The beginning of Karate can be traced back through the centuries from obscure origins in China to the development on Okinawa, an Island prefecture to the far south of Japan in the Nansei Shoto Group or Ryukyu Islands.
The history of Karate is clouded, as the first accurate written records were written in the 20th century from the memories of living Masters. Indigenous fighting methods developed in secret following the invasion of Okinawa by the Japanese Satsuma Clan in 1609.
Originally called Te (Hand) or Tode (Tuide) for centuries, the Okinawan martial art was only called Karate this century. One of the first great Masters was “Tode” Sakugawa (1733 – 1815). He trained with a number of Chinese martial artists and began to formalise a system of techniques. His most notable student was Soken “Bushi” Matsumura (1797 – 1889).
Matsumura became a samurai for the Okinawan Royal Family. He trained with Chinese Masters as well as Sakugawa and formalised the first Okinawan style which he named “Shuri Te” after his home town, Shuri. While he taught many students who were later to develop their own Ryu (styles) he reserved his Family Ryu to members of his clan.
He passed his Menkyo Kaiden (Certificate of Full Proficiency) to his grandson, Nabe Matsumura (circa 1860 – 1930). Nabe was very strict and traditional and only taught one student the Family Ryu of Matsumura Shuri Te. This man was his nephew, Hohan Soken (1889 – 1982).
Master Soken renamed the style Shorin Ryu Matsumura Seito. Shorin Ryu is the Okinawan – Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese writing characters called Shaolin in China. In both languages Shorin or Shaolin means “Pine Forest”. Ryu simply means “Methods Handed Down” or “School”.
Master Soken broke with tradition and secrecy by teaching non family members his system of Karate. In the 1960’s he began teaching U.S. soldiers based on Okinawa. In this way traditional Karate was introduced to the Western World as Soken refused to change his methods and techniques to incorporate “Sport” Karate as most other Okinawans and Japanese had done.
In 1973 Barry Packham from Ballarat, Australia trained on Okinawa and so impressed Soken with his skill that he was granted an audience. He became one of Soken’s few personal students from the West. When Master Soken died in 1982 one of his top students, Master Fusei Kise (b 1935) continued teaching the system of Matsumura under the name Shorin Ryu Kenshin Kan.
Thus the Ballarat Karate Club belongs to an organisation that practices a family system of Karate that has developed over hundreds of years. It has remained true to the teachings of its founders and has resisted the changes to “sport Karate” which has seen many of the old Kata and techniques of other Okinawan styles disappear.