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Nagamine Shoshin was born in Naha City, Okinawa, on July 15, 1907, the same year that Anko Itosu formulated the five Pinan kata for inclusion in the Okinawan high school physical education curriculum. One of the interpretations of the term Pinan (pronounced Heian in Japanese) is “peace.” Ninety years later, Nagamine sensei stood before a packed audience at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii, and gave a memorable speech entitled “KarateDo and World Peace,” the complete text of which accompanies this article.
The founder of the MatsubayashiRyu branch of Shorinryu, hanshi tenth dan, Nagamine sensei’s accomplishments in the field of budo are far too lengthy to list and many have been previously addressed in other books and articles (see the bibliography at the end). Briefly, he began his karate training at the age of 17 with Chojin Kuba, who lived in the same neighborhood. Two years later, he traveled to Shuri to study under Shimabuku Taro, who soon referred him to the youthful Arakaki Ankichi (who studied under Gusukuma Shimpan, Hanashiro Chomo, Chibana Choshin and Kyan Chotoku). During his years as a policeman at the Kadena Police Station (1931-1935), Nagamine studied directly under Kyan (who was a disciple of Matsumura Sokon of Shuri, among others). While studying at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Academy in 1936, he received instruction under the renowned kumite (sparring) expert, Motobu Choki (who studied under Matsumora Kosaku of Tomari). In addition to karate, Nagamine also practiced judo and kendo, achieving dan rankings in both arts.
Nagamine established his first karate dojo in 1943 in Tomari, calling it the Tomari Ken Yu Kai. Kyan Chotoku attended the opening ceremony for the small dojo and performed the kata Passai and some bojutsu. The dojo was destroyed during the war, however, and it was not until 1948 that Nagamine built a temporary replacement in Makishi.
About that trying period, he wrote:
After the war, the young people were driven to despair; their sense of morality had vanished and juvenile delinquency soared. To instill an undying faith in the hearts and minds of promising youth seemed imperative, and I felt there was a real need for a karate dojo in which young people could train their bodies and build indomitable spirits.
-The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do
Finally, in January of 1953, he built a permanent dojo in Naha, calling it the Matsubayashi-Ryu Karate Kodokan. The name Matsubayashi-Ryu was adopted in honor of the two great teachers of Kyan Chotoku and Motobu Choki: Matsumura Sokon and Matsumora Kosaku, respectively. Nagamine’s dojo remains at the same location to this day.
Matsubayashi-Ryu is one of the major forms of Shorin-ryu. The title Matsubayashi (“pine forest”) and Shorin (Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese Shaolin) can be traced to the Shaolin (meaning “little forest”) Temple in China, which was said to be located in a pine (matsu-) grove.
Eighteen kata are practiced in Matsubayashi-Ryu: (1) Fukyugata Ichi (developed by Nagamine in 1940); (2) Fukyugata Ni (developed by Miyagi Chojun in 1940); (3) Pinan Shodan (all the Pinan kata were developed by Itosu Anko); (4) Pinan Nidan; (5) Pinan Sandan; (6) Pinan Yondan; (7) Pinan Godan; (8) Naihanchi Shodan; (9) Naihanchi Nidan; (10) Naihanchi Sandan; (11) Ananku; (12) Wankan; (13) Rohai; (14) Wanshu; (15) Passai; (16) Gojushiho; (17) Chinto; and (18) Kusanku.
Nagamine has striven to maintain the kata in their original forms. Modifications for tournaments or other reasons are not tolerated. In addition, seven yakusoku kumite (“prearranged paired”) forms are taught.
In 1976, Nagamine’s Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do was published by Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc. It presents photographs of the individual movements of all the kata and yakusoku kumite forms, a history of the art, as well as a detailed glossary of terms. Reprinted over 20 times, the book has become a classic and remains in constant demand. In the near future, Tuttle will publish another of Nagamine’s works, an English translation of Okinawan Karate/Tegumi Masters. Noted karate historian, Patrick McCarthy, and his wife did the translation of the Japanese text.
Nagamine is the head of the World Matsubayashi-Ryu (Shorin-Ryu) Karate-Do Association, which is headquartered in Naha City, Okinawa. Over the years, he estimates that well over 10,000 students have trained in the various branches of his organization throughout the world.
