Yasutsune "Ankoh" Itosu
Born in Shuri, Okinawa, Itosu trained under karate
greats Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura and Kosaku
Matsumora. His good friend
Yasutsune Azato recommended him to the position of secretary to the
king of the Ryukyu Islands. He was famous for the superior strength
of his arms, legs and hands. Itosu was said to have even walked
in the horse stance (from which he received his nickname, Anko).
Itosu supposedly was easily able to defeat Azato in arm wrestling.
Itosu had very strong hands and could crush a thick stalk of bamboo
with his vice-like grip. It is said that he walked past the imperial
tombs everyday and would practice his punches against the stone
walls that lined the road. Itosu believed that the body should
be trained to withstand the hardest of blows. Under Itosu's direction, Gichin
Funakoshi (Shotokan founder) spent ten years mastering
three basic kata.
Describing the art in his own words: "Karate
means not only to develop one's physical strength but to learn
how to defend oneself. Be helpful to all people and never fight
against one person. Never try to strike if possible. even when
taken unawares, as perhaps meeting a robber or a deranged person.
Never face others with fists and feet. As you practice karate,
try to open your eyes brightly and keep your shoulders down, stiffen
your body as if you are on the battleground. Imagine that you are
facing the enemy when you practice the punching or blocking techniques.
Soon you will find your own striking performance. Always concentrate
attention around you. A man of character will avoid any quarrels
and loves peace. Thus the more a karateka practices the more modest
he should be with others. This is the true karateka."
Below is a letter written by Itosu Sensei in October
of 1908. This letter preceded the introduction of karate to Okinawan
schools and eventually to the Japanese mainland.
Tode did not develop from the way of Buddhism
or Confucianism. In the recent past Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu
were brought over from China. They both have similar strong points,
so, before there are too many changes, I should like to write
1. Tode is primarily for the benefit
of health. In order to protect one's parents or one's master,
it is proper to attack a foe regardless of one's own life. Never
attack a lone adversary. If one meets a villain or a ruffian
one should not use tode but simply parry and step aside.
2. The purpose of tode is to make the
body hard like stones and iron; hands and feet should be used
like the points of arrows, hearts should be strong and brave.
If children were to practice tode from their elementary-school
days, they would be well prepared for military service. When
Wellington and Napoleon met they discussed the point that tomorrow's
victory will come from today's playground'.
3. Tode cannot be learned quickly. Like
a slow moving bull, that eventually walks a thousand miles, if
one studies seriously every day, in three or four years one will
understand what tode is about. The very shape of one's bones
Those who study as follows will discover the
essence of tode:
4. In tode the hands and feet are important
so they should be trained thoroughly on the makiwara. In so doing
drop your shoulders, open your lungs, take hold of your strength,
grip the floor with your feet and sink your intrinsic energy
to your lower abdomen. Practice with each arm one or two hundred
5. When practicing tode stances make
sure your back is straight, drop your shoulders, take your strength
and put it in your legs, stand firmly and put the intrinsic energy
in your lower abdomen, the top and bottom of which must be held
6. The external techniques of tode should
be practiced, one by one, many times. Because these techniques
are passed on by word of mouth, take the trouble to learn the
explanations and decide when and in what context it would be
possible to use them. Go in, counter, release; is the rule of
7. You must decide whether tode is for
cultivating a healthy body or for enhancing your duty.
8. During practice you should imagine
you are on the battle field. When blocking and striking make
the eyes glare, drop the shoulders and harden the body. Now block
the enemy's punch and strike! Always practice with this spirit
so that, when on the real battlefield, you will naturally be
9. Do not overexert yourself during
practice because the intrinsic energy will rise up, your face
and eyes will turn red and your body will be harmed. Be careful.
10. In the past many of those who have
mastered tode have lived to an old age. This is because tode
aids the development of the bones and sinews, it helps the digestive
organs and is good for the circulation of the blood. Therefore,
from now on, tode should become the foundation of all sports
lessons from elementary schools onward. If this is put into practice
there will, I think, be many men who can win against ten aggressors.
The reason for stating all this is that it is
my opinion that all students at the Okinawa Prefectural Teachers'
Training College should practice tode, so that when they graduate
from here they can teach the children in the schools exactly
as I have taught them. Within ten years tode will spread all
over Okinawa and to the Japanese mainland. This will be a great
asset to our militaristic society. I hope you will carefully
study the words I have written here.
Anko Itosu. Meiji 41, Year of the Monkey (October