Karate originated as a martial art thousands of years ago and was brought to Japan from China, Taiwan and Okinawa. Many of the famous Karate-ka, or Bushi as they were known in Okinawa, experimented and developed their skills in such provinces as Shuri, Naha and Tomari. But unlike Judo and Kendo, Karate was a secret art, unknown to the general public. There was no fixed system until approximately 1907 when Yasutsune Itosu of Shuri and Kanryo Higaonna of Naha-both of whom are regarded today as two of the most influential teachers of Okinawan Karate-gained a good following for both of their own special styles. Master Itosu taught the Nai-huan-chi form and Master Higaonna taught Sanchin, which was later developed into the present-day Goju-Ryu style by Chojun Miyagi.
Kenwa Mabuni who had studied under both Master Yasutsune Itosu and Master Kanryo Higaonna devised the Shito-Ryu system. Born in 1887, Mabuni was the 17th generation son of a famous samurai named Onigusuki. Mabuni was keenly aware of the accomplishments of his brave ancestors and, wanting to overcome poor health, began intensive karate training at the age of 13. He also studied weapon techniques of the Bo, Sai, Tonfa, Kama, and Nunchaku.
After learning from other masters like Master Seisho Arakaki and Master Sokon Matsumura and by mixing the teaching of Master Itosu and Master Higaonna, he developed a new system, originally named ”HANKO RYU” (Half-Hard style), but, later changed it to reflect the deep respect he felt towards his two great masters and called his new system Shito-Ryu. (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 pressured them to name their systems).
The name Shito is the combination of shi and to ,the two first characters of the names of Master Itosu and Master Higaonna . In 1929 Master Mabuni made a permanent move to Osaka to teach at universities and police departments. Over the next few years, Master Mabuni dedicated himself to the further development and promotion of Shito-Ryu Karate-do in the Osaka area. He was faced with an extremely difficult task due to the unwillingness of the population to accept him or this strange looking system of self defence, resembling an ancient ”Okinawan-Fist Dance”. In order to bring Shito-Ryu to the general public”s attention, Master Mabuni would perform many demonstrations where he would break bricks and boards to show the power of karate. Continually trying to gain acceptance of his art, Master Kenwa Mabuni would give free instruction at various police stations across western Japan.
Shito Ryu Karate-do became more accepted after this time, and Master Mabuni began to teach many students at his home and at many Universities that were forming clubs. Among his many students included was his son Kenzo Mabuni, Kosei Kuniba (founder of Seishin Kai), Chojiro Tani (founder of Tani-ha Shukokai), Ryusho Sakagami (founder of Itosu-Kai), Yoshiaki Tsujikawa, Ken Sakio, Jun-ichi Inoue, Manzo Iwata, Toshiyuki Imanishi, Tokio Hisatomi and Ryusei Tomoyori. At first he taught his own students pure Shuri-te then pure Naha-te, but he also gave instruction in other master”s styles.
In Japan, Shotokan-Ryu, Wado-Ryu, Goju-Ryu and Shito-Ryu are the four major styles of Karate. Shito-Ryu is the style that preserves most of the original Shuri-te techniques, compared with other styles such as Shotokan and Wado. It also preserves original Naha-te techniques together with Goju, although each style places emphasis on different points. Technically, Shuri-te and Tomari-te have rather fast and straight movements, while Naha-te has circular and supple movements.
Master Mabuni died in his 64th year on May 23rd 1952, but his system remains one of the four major styles in Japan.