A Summary and Review of the article "The White Swan of Hohan Soken" By Don Lucas

(The article was originally published in Black Belt Magazine, and was apparently written in 1967.)

At the time the article was published, Soken was 78 years old. It says that Soken at the time did not teach at the Kadena Air base, but that his pupil, Fusei Kise did. Soken's style is classified as a strong, "hard" style. He practices the same type of techniques that his ancestors practiced. He was born on May 25 1889. The abolishment of the feudal system caused Soken and his family many problems. They had to work meanial jobs, and Soken was forced to work side by side with peasants, even though he was a samurai of noble lineage.

Nabe Matsumura, his uncle, told him that if he could demonstrate the patience and control necessary, that he would teach him Bushido, or "the way of the warrior." Soken accepted gladly. He heard the tales about his great grandfather, Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura, and other well known Samurai ancestors as he was growing up. Bushi Matsumura was a master in the Okinawan style of empty handed combat. The article makes the claim that Soken was also trained in traditional weapons by Nabi, but that is not correct. Neither Bushi nor Nabi practiced weapons. Soken learned them from Ushi Komesu and Mantaka Tsuken. The limit of his use of weapons under Nabi was with Kazashi (hairpins) when practicing Kusanku, according to the interview with Hohan Soken. The article says that the king of Okinawa sent Bushi to the Shaolin temple to increase his knowledge in the martial arts. The article says that it is not known if Bushi ever found the temple. However, we know he did, because Soken said he did, and remained there for a number of years. It also says that the site of the Shaolin temple has still not been found. That was the case when the article was published. But it was found later in the early 1980s they found it near Putian. The article says that the king that sent him was Sho Tai, but that is not likely, because according to tradition, Bushi went to Shaolin around 1830. If that is the case, then it would have been one of the kings previous to Sho Tai. Upon Bushi's return he was made the personal bodyguard to the king at that time.

It says that Soken claimed that Bushi fought a number of lethal contests to protect the king. He was frequently challenged, but he would never fight except to defend the king. He was never defeated and died a natural death. His name is still known in the Ryukus.

The article says that after the death of Bushi, Nabe (Nabi) Matsumura, his grandson, was designated as his successor. In keeping with the samurai family tradition (because all of Nabi's children died at a very early age) he made his nephew Hohan Soken next in line.

Soken began his training with Nabe at age 13. He would work in the fields during the day, and train in the evenings rigorously. The training intensified as he grew into manhood. When he was 23, ten years after he started his training, Nabe told him it was time to learn "real" karate. Soken had been trained in fundamentals for 10 years, but now it was time for Hakutsuru (White Crane). This article incorrectly translates it as Swan. The article says that Gichin Funakoshi asked to be taught the Hakutsuru, but was refused by Matsumura. Soken said it was because Matsumura was confining it to his family, which is true. But that is not the only reason. Funakoshi's attitude was also lacking. Then the article talks as if Hakutsuru is just imaginary, saying that all this talk about it is pure speculation. However, we have more than enough evidence to prove its existence. Soken offered an allegory to understand Hakutsuru better: "He tells of seeing a slender, swan-like bird perched on a large rock in a roaring wind. Despite the force of the wind, and sudden changes in its speed and direction, the bird maintained perfect balance and control. Perfect control of the body and mind in any situation, then is one of the keys not only to the White Swan, but to all of Soken's karate." Nabe told Soken to mount a board just big enough to support his weight, and to push it out into a pond. After much practice, he was able to do kata on the board in the pond. He would also spar with Nabi on the board. They would practice in all kinds of weather.

Soken also stressed the importance of Ch'i (ki) and breath control in the Hakutsuru. He said breath control should be practiced every day, but not to the point of exhaustion. He also said that Hakutsuru uses a more powerful opponent's strength against him.

According to the article, Soken wore a red belt showing he had a tenth dan. Back then, beginners would wear a white belt until they earned their black belts.

His students speak many different languages. But using Japanese, Spanish and some limited English, he was able to communicate well. Soken traveled throughout the Far East and South America. He left Okinawa in the 1920's and lived in Argentina until the end of World War II. He conducted demonstrations of karate regularly. The rules for Soken's dojo were spelled out on a scroll. It said that "the karateka is told he must always act in a courteous manner. During training he must concentrate to the limit of his mental endurance, and he must give his all mentally and physically as training without mental concentration prevents advancement. The technical and mental training of karate should be combined as one; the heart, mind and body should be in unison at all times. The karateka is told he must heed the advice of his master and of more advanced people from other schools, and listen to and never forget their advice. Listening and watching are key points of advancement. In order to advance, he is told to strive to obtain the true spirit of karate. Training is on a continuous basis and one learns a little at a time, the karateka must not take breaks in training as it will result in a step backward. He should always strive for advancement, and when he does advance, must not brag or boast. Self-praise and over-confidence is a sickness which corrupts training, according to the code of Soken. The karateka is to refrain from over-eating, drinking and smoking, for these bad habits hinder the effectiveness of his training. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the scroll states: 'Karate training has no limits; step by step, study by study, and one day in the future you will undoubtedly enter the temple (of Shaolin).' That certainly, is Hohan Soken's goal."