HISTORY OF SHITO-RYU KARATE
Black Belt Magazine
has been taught outside of Japan for almost 40 years, and was
exported to the rest of the world along both stylistic and organizational
lines. By now, the names of most karate styles have become familiar
to martial artists everywhere.
the traditional karate systems shotokan, goju-ryu, wado-ryu,
shorin-ryu, kyokushin, isshin-ryu, and shito-ryu among them shito-ryu
remains the most obscure. Several of its leading practitioners,
such as the charismatic Fumio Demura and the prolific Tour Hayashi,
do have widespread fame, yet shito-ryu remains little understood
outside its own schools. Shito-ryu had been most often described
as a combination of shotokan and goju-ryu. It is also generally
known that its teachers utilize formal exercises (kata) from
many Okinawan sources. Unfortunately, such explanations fail
to adequately describe just what shito-ryu really is.
shito-ryu, along with goju-ryu, wado-ryu and shotokan, is one
of the four major karate systems of Japan proper (the Japanese
islands excluding Okinawa). It was founded by Kenwa Mabuni (1899-1952),
who, like most of karate's old masters, was descended from Okinawa's
so-called warrior (bushi) class or aristocracy. Members of his
family served Okinawan lords for hundreds of years. Mabuni started
karate training at the age of 13 under Anko Itosu (1830-1915),
the man who organized early karate in the Okinawan school system.
Itosu was a student of one of Okinawa's most famous karate masters,
Sokon Matsumura (1792-1887), the forefather of shorin-ryu. Itosu
took a strong liking to his young pupil and Mabuni learned some
23 kata before the elder man died. Itosu's death so grieved Mabuni
that he built a shrine in front of the master's grave and stayed
close by for a year, practicing his kata daily.
not Mabuni's only teacher, however. While still in his teens,
Mabuni was introduced by his friend, Chojun Miyagi (the founder
of goju-ryu karate) to Kanryo Higashionna (1853-1915). From Higashionna,
Mabuni learned naha-te, a Chinese-influenced karate style. Mabuni
also trained under the reclusive Arakaki-kamadeunchu (1840-1918),
who taught a style similar to Higashionna's. Arakaki also taught
Tsuyoshi Chitose, the founder of chito-ryu, Gichin Funakoshi
of shotokan, and Kanken Toyama of the shudokan school. Arakaki,
who was an acknowledged bo (staff) expert, taught Mabuni the
unshu, sochin, niseishi, arakaki-sai and arakaki-bo forms. During
the 1920's the insatiable Mabuni participated in a karate club
operated Miyagi and Choyu Motobu, with help from Chomo Hanashiro
and Juhatsu Kiyoda. Choyu Motobu, and was a master of shuri-te
(the antecedent of shorin-ryu) and gotende, the secret grappling
art of the Okinawa royal court. Hanashiro was also a shuri-te
expert, while Kiyoda came from the same naha-te background as
Miyagi. Known as the Ryukyu Tode Kenkyu-kai (Okinawa Karate Research
Club), this dojo (training hall) was one of history's gems. Experts
from diverse backgrounds trained and taught there, and it was
there that Mabuni learned some Fukien white crane kung fu from
the legendary Woo Yin Gue, a Chinese tea merchant living on Okinawa.
time, Mabuni had become a highly respected police officer and
made several trips to Japan after Funakoshi introduced karate
there in 1922. Mabuni spent many of his early traveling years
with Koyu Konishi, a friend and sometimes student who later founded
shindo-jinen-ryu karate. In 1925 Mabuni and Konishi visited Japan's
Wakayama prefecture where Kanbum Uechi, the founder of uechi-ryu,
was teaching. It was after training with Uechi that Mabuni devised
a kata called shinpa. But Mabuni actually spent most of his time
in Osaka, where he taught at various dojo, including the Seishinkai,
the school of Kosei Kokuba. Choki Motobu also taught at Kokuba's
dojo. It was Kokuba who later formed motobu-ha (Motobu faction)
shito-ryu. In 1929, Mabuni moved permanently to Osaka. Shortly
thereafter, the Japanese martial arts sanctioning body, the Butokukai,
pressured all karate schools to register by style name. At first,
Mabuni called his style hanko-ryu (half-hard style), but by the
early 1930's shito-ryu was the official name. It was coined from
alternative renderings of the names of Mabuni's two foremost
teachers, Itosu and Higashionna. Not everyone agreed with separating
Okinawan karate into factions through the use of style names.
