Home » In search of Kotatsu Iha

In search of Kotatsu Iha

Published: February 12, 2022


He is most known as an important teacher of Shoshin Nagamine, the founder of Matsubayashi-Ryu.
But he had several other students, including Taro Shimabukuro, one of Nagamine’s other teachers.
We are talking about Kotatsu Iha, who lived from 1873 till 1928.

Kotatsu Iha as identified in OKKJ 2008.
Source: Andreas Quast / www.ryukyu-bugei.com

Shoshin Nagamine
Shoshin Nagamine was born on July 15, 1907 in Tomari, Okinawa. As you can read in his book ‘The essence of Okinawan Karate-do’, he spent his childhood plagued with ill health:
“When I was a sophomore in high school, I contracted a gastroenteric disorder that was so serious my doctor was unable to cure him. I decided to go on self-imposed diet and take up the study of karate under Chojin Kuba (1904 – 1989), who lived in my neighbourhood.
I found that karate gradually improved my health. At the age of nineteen, I undertook the study of karate in earnest and entered a school in Shuri under the direction of Taro Shimabukuro. On Shimabukuro’s recommendation, I also studied under Ankichi Arakaki (1899 – 1927).
By the time of my senior year in high school, I had become the captain of the school’s karate club. That year my school participated in a karate demonstration in Naha. In order to participate, we had to train every evening with the eminent karate man Kotatsu Iha, one of the direct disciples of the great Kosaku Matsumora. I remember that Iha was very strict, but was also a very kind instructor.”

Interesting fact is that both Chojin Kuba, Nagamine’s neighbour, and Taro Shimabukuro were also students of Kotatsu Iha.
Katsumi Murakami, one of Taro Shimabukuro’s students, wrote in 1976:
“Let me introduce Iha-gwā no Nushi from Tomari. Iha-gwā was the teacher of Shimabukuro Tarō AKA “Aburaya Sanjin” (nickname). Shimabukuro Sensei talked about Iha-gwā as follows.
Master Iha-gwā, as a descendant of Shizoku from the kingdom era, received the teachings of the great masters Matsumora and Oyadomari, both from Tomari.”
(Source: ‘If it looks like a duck’ by Andreas Quast - https://ryukyu-bugei.com/?p=7359)


Taro Shimabukuro was also one of the teachers of Joki Uema, the founder of the Shubukan dojo in Shuri. Joki Uema was also a student of Choshin Chibana, Shinpan Gusukuma and Chotoku Kyan.

The teachers of Kotatsu Iha
So, according to Shoshin Nagamine and Katsumi Murakami, Kotatsu Iha was a student of the legendary Kosaku Matsumora (1829 – 1898). But he was also a student of Kokan Oyadomari (1827 – 1905), who was close friends with Kosaku Matsumora. The kata Passai in Matsubayashi-Ryu is also known as Oyadomari no Passai.

Which kata did Kotatsu Iha teach?
Shoshin Nagamine stated that he learned the kata Chinto, Passai, Rohai, Wankan and Wansu from Kotatsu Iha;

“The martial art of the venerable old gentleman (Kosaku Matsumora) was inherited by Giki Yamazato, Koho Kuba and Kotatsu Iha. In his role as the karate instructor of the Tomari Student Council, Iha Kōtatsu in particular handed down the martial arts of the venerable old gentleman (Matsumora Kōsaku) to many of Tomari’s youngsters. This author (Nagamine Shōshin), too, inherited such kata as Passai, Chintō, Wankan, Rōhai, and Wanshū of Tomari-te from this teacher, and continues to preserve and research these kata in my current Matsubayashi-ryū Karate-dō Kōdōkan Dōjō.”

The previously mentioned Katsumi Murakami, mentions Wansu, Wankan and Rohai as kata being learned from Iha by Shimabukuro: From Iha-gwā no Nushi, Shimabukuro Sensei was taught and handed down the Kata RōhaiWankan, and Wansū.
(Source: ‘If it looks like a duck’ by Andreas Quast - https://ryukyu-bugei.com/?p=7359)

Chinto
Kotatsu Iha taught Chinto to Shoshin Nagamine. It is still practiced in Matsubayashi-Ryu. Iha most likely learned Chinto from Kosaku Matsumora. It is a different version then the version in the Itosu/Chibana lineage, who perform Chinto in a north to south embusen, while the Matsumora lineage, perform Chinto in a 45º embusen. Also, the Itosu/Chibana version has the typical Crane Stance, while the Matsumora version hasn’t.

