While Matsubayashi-Ryu karate did not exist before Nagamine Sensei founded it, it’s beginnings had existed for hundreds of years before. According to Patrick McCarthy of the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society, Matsubayashi-Ryu karate can trace it’s lineage from Chinese Gung-Fu to the original Okinawan karate; Koryu Uchinadi-Ryu karate & Yamaneryu Kobudo. This “original” Okinawan karate then developed into Te. Te grew and divided into Naha-Te, Shuri-Te and Tomari-Te. Shuri-Te (Also generically known as shorin-ryu) then divided into Kobayashi-Ryu (Chosin Chibana), Matsubayashi-Ryu (Shoshin Nagamine), Shobayashi-Ryu (Chotoku Kyan) and Matsumura orthodox Hohan Soken). It was not until 1936 that the Okinawan masters met and adopted the term “karate” or “open-hand” to replace the earlier term of Tote (abbreviated to Te) which meant “Chinese Hand”. They felt the new term, karate, better reflected the art’s unique Okinawan development.
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 the years that followed it’s opening, his dojo grew in both fame and size. Soon selected nearby American servicemen began to train at his school.
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.
With the untimely death of Ueshiro Sensei in May of 2002, Shorin-Ryu karate USA broke off into two divisions; that headed by Scaglione Sensei (Shorin-Ryu Karate USA) and a new organization headed by Sensei Maccarrone – Karate USA – Terry Maccarrone.
Before Nagamine Sensei’s death, the U.S. Matsubayashi-Ryu Karate-Do Federation petitioned him to start their own federation in the United States. The federation received his written authorization and the federation was born, under the auspices of the parent Okinawan organization.
Nagamine Sensei, in addition to being the founder of Matsubayashi-Ryu karate, was the unifying figure that kept it together, at least until his death in 1997.
With Nagamine Sensei’s death, Matsubayashi-Ryu separated into the separate organizations seen today. Master Nagamine’s original school remains open today in Naha, Okinawa. As a matter of courtesy, any Matsubayashi-Ryu stylist or school wishing to train in Okinawa at Nagamine Sensei’s dojo should first write the dojo and request permission.