Shito-ryu - An Introduction

Shito-ryu is a form of Karate that was developed in 1931 by Kenwa Mabuni.

Kenwa Mabuni was born in the Shuri in the city of Naha, Okinawa in 1889. Mabuni was a descendant of the famous Onigusukini Samurai family. He began his training at the age of 13, under Anko Itosu (1813–1915). He trained diligently for several years, learning many Kata from this great Master.
One of his close friends, Sensei Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-ryu) introduced Mabuni to Sensei Kanryo Higaonna and he began to learn Naha-te under him as well. Both Itosu and Higashionna taught a "hard-soft" style of Okinawan "Te". Their methods and emphases were quite distinct. The Itosu syllabus included straight and powerful techniques as shown in the Naihanchi and Bassai Kata. The Higashionna syllabus, on the other hand, stressed circular motion and shorter fighting methods. Shito-ryu focuses on both hard and soft techniques to this day.
Although he remained true to the teachings of these two great Masters, Mabuni sought instruction from a number of other teachers, including Seisho Aragaki, Tawada Shimboku, Sueyoshi Jino and Wu Xianhui. In fact, Mabuni was legendary for his encyclopedic knowledge of Kata and their Bunkai applications. By the 1920s, he was regarded as the foremost authority on Okinawan Kata and their history and was much sought after as a teacher by his contemporaries. He began to instruct in the various grammar schools in Shuri and Naha.
In an effort to popularise Karate in mainland Japan, Mabuni made several trips to Tokyo in 1917 and 1928. He believed that his art should be taught to anyone who sought knowledge with honesty and integrity. In fact, many masters of his generation held similar views on the future of Karate: Sensei Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan), another contemporary, had moved to Tokyo in the 1920s to promote his art on the mainland as well.
By 1929, Mabuni had moved to Osaka on the mainland, to become a full-time Karate instructor of a style he originally called Hanko-ryu, or "half-hard style". In an effort to gain acceptance in the Japanese Butokukai, the Governing Body for all officially recognised martial arts in that country, he and his contemporaries decided to call their art "Karate" or "empty hand", rather than "Chinese hand", perhaps to make it sound more Japanese. Around the same time, perhaps when first introducing his style to the Butokukai, is when it is believed the name of the style changed to Shito-ryu , in honour of its main influences.
Mabuni derived the name for his new style from the first kanji character in their names, Itosu and Higashionna. With the support of Sensei Ryusho Sakagami (1915–1993), he opened a number of Shito-ryu Dojo in the Osaka area, including Kansai University and the Japan Karatedo Kai Dojo. To this day, Shito-ryu recognises the influences of Itosu and Higashionna: the Kata syllabus of Shito-ryu is still often listed in such a way as to show the two lineages.
Kenwa Mabuni died on May 23, 1952, and his son Kenzo succeeded him. Kenzo Mabuni died on June 26, 2005. At present, the third soke of Shito-ryu is Tsukasa Mabuni, daughter of Kenzo Mabuni. Other schools of Shito-ryu developed after the death of Kenwa Mabuni, both because the death of a founder is typically the source of dispute as to the leader of a given school and because many prominent Karate teachers choose to modify the style, thereby creating new branches.

Major existing branches of Shito-ryu include:

  • Nippon Karate-do Kai - later renamed Shito-ryu International Karate Do Kai - This is the organisation founded by Kenwa Mabuni, passed along to his son Kenzo Mabuni and now Kenzo's daughter Tsukasa Mabuni.
  • Shito-kai - After the death of Mabuni Kenwa his student Manzo Iwata founded Eastern Shito-kai in Tokyo and his son Kenei Mabuni founded Western Shito-kai in Osaka, but the branches were reunited in 1974.
  • Shuko-kai - Founded by Chojiro Tani, student of Mabuni Kenwa, in 1949, this style represents the Tani-ha version of Shito-ryu.

Shito-ryu is a combination style, which attempts to unite the diverse roots of Karate. Shito-ryu has the physical strength and long powerful stances of Shotokan. It also has circular and eight-directional movements, breathing power, hard and soft characteristics of Goju-ryu. Shito-ryu is extremely fast, but still can be artistic and powerful.
In addition, Shito-ryu formalises and emphasises the five rules of defence, developed by Kenwa Mabuni, and known as Uke no go gensoku, Uke no go genri or Uke no go ho.

Rakka - "falling petals"
The art of blocking with such force and precision as to completely destroy the opponent's attacking motion. Examples of rakka are the most well-known blocks, such as Gedan-barrai or Soto-uke.

Ryusui - "running water"
The art of flowing around the attacker's motion, and through it, soft blocking. One example of this is Nagashi-uke.

Kuushin - "elasticity"
This is the art of bouncing back, storing energy as you are recoiling from the opponent's attack, changing or lowering your stance only to immediately unwind and counter attack. Classic examples are stance transitions Zenkutsu to Kokutsu and Moto-dachi to Nekoashi-dachi.

Teni - "transposition"
Ten-i teaches you to utilise all eight directions of movement, most importantly moving your body out of the line of attack.

Hangeki- "counter attack"
A hangeki defense is an attack, which at the same time deflects the opponent's attack before it could reach you.

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