Kenzan Nagamine Rokoji And Zen
There is another side to Nagamine Shoshin, one that few people, until now, may have been aware of. Over 30 years ago, he incorporated the practice of zazen (Zen meditation) with his karate training. In his autobiographical article entitled Encounter With “Ti” or “Karate,” Nagamine writes:
From time to time, I had a vague feeling of anxiety in tackling with karate and my way of living. Just then, I had a chance to read Gorin-no-sho (Book of Five Wheels) written by Miyamoto Musashi, in 1963, and was much moved. Already I had read through a book titled Teshhukoji-no-shinmenboku (“Buddhist layman and master swordsman, [Yamaoka] Teshhu’s true self”). Luckily, I was given a hint in going ahead of my way as a karateman through the reading. The two were unrivaled swordsmen in all ages, had common in intelligence, bravery and physical power, embraced the Buddhist faith so as to have an unbending spirit, practiced Zen meditation for art of war, and devoted whole heart to the spiritual problems.
These pioneers of martial arts opened my eyes to reorient my physically-bent karate to the togetherness of Fists and Zen. So I was resolved to adopt Zen meditation as part of Karate practice ever since.
From that time, each of the classes at Nagamine’s dojo has begun with 15 minutes of zazen. Students are not required to participate but are always welcomed to do so. In The Essence of Karate-Do, Nagamine further writes:
All of the spiritual aspects of karate-do and the ways in which it can bring one to self-realization cannot be fully described. I have pursued the study of karate in an attempt to bring karate and Zen together as one. That has been a life-long effort, and one that can never be fully realized by any one person. My pursuit of karate has brought me a limited understanding of the way to self-realization, however, and I hope to be able to share my experience with others throughout the world.
About 40 years ago, Nagamine met Omori Sogen rotaishi, founder of the Chozen-ji/International Zen Dojo and the Institute for Zen Studies. A noted master of iaido (swordsmanship) and shodo (calligraphy), Omori taught the unity of Zen and budo, with an emphasis on shugyo: the attainment of true spiritual realization through deep body-mind training. Chozen-ji is particularly known for the incorporation of budo in its training regimen.
In a first for a Rinzai Zen sect, the daihonzan (headquarters temple) for Chozen-ji was established outside of Japan, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Upon the death of Omori Sogen in 1994, Archbishop Tanouye Tenshin rotaishi became the head of Chozen-ji, and 84th Dharma Successor of Rinzai Zen of the Chozen-ji sect. Tanouye continued the relationship that Omori Sogen had begun with Nagamine. In April of 1996, Nagamine accepted a lifetime appointment as a member of the Board of Advisers of the Institute for Zen Studies, the mission of which is to make Zen more accessible to the modern world. The other members of the board are Tanouye and Mr. Trevor Leggett, Britain’s first ninth dan in judo and fifth dan in shogi (Japanese chess). Subsequently, Nagamine was invited by Tanouye to meet with him in Hawaii.
That meeting took place on December 11, 1996, at the Daihonzan, nestled high up in the lush Kalihi Valley. During the course of a brief conversation, which had been opened to a few of Nagamine’s traveling companions and students, Nagamine’s realization through his dedication to Ken Zen Ichinyo (Karate and Zen in Oneness) was affirmed by Tanouye. At that time, Nagamine received his inka (“mind stamp”; a kind of seal of approval) and was given the Zen name of Kenzan Nagamine. Kenzan literally translates as “Fist Mountain” but in Nagamine Sensei’s context means “Karate Mountain.” According to Chozen-ji, Nagamine is the first karate teacher to receive an inka in the Rinzai Zen tradition.
Later in the week, Matsubayashi-Ryu students practiced their kata at the Okinawa Center of Hawaii, under the watchful eyes of Nagamine and his good friend Ishikawa Seitoku, who is in his seventies and holds the rank of hanshi, ninth dan, in Kobayashi-ryu. Nagamine patiently corrected many of our movements. I personally will never forget his correction of my hand placement for a particular kamae (position) used several times in the kata Naihanchi Shodan. Through a translator, he said that the fists should be placed together like a clam. I did not understand immediately and he, along with other sensei, began to clap their fists together like clams!
