The Pechin (親雲上 Pēchin ) is the Okinawan/Ryukyuan equivalent of the Japanese Samurai. In the Ryūkyū Kingdom (Okinawa), feudal warriors of the Pechin class would commonly call themselves Samurai, therefore Pechin, Ryūkyū Samurai or Okinawan Samurai are used interchangeably.
The Pechin were part of a complex caste system that existed in Okinawa for centuries, they were the feudal warrior class that was charged with enforcing the law and providing military defense to the nation, Okinawan or Ryūkyū Kingdom. The specific rank of an Okinawan Samurai was noted by the color of his hat.
Okinawan Caste System:
The Pechin class was also responsible for the development of and training in the traditional fighting style, called Ti (Te), which developed into modern day Karate. The Ryūkyū Samurai class (Pechin) kept their fighting techniques secret, usually passing down the most devastating fighting forms to only one member of the family per generation, usually the eldest son. This warrior class became part of the caste system in Okinawa. Placed in the upper class, the Pechin would often travel with a servant at their side.
Any unarmed self-defense techniques were of great importance to them, given repeated weapons bans by the Ryūkyū King and Japanese Satsuma invaders. The first time that the Okinawan samurai's weapons were confiscated was during the reign of King Shoshin (1477 - 1526), who unified Okinawa into one Ryūkyū Kingdom. The second time that the Ryūkyū samurai were disarmed was after the Satsuma invasion of 1609, which prohibited the carrying of weapons by the Ryūkyū Samurai.
The Ryūkyū Samurai was not completely without weapons, historians in Okinawa have recovered documents that state that the Satsuma outlawed the ownership and sale of firearms in Okinawa. However the Okinawan samurai of the Pechin class and above were allowed to keep firearms that were already in their family's possession.
Toshihiro Oshiro, historian of Okinawan martial arts, states:
"There is further documentation that in 1613 the Satsuma issued permits for the Okinawan samurai to travel with their personal swords (tachi and wakizashi) to the smiths and polishers in Kagushima, Japan for maintenance and repair. From the issuance of these permits, it is logical to infer that there were restrictions on the Okinawan samurai carrying their weapons in public, but it is also clear evidence that these weapons were not confiscated by the Satsuma."
Undoubtedly the Ryūkyū Samurai of the Pechin class was the hardest hit by the changing times. They were the only class that did not have a clear place in the modern world.
In 1872, the Japanese Meiji government abolishes the Ryūkyū Kingdom and creates the Ryūkyū Han or feudal clan.
In 1879, the Japanese Meiji government abolishes the Ryūkyū feudal clan and creates the Okinawa Prefecture.
Because the Imperial Decree issued in Meiji 8th year (1875) has not been complied with, the Government was compelled to abolish the feudal clan. The former feudal Lord, his family and kin will be accorded princely treatment, and the persons of citizens, including samurai (Okinawan Samurai), their hereditary stipends, property and business interests will be dealt with in a manner as close to traditional customs as is possible. Any acts of maladministration, and exhorbitant taxes and dues levied during the regime of the former clan government will probably be righted upon careful consideration. Do not be misled by irresponsible rumors. All are advised to pursue their respective occupations with ease of mind.
The hereditary lords of the Okinawan or Ryūkyū Kingdom were strongly opposed to the complete annexation by Japan, but the Ryūkyū King forbade the Ryūkyū Samurai and aristocrates from fighting the annexation. Ryūkyū submitted to Japan's annexation plans and 300 lords, 2000 aristocratic families and the king were removed from their positions of power. However, to avoid an armed Samurai revolt in Okinawa, as had happened in Japan, special ceremonies were performed for the Ryūkyū Samurai of the Pechin class, where they were permitted to honorably accept defeat and ritually cut off their hair (top-knot).
In Okinawa the samurai class lost a major source of income in 1903, when massive peasant protest sparked land reforms and the abolition of peasant taxes that sustained the Okinawan Samurai class. Many Okinawan Samurai found themselves having to reveal their secret unarmed fighting techniques to commoners for income and to keep some element of status. Many traditional Okinawan Karate styles will list in their genealogy, Karate masters of the Pechin class in the early stages of the style.
Shosin Nagamine (recipient of the Fifth Class Order of the Rising Sun from the Emperor of Japan) states in his book The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do, on pg. 21 " The forbidden art (Kara-Te) was passed down from father to son among the samurai class in Okinawa".
The Okinawa Prefectural Government in recent years has tried to clarify misunderstandings by the West as to the history and development of Karate in Okinawa. The Okinawa Prefectural Government English and Japanese website, Karate and martial arts with weaponry, states that Karate was a secret of the Okinawan Samurai.
Karate was practiced exclusively among the Ryūkyū or Okinawan feudal warrior class (Okinawan Samurai) – Pechin. Peasants were strictly prohibited from practicing or being taught these secret unarmed fighting techniques.