Temples (monasteries) are possibly the most revered and famous
structures in the history of all martial arts. The history of
the Shaolin order is obscure and shrouded in myth and secrecy.
Even from their beginnings, they were constant targets of bandits
and rebellious soldiers. According to tradition, the first Shaolin
Temple was built in Honan province sometime around 500 A.D.,
on Shao-shih Mountain south of Songshan Mountain, 50 miles west
of Zhengzhou. Traditionally, this was the original temple. The
name Shaolin means "small (young) forest." There is a legend
about how the Honan Temple received this name. The story goes
that before the temple was built, there was a forest there.
It had been cleared or burned down by orders of Emperor Hsiao
of the Northern Wei Dynasty. When construction started on the
temple, the emperor's gardeners planted new trees.
people are not informed, they assume there was only one Shaolin
Temple. They also assume that Honan Shaolin was the greatest
and grandest. But contrary to popular belief, this is not necessarily
the case, although the Honan Temple in the North appears to
be the original. There were 2 main temples, the Northern and
Admittance and Training
temples were like martial arts universities. In order to be
admitted, one would have to endure months or years of hard work
and chores. After being admitted, they had to train for ten
years in the basics. Then they could specialize in whatever
they wanted to. There were masters who were specialists in particular
areas of training, and the students could learn from the best
in each field, or specialty style.
18 Monk Fist and Bodhidharma
The Shaolin 18 Lohan
fist was the first style practiced at Honan Shaolin. Legend
credits a man named Bohidharma (Damo, Tamo or Dharuma) as being
one of the first to have an impact on the temple's style.
To help the
Shaolin monks withstand long hours of meditation he taught them
18 breathing techniques and exercises (the Eighteen Hands of
Lohan) to develop their strength. These drills were called the
`Eighteen Hands of Lohan`. The concepts and principles taught
by Bodhidharma were part of the basis that they built the temple's
fighting style on.
Five Animal System (Wu X'ing Q'uan)
One of the
most important happenings of Shaolin history was during the
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), probably in the late 1500s/early 1600s
(However, some say that this took place around AD 618, and even
others say it happened around the 13th century. It makes no
difference really when it actually happened.) There were many
rebellions against the Ming government at this time. The monks
began to document what they had learned in their art. Chueh
Yuan Shang-Jen, Li Shou (Li Ch'eng), and Pai Yu Feng (Bai Yu-Feng
or Bak Yuk Fung came up with a radically new and balanced internal
and external style. They successfully combined internal Taoist
techniques with that of the Lohan Shaolin system. The new style
had 172 techniques, according to tradition. They also came up
with new concepts and principles that they called the Shaolin
Five Animals. The techniques were modeled after the characteristics
of the following animals: Leopard (Bao), Tiger (Hu), Snake (She),
Dragon (Long) and Crane (He).
Shaolin Hakutsuru Style, or White Crane
There are several
Chinese forms of the name "Hakutsuru" in different dialects:
Pai Hao Q'uan, Peh Ho Kuen, Peh Hok, Bak Hok, Pak Hok, Bai He
Q'uan and He Q'uan. Other names of it are the Southern Five
Elder Style (Wu Zu Q'uan or Five Ancestors Fist), and the Yong
Chun Style, pronounced Weng Chun in Cantonese.
about the Yong Chun Style is that of the Five Elders (Ancestors)
order was politically neutral most of the time, but in the 1640's,
the much-hated Manchu (Ching) dynasty began. The cruelty of
the Manchu made Shaolin reconsider its position. In about 1647,
the Honan Shaolin Temple was utterly destroyed by the Manchu.
Most of the monks were killed, but a few monks fled to the Fukien
Shaolin Temple (some believe this took place in 1570. The problem
with that date is that the Ming was still in power at that time.
It appears that it was the Manchu that did it. The reasons that
the Manchu would have done it make a lot more sense. Other legends
allege that it took place not long after the Manchu took over.)
Among those that fled to Fukien Shaolin were the most influential
Shaolin masters. They brought the precious martial art books
from the Shaolin Library with them. As a result of all this,
the status of the Fukien temple changed, and it became the new
Headquarters of the Shaolin order. It was a better base for
anti-Manchu activities, because it was a strategic location.
