History of Karate

Shitokai

The style of Karate known as Shitoryu is one of the four major styles in the world. The two most well known areas associated with Karate in Okinawa were Naha and Shuri. In the late 19th century the most famous grandmaster in Shuri was Itosu and in Naha the grandmaster was Higaonna. Kenwa Mabuni was a student of both grandmasters, and out of respect for his teachers named his style of Karate “Shito ryu”.Of all the traditional karate systems Shotokan-ryu, Goju-ryu, Wado-ryu, Shorin-ryu, Kyokushin-ryu, Isshin-ryu… Shito-ryu remains the most obscure and mysterious. Shito-ryu, along with Goju-ryu, Wado-ryu and Shotokan-ryu, is one of the four major karate systems of Japan proper (Japanese islands excluding Okinawa).

Technically, the karate of most Shito-ryu factions looks pretty much the same.However, there are minor differences in the kata between the various groups, mostly due to the interpretation of the respective founders. All Shito-ryu looks a lot like Shorin-ryu in application. A long, linear style, even its Goju-ryu-type kata (those derived from Higashionna) are executed 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 with a strong emphasis on sparring. With this, Shito-ryu stresses speed, and fighting is generally initiated from a higher, more upright stance than Shotokan. 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.

Shito-ryu 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.

Kenwa Mabuni

Was born on the island of Okinawa in 1889. Mabuni was a descendent of the Okinawan warrior class whose ancestors served the Okinawan lords for hundreds of years.At the age of 13, he began his martial arts instruction under Yasutsune Itosu in the village of Shuri. He also began to study Naha-te under Kanryo Higaonna, who was introduced to him by a childhood friend, Miyagi Chojun. These men, Itosu and Higaonna, were the highest authorities of karate at that time, and were the founders of two schools of Okinawan Karate, Shorin-Ryu and Shorei-Ryu. Both these instructors passed away when Mabuni was in his late 20’s.

In 1929, Mabuni moved to Osaka when the Japanese martial arts sanctioning body, the Butokukai, insisted all karate schools to register by style name. Initially, Mabuni called his style hanko-ryu (half-hard style), but by the early 1930’s Shito-ryu was the official name. It came from alternative versions of the names of Mabuni’s two foremost teachers, Itosu and Higashionna (The ideogram “Shi” is pronounced “Ito” (from Itosu) and “To” is pronounced “Higa” (from Higaonna).

Mabuni Sensei became one of the leading masters of his time. He passed his system of karate along to several senior students, who upon his death worked to propogate Shito-ryu.

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