OKUHARA BUNEI: The Forgotten Shorin-Ryu Master
Everyone who studies tradtional karate history knows the Shorin-Ryu
Bushi Matsumura, Chotoku Kyan, Shoshin Nagamine, Eizo
Shimabuku, Zenryo and Zenpo Shimabuku, Joen Nakazato.
But who is Okuhara Bunei?
That was the question I set out to answer in 2002.
Actually Okuhara was the answer to a question I first
asked in 1979, when I began my shorin-ryu training,
which was, “where does this shorin-ryu come from?”
I had never heard of Okuhara prior to 2002, and my
introduction to the internet. I had begun learning
shorin-ryu in the 1979 from Jeffrey Lynn White, a
fellow hospital corpsman in the Navy while I was
stationed in Beaufort, S.C. He called it shorin-ryu,
and when pressed about what kind of shorin-ryu, the
best answer Jeff had was “probably kobayashi or
matsubayashi. I don’t know.”
He knew the head instructor was named Haruku Nakama,
and the instruction took place at Yokosuka (Japan)
Naval Base. That was pretty much all the information
we had on the style of shorin-ryu.
Jeff was pretty well satisfied, but I never really
was. I found a copy of The Essence of Karate-Do, and
the matsubayashi kata were totally different. And
there were too many of them. We practiced seven kata:
ananku, seisan, wansu, gojushido, passai, chinto, and
kusanku. No pinans, no naihanchi. Later I came across
Patrick McCarthy’s Classical Kata and again, the kata
were very different.
Through the years, as I would cross train with other
shorin-ryu stylists, they would often prompt me that
maybe I had forgotten how the form went, but that
wasn’t the case because I had Jeff on film and later
on video. Could Jeff have been making this up?
Perhaps, except while in the Navy, I also met a
commander and a pharmacist, Jim Lewis, who had just
transferred in from Yokosuka, where he was a brown
belt in the same shorin-ryu club. We did the forms
together, exactly the same way. So here was
independent verification source #1. This is circa
Fast forward 15 years or so. By this point, from
reading Mark Bishop, George Alexander and McCarthy’s
research, I have figured out there is a Chotoku Kyan
By now I am an old hand at the internet, but I hadn’t
thought to put it to use to solve my shorin-ryu
mystery. I started surfing, and emailing, and surfing
On the internet, I took to calling the shorin-ryu
Kyan shorin-ryu, just for lack of a better descriptive
term. This got me taken to task by the Seibukan
members I came across, first Angel Lemus then later Dan Smith, but it brought an interesting discovery.
The Seibukan forms and the forms I knew were very
similar. Seibukan had an extra form Wanchin. Was this the mysterious 8th form Jeff discovered in the 80s when he returned to Japan for his nidan grading?
Unfortunately, Seibukan wasn’t the answer. But the
Seibukan videos I received from Angel Lemus and later
from Tsunami Productions told me I was definitely
Enter the Swedish dragons, who prefer to remain anonymous. These two intrepid Swedes who, through a convoluted vortex of emailed S.O.S. (Who is Haruku Nakama? Anybody?) somehow came into contact with me. Not only did these stalwart shorin-ryu men know who Nakama was, they had studied his shorin-ryu in Sweden. Timo Jokela from Finland also came to the rescue.
But, they were all pretty sure that I was full of blarney and didn’t practice THEIR shorin-ryu. This was easily settled with a quick video swap, and presto, I had found my long lost cousins.
Not only did the swedish guys know who Nakama was, they had video of Nakama doing the kata. Would I be interested in a copy? Of course! I exchanged video ofJeff White doing the forms, and me doing the forms, for footage of Nakama performing the kata. I latersent the same footage to Patrick McCarthy, who already had a copy in his vast archives.
It was in fact McCarthy sensei who recommended we
designate the shorin-ryu as Okuhara-ha shorin-ryu. I
personally like the sound of that.
Interestingly, the Finnish shorin-ryu club insisted
it’s just shorin-ryu, and politely asked me to quit
referring to it as anything else in regards to their
Harry Davis, my newest source of info on Okuhara, contributed that he had heard Yoda-sensei, practised with Nakama-sensei, but Masahiro Murai-sensei was senior and the one to succeed Nakama.
Harry also reported that Okuhara was 24 years old by 1941 and was probably born around 1917.
He also contributed that Bunei was born in what is now Okinawa City.. not Osaka..
According to the Finnish site, Murai is the leader of their club's association, and there is a picture of Murai-sensei posing with the Finnish students posted earlier in this blog.
After proudly directing my new family members to my
cheesy website, they promptly corrected me on my
shorin-ryu history, helping fill in blanks. Nakama
didn’t study with Kyan, as I had assumed, but rather
with Okuhara Bunei.
Who is that? I queried.
Go to page 81 in Bishop’s Okinawan Karate, someone
So there, in a book I had poured over for years, was a
picture of my shorin-ryu lineage. And I had stopped to
look at that picture a number of times. It shows
Okuhara demonstrating bunkai with Joen Nakazato circa December 1931.
I’ll be a monkey’s ass.
So what’s the relationship between Okuhara and Nakama?
I found a little bit out by a chance email from Mike
Verona in 2002, who also had the footage of Nakama,
had found my website, and wanted to know if I had any
pictures of Nakama. I did not, but Mike was kind
enough to send exerpts from an article written by
Haruku Nakama and translated by Joe Swift sensei of
The article provided a glimpse into that mystery,
translating an article written by Nakama about
Okuhara. In the article, Nakama says:
“Okuhara Sensei studied under Kyan Chotoku in Okinawa.
