The History of ShitoRyu Karate

Karate is a method of fighting using blocks, punches, hand strikes and kicks to disable or defeat an attacker. Karate originated in the Ryukyu islands south of Kyushu (one of the four main islands of Japan). Okinawa is the largest of the Ryukyu islands and since early times has been a center for trading and commerce. Traders from mainland China, Korea, the Phillipines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan etc., often stopped at Okinawa to barter or sell goods and take on supplies. Thus, as with any trading center, the ideas of several cultures were exchanged. China, in particular, had a profound influence on the culture and social customs of Okinawa. Therefore, as the indigenious population developed a set of martial arts for self defense and police activities, they naturally had a strong Chinese flavor and incorporated may Chinese unarmed techniques

     ShitoRyu Karate-do is one of the four major styles of Karate in Japan. ShitoRyu was founded by KenwaMabuni, a direct descendant of a samurai clan. Mabuni began his training at the age of 13 under a Karate master in the Shuri area of Okinawa named, Yasutsune (Anko) Itosu. Itosu was not only highly skilled as a martial artist but also an innovator in teaching the Martial Arts. Itosu was credited as the first instructor to introduce Karate into the Okinawan public school system in 1905. Itosu was responsible for the creation of the Pinan (Heian) kata which are still being practiced today as introductory to intermediate forms in many schools. KenwaMabuni trained with Itosu for over 13 years until his death in 1915. Mabuni was so saddened by the death of Itosu that he built a shrine in front of his teacher's grave and stayed near by for a full year. From Itosu, Mabuni learned the Shuri form of Karate which is composed of quick, linear techniques.

     Mabuni also trained with another Martial Arts master named, KanryoHigaonna. He was introduced to Higaoanna by his friend, Chojun Miyagi, the founder of GojuRyu Karate-do, in 1909. From Higaonna he learned the Naha form of Karate which is composed of soft, circular techniques.

After the death of Higaonna in 1916, Mabuni united with his friend Miyagi and several other notables, and formed a research group aimed at practicing and spreading Karate. During this time he also trained in the art of Okinawan weapons or "Ryukyu Kobudo". In 1929 Mabuni left Okinawa and relocated to Osaka, Japan. There he opened a small dojo and called his system "Hanko-Ryu" or half hard style. He later changed the name of his style to "ShitoRyu" in honoring his two Sensei; Itosu and Higaonna. The characters "Shi" and "To" were from the first character of the names of Itosu and Higaonna.Mabuni worked tirelessly to teach Karate throughout Japan until his death on May 23, 1952. His contribution to the Karate world can be traced to so many groups with lineage back to him. For his contribution to the Japanese society and culture, the Emperor of Japan bestowed upon the Mabuni family with he family crest of the circle and four bars. This family crest is now recognized world-wide as the symbol for ShitoRyu Karate-do.

Grand masters


TODE SAKUGAWA was born in shuni. Kanga Sakugawa was an Okinawan martial arts master and major contributor to the development of Te, the precursor to modern karate In 1750, Sakugawa began his training as a student of PeichinTakaharafrom the village 0f akata. After six years of training with peichinTakaharahe suggested that Sakugawato train under Kusanku, a Chinese master in Ch'uanFa. Sakukawa spent six years training with Kusanku, and began to spread what he learned to Okinawa in 1762
Before Sakugawa was considered an expert in the Chinese hand fighting method. It is said that Sakugawa was awarded the title of Satonushi for his services to the Okinawa King.

Sakugawa soon started to teach the Chinese hand way in Okinawa. Combining what both his teachers had taught him, he structured a training system. This made him the first Okinawan teacher of Tode.

He became expert so that people gave him, as a nickname: "Tōde" Sakugawa. His most famous student is Matsumura Sōkon and later known as matsumoto..

Matsumura Sokon

Matsumura Sōkon was born in Yamagawa Village, Shuri, Okinawa. Matsumura began the study of karate under the guidance ofSakukawa Kanga (1762–1843) or (1733–1815) or (1782–1837).Sakukawa was an old man at the time and reluctant to teach the young Matsumura, who was regarded as something of a troublemaker. However, Sakukawa had promised Matsumura Sōfuku, Matsumura Sōkon’sfather, that he would teach the boy, and thus he did. Matsumura spent five years studying under Sakukawa. As a young man, Matsumura had already garnered a reputation as an expert in the martial arts.