Temple became part of the rebellion almost immediately after
the destruction of Honan.
could not govern very well in the South. There were many areas
near rivers that they could not control, because the rebels
kept them at bay.
Four sons of
four Ming generals were sent to Fukien Shaolin to train in the
martial arts. Their names were Chih Shan (Jee Shin or Chi Shin),
Fung Doe Duk (Fung To Tak), Mew Hing (Miu Hin), and Bak Mai
(Pak Mei or Bai Mei). According to legend, there was also a
Shaolin nun there at this same time, by the name of Lui Sei-Leung
or Lu Si-Niang. She took upon herself the Buddhist name Wu Mei
(Ng Mui or Five Plums) that she is more popularly known as.
They became the five elders of Shaolin
their situation very closely. They needed to come up with a
plan to overcome the Manchu. The combat systems taught in the
temple at that time were based on animal movements. They required
that the monks master tens and hundreds of long, intricate forms,
taking ten or twenty years. There were an enormous variety of
techniques, many of them totally dissimilar to each other, and
some of them were not very useful, because they didn't work
very well. The Shaolin grandmasters recognized that this approach
was unsuitable and unacceptable for the rapid development of
an effective and efficient fighting force. A new training method
made to fit the needs of the rebellion was necessary. In the
South, the terrain was different, and there was a need for close
range fighting tactics. Also, they needed a way to fight more
effectively against and exploit the weaknesses of the fighting
arts of their enemies. What they came up with was a radically
new approach. The focus for the new system was on human biomechanics.
They refined and modified the existing animal systems and movements
into an essential core of techniques.
these new revisions, there became a split between the Northern
and Southern Shaolin styles. The North retained the original
exaggerated movements and form, and the South adopted the new
streamlined and efficient form. When I say North, I don't mean
Honan Shaolin. I mean all the Shaolin practitioners in the North
outside of Honan Shaolin. The reason I make this distinction
is because Honan Shaolin was always in close contact with Fukien
Shaolin, and there was always a heavy interchange. So Honan
Shaolin implemented the new temple style form also. This knew
style was known under the generic title of "Nan Q'uan" or Southern
the story of Fang Qi-Niang:
A Shaolin monk
that had fled after the 1673 destruction of the Fukien temple
(some say it was 1674) was Fang Zhonggong (also known as Fang
Zhen-Dong, Fang Zhang-Guang, Fang Honshu, Fang Shi Yu and Fang
Huishi.) His specialty style was the Shi Pa Lohan Fist (Shi
Ba Luo Han Q'uan). He sought refuge in nearby Putian at the
Shalian Temple while awaiting the overthrow of the Manchu government
for a time. Supposedly, this was another temple clandestinely
affiliated with Shaolin. Later, he went to Yong Chun village.
It was there that Zhonggong raised a family. His seventh daughter
was named Fang Qi-Niang (Chi-Niang, Chi-Liang, or Ji-Niang).
He taught her the Shaolin style. She later saw cranes fighting
and developed the Fukien Shaolin Crane style using what her
father had taught her for a base, which was essentially the
Yong Chun style created by the Five Elders. This style in the
Japanese language is known as Hakutsuru.
Hakutsuru over time broke up into many branch styles. The major
ones are: Wing Chun; the Five Ancestral Fist; the Ancestral
Crane (Zonghe, Suhe, or Zanhe Q'uan, also known as Sleeping
or Trembling Crane); the Shouting Crane (Minghe Q'uan, also
known as Whooping, Singing or Crying Crane); the Eating Crane
(Shehe Q'uan, also known as Morning Crane); and the Flying Crane
(Feihe Q'uan). The Fukien Jumping Crane is not related to these.
It comes through different roots. (Of course, these are not
the only styles that branch from it. The Okinawan Styles are
also branches of it also, as we shall see.)
was the "Shaolin style" referred to by Funakoshi and other sources
that Iwah and Wai Shin Zan taught Bushi Matsumura, although
one source says that Iwah taught Bushi his own form of it.
and the Development of Te
Just off the
coast of Fukien is an island called Okinawa, which means "a
rope tossed into the water." Repeatedly it was taken over by
invaders. But the inhabitants had the doctrine of no resistance.