He added his own ideas and reseach to Kyan's teachings
to formulate his Shorinryu.”
“When I was young growing up in Kagoshima, Kyushu, a
relative of mine, who happened to be a Bantam Weight
boxer, told me that he had met an amazing karate-ka
from Okinawa, named Okuhara Bunei. Okuhara Sensei was
31 at the time. He was rather small, but a good
looking man. When cooking rice over a fire, Okuhara
Sensei would break the firewood with his shuto.
“ I went to visit Okuhara Sensei. He punched at the
makiwara, but stopped his fist just before impact.
Just the wind from his punch caused the makiwara to
vibrate. I asked him to teach me right then and there.
“At that time, all the other students were Okinawans.
I was the only mainland Japanese student. Everyone
spoke in Okinawan dialect, and I could not understand
any of it. There was no dojo, we practiced outside.
Even in Kagoshima, the winters can be rather cold.
There were often frost columns or ice needles on the
ground. We of course stepped on these as we practiced,
and the ground would become muddy. This was very
useful for us, as we could see Sensei's footwork
patterns in the mud.
“The first kata Okuhara Sensei taught us was Seisan.
This lasted for 3 years, just like that old saying
"Three Years for One Kata." I always went to practice,
thinking "Will he teach us a new kata today?" Hovever,
he would not teach a new kata until he was satisfied
with Seisan. From the second kata onward, he did teach
us as fast as we could absorb the kata though.”
Nakama says Okuhara's fists were monstrous. He
“After practice I often went to the public bath with
Sensei, His hands were very rough and calloused. He
would often rub his callouses on the stones of the
bathhouse. After our bath we would often go to a
drinking establishment and have some sake together,
man to man.”
Nakama goes on to explain his relationship with
“Okuhara Sensei told me "OK, Nakama, I see your true
love for the art. Try to come when the others aren't
here." I went to see him when the other students were
not around, and was taught one on one. I was able to
graduate from University, even though my studies had
fallen behind due to my passion for karate training. I
had to bid farewell to my teacher in 1950 as I was
going to Yokosuka to work for a construction company.
I received my Shihan License at that time.
“Okuhara Sensei returned to Okinawa, and was feared
for his "Dojo Busting." A few years later, he died. He
had went into an old well, and was training by
supporting himself with both hands on the walls. He
died from inhaling methane gas that was at the bottom
of the old dried up well.”
Masahiro Murai-sensei, 10th dan president of the all Japan Shorin-ryu Karate-do Federation, has said Okuhara died in 1963, but that date is unconfirmed.
Nakama lists the kata Okuhara taught as being Seisan,
Ananko, Wanshu, Gojushiho, Passai, Kushanku, Chinto
Chin’o, the mysterious 8th kata. Nakama says “Chin'o
was brought back from China by Okuhara Sensei
That is as far as the mystery had unraveled. Until
2005, when my Swedish heros again return with a
Japanese website for a club teaching, what else,
Okuhara-ha (or rather, plain old shorin-ryu.)
The Japanese school is based in Yokahama, and
instructor, Master Yoda (no relation to Luke
Skywalker) hailed from Yokahama City so there is, most likely, a connection.
Swedish dragon #1 goes on about the mysterious Chin’o:
“Anyway, I also translated more about their website
and found out that they're also into Chinese things
and practice qigong as well and they are also
practicing Chin’o kata. The mysterious kata of
Nakama-sensei no one knows the origin of. While I was
in Okinawa I was asking the elders about Chin’o and if
they remember Bunei Okuhara bringing this kata back
after WWII, but they never heard about the kata.
Personally, I think Chino kata is something Nakama
made up or perhaps it's Bunei's own kata, but to tell
the truth, I've never seen it (if Yoda sensei ever
performed it, I must have been to young to remember
it, because in adult mode I never remember him doing
any Chin’o). To know if Bunei-sensei really practised
Chino I need to see the kata myself. I know there was
some american guy… who wrote me many many years ago
and the guy had a video with Chino.. I really would
like to see it.”
I too would like to see Chin’o, so I went to the
International Ryukyu Karate Ksomething Society and
posted a query on the KSL about Chin’o. The only
response was from Swift sensei, who informed me that
the kata was from the Okuhara lineage.
Also curious about the Japanese site, I sent the link
to Patrick McCarthy, who promptly translated the first
"The Shorin Ryu Karate of Okinawa was handed down from
Kyan Chotoku sensei thru Okuhara Bunei sensei to
Nakama Haruku sensei [from Tokyo's Inagi district].
Kata...hangestsu [Seishan, ananku, wanshu, gojushiho,
bassai, chintou, chino] bo & sai are considered
old-style Okinawa karate."
So I’ve come full circle. The Japanese site and the
Finnish site and me, all linked by these three names;
Nakama, Okuhara and Kyan.
I feel happy, after many years of searching. Just like Caine in “Kung Fu” I have found my karate family.
Like Caine, I now bow out and continue wandering
through cyberspace, seeking answers.
Feel free to email me if you have any answers to
Okinawa: Island of Karate George Alexander
Okinawan Karate Mark Bishop
Classical Kata of Okinawan Karate Patrick McCarthy
Article on Okuhara Bunei, trans. Joe Swift
Chotoku Kyan, Okuhara Bunei, Nkama Chozo