Okinawan Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito Karate & Kobudo


It is estimated that probably 90% of American martial artists know little about there style and, other than the physical aspects, most of those martial artists seem content merely to practice karate, with little interest in studying the origins of their art. Those of us in Okinawa Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito Karate and Kobudo Association are of different mentality. While we enjoy the physical aspects of Shorin-ryu, we also have a burning desire to learn the history and the origins of our art.

Generations of secrecy have shed a veil of mystery around the history and origin of Okinawan karate. To a certain degree, this veil of secrecy still exists. This, coupled with the general lack of written records, has created the lack of information on the early years of Ryukyu martial arts. What little information we may have has come to us by scattered bits and pieces that somehow have come into the possession of modern karate historians or from those of you who were fortunate enough to have been told some of the history from an Okinawan sensei. Nevertheless, any attempt to write on karate "history" will leave many stones unturned, and the following attempt is no exception. A lot of questions are left unanswered, perhaps one day we will know more.


Early Okinawan karate, or tode ("China Hand") as it was called, owes its origin to a mixture of indigenous Okinawan fighting arts and various "foot fighting" systems and empty-hand systems of Southeast Asia and China. Being seafaring people, the Okinawans were in almost constant contact with mainland Asia. It is quite likely that Okinawan seamen visiting foreign ports were impressed with local fighting techniques and incorporated these into their own fighting methods.

Interest in unarmed fighting arts increased during the 14th century when Chuzan King Sho Hashi established his rule over Okinawa and banned all weapons. A more rapid development of tode followed in 1609 when the Satsuma clan of Kyushu, Japan, occupied Okinawa and again banned the possession of weapons. Thus tode or Okinawa-te, as the Satsuma samurai soon called it, became the only means of protection left to the Okinawans. It was this atmosphere that honed the early karate-like arts of Okinawa into a weapon, enabling the island people to conduct a guerrilla-type war with the Japanese samurai that lasted into the late 1800's.

So tode or Okinawa-te was developed secretly, thus preventing the Japanese from killing the deadly art's practitioners and teachers. Tode remained underground until the early 1900's, when it was brought into the Okinawan school system's physical education program.


Chatan Yara was an early Okinawan master of whom some information exists. Some authorities place his birth at about 1670, in the village of Chatan, Okinawa; others place his birth at a much later date. In any case, he contributed much to Okinawa karate. He reportedly studied in China for 20 years. His bo and sai techniques greatly influenced Okinawan kobudo, his Kata, "CHATAN YARA NO SAI," "CHATAN YARA SHO NO TONFA," and "CHATAN YARA NO KON" are widely practiced today.