Shorin Ryu

Shorin-ryu (小林流) is one of the major modern Okinawan martial arts. Said to have been founded by Sokon Matsumura during the 1800s, Shorin-ryu combines elements of the traditional Okinawan fighting styles Shuri-te and Tomari-te. Shorin-ryu is widely considered to be one of the two major modern styles of Okinawan karate, along with Goju-ryu, which is rooted in the other traditional Okinawan style, Naha-te.

Sokon Matsumura was a renowned warrior of his time; bodyguard to three kings of Okinawa, he has been called the Miyamoto Musashi of Okinawa and was dubbed Bushi, or warrior, by his king.

However, while he is often referred to as the “founder” of Shorin-ryu, he did not invent all the components of the style, and perhaps didn’t refer to it as “Shorin-ryu” himself.

It is quite possible that he synthesized his knowledge of Okinawan arts with Chinese fighting styles that he learned on his travels and taught it as a coherent system to some eager students, who subsequently refined it, labeled it, and passed it on.

“Shorin” is the pronunciation of the Chinese “Shaolin” in Hogun, the primary dialect of Okinawa; and “ryu” means style. Therefore, Shorin-ryu, or “Shaolin style”, reflects the Chinese influences intrinsic to the art.

Along with being a style on its own, Shorin-ryu is also perhaps the most influential single ancestor of modern Japanese karate. One of Matsumura’s best-known students, Anko (or “Ankoh”) Itosu became a great practitioner and teacher of Okinawan karate and developed the five Pinan kata, which are now taught not only in Shorin-ryu, but also in a wide variety of Okinawan, Japanese and derived martial arts. It is also believed by some that the first two Pinan kata were actually developed by Matsumura and the last three by Itosu.

In addition, Itosu and another student of Matsumura’s named Anko Azato were among the primary influences on a fellow Okinawan named Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi introduced his Okinawan martial arts to mainland Japan in 1922, and in subsequent decades was instrumental in developing what he termed simply “karate” or “karate-do” into a popular Japanese martial art. (The style Funakoshi taught on mainland Japan is now called Shotokan karate.)

Training: Shorin-ryu is generally characterized by natural breathing, natural (narrow, high) stances, and direct, rather than circular movements (with the exception of Shorin-Ryu Kyudokan, which makes circular movements as one of its pillars). Shorin-ryu practitioners will say that deep stances are not important for powerful moves, and that only correct motion matters. In fact, Okinawan traditionalists often claim that deep, wide stances are a development of Japanese-styled karate.

Schools: There is not a known, whole system of Shorin Ryu except for Matsumura Shorin Ryu. There are many dojos who use the term however for simplicity’s sake. Some of the best known schools of Shorin-ryu were started by Matsumura’s students keeping with Okinawa’s tradition of successorship each of Matsumura’s Deshis (students) changed the name of their system when they took over, so the branches began Shobayashi-ryu, Ryukyu Hon Kenpo, Matsumura Orthodox Shorin-ryu, Seidokan, Kobayashi Shorin-ryu (Shido-kan and Shorinkan), Kyudokan, and Matsubayashi-ryu, Okinawa Kenpo, and Sukunaihayashi (Shorin-ryu Seibukan), but there are many others, most with long and distinguished histories that trace back to Matsumura and his students.

Kata: There are different sets of kata, ranging from kihon (exercise kata) to rohai (vision of the crane kata). This is a list of the main kata series studied in Shorin-ryu karate. Not all kata are practiced by all schools.

  • Kihon series (exercise kata)
  • Fukyu series (fundamental/universal class kata, also called Fukyugata)
  • Taikyoku series (full hearted way kata)
  • Naihanchi series (inside ship fighting kata)
  • Pinan series (peace kata)
  • Channan series (valley kata, these kata are thought to have evolved into the Pinan kata)
  • Passai series (breakthrough kata)
  • Kusanku series
  • Ananku (southern light kata)
  • Chinto (east-fighting kata)
  • Chinte (east village kata)
  • Gojushiho (54 move kata, also called Useishi)
  • Rohai (vision of crane kata)