China: Shaolin Monks
fights, or "empty hands" fights, are, I guess as old
as humanity. However, regrouped
techniques of kicks, blocks and punch as a particular style of
fighting that can be taught and handed down to others, are
commonly accepted to have had their birth within the Shaolin Buddhist
temple founded around 500 AD in Northen China. Confronted with
constant raids launched against their monasteries, during the
civil wars that raged in the imperial China, monks studied
various methods and came out with a coded system known as
"shorin-ji kempo" or "fighting method of the
- These fighting
methods gradually spread throughout Asia alongside with the
Buddhist teachings. Thus owing to is origins, Karate is not
just a fighting method or a sport. It is also and mainly a basis to train
nowadays adopted for "kara" with the meaning
"empty" also means "sky", an
"emptiness" full of harmony
his book "Karate-Do Kyohan",
Funakoshi Genshi wrote: "Just
as a clear mirror reflects without distortion, or a
quiet valley echoes a pure sound, so must one who studies
Karate-do should purge himself of selfish and evil thoughts, for only
with a clear mind and conscience can he understand that which
is another explanation of the word "kara".
Karate is deriving from the Okinawan practice of these Shaolin techniques, introduced in the Ryukyu
Islands ( then an independent
kingdom) towards 1392, when King Satto allied himself to the Chinese Ming Emperor. This tie amplified the contacts and eventually brought Chinese Boxing to the Island. These techniques merged with Okinawan
indigenous techniques, known as
Okinawa-te which were split into three main sections depending on the district they
developed in: Nara-te, Shuri-te and
Tomari-te. It is towards those
techniques that the Okinawan people turned, when in XVII century, the Japanese warriors of the Sasutma clan invaded their country and imposing a legislation of "no weapons". In order to be able to defend themselves against the warlords who abundantly used their own weapons, Okinawan people developed the new mixture "shorin-ji kempo" and okinawa-te, adapted these techniques to their bodies, background and personal weapons: the tools used in the fields. Two Okinawan masters have been playing an important role in the introducing and developing karate, first to Japan then world wide. The first was FUNAKOSHI Genshi, Founder of Shotokan style and MABUNI Kenwa, Founder of Shito-Ryu style. We are going to study Karate history
deeper, through the character of Mabuni Kenwa. Actually the impact that Mabuni Kenwa had on the development of Japanese Karate was so tremendous that many groups trace an element of their lineage back to him.
|MABUNI Kenwa (1889 - 1952)
Founder of Shito-Ryu
Mabuni kenwa started karate at the age of 13 under
ITOSU Anko (1830-1915), the man who organized early karate in the Okinawan school system. Itosu was a student of one of Okinawa's most famous karate masters, MATSUMURA Sokon (1792-1887), founder of
"Shorin-ryu". ITOSU and MABUNI developped a very close master-disciple relationship. Mabuni was the natural "heir" of
23 kata handed down by his master. When Itosu died, Mabuni became his successor. However Itosu was not Mabuni's only teacher.
man who organized early karate in the Okinawan school
1908 he wrote a letter to the Prefectural Educational
Department encouraging the introduction of Karate (Tode)to all
Okinawan schools including those on the Japanese mainland.
Extracts of this letter.
is and ought to be
should be used as a means of self-defense and in order to protect one's
parents and loved ones. It should be used to improve your health and
should not be used for your own selfish interests or to deliberately
The purpose of
Karate is to train the human body to become as hard as rock and as
strong as iron (steel). To effectively develop the hands and feet to be
used as spears or arrows, and to develop a strong spirit and brave heart
through continuous practice. If Karate were introduced at the elementary
school level, the children would be well prepared for the military in
Karate is not
learned over a brief period of time. To understand Karate more fully,
one should practice seriously everyday for at least three or four years.
In Karate the
hands and feet should be trained on the 'makiwara'
by striking it about one or two hundred times. This can be achieved by
dropping or relaxing (without tension) the shoulders. Open your lungs
(inhale deeply) without raising the shoulders, take hold of your
strength (hold your breath briefly), grip the ground with your feet and
sink your intrinsic energy (Ki, Internal Life Force) to your lower
be practiced with the proper stances executed by keeping the back
straight, lowering the shoulders, allowing the strength to develop in
the legs, positioning the feet firmly on the ground and delivering the
Ki through the tanden, while keeping the upper and lower parts connected
throughout the movement.
techniques should be practiced repeatedly over and over a great number
of times. The correct explanation (Bunkai) of the techniques should be
learned and then properly applied to the given circumstances.
practitioners should decide whether the emphasis is on purely physical
fitness training or only the practical use of the body.
be practiced with great intensity and the concept of always being
prepared to defend your self, as if on the field of battle.
be practiced correctly and to develop the proper strength of technique.
Do not over exert your self or over do it.
