Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu
This style of Okinawan karate traces its lineage back 250 years to Tode Sakugawa, to a time when Okinawan karate was at its infancy. Over the last 250 years karate has evolved to suit the needs of the times, birthing many offshoots and teachings, each new incarnation a change to karate that compounds over time. Our school, however, stands rooted in the tradition set forth by Grand Master Hohan Soken in 1950 and remains unchanged–orthodox.
Master Phillip Koeppel brought Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu to the United States in 1982 while studying under Master Yuichi Kuda. He founded the United States Karate-do Kai (USKK) and continues to stress the importance of keeping the Matsumura Seito system orthodox. Although the methods of instruction keep evolving to suit the needs of modern-day students, the core of our school remains true to original teachings of Hohan Soken.
Editor’s Note: Movements in karate are divided into the basics, which make up the kata (forms) and the intermediate techniques which are woven into the kata for use in kumite (sparring). It was on the small island of Okinawa that modern karate originated. Okinawa is the main island of the Ryukyu Islands chain, stretching from Japan to Taiwan. Here the warm currents of the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, and the Pacific Ocean meet. The island of Okinawa is small, with a total area of about 460 square miles.
Although there is evidence of recorded Okinawan history dating back 1,000 years, no records exist to give a definitive history of karate. Insufficient documentation of karate and its traditions forces studentso base their interpretation on fragmentary information gathered from historical documents and oral tradition.
The island of Okinawa was a relatively unknown land to Asia, references to it being rare and obscure. It wasn’t until the advent of trade and long range sailing ships that Okinawa was truly discovered and “found its place on the map.” The trading vessels from both China and Japan, along with other countries, found Okinawa in the 14th century and set up trading posts in the cities of Naha and Shuri. It was through this influx of wealth, goods, and philosophies that Chinese kempo was introduced to the Ryukyuans. Most of the Asian martial arts, for centuries, practiced the method of striking with the open hand. In Okinawa these Asian influences were confronted with the native Okinawan te, which taught striking with the fist. During this time (starting around 1480) weapons were banned in Okinawa in order to secure the power of the Okinawan Kingship. Due to this, te was a martial art that focused on the ability to defend oneself empty-handed. With the mixing of cultures and ideas, Chinese kempo and the crude local te began interweaving themselves, combining to form a new art called to-te (literally “Chinese hand”)—still an Okinawan art since it continue emphasizing the use of empty hands. To-te evolved and was practiced primarily in the cities of Shuri (where kings and the nobility lived) and Naha (a large trade center). As so many things do when isolated, the teachings of to-te in the two cities diverged from each other and became two distinctive styles, called Shuri-Te and Naha-Te. There were other forms of to-te practiced, but these were the two dominant ones. Because Okinawa was a trade center, the small country had to placate all its guests as best it could. Japan and China did not have good relations, and so the proliferation of to-te to a Japanese audience was weak and staunched due to the fact that the “to” in to-te implied a Chinese influence. To help ease tension, to-te was renamed karate, literally “empty hand,” removing the Chinese connotation.
With the Japanese invasion and following subjugation of Okinawa in 1609, the development of karate quickly accelerated in spite of the law banning the use of weapons and the practicing of martial arts. For over three hundred years the art was passed down from father to son among the samurai class. Training went on in secret; devotees practiced in hidden and remote places, meeting between midnight and dawn for fear of informers. Having to study secretly and at great risk did not discourage those of martial and enterprising spirit—rather, it inspired them to greater efforts.
There have been many systems or styles of Okinawan karate. Some died out with their originator or founder, while others survived. Originally the Karate Masters in Okinawa did not intend on founding ryu or martial arts traditions. However, between 1603-1868 schools did begin to emerge and karate developed, becoming more polished than its crude prototype, Okinawa-te. Because of the secrecy involved in teaching karate to close friends and family, little documentation exists to record the various styles that developed during the 18th century. By the 19th century, however, Okinawan martial arts eventually separated into two major divisions: Shuri-Te and Naha-Te.
Soken Matsumura (1797-1889) was responsible for organizing the Shuri-Te system and carrying on the teachings of the Shuri-Te martial arts. He is also considered the founder of the Shorin Ryu (young forest style) school. Various modern Shorin Ryu styles of Okinawan karate have all evolved from Shuri-Te. Today on Okinawa there are no styles or ryu left which practice a pure version of Shuri-Te. All modern Shorin Ryu Karate systems can ultimately be traced back to the teaching of Soken Matsumura. This lineage is called Matsumura Autudi, or “the Matsumura Family.”
Sensei’s Note: Just as it is important for any government to remember from where it came and how it was founded, so too is it important for students of any style of martial art to know from where their own teachings spring.
