A Brief History of the Evolution of Shito-Ryu
(Courtesy of Sam Moledzki, President, Shito-Kai, Canada)
The origin of today's four major Japanese
karate-do systems can be traced to a group
of islands known as the Ryukyu Island chain
during the 18th century. Located between
Japan (North-East), mainland China (West),
and Taiwan (South-West), Okinawa, the
largest of the islands had an indigenous
martial art form that was being secretly
practiced called 'TE' or 'HANDS'. This
ideal location allowed Okinawa to be heavily
influenced by an open cultural exchange
with Asia, especially China. During this era,
the secret method of 'TE' was combined
with various Chinese martial arts fighting
styles that evolved into a system referred to
simply as 'TO-DE' or 'CHINESE-HAND'.
Three main areas eventually came into
prominence on Okinawa as the centres for
the practice of 'TO-DE'. They were,
SHURI, the ancient capital city of Okinawa
where the king and noble families lived,
NAHA, a port town of business and
commercial enterprise, and TOMARI, a
village populated mostly by farmers,
fisherman, and country people. Each
location had developed a unique style of
In Tomari, two great masters became important historical figures in the development
TOMARI-TE. They were, Kokan Oyadomari (1831-1905) who taught Chotoku Kyan
(1870-1945) and Kosaku Matsumora (1797-1898), who taught Ankoh Itosu (1830-1915).
Naha's most famous master in the development of 'NAHA-TE' was
Kanryo Higashionna (Higaonna-1853-1915). He received
instruction from master Arakaki (1840-1918). Master Higashionna
taught many students including Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953), the
founder of 'GOJU-RYU',and Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1915), the
founder of 'SHITO-RYU'.
Shuri's main teacher in the development of 'SHURI-TE' was master
Sakugawa (1733-1815), who was widely known by the nickname of
'TO-DE SAKUGAWA'. He is believed to have received his instuction
from Peichin Takahara and from a Chinese military attache‚ known as
'KU-SAN-KU', who was an expert in the art of 'Chinese-Boxing' and
living in Okinawa around 1761. Tode Sakugawa's most prominent
student was Sokon Matsumura (1809-1894) who was also Yasutsune
'Ankoh' Itosu's teacher.
The system of the Tomari region became absorbed into the Shuri and
Naha systems because of lack of development in Tomari. This gradually left only two
main systems, Shuri-te and Naha-te. Eventually, they were referred to as 'SHORIN' and
Ankoh Itosu was born in Shuri and became one of the most
respected martial artists in Okinawa during the 19th century.
Master Itosu was the first person to introduce 'TO-DE' into the
Okinawa Dai Ichi Jr. High School and the Okinawa Teachers Jr.
College school system. One of his great contributions to the art of
'TO-DE', was the firm belief of the importance of the development
of person's character through the consentration on 'KATA' (form
patterns) and 'BUNKAI' application practice.
Master Itosu also organized and systemized 'TO-DE' into a standard method of practice.
When he first began teaching in the school system, the introduction of the kata
Naihanchin was his preferred way to teach. He soon realized that this kata was far too
advanced for the beginner, which lead to master Itosu creating a group of new kata, the
PINAN's. The creation of 5 Pinan (alternate reading as HEIAN) kata was based on the
kata called Kusanku and some other significant techniques. Master Itosu trained a great
number of eminent karatemen, including Kentsu Yabu (1863-1937), Chomo Hanashiro
(1869-1945), Gichin Funakoshi (1867-1957), Moden Yabiku (1880-1941), Kanken
Toyama (1888-1966),Chotoku Kyan (1870-1945), Shinpan Shiroma (1890-1954), Anbun
Tokuda (1886-1945) and Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952).
Karate was brought to Canada in 1957 by Masami Tsuruoka