Karate Shito Ryu

The Karate | Karate History | Karate Origins | The Karate Styles | Karate Goju Ryu | Karate Practice | What’s in Karate Name | Karate in America | Gichin Funakoshi | Tatsuo Shimabuku | Karate Influence | Karate Stances | Return to Our Roots | Karate Shito Ryu | Karate Shotokan Ryu | Karate Wado Ryu | Uechi Ryu Karate

Shito-Ryu Karate was developed by Kenwa Mabuni (1890-1954), an Okinawan karate master who studied both the styles of Naha-Te (which developed into Gojuryu Karate) and Shuri-Te (which developed into Shorinryu). Shito Ryu was formed by the combination of the kata and techniques of these two styles.

Mr Mabuni combined japanese syllables of his two main teachers, Ankoh Itosu (of Shuri-Te) and Kanryo Higaonna (Naha-Te) to honor them when he developed his own style, Shito-Ryu, which he started to teach when he moved to Osaka, Japan.

Characteristic for Shito-Ryu Karate are the square-on stances and linear strikes. Traditional Okinawan weapons are also taught in the Shito-Ryu style of karate.

Shito-ryu is a form of karate that was developed in 1931 by Kenwa Mabuni (摩文仁 賢和, Mabuni Kenwa).

Kenwa Mabuni was born in Shuri, a district of Naha, Okinawa in 1889. Mabuni-sensei was a descendant of the famous Onigusukini samurai family. Perhaps because of his weak constitution, he began his instruction in his home town in the art of Shuri-te (首里手, Shuri-te) at the age of 13, under the tutelage of the legendary Anko Itosu (糸州 安恒, Itosu Ankō) (1813–1915).

He trained diligently for several years, learning many kata from this great master. It was Itosu who first developed the Pinan kata, which were most probably derived from the “Kusanku” form.

One of his close friends, Sensei Chojun Miyagi (宮城 長順, Miyagi Chojun) (founder of Goju-ryu) introduced Mabuni to another great of that period, Sensei Kanryo Higaonna (東恩納 寛量, Higaonna Kanryo), and began to learn Naha-te (那覇手, Naha-te) under him as well.

While both Itosu and Higashionna taught a “hard-soft” style of Okinawan “Te”, their methods and emphases were quite distinct: the Itosu syllabus included straight and powerful techniques as exemplified in the Naifanchi and Bassai kata; the Higashionna syllabus, on the other hand, stressed circular motion and shorter fighting methods as seen in the popular Seipai and Kururunfa forms. Shito-ryu focuses on both hard and soft techniques to this day.

Although he remained true to the teachings of these two great masters, Mabuni sought instruction from a number of other teachers, including Seisho Aragaki, Tawada Shimboku, Sueyoshi Jino and Wu Xianhui (a Chinese master known as Go-Kenki). In fact, Mabuni was legendary for his encyclopaedic knowledge of kata and their bunkai applications. By the 1920s, he was regarded as the foremost authority on Okinawan kata and their history and was much sought after as a teacher by his contemporaries. There is even some evidence that his expertise was sought out in China, as well as Okinawa and mainland Japan. As a police officer, he taught local law enforcement officers and at the behest of his teacher Itosu, began instruction in the various grammar schools in Shuri and Naha.

In an effort to popularize karate in mainland Japan, Mabuni made several trips to Tokyo in 1917 and 1928. Although much that was known as “Te” (Chinese Fist) or Karate had been passed down through many generations with jealous secrecy, it was his view that it should be taught to anyone who sought knowledge with honesty and integrity. In fact, many masters of his generation held similar views on the future of Karate: Sensei Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan), another contemporary, had moved to Tokyo in the 1920s to promote their art on the mainland as well.

By 1929, Mabuni had moved to Osaka on the mainland, to become a full-time karate instructor of a style he originally called Hanko-ryu, or “half-hard style”. In an effort to gain acceptance in the Japanese Butokukai, the governing body for all officially recognized martial arts in that country, he and his contemporaries decided to call their art “Karate” or “Empty Hand,” rather than “Chinese Hand,” perhaps to make it sound more Japanese.

Around the same time, perhaps when first introducing his style to the Butokukai, is when it is believed the name of the style changed to Shito-ryu, in honour of its main influences. Mabuni derived the name for his new style from the first kanji character in their names, Itosu and Higashionna. With the support of Sensei Ryusho Sakagami (1915–1993), he opened a number of Shito-ryu dojo in the Osaka area, including Kansai University and the Japan Karatedo Kai dojo. To this day, the largest contingent of Shito-ryu practitioners in Japan is centered in the Osaka area.

Mabuni published a number of books on the subject and continued to systematize the instruction method. In his latter years, he developed a number of formal kata, such as Aoyagi, for example, which was designed specifically for women’s self defense. Perhaps more than any other master in the last century, Mabuni was steeped in the traditions and history of Karate-do, yet forward thinking enough to realize that it could spread throughout the world. To this day, Shito-ryu recognizes the influences of Itosu and Higashionna: the kata syllabus of Shito Ryu is still often listed in such a way as to show the two lineages.