Many insights may be gleaned by looking back into the lives of the masters of old and studying how their influence affected the generations after them down to the current generation of masters. The following is a brief view of each of this school’s masters from beginning to present.
An influential figure in early Okinawan Martial Arts history was a Chinese man named Kusanku. He was a military envoy from China who was dispatched to Okinawa in 1756. A highly skilled kempo master, Kusanku was famous for his fighting ability. He taught many native Okinawans during his stay in Ryuku—his foremost Okinawan student being Tode Sakugawa.
Kusanku is credited with introducing a maneuver into karate do whereby the closed fist was held in a chambered position alongside the torso, and then from this position a punch was thrown, corkscrewing it in karate fashion toward the intended target. Kusanku is also credited with the introduction of a type of kumite, referred to as Kumiai Jutsu, to Okinawan karate.
Although he was a man of slender build, Kusanku was able to defeat many heavier built Okinawans due to his excellent style and techniques. The military envoy returned to China from his Okinawan diplomatic mission in 1762. Kusanku’s teachings are preserved today in the kata, Kusanku.
Tode Sakugawa (1733-1815)
Tode Sakugawa was one of the earliest known Okinawan Martial Arts teachers. He was born in 1733 and lived in Akata Cho, a town in the southern section of Shuri, Okinawa. Sakugawa began his Martial Arts training when he was very young. By the time he was in his twenties Sakugawa had become a very strong karate-ka (student), developing a propensity to test his martial skill in real fights.
In 1756 Sakugawa became a student of Kusanku and trained with the master for nine years (three of those in China). He became known as an expert in the Chinese style of fighting called tode—the basis for his nickname, Tode Sakugawa. When Sakugawa returned from China he passed on the Sakugawa Bo Kata and the Kusanku Karate Kata, and in doing so became credited as the first Okinawan karate teacher.
The formulation of the dojo kun has been attributed to Sakugawa as well. In modern dojos, these precepts are: character, sincerity, effort, etiquette, and self control. They are attributes one must constantly cultivate in the practice of martial arts. Sakugawa originally derived these precepts from Confucian ethics. He borrowed them to act as a dojo pledge to guarantee the correct behavior of his students.
Sokon (Bushi) Matsumura (1797-1889)
Sokon Matsumura, also known as Bushi Matsumura, was one of the most renowned martial artists of his time. He was known as a master of karate and kobujutsu. His skill as a warrior was widely known throughout Okinawa and even in China. Matsumura studied martial arts from Tode Sakugawa and was his most famous student.
Recruited into the service of the Royal Okinawan Sho Family, he eventually became the chief martial arts instructor and bodyguard for the Okinawan King. While in service to the Okinawan King Matsumura was given the title bushi, meaning “warrior”, in recognition of his abilities and accomplishments. Matsumura was the last person ever to receive this title by the King.
Sokon Matsumura organized and refined Shuri-Te, which would eventually serve as the basis for the Shorin Ryu System of Okinawan karate. He is also credited with passing on the katas known as Matsumura No Passai, Naihanchi, Chinto, Seisan, Kusanku, and Gojushiho.
As a teacher, Matsumura was without equal. He produced an abundance of skilled martial artists. All modern styles of karate that evolved from the Shuri-Te lineage can be traced back to the teachings of Bushi Matsumura, including Taekwon Do (Korean karate). In his later years Matsumura wrote a book called Matsumura Bucho Ikko. This book expounded upon the elements of bushido, the way of the warrior, as they relate to social science and Confucian ethics.
Nabe Matsumura (1860-1930)
Nabe Matsumura brought the old Shorin Ryu secrets into the modern age, though his name does not appear in many karate lineage charts. According to Hohan Soken, Nabe Matsumura is credited for having the purest teaching of Matsumura’s Shorin Ryu karate style.
He received training in the family style of Matsumura Shorin Ryu, which also included the secret techniques of the White Crane. The White Crane system was reputed to be a family secret style that was only taught to immediate family members.
In his later years he was often referred to as Nabe Tanme, or “old man Nabe”. He was known to be a stern and disciplined instructor. Nabe Matsumura had only one student, Hohan Soken. It is said that he was one of the best karate instructors of his time. He then passed on his “Menkyo Kaiden” to his nephew, Soken Hohan.