Chinto by Tetsuo Makishi Sensei - Matsubayashi-Ryu

Passai
Kotatsu Iha taught Passai to Shoshin Nagamine. It is still practiced in Matsubayashi-Ryu and is also known as Oyadomari no Passai. Iha most likely learned this kata from Kokan Oyadomari.
Teruo Hayashi (1924 – 2004), the founder of Hayashi-Ha Shito-Ryu, trained some time with Shoshin Nagamine and learned this version of Passai from him. It is said that it then became part of the Shito-Ryu kata curriculum. In Shito-Ryu it is know as Tomari no Passai and it is changed at some points. Also Rohai and Wankan are mentioned as being adopted by Hayashi from Nagamine.

Passai by Takayoshi Nagamine Sensei (Son of Shoshin Nagamine Sensei) - Matsubayashi-Ryu

Rohai
Kotatsu Iha taught Rohai to Shoshin Nagamine and Taro Shimabukuro. It is still practiced in Matsubayashi-Ryu. The same version is also practiced in Shorin-Ryu Shubukan. As I mentioned earlier, Taro Shimabukuro was one of the teachers of Joki Uema, the founder of the Shubukan dojo. Taro Shimabukuro also taught Rohai to Seitoku Ishikawa (1925 – 2013), the founder of the Ryubukan dojo and China Teikichi (1924 – 2003), the founder of Okinawa Shōrin-ryū Karate-dō Kyōkai Buseikan. Interesting thing is that both Seitoku Ishikawa and China Teikichi taught Yasuhiro Uema, Joki Uema’s son.

Rohai by Tetsuo Makishi Sensei - Matsubayashi-Ryu

Rohai by a student of Seitoku Ishikawa Shorin-Ryu Ryubukan

Rohai by Yasuhiro Uema Sensei Shorin-Ryu Shubukan

Wankan
Kotatsu Iha taught Wankan to Shoshin Nagamine and Taro Shimabukuro. It is still practiced in Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu. The same version is also practiced in Shorin-Ryu Shubukan.

Wankan by Takeshi Uema Sensei (Grandson of Joki Uema Sensei) - Shorin-Ryu Shubukan

 

Wansu
Kotatsu Iha taught Wansu to Shoshin Nagamine and Taro Shimabukuro. It is still practiced in Matsubayashi-Ryu. Interesting thing about Matsubayashi-Ryu’s Wansu, is that it differs from all other versions of Wansu.

Lara Chamberlain, who was a direct student of Shoshin Nagamine Sensei and practiced many times with him on Okinawa, explains:
"O Sensei told me that he recreated Wansu and Wankan before the war. (World War II.) He and other teachers only remembered pieces of those two kata. So therefor he visited several masters who knew the pieces and he put the pieces together. That is why he was so attached to those two kata."

Wansu by Tetsuo Makishi Sensei - Matsubayashi-Ryu

So then the question arises which version of Wansu Kotatsu Iha originally taught. Personally I think it was the same version that is practiced in Shorinji-Ryu and stems from Chotoku Kyan. Jōen Nakazato, the founder of Shorinji-Ryu, learned Wansu from Chotoku Kyan. Kyan learned Wansu from a certain Maeda Pechin, who learned it from Kosaku Matsumora.
As Kosaku Matsumora also taught it Kotatsu Iha, it's most logical that Kotatsu Iha learned the same version as Maeda Pechin.
And the same version is also part of the kata curriculum of the Shubukan dojo and as mentioned earlier, Taro Shimabukuro was one of the teachers of Joki Uema, the founder of the Shubukan dojo. And Taro Shimabukuro learned Wansu from Kotatsu Iha.
So as the kata transferred from Kosaku Matsumora to Maeda Pechin to Chotoku Kyan to Jōen Nakazato and the kata transferred from Kosaku Matsumora to Kotatsu Iha to Taro Shimabukuro to Joki Uema are the same, we can assume that this was the version Kotatsu Iha taught.