Those who have
previously mastered Karate have lived to an old age. This was achieved
because Karate helps in the development of muscles and bones, helps the
digestive organs, and improves the circulation of blood. Therefore,
Karate should be introduced into the physical education classes and practiced
from the elementary school level onwards Anko Itosu.
Meiji 41, Year of the Monkey (October 1908).
Chojun, Founder of Goju-ryu (1888 - 1953)
Was born in 1888 in Naha, Okinawa, from a rich trading family. His parents had a trade in Chinese medicine. His family had a direct contact with the Royal family and all noble families on the island.
He introduced the promising young Mabuni to
|HIGASHIONNA Kanryo (1853 - 1915)
in Naha, who was to teach him Naha-te, a Chinese style karate. He
learned the shorinji-kempo, and after becoming the Okinawa royal
family official martial artist, devoted his life to developping
the Naha-te style and teaching.
Mabuni also trained under the reclusive ARAKAKI Kamadeunchu (1840-1918), who taught a style very similar to Higashionna's. Arakaki was the master of
CHITOSE Tsuyoshi, the founder of Chito-ryu. He also trained under
|FUNAKOSHI Gichin (1868-1915)
Founder of Shotokan
in the town of Shuri, he later developped the "shuri-te"
style. He emphasized the moral side of Karate. "Never
forget that karate begins and ends with respect. Karate fosters
righteousness. Never think that karate is practiced only in
dojo" are among his most famous "20 principles"
and TOYAMA Kanken founder of the Shudokan school.
As a famous "bo" (staff) expert, ARAKI taught Mabuni the Unshu, Sochin, Niseishi, Arakaki-sai and Arakaki-bo kata.
During the 1920's the insatiable Mabuni enrolled in other karate dojos headed by MIYAGI
chojun and MOTOBU Choyu a master of Shuri-te and Gotende , the secret grappling art of the Okinawan royal court. Known as the
Ryukyu Tode Kenkyu-kai (Okinawa Karate Research Club) this dojo was one of history's gems. Experts from
various backgrounds would come and teach at the famous "Ryukyu Tode Kenkyu-kai". It was there that Mabuni learned the "Fukien" or "white crane kung-fu" from the legendary WOO YIN GUE (Gokenki), a Chinese tea merchant living in Okinawa.
By this time, Mabuni had become a highly respected police officer and made several trips to Japan in the trail of Funakoshi who first introduced karate in the mainland in 1922. Mabuni spent many of his early traveling years with KONISHI Koyu, a friend and sometimes student who later founded "Shindo-Jinen-Ryu" karate. In 1925 Mabuni and Konishi visited UECHI Kanbum the founder of
"Uechi-ryu", in Japan's Wakayama prefecture. After
this visit, Mabuni created the "Shinpa"kata Mabuni spent most of his time in Osaka, where he taught at various dojo, among which KOKUBA Kosei's "Seishinkai".
MOTOBU Choki too, taught at Kokuba's dojo. It was Kokuba
who later found the "Motobu-ha Shito-ryu".
MABUNI Kenwa in JAPAN
In 1929, Mabuni moved permanently to Osaka. Shortly after, 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 1930's
Shito-ryu was the official name. It was coined from alternative
renderings of the names of Mabuni's two foremost teachers, Itosu and
Higashionna. Thus, the name Shito Ryu has no literal meaning but rather
honors the two main teachers in Mabuni Kenwa Sensei's life. In the same
context, the kata syllabus of Shito Ryu is still listed as having two
lineages, Itosu Ke 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.
Nippon Butoku Kai was originally established in Kyoto Japan 1895
under the authority of the Ministry of Education and the
endorsement of His Royal Highness, Meiji Emperor to solidify,
promote, and standardize martial disciplines and systems
throughout Japan. It was the first official and premier martial
arts institution sanctioned by the government of Japan.
Among Mabuni's earliest students was
UECHI Kanei (not to be confused with Kambum Uechi's 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". On Okinawa, Uechi is
considered the true successor to Mabuni's art, but internationally,
Mabuni's eldest son, also named Kanei, is acknowledged as the head of
shito-ryu and runs the Shito-kai. Younger brother MABUNI
acknowledged as the head of Shito-ryu was asked by his mother Kamae
Mabuni to take over the style.
and his younger brother
Kenzo head the karate programs at several universities, a task inherited
from their father. Still other early students of Mabuni have their own
distinct organizations. SAGAKAMI Ryusho a contemporary of Mabuni
Kanei , established the
Itosu-kai just after Mabuni's death. Sakagami Ryusho Sensei (1915-1993)
had initially studied with another master of Shuri-te (Yabiku Moden) in
Japan, later becoming the ichiban-deshi of Mabuni Sensei. On Mabuni
Sensei's death in 1952, Sakagami Ryusho became the third master of Itosu-Kai,
while Mabuni Sensei's eldest son
the main branch of Shito-Ryu.Sakagami's son, Sadaaki, now oversees the
Itosu-kai from the Yokohama area.