They just submitted themselves and did not usually fight them,
although they would defend themselves. They would do things
secretly under the noses of their taskmasters. The inhabitants
themselves are a mixture of many different bloodlines. It is
the melting pot of the Orient. At first the island had a tributary
relationship with China, but that ended shortly after the Japanese
conquest by the Satsuma clan in 1609. Since then, the island
has been under Japanese rule.
Over the centuries,
two indigenous martial arts had developed there. At first the
development was independent of China. One was an empty-hand
art called te. The other was an art of weapons called kobudo.
Later on, there was much foreign influence on these systems.
There was an
even greater influx of Chinese influence on te in the late eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries as more masters visited China and studied
under Chinese experts. This led to the creation of three hybrid
styles of what became known in Okinawa as "karate," or "China
Hand." They were a mix of te and Chinese styles. They were Naha-te,
Tomari-te, and Shuri-te. The styles were named after the cities
of Okinawa in which they were developed. But these "cities"
were so close that you could live in one "city" and walk next
door and be in the next "city."
Kusanku, a Chinese envoy, was sent to Okinawa. Some say that
he was a Shaolin monk, and others say he learned from a Shaolin
monk. Another form of his name is Guan Kui or Guan Gui. Once
he was on a boat going to Satsuma, and that it was blown off
course during a fierce typhoon, and drifted to shore on Oshima
Beach of Shikoku Island. At that time, he gave a martial art
demonstration. The book Ohshima-Hikki that contains the account
says "with his lapel being seized, Kusankun applied his martial
art and overcame the attacker by scissoring his legs."
born in Shuri Toribori on March 3, 1733 and died on August 17,
1815 at the age of 82. Sakugawa Satunushi was a samurai. Some
say that his name was Shungo. His dying father suggested that
he learn the fighting arts. In Akata village, Shuri, Sakugawa
found Peichin Takahara (1683-1760). Takahara was a monk, mapmaker
and astronomer. Takahara Peichin was born in the village of
Akata Cho in Southern Shuri. Takahara who 67 at the time and
was a famous warrior of the Okinawan fighting arts. Sakugawa
respectfully asked Takahara to become his student, and was accepted.
He studied under him diligently.
He asked Takahara
for his blessing to study with Ku Sanku, the Chinese Master,
and Takahara approved. Sakugawa improved day by day as he studied
with Ku Sanku.
Kusanku returned to China, Sakugawa followed him and remained
in China for six years still studying with him. Sakugawa became
a famous samurai, and was given the title of Satunuky or Satonushi
by the Okinawan king. It was most likely, Sakugawa that created
the kata Ku Sanku.
was born in 1797, and died in 1889. According to some sources,
Bushi's family name was Kiyo (Kayo). Matsumura grew up in Yamagawa
village of the city of Shuri, Okinawa. He was partly Chinese.
Sakugawa began training Bushi at Akata when he was 14 years
old, in 1810. According to tradition, it was at Bushi's father's
request that Sakugawa teach him. Some say that to train Bushi
to block, Sakugawa tied to him to a tree so he could not move.
Then he threw punches at him.
him up until his death, and then Sokon was probably on his own
for a while. According to oral history, he studied under Sakugawa
for 4 years.
Bushi was recruited
into the service of the Sho family. At that time, Sho Ko, the
king of Okinawa, desired to have him change his last name, as
was the custom, and suggested the name Muramatsu (Muramachi),
or "village pine." After discussing the matter with some friends
and relatives, he decided that Matsumura (Machimura), or "pine
village", would be more appropriate. Sokon asked the king to
let him change the name to that, and the request was granted.
