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Sokon 'Bushi' Matsumura

Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura

Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura

     Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura was born in 1797 to an upper-class (shizoku) family in the Yamagawa Village, Shuri. He began training with Tode "Karate" Sakagawa at a very young age. Matsumura was also a good scholar and a noted calligrapher.

     Matsumura served as a close advisor and bodyguard to three Ryukyuan kings - Sho-Ko, Sho Iku and Sho Tai. This position enabled him to travel widely to Fuchou, Satsuma and the Fukien Shaolin Temple where he studied several forms of Chinese boxing and Jigen-ryu sword fighting.

     There a several stories as to how Matsumura obtained the name "Bushi" (which means warrior). One credits Karate Sakagawa affectionately bestowing the name on him as because Matsumura, as a child, was very mischievous and liked to fight everyone. Another tale, as related in Richard Kim's "The Weaponless Warrior," claims the name was bestowed by royal decree by King Sho Ko, in recognition of his unusual ability in martial arts, after Matsumura defeated a bull.

     Matsumura's wife was also a noted martial artist who (before she met Matsumura) had often challenged (and bested) would-be suitors. One witness recalled seeing her lift a 132 lb. bag of rice with one hand while she swept under it.

Prominent Students
Matsumura trained a diverse group of karate masters, including:

  • Anko Itosu

  • Kentsu Yabu

  • Gichin Funakoshi

  • Chomo Hanashiro

  • Nabe Matsumura

  • Chotoku Kyan

  • Anko Asato

  • Kiyuna Pechin

  • Sakihara Pechin

    *Sokon Matsumura's letter about Martial Arts, written May 13, 1882

  • You can only understand the true way of the martial arts through determination and continuous training. It is quite interesting to note that the martial arts and the methods of scholarly study parallel each other at a fundamental level.

    When examining the methods of scholarly study, we find there are three distinct elements or methods:

    The first method is the study of powerful words, skills needed in communication and the pursuit of high-paying positions.

    The second method is the study of comparing the wisdom of traditional literature, and instilling a sense of duty by way of example.

    Despite the fact that these two methods are both unique, they fall short of comprehending the true essence of the way. They encompass only a superficial comprehension of scholarly studies, so they should be regarded as incomplete.

    The third method of literary study is a complete method. By understanding this third method is how we can understand the true way. Some of the things that it teaches us how to do are the following:

    (1) To gain a more profound understanding
    (2) To gain strength from our weaknesses
    (3) To become more sincere
    (4) To become more righteous
    (5) To better control our emotions
    (6) To have more peace in our homes

    This is a doctrine that can be applied to not only our country, but to the whole world. Therefore, only this study is a complete one.

    If we investigate the martial arts, we also see that there are three distinct divisions or elements in them:

    The first method, or division, is more like a game of psychology and tactics. It actually has no practical application in fighting, but it is more like pretty dancing. It is quite superficial.

    The second method is nothing more than physical exercises. Its only goal is to win. In this there is no virtue. The practitioners of this method are contentious. Many times they bring injury to others and to themselves. Very often they cause dishonor to come upon members of their family.

    The third method, in contrast, is always performed with conviction. The practitioners of this third method gain a solemn enlightenment, free of strife and depravity. It promotes loyalty among family, friends and country. It also promotes a natural demeanor, which develops a gallant character.

    If you have an unconquerable calmness, you can overcome the enemy without force, with the ferocity of a tiger and the swiftness of a bird.

    Some traits of this third method:

    (1) It prohibits intentional violence
    (2) It rules the actions of the warrior
    (3) It edifies
    (4) It promotes virtue
    (5) It promotes peace among the people
    (6) It produces harmony in society
    (7) It brings about prosperity

    These are called the "Seven Virtues of the Martial Arts." They were taught by wise men, and are contained in a book called the Godan-sho.

    Thus, the true way of the martial arts has more than one element in it. A wise man does not need the first or second methods. All he needs is the third method. In this method, you will find the true way.

    This unconquerable strength will deeply influence your judgment in recognizing opportunities and in taking appropriate action. The circumstances will always determine what the correct approach is that you should take.

    It might seem like I have no respect for the other two fighting methods, but my conviction is rooted immovably in the doctrine of the third method. I have revealed my words to you. There is nothing left secret or hidden in my mind, nothing held back. If you accept and heed my words, you will find the true way.


    Bushi Matsumura, May 13, 1882


    My wise and young brother Kuwae Ryosei

    * from Original Okinawan Karate


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