THE ROOTS OF SHITO-RYU
In 1900, when the island of Okinawa was in peace with Japan, the local government decided to start teaching karate at schools since karate improved physical and mental development. Two masters were chosen to lead the teaching. Anko Itosu from Shuri and Kanryo Higaonna from Naha. The styles of the masters were very different. As Itosu was small in size, his karate was fast and efficient from a long distance. Higaonna was, in turn, exceptionally strong. His technique was powerful and slow, including a lot of abdominal breathing techniques and was suitable for close combat. The current styles of karate are based on the styles of these two Masters.
The biggest styles were born when Higaonna’s and Itosu’s pupils moved to Japan to teach their styles. Funakoshi the well-known student of Itosu, who was also small in size, developed his own style, Shotokan, based on his teacher’s Shuri-te style. Higaonna’s student Chojun Miyagi founded Goju-ryu based on his teacher’s Naha-te style. There was also a third teacher who moved to Japan at the beginning of karate’s export season, named Kenwa Mabuni.
Kenwa Mabuni was a police officer for 10 years. Because of his profession, he moved around the island of Okinawa and got to know the island’s different styles of karate. At the same time, he was trained by various teachers. Mabuni was both Itosu’s and Higaonna’s pupil for several years. In 1915 both great masters died.
Mabuni continued his studies of these two very different styles. He also learned fighting skills from several teachers. Seiko Fujita, the last headteacher of Koga-ninjas taught Kenwa Mabuni. Mabuni learned kungfu from Woe Yin Gue, a Chinese tea mercant who lived in Okinawa. Master Aragaki, Okinawa’s most famous weapons master, taught Mabuni bo-jutsu and how to use the sai. Mabun’s style was the synthesis of the doctrines of these teachers. He named his style Shito-ryu(糸東流), commemorating his two great teachers. Shi(糸) and To(東) are in Japanese writing style another way of reading Ito(糸) and Higa(東).