In the 1960s and 1970s, the term “karate” was often used as a kind of generic term to refer to any striking martial art whether it be Japanese, Korean or even Chinese. But Karate was actually born on the island of the Kingdom of Okinawa. It probably owes its roots to Chinese travelers who brought versions of kung fu to the islands in the 17th century. The combat arts were originally known simply as “Okinawa Te,” or “hand” but soon they became known as “China-hand” or “kara-te.” Three geographical areas became known for their Karate practice, Shuri-Te, Tomari-Te, and Naha-Te. Most of the more modern Okinawan styles trace their roots back to one of these three. Some schools added use of farm implements as weapons since the government had outlawed use of swords and knives. So the sai, nunchaku and bo became part of the Okinawan curriculum (today often called “kobudo” or “old warrior way.”)
Because Japan had occupied the islands for hundreds of years before finally annexing them in 1856, Karate had no doubt been taken to the Japanese mainland. However empty-hand and simple weapon fighting was considered lower-class by the highly-trained samurai with their elaborate sword skills. About 1916 an Okinawan Karate teacher named Gichin Funakoshi traveled to Japan to demonstrate his art. It is said that he is the one who changed the translation of kara-te to “empty hand” in order to make the art more acceptable to the Japanese. His school became known as Shotokan, and Funakoshi is often credited as being the “father” of modern Karate. Today there are many styles of both Japanese and Okinawan Karate.
Generally the Okinawan styles are softer and more traditional in their approach and the Japanese schools are more sport-oriented. However the individual teachers have much to do with the school’s emphasis, much like Karate in the United States.
Okinawan Shorin-Ryu Matsubayashi-Ryu
While Matsubayashi-Ryu karate did not exist before Nagamine Sensei founded it, it’s beginnings had existed for hundreds of years before. According to Patrick McCarthy of the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society, Matsubayashi-Ryu karate can trace it’s lineage from Chinese Gung-Fu to the original Okinawan karate; Koryu Uchinadi-Ryu karate & Yamaneryu Kobudo. This “original” Okinawan karate then developed into Te. Te grew and divided into Naha-Te, Shuri-Te and Tomari-Te. Shuri-Te (Also generically known as shorin-ryu) then divided into Kobayashi-Ryu (Chosin Chibana), Matsubayashi-Ryu (Shoshin Nagamine), Shobayashi-Ryu (Chotoku Kyan) and Matsumura orthodox Hohan Soken). It was not until 1936 that the Okinawan masters met and adopted the term “karate” or “open-hand” to replace the earlier term of Tote (abbreviated to Te) which meant “Chinese Hand”. They felt the new term, karate, better reflected the art’s unique Okinawan development.
Following World War II Nagamine Sensei encountered a book by Ginchin Funakoshi, entitled “Introduction to Karate”. He later stated it was this book that helped him make up his mind to pursue karate as a life’s ambition. Although there is no documentation of it, one cannot help but wonder if Nagamine Sensei’s service as an infantryman in China in 1928 may not also have influenced his subsequent development of the Matsubayashi-Ryu style.
1947 was the first time the public world heard of Matsubayashi-Ryu karate, this occurring when Nagamine Sensei opened his first dojo and named it the “Matsubayashi-Ryu Kododan Karate and Ancient Martial Arts Studies”. Matsubayashi is the Okinawan pronunciation of the characters for “Pine Forest.” “Matsu” means “pine” and “Hayashi” means “forest.” When the two are placed together, the “H” of Hayashi is pronounced as “B,” making it Matsubayashi. “Shorin” is the Chinese pronunciation of the same characters. The origin of the name “Shorin-Ryu” is the Shaolin Buddhist Temple in China. “Ryu”, roughly translated, means style or system. More literally, it can mean “river,” which Nagamine Sensei said reflected his thoughts that the art of karate, and specifically Matsubayashi-Ryu, is a living, flowing thing.
Nagamine Sensei created the name “Matsubayashi” out of respect for two great Karate-ka’s who taught two of his most influential teachers (Chotoku Kyan and Choki Motobu). These two masters were Bushi Matsumura and Kosaku Matsumora. As a side note, the World Matsubayashi-Ryu Karate Association website reports Nagamine Sensei’s nickname growing up was “Gaajuu Maachuu” sometimes pronounced “Chippai Matsu”, which means “tenacious pine tree.”
In the years that followed it’s opening, his dojo grew in both fame and size. Soon selected nearby American servicemen began to train at his school. In 1960 the United States was introduced to Matsubayashi-Ryu karate when James Wax, an ex-American serviceman, became the first westerner to open a Matsubayashi-Ryu dojo in Dayton, Ohio. Later, in 1962, Nagamine Sensei dispatched a senior student, Ansei Ueshiro to the United States with the intent of firmly establishing Shorin-Ryu, Matsubayashi-Ryu karate in North America.
In the 1980’s Ueshiro Sensei branched off from Nagamine and formed the Shorin-Ryu Karate USA (Matsubayashi-Ryu) branch.
With the untimely death of Ueshiro Sensei in May of 2002, Shorin-Ryu karate USA broke off into two divisions; that headed by Scaglione Sensei (Shorin-Ryu Karate USA) and a new organization headed by Sensei Maccarrone – Karate USA – Terry Maccarrone. After some time Scaglione Sensei has appeared to emerge as the heir “de-facto” of the Ueshiro Organization
Nagamine Sensei, in addition to being the founder of Matsubayashi-Ryu karate, was the unifying figure that kept it together, at least until his death in 1997. Following Nagamine Shoshin’s death numerous factions and a number of senior karate-ka (western and Okinawan), unhappy (for whatever reasons) with the WMKA being led by Nagamine Takayoshi left the mother organization and formed their own schools. Many keep the traditions of Matsubayashi-Ryu while some single dojo schools have deviated from the original intent of Matsubayashi-Ryu. At the present time there are number of schools which teach Matsubayashi-Ryu Karate-Do in one form or another. Many of these schools remain independent and unaffiliated with the major American branches of Matsubayashi-Ryu. The prospective karate student must be aware of this and choose the school that best meets their needs.
After the death of Nagamine Soke in April 2012, Sensei Yoshitaka Taira (10th Dan) was selected to serve as the WMKA President. A tremendous responsibility rests heavily on his shoulders as the reunification of Matsubayashi-Ryu continues to move forward. With the death of Nagamine (father & son), Matsubayashi-Ryu separated into the many separate organizations seen today. Master Nagamine’s original school remains open today in Naha, Okinawa.