Since the 1970s, several other Shito-ryu factions have formed.
Most prominently Hayashi-ha Shito-ryu under Teruo Hayashi. Hayashi was a protégé
of Kosei Kokuba and also trained directly under Mabuni. Hayashi became
president of the Seishin-kai sometime after Kokuba's death. For awhile,
he co-led that organization along with Motobu-ryu style-head Shogo
Kuniba. Together they integrated the Tomari-bassai kata into their
systems. The assertive Hayashi even studied in Okinawa under Kenko
Nakaima, head of the longtime secret family art of Ryuei-ryu. Ryuei-ryu
is derived from the same Chinese teacher who taught Kanryo Higashionna,
a man named Liu Liu Kung. Another, younger member of the Motobu-ha
group, Chuzo Kotaka, established Kotaka-ha Shito-ryu in Hawaii, revising
all the kata and devising many new ones which he taught to his American
students. And in Europe, a Tani-ha Shito-ryu student named NAMBU Yoshiano
broke off on his own, first founding the Sanku-kai and later the "Nambudo"
TANI Chojiro (1915-1998)
, was born in Kobe and started
his formal Karate training under Miyagi Chojun, founder of Goju, whilst
a student at Doshisha University, Kyoto. When Miyagi Sensei
returned to Okinawa , Mabuni Kenwa founder of Shito-Ryu took over
the teaching. In deference to his friend, whom he’d assisted on his
arrival in Japan, Mabuni Kenwa only taught Naha-Te at the University
Karate Club. After graduating,, Tani went on training with Mabuni.
learning the Shuri-te system, then the newly founded Shito-Ryu.
many years of training Tani chojiro received, as one of his
most senior students, the certificate of succession entitling him
to use the name of "Tani-Ha Shito-Ryu", the Tani style of
|| Tani Sensei was
fascinated with the science of body mechanics and movement, and after
much experimenting and comprehensive study he redesigned Shito-ryu's
kicking and punching methods to maximize and benefit from the elastic
property of contraction of the muscles. .In 1948, Chojiro Tani organized the
Shuko-kai, where he taught "Tani-ha
Shito-ryu". Ever innovative, the Shuko-kai appears somewhat
different in technique from the other Shito-ryu groups. Mr Tani's Shukokai had a
distinctive double hip twist using the large muscles of the upper leg giving
Shukokai its explosive power.
Shukokai Karate Union S.W.K.U
Under the impulse
of Tani Chojiro, the Tani-Ha Shito-Ryu, which evolved in :"Shu-Ko-Kai"
( litt. the "Way for All" ) Shito_Ryu Karate started flowing
out of Japanese border, as had Shotokan KArate style previously
done. He charged his closest
disciples, who had already reached the level of "Hanshi" 8th
Dan, to create branches and start teaching one of the most
complete and rich style of Karate.
- KIMURA Shigeru (1941-1995)
- Kimura Shukokai
All Japan Champion, and World all-style champion at the age 21,
Kimura Shigeru was the first Tani student to
expatriate. He first started for South Africa, where he
founded the Shukokai South African Branch, then headed to
the USA where he settled in 1970. There, he
founded the " American Shukokai Karate Union" (ASKU)
in 1984 . Kimura Shigeru died in 1995, leaving both South Africa
and USA branches to his friend, (kancho) Masuyama Takesh now
Ryushinkan Shukokai's head i., and large foreign associations full
of enthusiastic Shito-Ryu/Shukokai Karate enthusiasts, who will
perpetuate the traditions of Japanese/Okinawan Karate. The South
African branch proudly recognized its affiliation and kept
Masuyama Takeshi as his president. The director of the USA branch,
Bresaw ---- did not recognized the Japanese filiation, and
preferred to call himself "independent" , following the
American style's sport karate trends. Accordingly the ASKU
cannot use the prestigious title and lineage of "Shito-Ryu
- MASUYAMA Takeshi
Ryushinkan International Karate-do Federation
another close disciple of Tani Chojiro who had remained in
Japan, inherited the South African Branches and the
leadership of the Shukokai from his master Tani Chjojiro, after his
death. Nowadays, many "senseis" in Japan and
abroad, claim the legitimacy of their own inheritance
have created many "shukokai" independent groups. Unlike most of Tani Sensei's students
who follow the path of modernity, leading Karate towards a
world-wide "Sport ", Masuyama returned to the
roots, studying the precious book inherited from Mabuni Kenwa Sensei
himself . This return to the roots, to its first "self
defense" attribute and enrichment of the mind has
brought the creation of a new "ha" called "Ryu Shin
Kan" which soon got the style of an International Federation, since
the RIKF gathers all former International branches of Shukokai
wishing to keep Karate in his pure form of karate-do the great masters
have brought us.
Shigeru and Masuyama Takeshi in NewYork