HISTORY OF SHITO-RYU


Shito Ryu Image

Shito-Ryu, along with Goju-Ryu, Wado-Ryu and Shotokan, is one of the our major karate systems of Japan (the Japanese islands excluding Okinawa). It was founded by Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952), who, like most of karates old masters, was descended from Okinawas 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 Okinawas 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 death so grieved Mabuni that he built a shrine in front of the masters grave and stayed close by for a year, practicing his kata daily.

Itosu was not Mabunis only teacher, however. While still in his teens, Mabuni was introduced by his friend, Chojun Miyagi (the founder of Goju-Ryu karate) to Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1915). From Higaonna, 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 Higaonna. 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 by Miyagi and Choyu Motobu, with help from Chomo Hanashiro and Juhatsu Kiyoda. Choyu Motobu was a master of Shuri-te (the antecedent of Shorin-Ryu) and gotende, the secret grappling art of the Okinawan 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 historys 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.

By this 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 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 Kuniba. Choki Motobu also taught at Kuniba dojo. It was Kuniba 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 1930s Shito-Ryu was the official name. It was coined from alternative renderings of the names of Mabuni two foremost teachers, Itosu and Higaonna. 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 that 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.

Among Mabuni earliest students was Kanei Uechi (not to be confused with Kambum Uechi 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.



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HANSHI Ivan Lewis (left) shown with Kenzo Mabuni (right) (Son of Kenwa Mabuni)

 KENWA MABUNI (1889 - 1952) first started Karate under SENSEI ITOSU at the age of 13 and at the age of 22, studied under SENSEI KANRYO HIGAONNA. From ITOSU, he mastered the quick and lightning - like (Shorei) techniques and from HIGAONNA, he mastered the slow (Shorin) techniques emphasising dynamic breathing and muscular control. Using the best and proven of all techniques he had mastered, he formed the SHITO-RYU system. He dedicated the name of Shito from these 2 famous masters; "Shi" pronounced in Japanese character for Itosu and "To" pronounced in Japanese characters for Higa. Today, SHITO-RYU KARATE-DO remains as one of the 4 major styles of karate in Japan and it is taught all over the world.

KENZO MABUNI SENSEI was born on May 30, 1927 at Akahira-Machi, Shuri City in Okinawa. His family moved to Osaka city in 1929 when he was 2 years old and he remained in his fathers house until now. He obtained permission from his father and joined his school when he was 13 years old and therefore has been in SHITO-RYU KARATE-DO for over 60 years. He first obtained his SHODAN (1st Dan) on August 1, 1943 and presently holds the JYUDAN (10th Dan) and is a well respected master not only in Japan but also throughout the world.

His organization, NIHON KARATE-DO KAI (formerly known as DAI-NIHON KARATE-DO KAI) was founded by his father in 1939. After his father's death in 1952, his mother Mrs. KAME MABUNI came to Kenzo Mabuni and requested that he take over the style. Kenzo Mabuni could not decide at that time and went into seclusion for two years to contemplate this great responsibility. Of course, as we all know he decided to accept this responsibility and is the inheritor of his father's lineage making him the 2nd Governor of SHITO-RYU and successor to this organization. His father left him the SHITO-RYU name, his complete syllabus and the DOJO with the Association name NIHON KARATE-DO KAI. All these remain intact until today. He followed his fathers syllabus exactly the way it was written down in 1929 and thats why he called it SEITO SHITO-RYU or PURE, TRUE SHITO-RYU.

From that time, Kenzo Mabuni dedicated his life to preserving the true lineage of his father's karate. He was not concerned with politics or image and remained unknown to the outside world while his older brother and others were spreading their influence in the name of Shito Ryu Karate. In 1993, upon the request of his good friend Ozawa, Kenzo Mabuni travelled to Las Vegas and exposed the world to Seito (pure) Shito Ryu, the true karate of his father, Mabuni Kenwa.

Kenzo Mabuni emphasizes the training of Karate based on his fathers PRINCIPLE, "Kata (form) is KARATE". KATA is the essence of Karate and in training, one should follow his policy: 75% Kata training and 25% Kumite (free or organized sparring) training, besides doing the regular KIHON (Basics) and exercises. He trained under the watchful eye of his father and would practice hundreds of times for a period of 3 months or more just to understand and perfect ONE single KATA.He advises that one should take note of the following points when practicing KATA:

KATA should start and end with REI (bow)

  • Correct basic techniques
  • Breathing
  • Dachi (Stances)
  • Posture
  • TENSHIN HAPPO (8 Directions - The fundamental ability to apply offensive and defensive techniques in eight different directions)
  • CHAKUGAN (Focusing - Focus your attention on your opponent to be able to see all of the opponents movements)
  • BUNKAI (Meaning and Application)
  • ZANSHIN (Awareness)
  • Repetition - to perfect the KATA

His vision is that he will continue his fathers work in promoting this TRADITIONAL MARTIAL ART and teach on the the TRUE and ORIGINAL form of SHITO-RYU KARATE-DO.