Above: Carl Nilsson who pioneered Japanese studies in the 1700s, August Nilsson (born 1867) whose great grandfather was part of the Kalmar Nilssons who emigrated to Okinawa, and August's grandson Bill Nelson (Simon Keegan's great uncle) who studied Jujutsu in the 1940s.
8 Generation Family Martial Arts Tradition from Nils who arrived in Okinawa in 1779, to Bushin Ryu head Simon Keegan:
1) Nils (1762)
2) Johannes Nilsson (1805)
3) Nils Johann Nilsson (1835)
4) August Nilsson (1866)
5) William Henry Nelson (1896)
6) Bill Nelson (1924)
7) David Keegan (1950)
8) Simon Keegan (1979)
What is Bushin Ryu?
Bushin Ryu is a Japanese, Okinawan and military family tradition of the Nilsson family of Kalmar, Sweden which began in the time of Toshu Sakugawa (1733-1815). The Nilssons who arrived in Okinawa worked for the East India Trading Company. Sakugawa too worked for a shipping company. He is documented on at least two occasions as being the first man foreigners saw when they arrived in Tomari. On one occasion he defended his shipment against pirates, in another he met Chinese envoy Kushanku.Today the Bushin Ryu preserves the forms of Sakugawa and the arts that were developed by his students and their students, such as Shorin Ryu and Shoto Ryu.
The Nilssons from Kalmar, Sweden first landed in Tomari, Okinawa in 1778, and eight generations later, the current headteacher (inheritor) of the family martial arts tradition is Kaicho Simon Keegan, teacher of Toshu Jutsu and great great grandson of August Nilsson of Kalmar.
1. Nils. Arrived in Okinawa, 1778 worked alongside Tode Sakugawa for a shipping company
2. Johannes Nilsson. Born in Kalmar, Sweden in 1805 after his father left Okinawa
3) Nils Johann Nilsson, born Kalmar circa 1835
4) August Nilsson, born Kalmar 1867. Served with Swedish Navy. Taught 'boxing' to sons and grandsons
5) WH Nelson. Born Liverpool 1895. Served in WWI. Taught 'boxing' to sons.
6) Jim Nelson. Born Liverpool 1923 and Bill Nelson 1924. Taught 'boxing' by their father and grandfather. Bill later studied Jujutsu. Jim's brother in law was a Master at Arms in the Royal Navy and fought in China and Japan.
7) David Keegan. Son in law of Jim Nelson. First studied Jujutsu 1959.
8) Simon Keegan. Current Bushin Ryu headteacher (Kyoju Dairi)
The significance of Bushin RyuIn Japan, there are of course many schools of Budo (such as Judo and Aikido) but there are also the old Bujutsu schools, some of which date back to Samurai times. These, that predate the Meiji Restoration (the end of the Samurai era) are called the Koryu (literally 'old school') traditions. These schools were usually passed down within a certain clan, in either unbroken or broken lines. The hereditary headteacher of these schools was called the Soke.
For example the Daito Ryu school (known for its Aikijujutsu) represented the traditions of the Takeda family. In around 1900 Sokaku Takeda became the "restorer" of Daito Ryu and referred to himself as the 35th generation headmaster (35 generations from emperor Seiwa, the founder of the Minamoto clan from which the Takeda descend).
It is very rare for a westerner to have a lengthy tradition in the martial arts, but Kaicho Simon Keegan's family tradition (his mother's side of the family, the Nilssons of Kalmar county, Sweden) in Japan and Okinawa goes back centuries.
The first Swedish Nilsson to arrive in Okinawa was Nilsson Laso in 1609 who actually followed somebody with a very similar name - William Nealson, colleague of the famous Will Adams - by a few years. This early visit to Okinawa coincided with the launch of the East India Trading Company and the realisation that Okinawa and Dejima were perfect stepping stones between Nagasaki and Canton. The next Nilsson of note who made his way east was Carl Nilsson (who is pictured on this website). However more germain to the Bushin Ryu story is the arrival in 1778 of the Nils family in Okinawa and in the next few years the birth in Okinawa of the first Nilsson to be born in Japan - Johann Nilsson.
Nils likely worked as a high ranking official for the (Swedish) East India Trading Company - his counterpart in Okinawa was the Karate master Kanga Sakugawa who was head bodyguard for a shipping firm.
The Nilsson family returned to Kalmar, Sweden in the 1790s and Johann's sons generation were born in the 1830s. The next generation included August Nilsson (born 1867) and the familiarly named Carl Nilsson and Johann Nilsson, his brothers. August was the great great grandfather of Bushin Ryu headteacher Simon Keegan.
August was a formidable man who served in the Swedish Royal Navy. When he emigrated to England and married, he taught his son William boxing. Was this boxing derived from his own grandfather's adventures in Okinawa? William Henry served in the army in the first world war and won battle honours in France. And when his own sons Jim and Bill (Simon's grandad and great uncle) were born they too were taught to box by their dad. Jim and Bill served in the second world war and Bill, taking after his grandad sailed around the world. Right after the war in 1945 he joined the Kawaishi Ryu Jujutsu school headed by Mikonosuke Kawaishi, later a noted Judo teacher, who at the time was teaching Aikijujutsu as he had learnt it from Yoshida Kotaro (student of Sokaku Takeda), a master of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu and Yanagi Ryu.