In fact, shudokan headmaster Toyama questioned Mabuni and others
about their use of what he called "funny-sounding names." Mabuni
countered at giving the style a name would not only satisfy the
Butokukai, but would give people something they could identify
with and feel a part of.
earliest students was Kanei Uechi (not to be confused with Kambum
Uechi's son of the same name), who by 1935 was also teaching
in Osaka. In 1950, Uechi returned to Okinawa and established
the Shito-ryu Kempo Karate-do Kai. On Okinawa, Uechi is considered
the true successor to Mabuni's art, but internationally, Mabuni's
eldest son, also name Kanei, is acknowledged as the head of shito-ryu
and runs the Shito-kai. Kanei Mabuni and his younger brother
Kenzo head the karate programs at several universities, a task
inherited from their father. Still other early students of Mabuni
have their own distinct organizations and followings, Ryusho
Sakagami, a contemporary of Kanei Mabuni, established the Itosu-kai
just after Mabuni's death. Sakagami's son, Sadaaki, now oversees
the Itosu-kai from the Yokohama area. In 1948, Chojiro Tani organized
the Shuko-kai, where he taught tani-ha shito-ryu. Ever innovative,
the Shuko-kai, under the present leadership of Shigeru Kimura
in the United States, appears somewhat, different in technique
from the other shito-ryu groups.
1970's, several other shito-ryu factions have formed. Most prominent
Hayashi-ha shito-ryu under Teruo Hayashi. Hayashi was a protégé of
Kosei Kokuba and also trained directly under Mabuni. Hayashi
became president of the Seishin-kai sometime after Kokuba's death.
For awhile, he co-led that organization along with Motobu-ryu
style-head Shogo Kuniba. Together they integrated the Tamari-bassai
kata into their systems. The assertive Hayashi even studied in
Okinawa under Kenko Nakaima, head of the longtime secret family
art of ryuei-ryu. Ryuei-ryu is derived from the same Chinese
teacher who taught Kanryu Higashionna, a man named Liu Liu Kung.
Another, younger member of the motobu-ha group, Chuzo Kotaka,
established kotaka-ha shito-ryu in Hawaii, revising all the kata
and devising many new ones which he taught to his American students.
And in Europe, a tani-hashito-ryu student named Yoshiano Nambu
broke off on his own, first founding the Sanku-kai and later
the Nambudo. But possibly the world's most famous shito-ryu exponent
is Fumio Demura, a former sparring champion who has taught Itosu-kai
shito-ryu in southern California since 1965.
the karate of most shito-ryu factions looks pretty much the same.
Not surprisingly, there are minor differences in the kata between
the various groups, mostly due to the proclivities of their founders.
Regardless, all shito-ryu looks a lot like shorin-ryu in application.
A long, linear, even its goju-ryu type kata (those derived from
Higashionna) are preformed in a lighter, more angular and rangy
fashion than they are in schools derived from naha-te alone.
Shito-ryu is much like shotokan in that it relies heavily on
the reverse punch and front kick. The style also seems to place
a strong emphasis on sparring. In so doing, shito-ryu stresses
speed, and fighting is generally initiated from a higher, more
upright stance than shotokan employs. On the other hand, because
the style has so many kata, a great deal of time is spent perfecting
any one of its 40 to 60 forms.
has never forsaken its Okinawan roots when it comes to kobujutsu
(weapons arts). While Mabuni trained under weapons experts such
as Arakaki, many of today's shito-ryu teachers learned most of
their kobujutsu from Shinken Taira, the man responsible for popularizing
kobujutsu during a time when interest in this peculiarly Okinawan
art was at its lowest. It seems that Shito-ryu schools were the
most receptive to Taira's art. Both the younger and elder Sakagami,
Demura, Hayashi, Kuniba and Kanei Mabuni all trained with Taira
at one time or another.