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Shito Ryu Karate-Do

Karate originated as a martial art hundreds of years ago and was brought to Japan from Okinawa. In Okinawa it was developed by a fusion between the local art of 'te' also known as 'todi' and chinese martial arts. Many famous practitioners at the time experimented and developed their skills in such provinces as Shuri, Naha and Tomari. Unlike many martial arts in Japan, karate was practiced in secrecy for a very long time. There was no fixed system until the early 20th century.

In 1889 in a town called Shuri, Okinawa the famous master Kenwa Mabuni was born. Mabuni was also a descendant of the Okinawan warrior class. As a child he was weak and sickly and at the age of 13, became a disciple of Anko Itosu a legend of karate in the town of Shuri. He trained diligently for several years, learning many kata (forms/patterns) from this great teacher.

Later on one of his close friends Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju Ryu Karate) introduced Mabuni to another great master of that time Kanryo Higaonna and so, Mabuni began to learn Naha-te under him. While both Itosu and Higaonna taught a "hard-soft" style of Okinawan "te", their methods and emphases were quite distinct: the Itosu syllabus included straight and powerful techniques; the Higaonna syllabus stressed circular motion and shorter fighting methods.

Master Fumio Demura shot to fame as the stunt double for Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid Franchise. Noted for his influence in the spread of karate in America and its success in Hollywood. Head of the Genbukai Shito Ryu organisation.

Although he remained true to the teachings of these two great masters, Mabuni sought instruction from a number of other teachers, including Seisho Arakaki, Tawada Shimboku, Sueyoshi Jino and a Chinese master known as Go-Kenki. In fact, Mabuni was legendary for his encyclopaedic knowledge of kata and their practical 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.

In 1918 he established a karate 'study centre' which became known as the Ryukyu Tode Kenkyu-kai (Okinawa Karate Research Club) and many experts from diverse backgrounds came to train and teach there. It was there that Mabuni met Go-Kenki, a Chinese tea merchant living on Okinawa and learnt Fujien White Crane Kung Fu.

By 1929, Mabuni had moved to Osaka on the mainland, to become a full-time karate instructor of a style he originally called Han-ko Ryu, or "half-hard style". In 1939 The Japanese government's martial arts sanctioning organization, the Dai Nippon Butoku-Kai, began to demand the different groups applying for membership be more specific in the description of their Karate systems, and insisted they named their styles. So Mabuni changed the name it to reflect the deep respect he felt towards his two great teachers and called his new system Shito-Ryu. The name 'Shito' is the combination of Japanese kanji words 'shi' and 'to', the two first characters of the names of Master Itosu and Master Higaonna.

During the next years Soke (headmaster) Mabuni developed his Shito-Ryu Karate-Do and spread it throughout Japan. To prove the effectiveness of his martial art, he gave many demonstrations and taught free self-defence classes in police stations all over western Japan. It was his life's commitment to share these ancient arts through the spread of his style. Because of his great success, Shito Ryu is today recognised as one of the four main styles of Karate in Japan.

World Kata Champion Rika Usami of Japan, student of the late Yoshimi Inoue sensei, of the Inoue-Ha Shito Ryu organisation.

Kenwa Mabuni died on May 23, 1952 leaving behind two sons. However in his time Mabuni taught many students. Many of them ultimately becoming approved heads of their own Shito Ryu organisations/factions.

Technically, the karate of most Shito Ryu factions looks pretty much the same. Not surprisingly, there are minor differences in the kata between the various groups, mostly due to the proclivities of their founders. Regardless, all Shito Ryu holds the same principles and philosophies. In combat and self-defence Shito Ryu utilises both hard and soft techniques which are quick and angular as compared to Shotokan Karate which is generally deep and linear, or Goju Ryu which is more circular in its movements. Shito Ryu stresses speed, and fighting is generally initiated from a higher, more upright stance than Shotokan employs. Because the style has such a large heritage, a great deal of time is spent perfecting over 70 kata taught. Shito Ryu's many kata may be thought of as the largest karate 'library' of ancient Okinawan fighting techniques and principles ever accumulated.

Master Mabuni formulated the motto "Kunshi no Ken" for Shito Ryu Karate. It means to concentrate on cultivating oneself to become a well-rounded, respectful individual. The person who is able to accomplish this as well as to exercise good manners in all situations with self-discipline and respect, who is able to assume accountability for ones actions, and to keep ones integrity as to set an example for others, is considered a Shito Ryu practitioner. This motto can be followed by all Karate Practitioners.

Master Hidetoshi Nakahashi demonstrates the White Crane kata known as Nipaipo, in France.

A compilation of some of the most famous Shito Ryu karate masters.

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