the Sanchin stage: Chojun Miyagi, Koki Shiroma and Juhatsu Kyoda and to these Higaonna taught much.
The differences between Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu
By contrast, Shorei-ryu as taught by Kanryo Higaonna, placed much emphasis of body conditioning, strength training and practicality of technique. Shorei-ryu, as even the Shorin master Gichin Funakoshi acknowledged, taught a more effective form of self-defence even though it lacked the mobility of the Shorin styles. Being essentially a Southern Chinese system with Okinawan modifications, the comments written in the Chinese fighting arts section describing the Southern Shaolin system can fairly be applied to Shorei-ryu.
Being the final product of a long process of evolution, present day Muidokan karatejutsu has hopefully adopted the best qualities of both Shorin and Shorei schools.