Wansu by Senkichi Oyakawa - Shorinji-Ryu

Another interesting thing is that not only Wansu, but also Wankan is said to be recreated.
This is by the way also confirmed in a 1959 article published in the Okinawa Times. Shoshin Nagamine sensei first wrote about the history and technique of Wankan as follows:
"Wankan – In the pre-war days [the practice of] this kata was aborted, but by gathering and compiling the recollections of a couple of Tomari elders, the kata finally revived. The kata is as short as Rōhai, but profound. Speaking of its special features, there are many kicking techniques, and changing the kicking leg is a highlight, and it is also a decisive skill."
(Source: ‘The Significance of Wankan’ by Andreas Quast - https://ryukyu-bugei.com/?p=9068)

In Shito-Ryu an almost identical version of Wankan is being practiced, and it's called Matsukaze. It is often said that Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-Ryu, taught Matsukaze, but it was not on Mabuni's '1937 kata list'. It was in 1937 that Kenwa Mabuni for the first time published a list of his ‘current kata’. This list names a total of 33 kata roughly categorized according to the lineages they originated from.
(Also see: 'The original kata of Shotokan and Shito-Ryu' - https://bit.ly/3JhRF4K)

Therefore I think it's more logical that Wankan was also one of the kata Teruo Hayashi learned from Shoshin Nagamine, after which he added it to his curriculum and it then became part of the Shito-Ryu kata curriculum.
(NB. No written evidence for this, it's just my thoughts.)

Seisan
It is said that Gichin Funakoshi learned Seisan from Kotatsu Iha, when Funakoshi was a school teacher in Tomari.

“Noted senior Okinawan karate authority Hiroshi Kinjo (b. 1919) states that there is no evidence of a Seisan kata being passed down in the 'Shuri' lineages of Sokon Matsumura and Anko Itosu, and that the familiar 'Shuri' lineage Seisan versions such as the Hangetsu of Shotokan and the Seisan of Kyan lineage systems, should be referred to as Tomari Seisan. His reasoning is that the so-called Oshiro Seisan as presented in the 1930 'Kenpo Gaisetsu' by Nisaburo Miki and Mizuho Takada was actually passed down from Kosaku Matsumora to Kotatsu Iha to Kinjo’s own teacher Chojo Oshiro of Yamaneryu Bojutsu fame. Kinjo believes that Funakoshi, being a school teacher in Tomari (the small port town near Shuri, Okinawa's capital city), may have learned same from Iha, and that as much of Kyan's tutelage seems to have come from Tomari-based masters like Kosaku Matsumora and Kokan Oyadomari, the Kyan version could also likely be traced to Tomari.”
(Source: http://www.fightingarts.com/reading/article.php?id=222)


Interesting fact is that Seisan is not part of the Matsubayashi curriculum, while Shoshin Nagamine saw Iha as one of his most important teachers. Also, there is no written evidence that Taro Shimabukuro learned Seisan from Iha. As you can read above, Katsumi Murakami, only mentions Wansu, Wankan and Rohai as kata being learned from Kotatsu Iha by Shimabukuro:
From Iha-gwā no Nushi, Shimabukuro Sensei was taught and handed down the Kata RōhaiWankan, and Wansū.”
(Source: ‘If it looks like a duck’ by Andreas Quast - https://ryukyu-bugei.com/?p=7359)

And there are several other Shorin-Ryu schools which have Seisan in their curriculum. My personal theory is that Gichin Funakoshi learned Seisan from Kiyuna Tanmei (Kiyuna Pechin), as you can read in 'In search of Kiyuna Tanmei': https://bit.ly/3gH4w4s
(NB. There is no written evidence that he learned Seisan from Kiyuna Tanmei, my thoughts are based on the statements in his book ‘Karate-Do, My way of life’.)

Other students of Kotatsu Iha
Other students of Kotatsu Iha, besides Shoshin Nagamine, Chojin Kuba and Taro Shimabukuro, are said to be Seiyu Nakasone (1893 – 1983), Gisei Maeda (1899 – 1983), Kosei Iha (1891 – 1967), Koko Oyadomari (1882 – 1908) and Seijin Toguchi (1895 – 1937).

Influences on current schools
Based on the facts and assumptions above, Kotatsu Iha influenced the current schools of Matsubayashi-Ryu (Chinto, Passai, Rohai, Wankan and Wansu), Shorin-Ryu Shubukan (Uema Dojo), Shorin-Ryu Ryubukan (Seitoku Ishikawa) and Hayashi-Ha Shito-Ryu (Tomari Passai, Rohai and Wankan).

If it is true that he taught Seisan to Gichin Funakoshi, he also influenced Shotokan and Wado-Ryu. Seisan is a very important kata in Wado-Ryu, as it is one of the 9 ‘core kata’. There are 15 kata in Wado-Ryu, however only 9 were defined as ‘true Wado-kata’ by Hironori Otsuka, the founder of Wado-Ryu. Hironori Otsuka learned Seisan from Gichin Funakoshi.

Author: Olaf Steinbrecher