Historical Figure: Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura

"To all those whose progress remains hampered by ego-related distractions, let humility - the spiritual cornerstone upon which karate rests - serve to remind one to place virtue before vice, values before vanity and principles before personalities."                    - Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura



12 July 2024

Sensei Jon Davis



Sokon (Sobi) Matsumura was born in 1797. His father, Matsumura Sofuku, introduced him to Karate Sakugawa (then aged 78) when he was 17 years old. He persuaded the karate expert to take on his son as a martial arts disciple. His natural ability helped him to quickly develop into a proficient martial expert. He became skilled not just physically, but also in literature. By the time he was twenty, he was already in the service of the king of Okinawa, as he became head bodyguard to the royal family - and was thus a high official in the Shuri government. He served the last three Okinawan kings: Sho Ko, Sho Iku, and Sho Tai. As he was the chief bodyguard with magistrate status, Matsumura would go on to become the top martial arts teacher in Okinawa.


In 1818, he married Yonamine Chiru. Chiru herself was highly proficient in martial arts, having come from a family renowned for their karate skills. There are many tales which tell of her incredible fighting feats, and even stories of her fighting and besting her husband in combat. Yonamine Chiru is believed to have had a profound impact on Matsumura and his understanding/practice of the art of karate.


Matsumura was a tall, thin, yet powerful man - due to his incessant practice of martial arts. He focused heavily on developing great speed in every technique, as he believed that speed was the key to power. He is known to have used his legs very effectively, developing kicks and jumping techniques for which he became famous. Matsumura is also credited with being a pioneer of emphasizing the twisting motion of the hips to help generate power.


In his lifetime, he created or modified many kata that have been passed down to present day: kata such as Patsai, Kusanku, Useishi, Naihanchi, Chinto, Seisan, Gojushiho, Channan, and Hakutsuru. There are dozens of kata variations being practiced today that can be traced directly back to Matsumura's time.


Over the years, Matsumura built quite a reputation for himself and became quite a legendary figure by distinguishing himself time and again with acts of valor and courage. One such story tells the tale of how he received the title of "bushi" by the Okinawan king. "Bushi," meaning warrior/samurai was an honorific reserved for those possessing the highest degree of prowess and "knightly" qualities.


MATSUMURA AND THE BULL (excerpt adapted from the book, "Weaponless Warriors")

Shortly after 1827, King Sho Ko received a bull from the emperor of Japan, and decided to match it against his best martial artist - Matsumura. These types of exhibitions were usually bull vs. bull, so this was definitely an unusual event. The proclamation of the match went all across the island, creating a lot of excitement. The people anxiously anticipated the pitting of Matsumura against the king's bull at Aizo-Shuri.


On hearing of his matching by royal decree, he decided to take no chances. He visited the king's stables and visited the bullkeeper in his home. The bullkeeper allowed Matsumura to visit the bull, but was asked by him to not mention his visiting the animal to anyone.


Matsumura asked that the bull be tethered down firmly. The bullkeeper watched on as Matsumura put on his battle gear and a mask. Looking first to see that the bull was well tethered, he entered the compound and approached the animal cautiously. From out of his sleeve, he produced a long needle, and with it he jabbed the bull in the nose. The reaction was stunning. The bull bellowed and tried in vain to attack his tormentor.


Matsumura, satisfied with the results, repeated this process every single day until the bull learned to recognize and fear him. When the day of the match finally came, people flocked to the arena from all over the island. The air was filled with festivity and excitement as they prepared to witness the greatest spectacle on earth: Matsumura fighting the prize bull.


When the bull finally trotted out into the arena, there was an expectant hush and a collective gasp of awe. He was truly a magnificent animal. Even the king must have wondered if any human could possibly be a match for such a beast.


The bull pawed the ground and snorted ferociously as a cheer gradually worked its way around the arena from one of its corners. Matsumura then appeared. He walked slowly toward the bull, dressed in his battle gear and mask. But when the bull finally caught his scent, he gave a bellow of fear and ran out of the arena.


A great roar went up from the crowd. No one there had ever heard or seen of such a thing. The king himself was speechless, wondering how Matsumura made the bull run out without ever having touched it. When he finally regained his composure, he announced to the crowd, "Today, Matsumura is named by royal decree, 'bushi', in recognition of his unusual ability in the martial arts." Sokon Matsumura thus carried the name of "bushi" into history.

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