Bill Nelson became a very early blackbelt in Jujutsu and after leaving that Dojo joined another. Meanwhile Jim Nelson's brother-in-law Ted also brought an oriental dimension to the family having been a Royal Navy Master at Arms who served in Japan and China.
Researching Bushin Ryu
Our ongoing research is looking into the exact relationship between the Nilssons of Kalmar who went to Okinawa, and the Nilssons of Kalmar who two generations later came to England. If we can prove a strong link, and if it can be proven that the Nilssons of Kalmar studied any Karate while in Okinawa, then the family traditions of Bushin Ryu, could be the oldest Karate tradition outside Japan.
At this stage, we know Nilssons from Kalmar went to Okinawa in the 1780s-1790s, and we know Nilssons of Kalmar two generations later passed on 'boxing' and 'unarmed combat skills' and we also know Bill Nelson, grandson of August Nilsson of Kalmar studied Jujutsu, and of course we know Bill's great nephew teaches Karate and Jujutsu today - our research is about putting the pieces together to determine a proveable link from the Nilssons in 1780 and Simon Keegan two hundred years later.
Bushin Ryu Timeline16th-17th Century
1504: Svante Nilsson becomes king of Sweden
1543: Portuguese become the first westerners to reach Japan.
1585: Anders Nilsson Laso is born in Sweden.
1600: William Nealson and William Adams, the first English Samurai, arrive in Japan
1609: Nilsson Laso travels to Okinawa around this time perhaps coinciding with the Dutch 'East India Trading Company' opening a factory in Japan1609: The Japanese Satsuma clan invade Okinawa.
1616: Japan bans trade with foreigners except China confined to Nagasaki.
1634: An artificial island near Okinawa called Dejima is created for trading
1667: The first Swedish book about Japan and China is written by two Swedish sailors who had been there on Dutch ships. Source.
1683: A Chinese envoy named Wang Ji (Wansu) arrives in Okinawa.
1680s: Okinawans Hama Higa and Takahara learn the Wansu method of boxing.
1707: Carl Linnaeus Nilsson is born in Sweden. He pioneers oriental studies.
1731: The Swedish East India Trading Company is created, inspired by the likes of the Dutch East India Company to trade with the Far East as far as Japan and Guangzhou.
1733: Tode Sakugawa is born in Shuri, Okinawa, he studies under Takahara.
1745: The Swedish Ship Gotheborg is sunk on the way back from China.
1753: The art of China becomes the height of fashion in Sweden. A small Chinese palace is even built in Sweden. Count Carl Fredrik Scheffer, who was the governor to the young crown prince Gustaf (Later King Gustaf III) who was well informed about the Confucian ideas. He had as a six years old boy acted at the inauguration of a small Chinese pavilion presented to his mother Queen Louise Ulrica of Prussia on her birthday the 25th of July 1753. The small palace was built secretly at Drottningholm, the royal summer palace, in Chinese taste.
1759: Anders Ljungstedt is born in Sweden, he later works for the Swedish East India and in 1820 is appointed Sweden's first consul in China. He was well loved in Macao where he was called Long Sital.
1774: 90% of tea in Sweden is imported from China.
1785: Nils is in Okinawa and marries Torborg Jonsdotter.
This year the Swedish East India Company have four ships in China and the following year was the the second charter of the company - Source. The arrival of Nils predates the first whaling ship in the Pacific (the British ship Amelia in 1788) and the first to reach Okinawa was in 1822.1788: The Nilsson family are born in Okinawa to Nils and Torborg.
Nils and Torborg's children are:
- Ingeborg Nilsdotter (born August 3 1785, Okinawa)
- Johann Nilsson (born June 26 1788, Okinawa)
- Bengt Nilsson (born December 9 1790, Okinawa)
- Olof Nilsson (born April 13, 1794, Okinawa) Source
Sokon Matsumura was born in Okinawa in 1798. The Nilssons therefore were the same generation as the great Karate master.
1794: Nils moves back to Sweden around this time. He likely left Okinawa to get away from his first wife who evidently stayed there with her children, since she died in Okinawa in 1826. Nils remarried twice to Marit Jonsdotter (source) in 1794 and Sarah Helena Jonsdotter (source) in 1799. His daughters Anna (born 1795) and Maria (born 1797) were born in Sweden. Nils' third wife Sarah was from Kalmar, southern Sweden. He died in 1830 and she moved back to Kalmar, where she died in on May 5 1842.
1797: The HMS Providence arrives in Naha.
1805: Johannes Nilsson is born in Kalmar, the son of Nils of Okinawa
1830s: My great great great grandfather Nils Johann Nilsson is born in Kalmar
1866: My great great grandfather August Nilsson is born in Koping (now Monsteras) in Kalmar, Southern Sweden. He has brothers called Johann and Carl Johann and sisters called Anna and Marie, which following family naming traditions suggests he may be a grandson of the Okinawa Nilssons.