Hohan Soken (1889-1982)
Grand Master Soken was the founder of the Matsumura Seito (orthodox) style of Shorin Ryu. Grand Master Soken began training in karate and kobujutsu at age thirteen under his uncle, Nabe Matsumura. Soken had to work in the fields as a youth despite his samurai heritage, due to political reorganization in the Ryukyus brought on by Emperor Meiji in 1871 forcing the Daimyo (Feudal Lords) to give up their estates. Young Soken worked in the fields by day and trained in karate at night in secret. After ten years of basic training under Nabe Matsumura, Soken began learning the techniques of the white crane known as hakutsuru, emphasizing balance. In 1924 Master Soken moved to Argentinia, where he lived for twenty-one years before returning to Okinawa in 1945. For most of his life Master Soken referred to his Martial Art as Matsumura Shuri-Te. Then, in the 1950’s, he began calling his style Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu. Master Soken retired from teaching karate and kobujutsu in 1976, considered the oldest living Karate Master still actively teaching. He has been quoted as saying, “Karate training has no limits.” While he was in his eighties he practiced two hours a day. He passed on the legacy of Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu, a martial arts inheritance of a bygone age. Perhaps his life is reflected best in his own words, a death poem to his students in November of 1982:
“I have taught you all know. There is no more I can teach you. I am a candle whose light has traveled far. You are my candles to whom I have passed on my light. It is you who will light the path for others. Today I see around me the lights of Shaolin. The flame of tomorrow. My task is done, soon my flame will end. Teach the true spirit of karate-do and one day you may enter the Temple of Shaolin.”
Yuichi Kuda (1928-1999)
Master Yuichi Kuda was known as a quiet man and was a contemporary master of Shorin Ryu. Born in Chinen village, Okinawa in 1928, he was descended from a line of Okinawan samurai with his family genealogy dating back over five hundred years to one of the early Okinawan kings of the Sho Dynasty (1407-1477).
He first received instruction in karate from his father, who also taught him the family style of bojutsu, the art using the Okinawan staff. At age ten he also began training in kendo. When he was about twenty-five years old he studied karate under a man by the name of Yamashiro. Master Kuda credits this man with teaching him the true spirit of karate-do.
In the 1960’s Master Kuda became a student of Shigeru Nakamura (founder of Okinawan Kenpo) and was admitted to Nakamura’s Okinawan Kenpo Association. After Nakamura’s death in 1970, Master Kuda began studying Matsumura Shorin Seito Ryu under Grand Master Hohan Soken.
Master Kuda has developed some unique karate and kobudo kata. A set of five karate kata called Niseidi emphasize dynamic kicking movements such as the sidekick/spinning back-kick combination. These are kicking techniques lacking in the classical Okinawan kata. Two other empty-hand kata are called Kobudi Sho and Dai. These kata are the embodiment of Soken Sensei’s self defense and street fighting techniques as adapted by Master Kuda. He also developed a beautiful nitan bo (two short sticks) kata which emphasizes flowing circular movements and the crane stance. A tonfa kata called Renshin nu Tunfa is also of Master Kuda’s design and his interpretations of using the bo have been adopted by other Okinawan masters.
Phillip Koeppel (b. 1937)
Phillip Koeppel enlisted in the United States Navy in 1956 at 18 years of age and was promptly stationed in Yokohama, Japan. His interest in the martial arts drew him to start karate lessons from Yoshio Kawaguchi, a Wado-ryu stylist. After studying for several months he heard of another sensei, Richard Kim, now a well-known martial arts author and sensei. Mr. Kim was an U.S. Army Intelligence Officer who was teaching Shorinji-ryu at Friers Gym, also in Yokohama. Mr. Koeppel studied with Mr. Kim for approximately one year, advancing quickly.
One thing is certain about military life: uncertainty. After Mr. Koeppel had been in the dojo one year he was transferred to his next duty station, Wahiwa, Hawaii. By this time martial arts were in his blood, so his first priority was to find another teacher. Little did he know that he would study with a martial arts legend, Adriano Emperado, founder of Kajukenbo. During this time Kajukenbo was in its infancy and Phillip Koeppel had an opportunity to train with Mr. Emperado during this exciting period of the style’s history for approximately one and half years. The system did not have any kata or forms, per se, so Mr. Koeppel wrote the five Niko Budo forms to preserve the techniques he’d learned. These forms are still practiced today.
Again, the Navy would interrupt Mr. Koeppel’s martial arts training, this time with an Honorable Discharge when his enlistment ended. Mr. Koeppel was anxious to continue his training when he came home to the United States. Mr. Koeppel opened a small dojo in Peoria, Illinois, unaware that his dojo was the first karate school in Illinois. Later that year Mr. Koeppel read a story in Popular Mechanics Magazine about Robert A. Trias, his United States Karate Association, and how Mr. Trias had studied karate during World War II. The article also listed a phone number and address for the United States Karate Association.
Mr. Koeppel joined the USKA in 1960, later becoming Mr. Trias’ first student in the Midwest. Mr. Koeppel learned from Mr. Trias at every opportunity, assisting him in 1963 as Mr. Trias hosted the first World Championships in Chicago, Illinois. In the following 22 years Mr. Koeppel’s reputation as a competitor and excellent teacher spread. The competitive records of his students became legendary.