Matsumura was recruited into the service of the Shō family, the royal family of the Ryūkyū Kingdom in 1816 and received the title Shikudon (also ChikudunPechin), a gentry rank. He began his career by serving the 17th King of Ryūkyū's second Shō dynasty, KingShōKō. In 1818 he married YonamineChiru, who was a martial arts expert as well. Matsumura eventually became the chief martial arts instructor and bodyguard for the Okinawan King ShōKō. He subsequently served in this capacity for the last two Okinawan kings, ShōIku and Shō Tai. Matsumura traveled on behalf of the royal government to Fuzhou andSatsuma.[1] He studied ChuanFa in China as well as other martial arts and brought what he learned back to Okinawa.

He was the first to introduce the principles of Satsuma's swordsmanship school, Jigen-ryū, into Ryūkyūkobujutsu and he is credited with creating the foundation for the bōjutsu of Tsuken. He passed on Jigen-ryū to some of his students, including AnkōAsato and ItarashikiChochu. The TsukenBō tradition was perfected by TsukenSeisoku Ueekata of Shuri.[4]

Matsumura is credited with passing on the Shōrin-ryūKempō-karate kata known as naihanchi I & II, passai, seisan, chintō, gojūshiho, kusanku (the embodiment of kusanku'steaching as passed on to TodeSakugawa) and hakutsuru. Teachings of Bushi Matsumura

Matsumura was given the title "bushi" meaning "warrior" by the Okinawan king in recognition of his abilities and accomplishments in the martial arts. Described by Gichin Funakoshi as a sensei with a terrifying presence, Matsumura was never defeated in a duel, though he fought many. Tall, thin, and possessing a pair of unsettling eyes, Matsumura was described by his student AnkōItosu as blindingly fast and deceptively strong.

Yasutsune (Anko) Itosu

AnkoItosu (Ž…F ˆÀP) is considered the father of modern Karate although the same title is sometimes given to Gichin Funakoshi (mainly because Funakoshi actually made Karate known throughout Japan.) Itosu's year of birth is dated in various sources to 1830, 1831, or 1832, and he died in 1915. 

While he certainly did not invent Karate himself, his codification of the forms learned from his master, Sokon Matsumura, and the wide dissemination of his teachings to masters of the various traditions that had developed, make it a benchmark for any bona fide Karate instructor to be able to trace his lineage of teachers back to someone who at least for some period studied with Itosu. 

Itosu's style of Karate came to be known as Itosu-ryu in recognition of his skill,mastery and role as teacher to many. 

Master Itosu trained a great number of eminent Karate men, including ChoyuMotobu (1857-1927), ChokiMotobu(1870-1944), KentsuYabu (1866-1937), Chomo Hanashiro (1869-1945), Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), ModenYabiku (1880-1941), Kanken Toyama (1888-1966), ChotokuKyan (1870-1945), Shinpan Shiroma (1890-1954), AnbunTokuda (1886-1945) and KenwaMabuni (1887-1952). 

AnkoItosu served as a secretary to the last king of the Ryukyu Islands until Japan abolished the Okinawa-based native monarchy in 1879. In 1901 he was instrumental in getting Karate introduced into Okinawa's schools, creating and introducing the Pinan forms ("Heian" in Japanese, "PyungAhn" in Korean) as learning steps for students, because he felt the other forms ("kata" in Japanese, "hyung" in Korean) were too difficult for school children to learn. The five pinan forms were created by drawing from two older forms: kusanku (Korean: kong sang koon) and chiang nan (Korean: jaenam). Itosu is also credited with taking the large Naihanchi form (tekki in Japan) and breaking it into the three well-known modern forms NaihanchiShodan, NaihanchiNidan and NaihanchiSandan. 

In 1908 Itosu wrote the influential "Ten Precepts (TodeJukun) of Karate", thus reaching beyond the shores of Okinawa to the heart of Japan itself.


Grandmaster KanryoHigaonna (Higashionna was the original Okinawan pronounciation) was born on March 10, 1853, in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa. His father, Kanyo, worked as a merchant sailing between the small islands of Okinawa trading everyday goods. From a young age KanryoHigaonna helped his father in this work and through the hard physical labor that was involved he developed a strong body. KanryoHigaonna was still in his teens when his father died suddenly. 

Higaonna began his martial arts training in 1867 in Monk Fist Boxing (LohanQuan) from AragakiSeisho. In 1870, at the age of 16, he traveled with his instructor to Fuzhou, China. Once in Fuzhou he studied the Chinese martial arts under the great Master RuRuKo (XieZhonh Xiang in Chinese). RuRuKo was the founder of Whooping Crane gongfu and was a student of Pan Yuba who, in turn, was a student of Lin Shixian, a master of White Crane gongfu. Higaonna also received instruction from numerous other gongfu masters including WaiXinxian. Hiagaonna remained in China for a period of 5-13 years. In addition to studying empty hand and weapon arts, he also became accomplished in herbology and Chinese medicine, including acupuncture. 

Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-Ryu and successor to Higaonna) said of Higaonna, "My sensei possessed incredible strength; the severity of the training he underwent in China is beyond comprehension.... Kanryo Sensei's speed and power were truly superhuman; his hands and feet moved faster than lightning". Words cannot express his real ability. We can only say that his skill was incredible, but even this fails to do him justice. 

In the year 1881, he returned to Okinawa where his martial arts would become known as Naha-te though he always referred to it as chuanfa. KanryoHigaonna taught these martial arts to the people of Okinawa and at the same time continued his own research and practice. In order to teach the youth of Okinawa he developed a teaching method that was specifically designed to develop the mind and body; to improve both physical well-being. 

The first occasion on which the previously secretive art of Naha-te "opened" to society in general, occurred in October 1905, when Higaonna began teaching at the Naha Commercial High School. When teaching, Higaonna was an extremely hard task master. However, in his everyday life he was a quiet and humble man and one who was renowned for his virtuous character. He was a person who had no need or desire for worldly things. He leads a simple life that was devoted to the study and practice of martial arts. 

KanryoHigaonna is now bestowed with the title "Kensei (sacred fists) KanryoHigaonna" a title which is eminently fitting. His name is synonymous with Okinawan martial arts and Naha-te, and his spirit is destined to live on forever as a great and valued treasure within Okinawan culture. 

KanryoHigaonna's whole life was devoted to Karate. He passed away in December 1915 at the age of 63.

soke Kenwa Mabuni

Shito Ryu Karate was founded by KenwaMabuni (November 14, 1889 - May 23, 1952). When he was 13 years old, Mabuni Sensei began training with AnkoItosu, a noted Karate master in the Shuri area of Okinawa. Itosu Sensei was not only highly skilled in Budo but also a great innovator in teaching the martial arts. Around 1905, Itosu Sensei introduced Karate into the Okinawan public school system. Among other accomplishments, Itosu Sensei created the Pinan (Heian) katawhichare still practiced today as introductory or intermediate forms in many schools. Itosu Sensei had an important effect on Karate in the 20th Century. Evidence of this can be found in the number of ryuha or Karate styles that trace their lineage back to him. This includes notables such as Gichin Funakoshi, who was responsible for starting Shotokan Karate, Chomo Hanashiro, Kentsu Yabe, ChoshinChibana and others.

About 1909, through an introduction by his friend Chojun Miyagi, Mabuni Sensei started to also train with KanryoHigaonna (sometimes known as Higashionna). Higaonna Sensei was a expert form the Naha region of Okinawa. Through Higaonna Sensei, Mabuni Sensei learned kata such as Saiha, Sanchin, Seienchin, Seipaiand others. 

In 1915, both Itosu Sensei and Higaonna Sensei passed away within a short time of one another. Mabuni Sensei continued his training. Ultimately, he and Miyagi Sensei joined with other students of Karate to start a research group aimed at practicing and spreading Karate. During this time Mabuni Sensei also trained in and taught various forms of Okinanwan weaponry or Ryukyu Kobudo.

In 1929, MabuniKenwa Sensei moved his entire family to Osaka. There he established a small dojo and began teaching his unique art. HankoRyu or Half-Hard Style. In the 1930's, the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (the Japanese martial arts sanctioning organization) began to demand the different groups applying for membership, be more specific in the description of their Karate systems, and pressured them to name their systems. Originally, MabuniKenwa Sensei thought to name his system Hanko Ryu or "half-hard" style. However, ultimately Mabuni Sensei decided on the name SHI TO which was formed by taking the first characters (kanji) from the names of his two primary teachers, Itosu and Higa(shi)onna. Thus, the name ShitoRyu has no literal meaning but rather honors the two main teachers in MabuniKenwa Sensei's life. In the same context, the kata syllabus of ShitoRyu is still listed as having two lineages, ItosuKe and Higaonna.

MabuniKenwa Sensei worked tirelessly to teach Karate throughout Japan. His efforts brought him into contact with other people who were essential to the growth of Karate in Japan. The impact that MabuniKenwa had on the development of Japanese Karate was tremendous. Many groups trace an element of their lineage back to him. MabuniKenwa died on May 23rd, 1952.

