History of Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu Karate Do

Self-defense is as old as the human race, and is virtually impossible to trace the different systems of self defense back to their origins.  One could reason that just as animals have some type of  inherent self defense (fangs, claws, poison, etc.), man also has found it necessary to utilize his own features and intellect to defend himself.Of all the systems of self-defense, the oriental forms are among the oldest and most effective systems of unarmed combat.  It is a general belief that many of these systems trace their origins back to a Buddhist monk named Bohdi-Daruma(520 A.D).    Dharma journey to China from India to instruct the people on the tenants of Buddha.  Upon his arrival, he founded a monastery (in the Wei Kingdom of North-Central China) to centralize his teaching and offer a communal place for worship and study.  Very quickly it became obvious that the Chinese were developed much better in their intellectual ability than their physical ability.  The monks became exhausted quickly from the severe discipline and pace of their training.  Dharma decided to incorporate a physical fitness program into his teachings.   Rather than have the monks practice monotonous calisthenics, Dharma taught a physical discipline based on the self-defense movements of  various animals and warriors that he had encountered during his travels.  From this beginning, the monks of the Shaolin Temple, became the most formidable fighters in China.

There is an island chain that extends off the southern  tip of  Japan to the island of Taiwan.  It is called the Ryukyu-Pescadores Archipelago.  The principle island of the Ryukyus is Okinawa.  Due to its central  position, it has long served as a port of trade between China and Japan.  Chinese traders probably first introduced their fighting techniques into Okinawa during the Chinese Sui Dynasty (618-906 A.D.). However, when King Sho-en established a tributary relationship between his Okinawa domain and China in 1372, many Okinawans left home to reside in China.  Moreover, hundreds of Chinese were sent by the Chinese Ming Dynast Emperor to advise the Okinawans in the arts of navigation, ship building, and trade.  Many of them settled in the village of Kumemura, a part of modern day Naha.  In 1429, King Sho Hashi unified Okinawa under a native dynasty for the first time.  This heralded the “Golden Age” of the Ryukyu  islands (approx. 1385-1570 A.D.) during which feudal wars were ended and the private ownership of weapons of war was banned.In 1609, the Satsuma samurai clan of southern Japan attacked and subjugated the Ryukyus.  In 1669 they banned the possession  of  all weapons by the populace.  After 1684, the center of  Japanese trade shifted from Okinawa to Nagasaki, and the Ryukyus entered a period of decline.  Smuggling and piracy became common problems.

Between 1606 and  1866, the Chinese government sent ten separate missions  to crown successive new Okinawan  kings.  Each of these missions had a large military contingent.  Possibly, it was from these military attaches that we learn of the names of such Chinese master as Saifa, Seienchin, Ason, Waishinzan, Ananku, Chinto, and Kusanku.Shorin Ryu is by far the most popular of the traditional Okinawan martial arts (Uechi Ryu, Goju Ryu, Isshin Ryu, Okinawan Kempo) practiced on Okinawa. Legend traces the history of Shorin Ryu to two ancient Chinese masters, Iwah and Waishinzan.  One of  Waishinzan’s students, Higa Matyu, was the primary influence on Sakugawa Tode (1733-1815, the founding influence of  Shorin Ryu. Sakagawa Tode, nicknamed “Karate” or “Chinese Hands”, was taught by the Okinawan master Takahara and the Chinese master Kushanku.  Sakagawa was the originator of  Kusanku kata and Sakugawa no kun (Bo Staff kata).By far the most important fighting master of the mid-Meiji era (1867-1912) was Matsumara Hohan (or Sokon),  the “Bushi” (Warrior) (1805-1893).  While he trained with Sakugawa, he also learned from Mayamoto (Matsumoto), Suekata, Makube, and traveled to Honan Province in China where the Shaolin temple is said to have existed.  While in China he studied Go-no-Kempo (“Hard Fist Way”) of Ch’uan-fa (Fist Way).  Matsumara’s exposure to these Chinese fighting methods left us with two of the oldest empty hand kata used in Shorin Ryu; Chinto and  Bassai.The senior student, not related to Matsumara, Itosu Yasutsune (Yasuzato)(1840-1925) is credited for developing a system of  katas that made it easier to teach the fighting principles of  Shorin Ryu.  Itosu, known as “Ankoh” or “Iron Horse”, developed the Naihanchi and Pinan katas and revised the Kusanku kata.

Yabu  Kentsu, senior student to Itosu Yasutsune,  took over his master’s dojo when Itosu the master passed on.  Yabu’s fighting skill was legendary, he is said to have killed over 60 Chinese in hand to hand combat during his service on the mainland in the military.

Upon Yabu’s retirement, the second ranking student among Itosu’s students, Chibana Chosin (1887-1969) took over Itosu’s dojo.  Chibana is the first one to have named his style Shorin Ryu in 1928.  In 1967, Chibana was decorated by the Emperor of Japan as the Dai Shihan (Great Master) and elevated to National Treasure.  Chibana is credited for leaving behind Kusanku Dai and Gojushiho katas.