Mr. Trias appointed Mr. Koeppel 3rd Regional Director for the USKA where he developed the strongest region in the Association. The USKA Third Region dominated the tournament scene with early competitors such as Glenn Keeny, Bill Wallace, Parker Shelton, Jim McLain, Bob Yarnall, Victor Moore, Bob Bowles, Melvin Wise, Randy Holman, Jim Harrison and many more. Mr. Koeppel also continued to progress and learn his art and was eventually promoted to 7th Dan and Chief Instructor for Mr. Trias’ Shuri-ryu system.
In 1981 Mr. Koeppel resigned from the United States Karate Association. A close introspection of his martial arts lead him to believe that self-improvement comes from continual life study. He looked for a new beginning. It took a great deal of soul searching and courage for him to leave behind what others might construe as having attained the “pinnacle of karate.”
After resigning, Mr. Koeppel began the search for an Okinawan karate teacher that could provide him and his students with a sound foundation for the continuation of this life study. He was familiar with most of the Okinawan styles and had met many of the masters on trips to Okinawa. Eventually he decided upon an old Okinawan village karate called Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu and began study under Mr. Ron Lindsey. Later, Mr. Koeppel studied with another of Hohan Soken’s senior students, Yuichi Kuda. Mr. Koeppel, because of his vast knowledge and experience, progressed quickly. He was eventually promoted to 8th Dan, Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu by Yuichi Kuda, Hanshi. Through Master Koeppel’s tireless efforts the Matsumura Seito system spread rapidly throughout his existing schools and students.
In 1997 Patrick McCarthy, noted author, sensei and Okinawan karate historian, wrote Mr. Koeppel a letter of introduction to meet Mr. Kosei Nishihira, one of Hohan Soken’s senior students. McCarthy knew Mr. Nishihira, and also knew that the introduction would be of vital importance to Mr. Koeppel and his students. During the 1997 Okinawa World Karate Championships Mr. Koeppel traveled to Nishihara Village, Okinawa to meet and train with Mr. Nishihira. Mr. Nishihira was born in 1942, and became a student of Mr. Soken when he was 10 years old, right after Mr. Soken returned to Okinawa from Argentina. Mr. Soken was Nishihira’s only teacher, a relationship that lasted approximately 30 years, until the legendary grand master died. Mr. Koeppel worked out with Mr. Nishihira several times, authenticating and documenting the Matsumura Seito katas and bun kai. Koeppel Sensei was exhilarated with the affirmation that his kata, theories and methods were so close to that of Nishihira’s. His years of research, training and study had paid off, and a liaison was formed between thetwo men that will benefit Mr. Koeppel’s efforts to preserve and propagate Mr. Soken’s tradition.
In 1984 Master Koeppel founded the United States Karate Do Kai. The organization’s goal is to provide quality martial arts services to authentic, traditional karate practitioners. His philosophy has always been to assist others in their search for knowledge and training. In February 1996, Mr. Koeppel arranged for his personal friend, Mr. Takayoshi Nagamine, 9th Dan Hanshi, Matsubyashi Shorin-ryu to visit Mr. Patrick Beaumont’s dojo, a USKK affiliate dojo in Ireland. Together they provided seminars for Mr. Beaumont and his dojo. This was the first time an Okinawan karate master had ever been to Ireland. It is just one of many examples of Mr. Koeppel’s efforts to help members of USKK return to authentic sources for the Okinawan karate training that they seek. Mr. Koeppel’s efforts have been rewarded by a growing network of members and schools throughout the world.
Mr. Koeppel is honored and humbled by certifications awarded by the Global Martial Arts Federation and U.S.A. Karate Federation of 10th Dan and 9th Dan respectively, but acknowledges 8th Dan, Matsumura Seito Shorin-ryu, Okinawan Matsumura Kempo Karate Kobudo Federation and Okinawan Karate Do Renmei.
It is undeniable that Master Phillip Koeppel has had a profound effect on the propagation and spread of karate-do throughout the Midwest, the United States, and the world.
Rick Hall (b. 1960)
Sensei Hall began his martial arts training at the age of ten. His firstintroduction to the martial arts was in 1971 when he first studied the Korean art of Tae Kwon Do, going on to earn a 3rd degree black belt. He opened up his first school, Clearwater Karate, in 1980 and began opening successive schools thereafter. In 1983 Sensei Hall began his association with Master Koeppel and adopted the Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu system of karate. Today he brings over thirty years of experience to the school that he founded twenty-five years ago. Master Hall currently holds a 7th degree black belt in karate and a 4th degree black belt in kobudo.