Matsumura Sōkon, also known as Sōkon “Bushi” Matsumura, was a revered martial artist from Okinawa who made significant contributions to the development and preservation of traditional Okinawan martial arts.
Matsumura Sōkon was born in 1809 in Yamagawa Village, Shuri, Okinawa. He began his martial arts training at a young age under the tutelage of the prominent master Kanga Sakugawa (Tōde Sakugawa). Matsumura’s early exposure to this esteemed instructor laid the foundation for his exceptional skills and deep understanding of martial arts principles.
It is also believed the Matsumura Sōkon studied under other masters such as Annan (or Anan), a Chinese martial arts master, and a less-known martial artist named Iwah.
Matsumura Sōkon was closely associated with the Shuri-te style of martial arts, which originated in Shuri, the capital city of Okinawa at that time. Shuri-te emphasized fluid movements, quick strikes, and efficient techniques. Matsumura’s expertise in this style showcased his mastery of various aspects of combat, including striking, grappling, and footwork.
Alongside his practice of Shuri-te, Matsumura Sōkon was also proficient in Jigen-ryū, a sword-based martial art. Jigen-ryū emphasized precise movements, proper distancing, and effective use of the sword. Matsumura’s knowledge of Jigen-ryū contributed to his comprehensive understanding of martial arts principles and influenced his approach to combat.
Matsumura Sōkon’s teachings embodied not only the physical aspects of martial arts but also the cultivation of one’s character. He emphasized the importance of discipline, humility, and the pursuit of personal growth through dedicated practice. Matsumura’s teachings emphasized the integration of mind, body, and spirit, encouraging his students to develop a strong moral compass alongside their physical abilities. Some of his most prominent students were Ankō Itosu, Ankō Asato, Motobu Chōki, Motobu Chōyū, Kentsu Yabu, Nabe Matsumura, Chōtoku Kyan and Gichin Funakoshi.
In 1836, Matsumura was enlisted into the service of the Shō family, who were the royal rulers of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. He was bestowed with the title Shikudon (also known as Chikudun Pechin), a gentry rank. Initially, Matsumura began his career under the reign of King Shō Kō, the 17th monarch of the Ryūkyū dynasty. During this time, in 1838, he married Yonamine Chiru (or Tsuru), who was also a skilled martial artist.
Matsumura’s dedication and skill led to him assuming the role of the chief martial arts instructor and bodyguard for King Shō Kō of Okinawa. He continued to serve in these capacities for the subsequent two Okinawan kings, namely Shō Iku and Shō Tai. Matsumura’s unwavering loyalty and expertise made him an indispensable figure in the royal court.
China and Japan journey
In addition to his service in Okinawa, Matsumura embarked on official journeys on behalf of the Ryūkyū Kingdom’s government. He traveled to Fuzhou (Fujian province) and Satsuma Province (Japan mainland). In Fuzhou, he had the opportunity to study Chuan Fa, a Chinese martial art. The experiences and insights gained during his journeys greatly influenced his own martial arts practice and teachings.
Matsumura’s encounters with various martial arts styles in China and other regions enriched his understanding of combat and martial arts principles. He diligently assimilated the techniques and knowledge acquired during his studies and brought them back to Okinawa. This exchange of martial arts wisdom contributed to the refinement and development of Okinawan martial arts, as Matsumura shared his newfound insights with his students and fellow practitioners.
Matsumura’s dedication to both his duties as a royal bodyguard and martial arts instructor, as well as his pursuit of knowledge through travel, solidified his status as a highly respected figure in Okinawan martial arts. His contributions to promoting martial arts and his role in bridging the influences between China and Okinawa left an indelible mark on the development and legacy of Okinawan martial arts.
Matsumura Sōkon’s legacy as a revered martial artist and his role in shaping Okinawan martial arts ensure that his name remains etched in history as a true pioneer.
Sōkon “Bushi” Matsumura passed away in the year 1899.
Note: Although various sources provide different dates for Sokon Matsumura’s birth and death, let us rely on the information inscribed on his tomb, which was placed there by Matsumura’s family. According to the tomb’s inscription, Matsumura Sōkon was born in the year 1809 and passed away in 1899. These dates, as recorded by his family, provide the basis for understanding the timeline of his life and legacy.
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