The Karate-ka


“Karate cannot be learned quickly… if one studies seriously every day, in three to four years they will understand what karate is about.”

Itosu Anko

My training in karate spans thirty-five years, the first ten of which was in Shotokan. From then I transitioned into Okinawan martial arts. Today my teaching focusses on preserving two archaic methods of the Shuri tradition, namely that of Hanashiro Chomo and Bushi Tachimura. In addition to this I practise various weaponry forms and the Yamane-ryu bojutsu style. My training in these is direct from their current successor Higa Kiyohiko of the Bugeikan.

Below you can find summary introductions along with simplified lineage charts displaying their transmission and antiquity.

Hanashiro Chomo Shuri-te

Hanashiro Chomo was born in 1869 and played an integral role in the popularisation of karate on Okinawa at the turn of the twentieth century.

From an early age he studied under the celebrated master Matsumura Sokon, who served as chief bodyguard to the last three kings of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Hanashiro later joined the army and served as an officer during the First Sino Japanese War of 1894. Upon his return, along with lifelong friend Yabu Kentsu, the pair became instrumental in introducing karate to the prefectural school system.

By 1936 Hanashiro was heading a group of senior karate-ka on the island seeking to preserve it as a distinct cultural art of Okinawa.

Although he influenced many karate-ka in his time the kata and techniques of Hanashiro’s karate have remained largely unknown. Part of the reason for this is that his direct student, Nakandakari Kanzo never opened a dojo nor taught publicly after the Second World War, preferring instead to keep his karate as a personal practice. Consequently few are aware what kata Hanashiro taught and the style itself has remained untouched from the Taisho Era. This makes it a valuable source of study material for karate-ka seeking examples of early versions of popular kata practised today; particularly within Shorin-ryu, Shotokan and branch traditions. There are nineteen kata handed down from Hanashiro, you can learn more about them here.

Transmission of Style

Toudi Sakugawa

1786 – 1867

Matsumura Sokon

1809 – 1899

Hanashiro Chomo

1869 – 1945

Nakandakari Kanzo

1911 – 2001

Higa Kiyohiko

1943 –

Tachimura-ha Suidi

A contemporary of Matsumura Sokon, Bushi Tachimura was of the ‘shizoku’ nobility and served as an official of the Ryukyu Kingdom. During these times the title ‘bushi’ was granted to those who excelled in martial skill. Oral history recounts how, whilst on official duties to an outer island, Tachimura refused to accept bribes and a gang set out to murder him with hatchets and blades. However, during the affray Tachimura was said to have used body movements to avoid the attacks and his kicking techniques scalped assailants. On the return voyage to Okinawa he was ambushed again. This time his attackers were thrown overboard and he arrived with makeshift bandages on his wounds.

Following retirement he moved north on the island and passed his karate to Kishimoto Soko, who in turn taught Higa Seitoku.

A 1914 article in the Ryukyu Shinpo newspaper mentions that judo began in Okinawa with Tachimura of Tōbaru village, having received prefectural sponsorship to study in Kagoshima. The article continues that ‘his father was a disciple of ‘Sakugawa’, one of the earliest masters of karate.

During an extended visit in 2017 I was able to meet with the wife of an ageing descendent of the Tachimura family. According to her the family had served the Royal Court for several generations before abolition in 1879. Although no martial techniques had been handed down to her husband, she herself was a descendent of Matsumura Sokon and explained that the Matsumura family name came from a branch of Tachimura. Her great grandmother had been one of the last princesses of the Kingdom.

The Tachimura ‘style’ differs significantly from other types of karate witnessed on Okinawa. Movements are fluid and continuous, supported on a liberated footwork reflective of classical weaponry practise. There are no blocks and exponents use body movements to avoid and counter in one motion. For this reason training in the method is usually reserved for advanced exponents of karate, typically 3rd/4th dan level. There are just four kata, Naihanchi, Nidanbu, Passai and Kusanku.

Transmission of Style

Toudi Sakugawa*

1786- 1867

Bushi Tachimura

c.1824 – 1909

Kishimoto Soko

1862 – 1945

Higa Seitoku

1921 – 2006

Higa Kiyohiko

1943 –

Yamane Ryu

Yamane ryu is a distinct form of bojutsu with a rich history on Okinawa. The origins of the art are said have been introduced by Toudi Sakugawa who may have blended Chinese and Okinawan spear fighting methods into stick forms which were then evolved and preserved by members of the Yamane family of Tōbaru village, Shuri.

Yamane ryu was actually named by Chinen Masami in honour of his grandfather Chinen Sanda who was was also known as Yamane Usumei. Chinen Sanda had learnt bojutsu from his father Chinen PECHIN (a court rank) and Chinen Shichiyanaka, who had studied stick fighting from Sakugawa and Soishi respectively.

The style transitioned from Chinen Masami to Nakazato Shugoro of Shorin ryu karate, Kishaba Choji and Higa Seitoku of the Bugeikan. Higa Kiyohiko in turn learnt from his father and received menkyo-kaiden (successorship) via Kishaba Choji.

A non-tapered stick of approximately six foot (2m) in length, called a rokushaku-bo, is used in Yamane ryu. Other types of Okinawan bojutsu commonly use a tapered variety. The straight stick allows for the unique striking method and a sliding technique that makes it difficult to gauge the range of the weapon.

The kata Suji no Kun is preserved within the Bugeikan is the version of Masami Chinen’s favourite form. It contains subtle ‘Ti’ like movements that enhance the use of the bo that were not taught openly in the past. Other styles with a kata by the same are typically longer and without the Ti movements.

Toudi Sakugawa*

1786- 1867



Chinen Sanda

c.1846 – 1925

Chinen Masami

c.1898 – 1976

Higa Seitoku

1921 – 2006