Kenwa Mabuni died on May 23, 1952, and he was succeeded by his son Kenzo. Kenzo Mabuni died on June 26, 2005. At present, the third soke of Shito Ryu is Tsukasa Mabuni, daughter of Kenzo Mabuni.

Branches: Other schools of Shito-ryu developed after the death of Kenwa Mabuni, both because the death of a founder is typically the source of dispute as to the leader of a given school and because many prominent Karate teachers choose to modify the style, thereby creating new branches.

Major existing branches of Shito-ryu include:

  • Nippon Karate-do Kai, later renamed Shito-Ryu International Karate Do Kai: The organisation founded by Kenwa Mabuni, passed along to his son, Kenzo Mabuni, and now to Kenzo’s daughter, Tsukasa Mabuni.
  • Shito-kai (糸東会): After the death of Mabuni Kenwa his student Manzo Iwata founded Eastern Shito-kai in Tokyo and his son Kenei Mabuni founded Western Shito-kai in Osaka, but the branches were reunited in 1974.
  • Shuko-kai (修交会): Founded by Chojiro Tani, student of Mabuni Kenwa, in 1949, this style represents the Tani-ha version of Shito-ryu.
  • Itosu-kai: Established by Mabuni Kenwa’s student Ryusho Sakagami in 1952 in Yokohama area, now run by Sakagami’s son Ryusho Sadaaki.
  • Seishin-kai (聖心会): Founded by Kosei Kokuba, student of Choki Motobu, in 1943 in Osaka, Japan. This school originally represented Motobu-ha Shito-ryu, but no longer claims this title.
  • Kuniba-kai: Shogo Kuniba, third soke of Seishinkai and the son of Kosei Kokuba, moved to Portsmouth VA in 1983. His american dojo was separated from Seishinkai after his death in 1992 and became known as Kuniba-kai. It currently represents Motobu-ha Shito-ryu.
  • Hayashi-ha Shito-ryu: Founded by Teruo Hayashi, student of Mabuni Kenwa and Kosei Kokuba, after he was co-leading Seishinkai together with Shogo Kuniba and studied Ryuei-ryu in Okinawa. The Europen organization for this style is Mitsuya-kai, run by Hayashi’s long time student Mitsuya Seinosuke.
  • Inoue-ha Shito-ryu Keishin-kai: Founded by Yoshimi Inoue a top student of Teruo Hayashi, Inoue is a Senior Coach of the Japan National Karate Kata Competition Team. Inoue currently resides in Tottori, Japan.
  • Shiroma Shito-ryu: Shinpan Shiroma, a student of Itosu and Higaonna, and Mabuni Kenwa’s peer, taught Shito-ryu in Shuri and Nishihara, Okinawa, from World War II until his death in 1954, thereby creating the only known Okinawan branch of Shito-ryu. His student, Horoku Ishikawa, continues his lineage.
  • Kotaka-ha Shito-ryu: Founded by Chuzo Kotaka, another member of Seishinkai, in Hawaii.
  • Sanku-kai: Founded by Yoshiano Nambu, a Tani-ha Shito-ryu student.
  • Genbu-kai: Taught by Fumio Demura, a student of Ryusho Sakagami, in California since 1965.
  • Hokushin: Taught by Hanshi Minobu Miki in San Diego.
  • San-Shin-Kan: Founded by Kancho Tamas Weber of Sweden, taught in Europe and Israel.

Characteristics: Shito-ryu is a combination style, which attempts to unite the diverse roots of karate. On one hand, Shito-ryu has the physical strength and long powerful stances of Shuri-te derived styles, such as Shorin Ryu and Shotokan (松涛館), on the other hand Shito-ryu has circular and eight-directional movements, breathing power, hard and soft characteristics of Naha-te and Tomari-te (泊手) styles, such as Goju-ryu (剛柔流). Shito-ryu is extremely fast, but still can be artistic and powerful. In addition, Shito-ryu formalizes and emphasizes the five rules of defense, developed by Kenwa Mabuni, and known as Uke no go gensoku (受けの五原則), Uke no go genri (受けの五原理) or Uke no go ho (受けの五法):

  • 落花 (rakka, “falling petals”). The art of blocking with such force and precision as to completely destroy the opponent’s attacking motion. Examples of rakka are the most well-known blocks, such as gedan-barrai (下段払い) or soto-uke (外受け).
  • 流水 (ryusui, “running water”). The art of flowing around the attacker’s motion, and through it, soft blocking. Examples are nagashi-uke (流し受け) and osae-uke (押さえ受け).
  • 屈伸 (ku-ushin, “elasticity”). This is the art of bouncing back, storing energy while recoiling from the opponent’s attack, changing or lowering stance only to immediately unwind and counterattack. Classic examples are stance transitions zenkutsu (前屈立ち) to koukutsu (後屈立ち) and moto-dachi (基立ち) to nekoashi-dachi (猫足立ち).
  • 転位 (teni, “transposition”). Teni is the utilization of all eight directions of movement, most importantly stepping away from the line of attack.
  • 反撃 (hangeki, “counterattack”). A hangeki defense is an attack which at the same time deflects the opponent’s attack before it could reach the defender. Examples of this are various tsuki-uke’s (突き受け), including yama-tsuki (山突き).