What is Shito Ryu?

Shito-Ryu Karate

What is Shito-Ryu?

Throughout the weeks, months, and years of our training, we are constantly taught the techniques of Karate in a certain way. This reflects the dictates of our style, Shito-Ryu. However, how often have you asked yourself, just what is Shito-Ryu? How does it differ from other styles?

The answer can be traced to the early developmental years of Japanese karate. From about 1901 to 1936 was the era which saw the establishment of the first officially sanctioned institutional karate courses (Itosu's Shorin-Ryu in Okinawan public schools), the transmittal of karate to Japan proper, and the changing of the karate written character from "China Hand" to "Empty Hand".

Founder of Shito-Ryu Karate, Kenwa Mabuni, with his student Kenwa Mabuni (1888-1952), a member of an old warrior class family, studied first with the famous Anko Itosu (1830-1915), from whom he learned the Shuri-te style passed down from Bushi Matsumura (1796-1889). Later, Mabuni learned the Naha-te style of Kanryo Higashionna (1852-1915), which had been brought from Fukien, China. Mabuni trained in Kobujitsu with Bushi Tawada, Soeishi, and Kamadeunchu Arakaki (1840-1918). From Arakaki, Mabuni learned another variation of Naha-te, as well as some Bo. From a Chinese tea merchant named Gokenki, Mabuni picked up the Hakutsuru (or White Crane) techniques closely related to the Naha-te of Higashionna and Arakaki. Mabuni also reportedly learned Nin-jitsu from the famous Seiko Fujita of the Koga-Ryu.

Blending the methods of his two main teachers, Mabuni started the Shito-Ryu school. He used the initials from Itosu (alternatively Shishu and Higashionna (or To-onna) to form the word Shito. Shito-Ryu was established between 1929 (when Mabuni moved permanently to Osaka, Japan) and 1935, when all the schools had to declare a name for the styles they practiced on the order of the Butokukai, which was the government sponsored martial arts institution at that time. Mabuni, through his efforts at his own club and in universities, helped to popularize karate all over the Osaka-Kyoto area.

Shito-Ryu, then, is a blend of the two major fountainheads of modern karate: Naha-te and Shuri-te. It is the oldest official blend of the two in a recognized style, though many teachers of the past studied from a variety of methods. Today, there are several styles that have been developed from similar sources, but Mabuni's Shito was the first to be recognized as such. Since Mabuni's death, Shito-Ryu has developed into several related variations: The Itosu-Kai and of orthodox Shito-Ryu, as well as the Hayashi-Ha and the Tani-Ha. Predating the Hayashi-Ha is the Mobobu-Ha.

Several other splinter groups exist besides the above mentioned schools. Ryusho Sakagami, the Sensei of Fumio Demura, began training under Mabuni in 1935. He received his Renshi (high attainment) from the Butokukai in 1944, and established the Shito-Ryu Itosu-Kai in 1953. His Kobudo Master was Shinken Taira.

Note: Other styles that formally blend both Shuri-te and Naha-te are Shudokan, Chito-Ryu, Koei-Kan, Shindo Jinen-Ryu, Kenyu-Ryu, etc.



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