Shito-Ryu Karate Do is one of the 4 main styles of Karate, the other ones being Shotokan, Goju-Ryu and Wado-Ryu. Besides these 4 main styles there is a wide variety of other styles, system and family forms of Karate. All ot them trace their origin back to the island of Okinawa, formerly also know as the Ryukyu Islands, and the martial art developed there.



The island of Okinawa is the main island of the Ryukyu group in the eastern part of the chinese sea. With China in the west, Taiwan in the southwest and Japan in the northeast it is building a bridge between China and Japan along which the chinese culture reached the japanese main islands. So the okinawan martial arts were mixed with different chinese styles and became a proper system. Specially due to the ban of carrying weapons and the japanese occupation of Okinawa, this martial art was practiced in secret and developed into a wide variety of different family and village styles.


The 3 main centers of martial art development on Okinawa were Shuri, the old capital and residence of the king and the nobility, Naha, a harbor town and center of trade with destinations all over asia, and Tomari, a village of farmers and fishermen.


There were 2 famous martial arts masters from Tomari involved in the development of martial arts: Master Kokan Oyadomari (1831-1905), the teacher of Chotoku Kyan (1870-1945), and Master Kosaku Matsumora (1797-1898), the teacher of Master Ankoh Itosu (1830-1915).


The most important martial arts master in the development of Naha-te was Kanryo Higashionna (Higaonna 1853-1915) from Naha. He was a student of Master Arakaki (1840-1918) and for more then a decade he studied the chinese martial arts in China. After his return to Okinawa he started his own system of martial arts. Master Higashionna was renown for his immense physical power and his performance of Sanchin Kata. He was one of the most highly respected martial arts Masters of 19th century Okinawa.

Kanryo Higashionna


Pechin Sakugawa

His most important students were Chojun Miyagi (the later founder of Goju-Ryu), Juhatsu Kiyoda (the later founder of Toon-Ryu), Kanken Toyama, and Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-Ryu.


The main teacher in the development of Shuri-Te was Master Pechin Sakugawa (1733-1815). His teacher were Master Peichin Takahara and the chinese military attaché 'Ku-San-Ku', an expert in chinese boxing. A fellow student of Sakugawa was master Yara from Chatan, by whom a Bo, Sai and a version of the Kosukun-Dai Kata were handed down.


Chojun Miyagi

Master Sakugawa's most famous student was Sokon Matsumura (1809-1894), the later main teacher of Yasutsune (Ankoh) Itosu.


Ankoh Itosu from Shuri was the most important okinawan martial arts master of the 19th century. He was first to introduce Karate to the okinawan school system and created the Pinan Kata for this purpose. He saw te main focus of Karate in the importance of Kata (traditional form) and Bunkai (application and meaning of Kata) and systematized and standardized methods and practice forms.

Ankoh Itosu


Behind (L-R) S. Shiroma, Ch. Maeshiro, Ch. Chibana,

G. Nakasone.

Front: Ch.Kyan, K. Yabu, Ch. Hanashiro, Ch. Miyagi


His most important students were Kentsu Yabu (1863-1937), Chomo Hanashiro (1869-1945), Gichin Funakoshi (1867-1957, the founder of Shotokan), 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).


Shito-Ryu Karate-Do is one of the main Karate styles today. It was founded by Kenwa Mabuni (born 14.11.1889 in Shuri on the island Okinawa). He the was the 17th generation son of a famous Samurai named Onigusuki. He started the study of Karate at the age of 13 in Shuri with the famous Master Yasutsune (Anko) Itosu. At the age of 20 he started with the study of Naha-te, too, with master Higaonna.


After finishing his education and military service, Kenwa Mabuni joined the okinawan police force. This occupation allowed him to visit the different regions of Okinawa and learn - besides Karate - many of the classical martial arts of the island, known as Ryukyu-Kobudo. For a longer time, he was a student of master Seisho Aragaki, who taught a similar style to the Naha-te of Master Kanryu Higashionna. From master Aragaki he learned several Karate and Kobudo Kata (Unshu, Sochin, Niseishi, Arakaki-sai und Arakaki-bo), Bo-Jutsu by Master Soeihi und Sai-Jutsu von Meister Tawada.

Seisho Aragaki

Master Wu Xian Gui (Go Kenki)

Kenwa Mabuni left in the background



In the 20th of this century Kenwa Mabuni taught together with Chojun Miyagi (Naha-te), Choyu Motobu (Shuri-te), Chomo Hanashiro (Shuri-te) und Juhatsu Kiyoda (Naha-te). Here, he learned some Fukien 'White Crane Fist' and Pangai Noon (hard and soft) forms from the chinese trader Master Wu Xian Gui (Go Kenki).


After Master Gichin Funakoshi introduced Karate to Japan in 1922, Kenwa Mabuni gave several exhibitions of his art on the japanese main islands. Most of this time he stayed in Osaka, where he taught Karate do in several dojo. In 1929, he finally moved to Osaka and opened his own dojo to teach his version of Karate do.

Master Mabuni founded his method on the teachings of his 2 main teachers, Master Yasutsune (Anko) Itosu from Shuri and Master Kanryu Higashionna from Naha. In the name he gave his new art, Shito-Ryu, the initials of these great Masters life on: 'Shi' is a different pronunciation of 'Ito' in Itosu and 'To' is a different pronunciation of 'Higashi' in Higashionna (Higaonna). Alternatively this signs can be read as Shi='movement' and To='China'.


The ideograms of Shi and To

The symbol of Shito-Ryu


The symbol of Shito-Ryu is the family coat of arms of the house Mabuni. The circle is a symbol for peace and harmony (Wa). The vertical and horizontal lines represent the calligraphy for 'human beings'. Thus, the symbol signifies 'human beings in peace and harmony'.


After the move to Osaka (1927-28) Soke Kenwa Mabuni started to teach Shito-Ryu Karate Do as his main profession. During the next years Soke Mabuni tried to develop his Shito-Ryu Karate-Do and to spread it the region of Osaka.


To proof the effectiveness of his martial art, he gave many demonstrations and taught free self defense classes in police stations all over western Japan. Due to his success in 1931 the DAI NIHON Karate DO KAI was founded. This group was the predecessor of the 'World Shito-Kai Karatedo Federation'.


Self defense techniques demonstrated

by Soke Mabuni.

 Kenwa Mabuni


Shito-Ryu Karate-Do was now widely accepted and Soke Mabuni started to teach many students at his home and at different universities.


During 2nd World War many of the young Karatekas lost their lifes. Only by immense effords Soke Mabuni succeeded to keep alife Shito Ryu Karate Do in this time. After the war step by step the university clubs were opened again.


Soke Kenwa Mabuni died on March 23rd 1952 aged 64.







All the above material (text and pictures) from: European Shitoryu Karate-Do Union