Soke Kenzomabuni

Soke Kenzo Mabuni was the son of founder of Shito-Ryu Karate-do, the late Kenwa Mabuni. 

Born on May 30th, 1927 at Akahira-Machi, Shuri City in Okinawa, his family moved to Osaka City, Japan in 1929 when he was 2 years old and he remained in his father's house. KenzoMabuni began his Karate training at the age of 13 and had continued his training for the last 60 years. He obtained his Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) on August 1, 1943 from his father and earned the rank of Judan (10th degree Black belt) as well as a respected master throughout the world. 

His organization, Nihon Karatedo Kai was founded by his father in 1939. After his father's death in 1952, his mother, Kame Mabuni, came to KenzoMabuni and requested that he take over the style. He inherited the responsibility and became the 2nd Governor of ShitoRyu and successor to this organization. His father left him the ShitoRyu name, his complete syllabus, and the dojo with he Association name Nippon Karate Do Kai. All these remain intact until today. He followed his father's syllabus exactly the way it was written down in 1929 and that is why he called his style, "Seito ShitoRyu" or pure, true ShitoRyu. 

KenzoMabuni devoted his life to the preservation of ShitoRyu Karate as his father had created. KenzoMabuni remained relatively low-keyed in Japan until 1993 when he was invited to come to America by the late Shotokan Master, Osamu Ozawa. This became the first exposure of the Seito ShitoRyu System outside of Japan. In 1994 he was invited once more to the United States and a following began. Mabuni's organization, ShitoRyu International Karate Do Kai, now has branches in North and South America, Europe, Asia and the Oceania regions. He served as the Kaicho, or President, and Soke (Grandmaster) for this organization. 

KenzoMabuni passed away on June 26, 2005 at 14:45 HRS in Osaka, Japan. KenzoMabuni's eldest daughter, Tsukasa Mabuni now presides over the Seito Shito-RyuKarate-do Kai organization. 

He advised that one should take note of the following points when practicing KATA: 

KATA should start and end with REI (Bow). 

Correct Basic Techniques are; 

Dachi (Stances) 

TenshinHappo (8 Directions) 
Chakgan (Focusing) 
Bunkai (Meaning and Application) 
Zanshin (Awareness) 
Repetition - To perfect the KATA 

His vision was that he would continue his father's work in promoting this  TRADITIONAL MARTIAL ART and teach only the TRUE and ORIGINAL form of  SHITO-RYU KARATE-DO.

Tsukasa Mabuni

The third Soke or headmaster of ShitoRyu is Tsukasa Mabuni . She is the eldest of MabuniKenzo's two daughters. She assumed the position of Tsukasa Soke after her father's death and with the full approval and support of the shihankai (Head Council of Teachers).


HANSHI A. GOVINDHRAJAN was born on August 28th 1955 in Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. At the age of 19, he started learning traditional Indian martial arts like silambam (Bow), kuthuvarisai etc., and later on he was attracted by the modern karate and because of his great interest and effort he become the first person to invite a ShorinRyuShorin-Kan Grand Master from overseas to India by inviting H. GaminiZoysa in 1980 and received his black belt .

Later in the year 1981 he started learning ShitoRyu karate under Sensei Mosses MuthiahThilagan and continued to learn under him for many years.

In the year 1996, through a common acquaintance, he came to know about SokeKenzoMabuni, 2nd Soke of Shito-Ryu International Karate Do who accepted him as a student. Then under the guidance of SokeKenzoMabuni, he started Shito-Ryu Nippon Karate Do Kai India. Being the representative of Shito-Ryu International Karate Do in India, he aimed at developing and spreading this true art throughout India. Shito-Ryu Nippon Karate Do Kai India which started just with one state in beginning was later spread to around 17 states within few years due to his dedicated training. In the year 1996, Shihan A. Govindhrajan arranged for a National level tournament and seminar in the presence of SokeKenzoMabuni and the event was a great success and a memorable one in which he was awarded with 6th Dan grade and “Shihan” title by SokeKenzoMabuni. In the year 2005 he received his 7th Dan grade along with “Kyoshi” title from SokeKenzoMabuni.

By the year 2009, he received the most Honorable 8thDan grade from 3rd Soke Tsukasa Mabuni which happens to be the highest rank in Asia in Shito-Ryu and also was awarded with the prestigious “Hanshi” title. He is the first person to receive this honorable title in South-East-Asia as well. He passed away on October 29th 2009. He was a man of high character. He was generous, very sociable and very popular among people, without selfishness and greed. He also dedicated his life to preserving the true lineage of his master’s karate.