Some say this happened at age 17, which would probably put it
say that Bushi Matsumura trained in China, and it is certainly
a strong tradition. Hohan Soken said that Bushi trained at "Fukien
Shaolin" for 26 years and some months.
students of Bushi Matsumura were Yasutsune Itosu and Chotoku
Kyan, although there were many more. Itosu's head student and
successor was Chosin Chibana, who formed Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu
from Itosu's version of Shuri-Te. Kyan's students formed Shobayashi
Shorin-ryu from his personal brand of Shuri-te. Another student
of Itosu was Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan. Once
in a while, Itosu would take him to study under Bushi Matsumura.
He was also a student of Azato, a Shorei-Ryu master.
Samurai tradition, a close family member was selected as his
successor in his personal system. His grandson Nabi Matsumura
was chosen. Nabi's birth and death dates are kept secret.
student was Itosu. Because of that, it is assumed by some that
Itosu was his successor. However, Nabi was the heir to Bushi's
personal system. Itosu added some to it, creating his own system.
He was not a blood relative to the Matsumura family, and could
not be the successor to the family style therefore, although
he was a great master. In 1928, Chosin Chibana became head of
Itosu's system following Itosu's death. It was at that time
that Chibana designated Itosu's version of Shuri-te as Shorin-Ryu.
The pure and unchanged Matsumura Shuri-te taught by Nabi and
Soken was not known as Shorin-Ryu until Soken changed the name
Some say Nabi
Matsumura was very strict and secretive. Others received the
glory, but he remained in obscurity. Possibly, he wished it
to be that way. Not much information is available about him.
His birth and death date are either not known, or are kept secret.
It is said he was born in the 1850's and died in the 1930's.
Nabi inherited everything his grandfather possessed, including
his title "Bushi Matsumura." Nabi's wife and first child died
soon after the child's birth. He did remarry later.
Hohan Soken, his nephew, to be his successor. Soken was born
May 25, 1889 and died November 30, 1982. He was born into the
old Okinawan Samurai class. Because of the hardships placed
upon the Samurai when their class was abolished, Soken, had
to work a more lowly type of job in the rice fields with the
commoners. Nabi, however, noticed Soken's potential. So he proposed
to him that he would train him in Hakutsuru if he would simply
show enough dedication, patience and control. Soken eagerly
accepted. This was when he was 14 years old in about 1902 or
3. Nabi began training him in the basics. This training lasted
10 years (till about 1913). Finally, after that he knew that
Soken was ready for Hakutsuru.
left Okinawa around 1924 and went to Argentina, where many Okinawans
had moved to work. Soken and Chotoku Kyan reportedly had planned
to travel overseas together but went their separate ways, with
Kyan going to Taiwan. Soken Sensei learned some Spanish during
his long stay in Argentina and by the accounts told by his Okinawan
students, he lived a very exciting life there. Among other things,
he worked as a photographer and had a clothes cleaning business.
He did many demonstrations. Soken returned in the early 50's
a relatively wealthy man by the Okinawan standards of the time.
returned to Okinawa, he found that Karate had greatly changed.
Sport Karate had pretty much replaced the old way. He refused
to join some of the more popular Karate Associations. For many
years he was the World's oldest living active Karate Master.
At first he called his system Matsumura Shurite (Machimura Sui-di),
but later named it Shorin-Ryu Matsumura Seito (Seito means "orthodox")
to distinguish it from sport karate. Soken, unlike his uncle
and great-grandfather, practiced weapons. He learned the art
of Kobudo from Ushi Komesu of Ihonohara village and apparently
also from Mantaka Chiken.
Soken, as with
Nabi, had 2 wives. One was Argentinean, while his second wife
was Okinawan. None of his sons took an interest in their father's
tradition. One of Soken's sons by his first wife had followed
Soken Sensei back to Okinawa and had kept Soken Sensei's ashes.
When that son passed away earlier this year, Soken Sensei's
ashes returned to Argentina as they were left in the care of
the son's Argentinean wife and children in accordance with Okinawan
custom. Having Sensei's ashes in South America and his grave
on Okinawa is fitting for a man with ties so deep in both places.
If one must pay one's respects to Soken Sensei, we ask that
one do that at the grave and avoid causing the deep offense
inherent in trying to make a Graceland-style visit to see his
The History of Matsumura