Sokon Matsumura

Shuri-Te is the name of the particular type of Okinawan martial art that developed in the Shuri, the ancient capital of Okinawa. One of the early Okinawan masters, To-De Sakugawa (1733-1815) is credited as being one of the initial importers of Chinese martial arts to Okinawa, in particular to Shuri, where he started the development of the Shuri-Te style of Okinawan martial arts.

Sakugawa had a student named Sokon Matsumura, who in turn taught Ankoh Itosu. Itosu was destined to become a great martial artist and teacher in the 19th century, who introduced the practice of To-De, to the Okinawan school system. Ankoh Itosu’s contribution to To-De was the emphasis of Kata and its practical application, called Bunkai.

Many students of Ankoh Itosu became significant figures in the early development of Karate. Amongst Itosu’s students include Kenwa Mabuni (1890-1954), combined aspects of Naha-Te and Shuri-Te, who moved to Japan, and founded Shito-Ryu Karate and Gichin Funakoshi (1867-1957), who later moved to Japan and founded Shotokan Karate.

Gichin Funakoshi

Funakoshi Gichin was born in Shuri, Okinawa in 1868. As a boy, he was trained by two famous masters of that time. Each trained him in a different Okinawan martial art. From Yasutsune Azato he learned Shuri-te. From Yasutsune Itosu, he learned Naha-te. It would be the combination of these two styles that would one day become Shotokan karate.

Gichin Funakoshi was a poet and a scholar and is the man who introduced karate to Japan. The name Shotokan comes from two words, Shoto which was Funakoshi’s poet pen name meaning ‘Pine Waves’ formed by the wind blowing through pine trees and Kan which denotes the school.

In 1917 Funakoshi was asked to perform his martial art at a physical education exhibition sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Education.

He was asked back again in 1922 for another exhibition. He was asked back a third time, but this was a special performance. He demonstrated his art for the Emperor and the royal family! After this, Funakoshi decided to remain in Japan and promote his art teaching Karate at Tokyo University and elsewhere in Japan.

Gichin Funakoshi passed away in 1957 at the age of 88. Aside from creating Shotokan karate and introducing it to Japan and the world, he also wrote the very book on the subject of karate, "Ryukyu Kempo: Karate-do". He also wrote "Karate-Do Kyohan" - The Master Text, the "handbook" of Shotokan and he wrote his autobiography, "Karate-Do: My Way of Life". These books and his art are a fitting legacy for this unassuming and gentle man.

Among Funakoshi’s Karate students were two young Korean’s named Lee Won Kuk and Choi Hong Hi.

Lee Won Kuk

Grandmaster Lee, Won-kuk was born April 13, 1907. Since his youth, Grandmaster Lee has always had a love for the martial arts. However, due to the Japanese occupation of Korea, Lee never had the chance to study at an early age. "I had an interest in martial arts when I was a young man. However, this was during Korea's occupation by the Japanese and it was forbidden by the Japanese to teach or study any martial arts. Outside of Korea, though, I was allowed to study Chinese and Japanese martial arts." (Massar/St. Cyrien)

Lee started his martial arts training during his college years at the Central University law school in Japan. There he studied, what is now known as Shoto-kan Karate-do, under Gichin Funakoshi. "As a young man, I visited martial arts centers including the birthplace of Karate in Okinawa, Kung Fu centers in Henan and Shanghai China, and other places. I studied Karate with Sensei Hunagoshi, founder of Goju-ryu Karate and a Japanese national hero."(Lee)

A while after achieving his black belt under Grandmaster Funakoshi, Lee returned to his home of Korea so that he could show his people the beauty of the martial arts. "I practiced Tang Soo Do and came to realize this type of skill was very important to have. I became aware that our Korean national history and legacy of martial arts were being kept from us. I felt very bad about this." (Lee)

Upon his return in 1944, Lee applied to the occupation government to be allowed to teach martial arts in Korea. He was turned down the first two times, but upon the third time, he was approved with the help of the Japanese Governor General Abe. It was a dark time for Lee as he was truly remorseful for having a relationship with such a sponsor. Though it may not have been the way Lee would have liked it, he taught the art of Tang Soo Do for the first time in Korea at the Yung Shin School Gymnasium in Sa De Mun, Ok Chun Dong district in Seoul.

"In the early days, Chung Do consisted of ten hand and eight kicking techniques all aim at the vital points of the body. The hand techniques were punch, spear-hand, palm, knife-hand, inner ridge-hand (between thumb and forefinger), twin fingers, single finger, back fist and tiger fist. The kicking techniques consisted of front, side, round and back kick and these were aimed at various levels of the body." (Massar/St.Cyrien) The name Chung Do means 'Blue Wave'.

Grand Master Lee arrived at this name while sitting at a beach one day and watching the waves come in. He set in his mind that the waves were strong and unstoppable and that is how he wanted his martial art to be known.

Choi Hong Hi

Choi Hong Hi was born on 22nd December 1918 in the Myong-Chon country of North Korea into a harsh world with a frail constitution. He was the third child in a family of eight and was sent away to study calligraphy under a well know teacher Mr Han Il-Dong. Mr Dong was also a veteran of the ancient T’ae-Kyon, which consisted solely of foot manoeuvres. Choi Hong Hi was sent to Japan for a modern education in preparatory school in Kyoto.

Whilst at school he continued his martial arts training and after just two years study under his Korean friend Mr Kim, Choi attained a first Dan Black Belt in Karate. He later moved to study higher education at Tokyo University and using the pen name “Chon Hon” Choi achieved notable success with his calligraphy holding Exhibitions throughout the Far East and winning special prizes at the National Art Exhibitions.

Whilst at Tokyo University Choi undertook further training in Shotokan Karate under the instruction of Gichin Funakoshi gaining his second Dan after a further two years study. Choi Hong Hi went on to teach Shotokan Karate to both Korean and Japanese students in his class at Tokyo University and also at the YMCA gyms.

On his return to Korea after the Second World War and Korea gaining its independence, Choi Hong Hi joined the fledgling Korean army in a group called the 110 founding fathers. He quickly rose through the ranks and it was at that time that he taught his men Karate for both self-defence and to make them more effective soldiers.

However, to both the men and Choi himself, the Japanese label of Karate was distasteful seeing as they had just survived the oppressive occupation by that same nation. This was the time for the young officer Choi to research and develop his new and distinctively Korean Martial art, which he fused from a combination of the traditional high kicking T’ae-Kyon and Gichin Funakoshi’s Shotokan Karate.

During the next few years Choi rose to the rank of General. In September 1954, General Choi and his men of the 29th Division demonstrated their martial arts skills, under the working title of Tang Soo, to the Korean president Seung Man Rhee. The President was so impressed that he ordered that all of the Korean army were to be taught in this martial art developed by General Choi.

Choi continued to oversee the training of the Korean army through the military dojang of Oh Do Kwan (gymnasium of my way) and the Lee Won Kuk civilian dojang of Chung Do Kwan but felt this new system, which was not the traditional art of T’ae-Kyon or the Japanese version of Shotokan Karate, needed its own name.