1867: Matsu Kinjo (Itoman Bunkichi) is born in Okinawa, the son of a Skandinavian immigrant and an Okinawan woman. The "Danish Kiss" is recorded in Okinawa as a fighting technique (headbutt). Below is the only known picture of him.
1868: The Meiji Restoration. The end of the Samurai class in Japan and Okinawa
1880s: August serves in the Swedish Navy and would have been taught hand to hand combat and single stick, a type of stickfighting designed to replicate the cutlass.
1890s: August and his brother Carl Johann move to Liverpool and change their name to Nelson. They marry two sisters, Bessie and Alice Wood.
1893: August and Bessie's eldest sons are born, Charles John (1893) and William Henry Nelson (1895)
Early 20th Century
1906: Jujutsu is introduced to Liverpool by Gunji Koizumi.
1914: The Nilssons pay a visit to their hometown in Kalmar.
1914: The First World War begins. William Henry Nelson serves with the King's (Liverpool) regiment and is awarded four medals. He is taught unarmed combat and rifle marksmanship. The war ends in 1918
1920s: William Henry becomes a docker and is considered the toughest man on the docks. His nickname is The Mighty Elmo, from the 1919 action film of that name.
1924: William Henry Nelson (Billy) is born on Christmas Day
1920s-1930s: Jim and Billy are taught 'boxing' by their father and grandfather
1939: The Second World War begins. Jim serves in the East Yorkshire Regiment and Billy in the Merchant Navy, following in the sea-faring tradition of his ancestors.
1945: The war ends, Bill Nelson begins studying Jujutsu with Gerald Skyner at Cathrine Street Liverpool, a student of Mikonosuke Kawaishi who as well as Judo, studied Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu under Yoshida Kotaro (student of Sokaku Takeda). Bill achieves black belt.
Bill Nelson's Jujutsu Skyner's Jiu-Jitsu was apparently established in 1928 by Shihan Mikonosuke Kawaishi and his student Gerald Skyner. This club, along with the Alphas Jiu-Jitsu institute were not only the first clubs in Liverpool, they were also among the first in the UK!
Kawaishi Sensei is nowadays famous as a Judo master (one of few to be awarded the 10th Dan) but he was also an Aikijujutsu master. Kawaishi studied Aikijujutsu under Yoshida Kotaro who was a master of both Daito Ryu and Yanagi Ryu.
Daito Ryu (as passed to Mikonosuke Kawaishi by Yoshida Kotaro who studied directly under 35th generation Soke Takeda Sokaku) represents the traditions of the Takeda clan dating back to Minamoto Yoshitsune in the 11th century. Sokaku combined the Takeda family teachings with those of the Saigo family's Oshiukiuchi to form Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu.
Kawaishi also studied Judo in Kyoto with Master Tomio Kurihara (the 11th man to be awarded 10th Dan by the Kodokan).
Kawaishi sailed from Kobe to Seattle and then went to New York in 1926. He is even reputed to have fought legendary boxer Jack Dempsey.
When Kawaishi came to Liverpool in 1928 he taught only Aikijujutsu. He then left and made his fame in France and the USA. But in Liverpool when he was scraping a meagre income as a wrestler (under the name Matsuda) he taught the very deadly skills of Jujutsu, Aikijujutsu and Hakuda. Founded in 1928 at 67 Mount Pleasant by Professor Kawaishi and Professor Skyner, the club was originally called the Liverpool Jiu-Jitsu School.
Professor Gerald Skyner was a formidable man. He was asked to be an army combat instructor but was fired after one day for smashing a recruit in the face with a steel helmet (anecdote courtesy of Liverpool combat instructor Dennis Martin). Among Prof Skyner's students were PC O'Neill, a local police office whose son grew up to be one of the UK's greatest Karateka, Sensei Terry O'Neill.
Prof Skyner was an unarmed combat instructor for the RAF and police, while Kawaishi went on to be a resident instructor at Oxford University and head of the French Judo Federation. While in Liverpool he was famous for taking on all-comers in challenge matches against boxers and wrestlers at the old Liverpool Stadium.
A former student of Prof Skyner, Ronnie Wright (an instructor at Skyner's Dojo in the 1960s along with Ray Davies) was quoted by the Liverpool Echo in December 2003 as saying: "A man stopped Skyner outside the club one night and asked how long it would take him to get a black belt.
Skyner told him: `Half an hour! Catch the bus at the stop over the road and go to Jack Sharps (sports shop) -they sell them there'.
"Basically he was telling him he might never get one -there is no quick or easy way.''
After opening in Mount Pleasant in the 1920s, the club moved to Catherine Street.
Read more about our Bushin Ryu research at Bushinryu.weebly.com
Manchester Jujutsu classes:
Manchester Karate classes:
Manchester Tai Chi classes:
Tuesday at 7:00pm-8:00pm
Classes held at Van Dang Martial Arts, Newton Street, Manchester.
For more information email Simon on firstname.lastname@example.org