History of Shito-Ryu

Map of Japan. Map of Okinawa. Map of Naha.

Traditional Karate, as we know it today, finds it origin on the island of Okinawa, which lies far south of Japan in the East China Sea. Extensive trade between the Ryuku Islands and China brought many aspects of Chinese culture, including martial arts, to Okinawa .

Over time the Okinawan practitioners became renowned for the strength of their Karate and their proficiency with traditional weapons such as Bo, Sai, Kama and Nunchaku.

Since the early 1600's Okinawa was occupied by the Japanese government. Okinawans were forbidden to carry weapons or practice any sort of martial training.Instruction was conducted secretly with information shared with a few loyal and discreet students. The practice was referred to simply as "Te", meaning hand.Training methods varied according to individual instructors. There were no formal systems. By the turn of the century, with Japan emerging as a modern nation, restrictions on martial arts training were relaxed. The result was an influx of Okinawan instructors to Japan, and a renaissance of martial arts practice.

Kenwa Mabuni
Kenwa Mabuni

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. At the urging of Sensei Itosu he also began study under Kanryo Higaonna from the village of Naha. These men 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. He continued his studies after the death of these great masters, becoming adept at traditional Okinawan weaponry while also incorporating elements of Chinese Kung Fu into his style. Mabuni's insatiable thirst for knowledge prompted him to develop an extensive body of karate information. The defining characteristics of Shito-ryu karate are its large number of kata, the versatility of its fighting techniques and the inclusion of Okinawan weapons in its instruction.

Kenwa Mabuni was was asked by the Japanese government to formalize his style, he chose the name Shito-ryu. He formed this name by taking the first character from the names of each of his two primary teachers, Sensei Itosu and Sensei Higaonna. In this way Mabuni chose the name of his style to honor and respect his great teachers.

Because of his contribution to Japanese culture and society, Kenwa Mabuni was bestowed by the emperor the family crest (mon) of the circle with four bars. This was a great honor as no other family could claim the use of this symbol. When the Kanji for Shito-ryu is placed within the mon, the symbol for the historical lineage of Shito-ryu karate is formed. This symbol represents the pure, unaltered tradition of the Nippon Seito Shito Ryu Kai. Mabuni died in 1952, leaving no direct successor to his lineage.