The history of Chito-ryu karate begins with our founder, Tsuyoshi Chitose (1898-1984). He was born in the Kumochi area of Naha City on the island of Okinawa on October 18, 1898. It was the 29th year of the Meiji era in Japan. Here on this small island, known as the cradle of karate-do, Tsuyoshi Chitose grew up and spent his early formative years.
His original birth name was Chinen (Gochoku) Masuo. His father Chinen (Masuo) Chiyoyu, married into his wife’s last name, and was not a practitioner of karate. Chitose Sensei changed his name to Tsuyoshi Chitose for personal reasons after he moved to Tokyo in 1922 to attend medical college.
In tracing the history of Chito-ryu, we must also look into the historical influences that shaped Chitose Sensei’s martial arts experiences and impacted our art of today. The old karate and martial arts teachers were responsible for influencing future generations of karate practitioners with the ideas they developed during their lifetimes. Some of these ideas were passed to Doctor Chitose and aided him in his creation of Chito-ryu.
Chitose Sensei’s mother’s grandfather was a very famous karate master. His name was Sokon (Bushi) Matsumura (1797-1889). Matsumura Sensei was considered one of the great karate (Tode) figures of the nineteenth century. Matsumura Sensei started his karate training when he was thirteen years old. His father, Sofuku Matsumura, took him to see a seventy eight year old karate teacher named Tode (Karate) Sakugawa. Sakugawa Sensei (1733-1815) was born in Akata Cho, a small section of the city of Shuri, Okinawa. When Sakugawa was a young man he had been a student of Takahara Peichin (1683 – 1760). He had also studied for six years (1756 to 1762) with a Chinese military envoy (Kusanku). It is from this part of our history that we get the kata – Seisan, Niseishi, Sochin, Sakugawa No Kon Sho, and Kusanku. Years later Bushi Matsumura had an opportunity to train with a Chinese trader named Chinto. When Chinto returned to China, Matsumura Sensei developed a kata from the many movements he had learned and named it Chinto in his teacher’s honor. This kata is presently required for Sho-Dan (1st degree black belt) by the U. S. Chito-ryu Karate Federation.
In 1886 Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, established the kyu/dan belt system. In 1907 he designed the Judo uniform from which the karate uniform is taken, except that the karate jacket is much lighter in weight.
In 1895 the Japanese government created the DAI NIPPON BUTOKUKAI to oversee the martial arts, and provided two titles – HANSHI, the highest award, and KYOSHI. In 1934 the DAI NIPPON BUTOKUKAI created a third title, RENSHI, which was below that of Kyoshi. On April 12, 1924 Gichin Funakoshi became the first karate teacher to award black belts when he adopted Jigoro Kano’s practice of awarding this rank to advanced students. Experiments in kumite training were initiated between 1924 and 1927 at Tokyo University. By 1927 these students were practicing tournament type sparring. All these elements played major roles in the development of Chito-ryu.
Chitose Sensei started his Tode (karate) training when he was seven years old (1905). His first teacher was a sixty year old man by the name of Unchu (Nigaki) Kamade Arakaki (1840-1920). Arakaki Sensei taught the young Chitose his first kata – Seisan. The method of teaching karate in those days was to teach kata. The practice of basics and kumite, which is common today, was unknown. In the olden days many karate teachers refused to have or claim a style. They said that they just taught karate (Tode), style or ryu was never an issue. For years the young Chitose practiced the one kata, Seisan. Only after he reached the age of fourteen did Arakaki Sensei teach him his second kata.
When young Tsuyoshi Chitose entered high school he had the opportunity of further training with Sensei Anko Itosu (1832-1916). Itosu was born in Yamagawa Village, Shuri, and was a student of Sokon Matsumura. It is believed Itosu Sensei developed the Chinese corkscrew punch into its present form, and also originated the Pinan (Heian) kata. In April, 1901, Itosu Sensei introduced karate training to the Shuri Jinjo Elementary School as part of the physical fitness training. During 1905 he introduced karate training into the Prefectural Teachers Training College. Three years later, under his guidance, karate training was introduced into all Okinawan schools.
One of Chitose Sensei’s young school friends was Shoshin Nagamine, who would one day found the Matsubayashi Shorin-ryu style of karate, and become president of the Okinawan Karate Federation. One of their school teachers, later recognized as the greatest karate master of the twentieth century, was Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), the father of modern karate and founder of Shotokan. Another of Chitose Sensei’s classmates was Funakoshi Sensei’s son, Gikko (Yoshitaka) Funakoshi.
Other kata taught to Doctor Chitose were: Shihohai, Niseishi and Sanchin from Arakaki Sensei; Chinto, Bassai, and Kusanku from Chotoku Kiyan Sensei (1870-1945); Ryusan from Chiyomu Hanagusuku; and Rohai from Kauryo Higashionna (1851-1915). Also training there at this time with Higashionna Sensei were Mr. Chojun (Miyagi) Miyagusuku (1888-1953) founder of Goju Ryu karate and Mr. Kenwa Mabuni (1888-1953) the founder of Shito-ryu karate.
From 1922-1932 Chitose Sensei went to college, practiced karate in his spare time,and assisted his old school teacher Gichin Funakoshi with his college karate classes. In 1931 Chitose Sensei assisted a new student at the Takushoku University karate club. His name was Masatoshi Nakayama (1913-1986), who would one day be the head instructor of the Japan Karate Association (Shotokan). During this time Dr. Chitose also established his medical practice. During the war he served in the Army Medical Corps and spent some time in China. While serving in a small village in China Dr. Chitose befriended the local citizens. As a result of his assistance to the local population, he came into contact and was trained by an old Chinese Gung-fu teacher. In 1936 O-Sensei was present at a meeting of Okinawan karate authorities in Naha, Okinawa. This was the meeting in which the translation “Empty Hand Way” was actually adopted for Karate-do in place of the original todejutsu or “Chinese Hand Method”.
In March 1946 Doctor Chitose opened a small karate dojo Yoseikan (training hall) in Machi, Kirkuchi-Gun, Kumamoto Prefecture (presently called Kirkuchi City). He later held an Okinawan Kobudo Taikai (Tournament) at the Kubukiza in Kumamoto City to help raise relief funds for Okinawa. In 1948, O-Sensei organized the All Japan Karate-do Federation (Zen Nihon Karate-do Renmei) along with Gichin Funakoshi, Mabuni, Higa Seko, and Toyama Kanken and served as president for some time. It was around this time that O-Sensei named his style Chito-ryu. Although it may seem obvious that “Chito” is a derivation of Chitose, this in fact is not the case. “Chi” is derived from “thousand” and “to” is from the Chinese “Tang”, hence the translation of Chito-ryu is “The thousand year old Chinese (Tang dynasty) way”, signifying the ultimate origin of Karate as being from China during the Tang era roughly one thousand years ago.