One of Okinawa’s earliest martial arts, Shorin-ryu’s linage can be traced back hundreds of years. The first traces of Okinawan Karate are known to be of ancient (Chinese) Kung-fu heritage. As the art migrated towards the small Japanese island of Okinawa, Shorin-ryu was developed and refined by some of the most renowned martial arts masters in history. Eventually, Grand Master Shoshin Nagamine founded Shorin-Ryu, Matsubayashi-Ryu Karate. In fact, it was not until 1936 that Okinawan masters replaced the term Tote (abbreviated to Te) meaning “Chinese hand”, to “Karate” meaning “Open-hand”.
Following World War II Nagamine Sensei encountered a book by Ginchin Funakoshi, entitled “Introduction to Karate”. He later stated it was this book that helped him make up his mind to pursue karate as a life’s ambition. Although there is no documentation of it, one cannot help but wonder if Nagamine Sensei’s service as an infantryman in China in 1928 may not also have influenced his subsequent development of the Matsubayashi-Ryu style.
1947 was the first time the public world heard of Matsubayashi-Ryu karate, this occurring when Nagamine Sensei opened his first dojo and named it the “Matsubayashi-Ryu Kododan Karate and Ancient Martial Arts Studies”. Matsubayashi is the Okinawan pronunciation of the characters for “Pine Forest.” “Matsu” means “pine” and “Hayashi” means “forest.” When the two are placed together, the “H” of Hayashi is pronounced as “B,” making it Matsubayashi. “Shorin” is the Chinese pronunciation of the same characters. The origin of the name “Shorin-Ryu” is the Shaolin Buddhist Temple in China. “Ryu”, roughly translated, means style or system. More literally, it can mean “river,” which Nagamine Sensei said reflected his thoughts that the art of karate, and specifically Matsubayashi-Ryu, is a living, flowing thing.
Nagamine Sensei created the name “Matsubayashi” out of respect for two great Karate-ka’s who taught two of his most influential teachers (Chotoku Kyan and Choki Motobu). These two masters were Bushi Matsumura and Kosaku Matsumora. As a side note, the World Matsubayashi-Ryu Karate Association website reports Nagamine Sensei’s nickname growing up was “Gaajuu Maachuu” sometimes pronounced “Chippai Matsu”, which means “tenacious pine tree.”
In 1960 the United States was introduced to Matsubayashi-Ryu karate when James Wax, an ex-American serviceman, became the first westerner to open a Matsubayashi-Ryu dojo in Dayton, Ohio. Later, in 1962, Nagamine Sensei dispatched a senior student, Ansei Ueshiro to the United States with the intent of firmly establishing Shorin-Ryu, Matsubayashi-Ryu karate in North America.
In the 1980′s Ueshiro Sensei branched off from Nagamine and formed the Shorin-Ryu Karate USA (Matsubayashi-Ryu) branch.