The uniqueness of Matsubayashi-Ryu Wansu

Published: August 6, 2023

There is something interesting about Wansu in Matsubayashi-Ryu. It differs from all other versions of Wansu. The reason why is known actually.

Shoshin Nagamine, the founder of Matsubayashi-Ryu, 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. From Iha-gwā no Nushi, Shimabukuro Sensei was taught and handed down the kata Rōhai, Wankan, and Wansū. These kata are introduced in this book.
(Source: ‘If it looks like a duck’ by Andreas Quast -

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.

Shōshin Nagamine stated that he learned Wansu from Kotatsu Iha, together with Chinto, Passai, Rohai and Wankan
“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.”

So Shoshin Nagamine learned Wansu from Kotatsu Iha, who in turn learned it from Kosaku Matsumora. Wansu is also practiced in for example Shorin-Ryu Seibukan, founded by Zenryo Shimabukuro, and Shorinji-Ryu, founded by Joen Nakazato. Seibukan's and Shorinji-Ryu's Wansu are, besides school-related details, identical. Zenryo Shimabukuro and Joen Nakazato both were a student of Chotoku Kyan, who in turn was a student of, amongst others, Kosaku Matsumora. However, it is said that Kyan did not learn from Matsumora directly, but from another student of Matsumora, a certain Maeda Pechin.
The same version of Wansu 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.

So, putting it all together:
Kōsaku Matsumora -> Kotatsu Iha and Maeda Pechin
Kotatsu Iha -> Shōshin Nagamine and Taro Shimabukuro
Maeda Pechin -> Chotoku Kyan
Chotoku Kyan -> Zenryo Shimabukuro and Joen Nakazato

Now, let's compare Matsubayashi-Ryu's Wansu, Seibukan's Wansu and Shorinji-Ryu's Wansu below.

Matsubayashi-Ryu Wansu by Tetsuo Makishi Sensei

Shorinji-Ryu Wansu by Senkichi Oyakawa Sensei

Shorin-Ryu Seibukan Wansu by Zenpo Shimabukuro

Now, if the version of Wansu that is practiced in Shorin-Ryu Seibukan, Shorinji-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu Shubukan are the same, the question arises why Matsubayashi-Ryu's Wansu is so different and unique.
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."

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 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 -

Who were the source for Shoshin Nagamine's revived kata?
Before we jump to any conclusions, first let's compare Matsubayshi-Ryu's Wansu technically with Seibukan's/Shorinji-Ryu's Wansu.
The starting posture is nearly identical: The hands are held before the chest, with the open left hand covering the closed right fist.
Then, in Seibukan and Shorinji-Ryu, the left hand makes a Gedan Barai, followed by a Yoko Tsuki with the right hand.
After that, the left foot is placed in front and a Gedan Barai is made, followed by a Gyaku Tsuki Chudan.

In Matsubayashi, the body is twisted to the left and the right hand makes a downwards Tsuki. After that the body is twisted to the right and the right hand makes a Gedan Barai, followed by a full step and a (Jun/Oi) Tsuki Chudan.
Then the body is twisted to the left (front), while the left foot is placed in front and a Gedan Barai is made, followed by a Gyaku Tsuki Chudan.

Then in Seibukan and Shorinji-Ryu, the same sequence is made 3 times (once to the front, to the left and to the right); While the right leg steps to the front, a Shuto Uchi is made with the right hand, followed by a Gyaku Tsuki with the left hand, after which a Gedan Barai is made with the right hand, while the left leg is placed behind the right leg.
After that this sequence is made for the 3rd time, the left leg is placed in front, the right fist than strikes against the left open hand, and a Mae Geri with the right leg and a strike with the right hand are done at the same time.
Then the right hand makes a grabbing move at Gedan level and the open left hand is at Jodan level.

In Matsubayashi-Ryu this sequence is not only executed different, it is first executed two times; once to the front and once to the rear side. Then a technique that is know as 'Makite' is made. Makite translates to 'winding hand'. After that, the left leg turns to the left while a Gedan Barai is made, followed by Gyaku Tsuki at Chudan level and a Shuto Uke. 
Then the right leg turns to the right side, while a Gedan Barai is made, followed by (Jun/Oi) Tsuki Chudan.
After that the left leg turns to the front while a Gedan Barai is made.
Then, while moving to the front, three Soto Uke are made. After that, the left hand is opened and makes a Gedan Bari while the open left hand is at Jodan level.
In both versions, the body tuns while moving backwards, followed by two Shuto Uke. (First by the right hand, then the left hand.)

Now, in my opinion, the complete order of techniques in Matsubayashi-Ryu Wansu has many 
similarities with Shotokan's Wansu, which is called Enpi. Below you can see Shotokan's Enpi performed by Ohta Sensei.

Of course, there are differences, for example in Enpi a Shuto Uke / Shuto Uke / Gyaku Tsuki / Shuto Uke combination is made, while in the Matsubayshi-Ryu version, only one Shuto Uke. And of course, nowadays Shotokan is much more exaggerated than it was about 100 years ago. But I only compare the embusen and the techniques that are made.
That made me think; did Shoshin Nagamine also consulted Gichin Funakoshi?

Shoshin Nagamine was a policeman by profession. Thanks to that, he was able to train with Chotoku Kyan in Kadena, Okinawa, and with Choki Motobu in Tokyo.
"Thinking about my future profession in which I may be able to utilize the skills of Karate, I decided it was policeman. And, in 1931, I was appointed a policeman of Okinawa Prefecture. The notion that I should scientifically study Okinawa Karate which, had never been systematically analyzed in the past, and the wishes for cultivating and training of body and mind could never get out of my mind.
During my first assignment days at Kadena Police Station, from December 1931 through August 1936, I was deeply influenced by direct guidance of most famous Sensei, Mr. Chotoku Kyan who became my second teacher. In April 1936, I was sent to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, as a trainee policeman, and, during a six-month period I had a chance to receive some advice about peculiar Kumite movements from then celebrated master of Karate, Mr. Choki Motobu in Hongo ward, Tokyo. After returning to Okinawa, I continued to serve as a policeman of Okinawa Prefectural Police force."

So, Shoshin Nagamine was sent to Tokyo in 1936. Gichin Funakoshi moved to Tokyo in 1922. In 1936, he was still living there. And Gichin Funakoshi and Shoshin Nagamine might have known each other from Okinawa. In fact, in 1916, when Shoshin Nagamine was in third grade, eight elementary schools jointly hold an autumn athletic meet at Onoyama Park. The perfomers were boys from Tomari Elementary School, among them young Shoshin Nagamine, who reminisced:
“When I was in the third grade of Tomari Elementary School, the Naha Ward Elementary Schools Joint Athletic Meet was held at Onoyama Park. At that time, [Funakoshi] Gichin Sensei was teaching at Tomari Elementary School and we schoolboys of 3rd grade and up were taught Naihanchi and Pinan and had a martial arts group performance with more than 200 people. I remember it as if it was yesterday."
(Source: ‘
Funakoshi and Nagamine
’ by Andreas Quast -

So, Shoshin Nahamine himself confirmed that Gichin Funakoshi was teaching him Naihanchi and Pinan while he was in 3rd grade.
Of course, this does not prove that Shoshin Nagamine consulted Gichin Funakoshi, nor does it prove Matsubayashi-Ryu's Wansu is (partly) based on Gichin Funakoshi's Wansu (Enpi in Shotokan). But the fact that it has many similarities, at least made me think that it's possible.

If you like to keep updated about my search on Wansu, feel free to join the Group 'Wansu no Kenkyu' on Facebook:

Author: Olaf Steinbrecher