The Jikoen Temple Presentation
A few days later (December 15, 1996), a major presentation was held in honor of Nagamine sensei by his Matsubayashi-Ryu students in Hawaii (and three from New York) at the Jikoen Temple in Kalihi, Honolulu. Almost 400 guests (including many prominent karate sensei from other organizations in Hawaii) were treated to performances of all 18 of the Matsubayashi-Ryu kata, the seven yakusoku kumite forms, as well as sai, bo and nunchaku kata. Nagamine was accompanied from Okinawa by Ishikawa Seitoku who performed the kata Passai, Ikehara Noriaki (sixth dan) who performed the kata Kusanku and a bo kata, and Kuniyoshi Shinyu (fourth dan) who performed the kata Chinto.
The hosts for the presentation were Zenko Heshiki (kyoshi, seventh dan); who performed the kata Chinto, a sai kata and yakusoku kumite with his student, Pablo Cervini, and William H. Rabacal (renshi, sixth dan); who performed the kata Wanshu. The New York yudansha, Max Crevani and Fred Wallace, performed the kata Passai.
Despite his advanced age and grueling travel and public appearance schedule, Nagamine delighted the audience by performing one of his favorite kata, Wankan, and two Okinawan dances, Karate-Do Sanka and Kanayo Bushi. He also took part in a kachashi (free-for-all) dance at the end of the presentation, after which children from Rabacal sensei’s Aiea dojo draped him with flower lei that nearly went over the top of his head! His physical conditioning was, and continues to be, truly amazing. I was especially impressed by his fluidity and ease of motion during the Okinawan dances he performed, both at the Jikoen and rehearsals at the Okinawa Center of Hawaii. Most of us can only hope to be that agile and energetic when we reach 60, let alone 90!
The Jikoen presentation truly showcased the Okinawan culture. Dances were also performed by two well-known Okinawan dance teachers. Alfred Kina performed Kagiyadefu Bushi and Hatuma Bushi, while Cheryl Y. Nakasone of the Jimpukai Kin Ryosho Ryukyu Kenkyusho USA performed Manzai. The Afuso-Ryu Gensei Kai Hawaii Chapter Grant Murata Studio under Grant “Sanda” Murata provided live accompaniment for all the dancers using classical Okinawan instruments (sanshin, koto and taiko). There was also a taiko (drum) performance by the Ryukyu Kobudo Taiko, Hawaii Shinbu under Calvin Nakama, and a koto performance by the children of Miyashiro Soho Kai, under instructor Bonnie Miyashiro.
Karate-Do and World Peace
The next night, Nagamine was the guest of honor at a formal dinner sponsored by the Institute of Zen Studies at the Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel. With numerous political and community dignitaries in attendance, Nagamine, wearing the traditional Japanese formal attire of haori and hakama, rose and delivered a memorable speech entitled Karate-Do and World Peace. The complete English translation of the speech follows this article.
Chozen-ji/International Zen Dojo of Okinawa
Before leaving Hawaii, it was agreed that Nagamine would open a branch of the Chozen-ji at his Naha City dojo. The formal dedication of the Chozen-ji/International Zen Dojo of Okinawa took place in March, 1997. The event marked the first time that a Rinzai Zen daihonzan located outside of Japan opened a branch in Japan. Dogen Hosokawa roshi, Abbot of Chozen-ji, traveled to Okinawa accompanied by Art Koga, president of the Institute of Zen Studies, along with other teachers and students of Zen and Matsubayashi-Ryu. A wooden Chozen-ji placard now proudly hangs outside of Nagamine sensei’s dojo.
Ken Zen Ichinyo (Karate and Zen in Oneness)
Long after most people would have retired, Nagamine continues to blaze new trails in his pursuit of, and dedication to, the paths of Karate-do and Zen as embodied by the maxim “Ken Zen Ichinyo.” He teaches us, through his own example, that there is infinitely more to Karate-do than the mere form of kata or the various techniques of kumite. Karate-do is not simply an art of self-defense-it is a way for self-realization.