Karate's origins
China: Shaolin Monks
Okinawa: Nara-Te
Okinawa: Shuri-Te 
Japanese Karate Styles 
Miyagi: Gojuryu
Mabuni: Shito-Ryu 
Tani: Shukokai 
Masuyama: Ryushinkan  

Great  Masters

Matsumura Sokon 
Itosu Anko 
Higashionna Kanryo 
Miyagi Chojun
Chitose Tsuyoshi

Funakoshi Gichin 
Kimura Shigeru 
Konishi Koyu 
Kokuba Kosei

Mabuni Kenwa 
Mabuni Kanei 
Mabuni Kenzo 
Masuyama Takeshi 
Motobu Choyu 
Nambu Yoshiano 
Sagakami Ryusho 
Tani Chojiro 
Uechi Kanbum 
Uechi Kanei 
Toyama Kanken 
Woo Yin Gue








SHAOLIN, ancestor of Karate-do 

Unarmed 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 Shaolin temple". 
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 the mind 

The Kanji nowadays adopted for "kara" with the meaning "empty" also means "sky", an "emptiness" full of  harmony

In 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 he receives".
This is  another explanation of the word "kara".

OKINAWA, Ryukyu Islands

Nowadays 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.

ITOSU Anko (1830-1915)
The man  who organized early karate in the Okinawan school system.   In 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.

What Karate is and ought to be

  • Karate practice 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 hurt someone.

  • 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 the future. 

  • 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 abdomen 

  • Karate should 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.

  • Karate 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.

  • Karate practitioners should decide whether the emphasis is on purely physical fitness training or only the practical use of the body.

  • Karate should be practiced with great intensity and the concept of always being prepared to defend your self, as if on the field of battle.

  • Karate should 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).

MIYAGI 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)

born 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 

born 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". 


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.

The Dai 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 Kenzo  also acknowledged as the head of Shito-ryu was asked by his mother Kamae Mabuni to take over the style.


MABUNI  Kanei 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    

MABUNI Kenei assumed the leadership of 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.  He started learning  the Shuri-te system, then the newly founded Shito-Ryu. After 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 Shito-Ryu

  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.

World  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)  A.S.K.U    
Kimura  Shukokai Inte

Twice 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 Shukokai"  anymore.

MASUYAMA Takeshi  W.S.K.U         
Ryushinkan International Karate-do Federation

Masuyama Takeshi 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 and 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.

 Kimura Shigeru and Masuyama Takeshi in NewYork
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