"Karate training has NO limits!!"
-Master Hohan Soken
Master Hohan Soken is the founder of Matsumura Seito Shorin-Ryu. Master Soken learned the family system of Shorin-Ryu from his Uncle Nabe Matsumura, who studied directly with his grandfather Bushi Matsumura. Soken began his training with Nabe Matsumura at the age of 13. It is said that he spent ten years working only the basics. At this point Nabe Matsumura told him that he was truly ready to begin to learn karate. After this ten year time period Master Soken learned the kata Hakutsuru. This was a very secretive kata taught only to family members of the Matsumura family. After learning this kata Nabe Matsumura stressed balance in Master Soken’s training. To do this Master Soken would run that Hakutsuru kata on a wood plank, which was just big enough to support his weight, in the middle of a pond. Master Soken also trained with Ushi Komesu, a master of kobudo, who taught him the kata Chikin Bo. In 1924, Master Soken moved to Argentina, for twenty-one years. While in Argentina Master Soken trained from the Matsumura family system textbooks. It is here in Argentina that Master Soken began to take students and teach his system to people not of the Matsumura family. While in Argentina Master Soken learned to speak Spanish fluently, but he still preferred his native dialect of Hogan. While in Argentina Master Soken called his system, “Matsumura Suide Shorin Ryu”. In 1952 Master Soken decided to return to Okinawa. He was greatly surprised at the changes that had occurred in karate. The styles were not taught at all the way he felt that they should. Master Soken, refused to modify his system, and changed the name of it to “Matsumura Seito (Orthodox) Shorin Ryu”, which means the true system of Matsumura Shorin Ryu. While teaching in Okinawa, Master Soken also continued his training. Gokenki, a Chinese tea merchant, worked out with Master Soken, and shared his knowledge of the Hakutsuru Kempo system with Master Soken. Master Soken taught all the kata that had been handed down to him through Nabe Matsumura from Bushi Matsumura, however he didn’t teach all the kata to all the students. Master Soken believed that karate training should be based off of the individual, and therefore only taught what he felt each student should know. It is believed that Master Soken taught Rohai to most students, but he may not have taught them all three versions, he taught Gojushiho to about one in two students, Chinto to about one in three students, Kusanku (which Master Soken stated in an interview as the most important kata of the system) to one in three students, Seisan to one in three, Hakutsuru to one in three, and the Naihanchi, Pinan (shodan and Nidan only) and Passai kata to most students. Master Soken trained many students to the level of Master, including Fusei Kise, Seiki Arakaki, Yuichi Kuda, Mitsuo Inoue, Glenn Premru, and Chojun Makabe, to name a few. Master Soken retired from teaching in 1978. For many years, Master Soken was the oldest active practitioner of Karate. While in his eighties, Master Soken would work out for two hours a day, and then hold class for two hours a day. Master Soken sums things up the best in this poem he wrote just prior to his death:
“I have taught you all I know. There is no more I can teach you. I am a candle whose light has traveled far. You are my candles to whom I have passed my light. It is you who will light the path for others. Today I see around me the lights of Shaolin. The flame of tomorrow. My task is done, soon my flame will end. Teach the true spirit of karate-do and one day you may enter the Shaolin Temple.”
The flame was truly passed on to many. In fact there is a lot of controversy as to who is Master Soken’s successor. Three of his students claim that succession, Glenn Premru, Fusei Kise, and Yuichi Kuda. Master Premru claims to have been promoted to Judan within the Matsumura Seito System, and a Kudan in Kobudo. The controversy falls in that Master Premru only worked with Master Soken for about two weeks, and was at the time a Yodan. Master Soken had given Master Premru signed certificates so that Master Premru could promote people in the US under Master Soken, and could represent the Okinawan Karate Federation in the US. Many people believe that after Master Soken’s death, Master Premru promoted himself to Judan with the certificates he was supposed to use to promote students with. Master Kise claims to have been awarded the menkyo kaiden from Master Soken, making him the office successor of the system.
Kata Practiced by Master Soken: Pinan Shodan, Pinan Nidan, Naihanchi Shodan, Naihanchi Nidan, Passai, Seisan, Chinto, Kusanku, Gojushiho, Rohai, Hakutsuru, and Chikin Bo. (It should be noted that it is rumored by rather reliable sources, that Master Soken practice many more kata then this and that there are a lot of kata that Master Soken worked and never taught to anyone. It is rumored that Master Soken actually taught more then just the Matsumura Seito System. It is said that there are actually four different styles that Master Soken knew, and taught to only a very select few students if any.)
*I would like to note, that I am not stating my belief either way as to whom is the proper successor of Master Soken, I have just tried to state the arguments of the apposing parties.
Soken's Dojo Kun Interview With Master Soken Shuri-te Masters