The style of  Shorin Ryu Karate we’ll be practicing, Kobayashi Shorin Kan Shuwakai (Little Forest Shorin School of all Shugoro’s Students) was originated by Nakazato Shugoro (born 1921).  Nakazato’s most famous student is Yamashita Tadashi, who achieved fame in the United States for his abilities as a competitor, judge, demonstrator and teacher.

.Okinawa Karate dates to the sixth century when Bodhidharma's (Daruma), travels took him to China where he settled at a Shao-lin (“Shorin” in Japanese) Monastery. The introduction of ch'uan-fa (“first way”) occurred in the late 1300's with the expansion of trade and cultural exchanges between Okinawa and China. Evidence suggests that te (“hands”), in fact was the indigenous fighting art of Okinawa (the birthplace of Karate). Te was taught in all three major cities: Shuri, Naha, Tomari, which lead to the original styles of Okinawa Shuri-Te, Tomari-Te and Naha-Te. It was mixed with ch'uan-fa to develop tode (“Chinese Hand”), which would turn into modern day Karate (“Empty Hand”). This begins the lineage of Shorin-Ryu from the original tode system of Shuri-Te.

Takahara Peichin (1683 – 1760)

Takahara Peichin was revered as a great warrior and is attributed to having been the first to explain the aspects or principles of the word do (“way”).

These principals are:

1.) Ijo, the way of compassion, humility and love;

2.) Katsu, the complete understanding of all techniques and forms of Karate; and

3.) Fo, dedication and seriousness of Karate that must be understood not only in practice, but in actual combat. The collective translation is: “One's duty to himself and his fellow man.” Most importantly, he was the first teacher of Sakugawa, Kanga “Tode.” He was to become know as the “Father of Okinawa Karate.”

Kusanku (1720 – 1790)

Kusanku was sent to Okinawa as an ambassador of the Qing Dynasty, as documented in 1761. He resided in the village of Kanemura, near Naha city and instructed Takahara Sakugawa after the death of his first instructor, Takahara Peichin. Kusanku's name is associated with several kata in the Shorin-Ryu styles.

Tode Sakagawa (1733 – 1815)

Tode Sakagawa began his study martial arts under. One day he came across Kusanku standing on a bridge overlooking the water. Sakagawa, being the rebellious young bully, attempted to push Kusanku off the bridge. As he moved to push Kusanku from behind, Kusanku suddenly sidestepped the attack and knocked him into the water, then gave Sakagawa a harsh lecture about respecting his elders, the point being that a karateka needs to know “why,” not only “how.” Sakagawa studied under Kusanku for six years. When Kusanku died Sakagawa developed the first version of the Kusanku kata to honor his teacher's memory.

Soken “Bushi” Matsumura (1796 – 1893)

Soken "Bushi" (Warrior) Matsumura was the first to systematize Shuri-Te from which the various Shorin-Ryu styles have been passed down to us today. Born into a prominent family in Shuri, Matsumura was a good scholar and athlete. He learned the fundamentals of chi na as a young boy (customary for upper class youths of the time) and later, according to many historians, began his formal martial arts training under Tode Sakugawa. From Sakugawa he is said to have learned use of the bo and the kata Kusanku.

While serving as a bodyguard and martial arts instructor to the last three Ryukyuan Kings, Matsumura made a number of official visits to China and Japan where he studied Chinese boxing and Japanese swordsmanship. Following retirement from service to the royal family, Matsumura taught Karate in Shuri. Among his many noteworthy students were Itosu Yatsutsune, Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Gichin Funakoshi, Chotoku Kyan and Nabe Matsumura. Sokon Matsumura is credited with having originated or having developed important variations of many Shorinkan katas including Gojushiho, Kusankudai, Pasai Dai (Matsumura No Pasai), Chinto, Naihanchi Shodan and Naihanchi Nidan.

Yasutsune (Anko) Itosu (1830 – 1915)

Perhaps the greatest teacher in the history of Karate, Yasutsune "Anko" Itosu simplified many of the ancient katas, created several new ones of his own and pioneered teaching methods that would revolutionize the art by making its study easier and less dangerous for future generations. For this, he is recognized as the “Father of Modern Karate.”

Born in Shuri, Itosu began his Karate training at an early age under Sokon Matsumura and subsequently trained under several other teachers, possibly including Kosaku Matsumora of Tomari. Well-educated in Chinese and Japanese literature, Itosu served as a translator to Sho Tai, the last of the Ryukyuan Kings, until Sho Tai's fall from power in 1879.

In 1901, Itosu first introduced Karate into the physical education curriculum of the Okinawa public school system. This was a crucial step in transforming the public perception of Karate as a feudalistic killing art to one in which the emphasis was in health and spiritual well-being. Itosu created the original Pinan (peaceful mind) katas, Shodan through Godan, practiced today in various forms by virtually all Shorin-Ryu styles. He is also credited with developing the Shorinkan Naihanchi Sandan, Pasai Sho and Kusankusho Katas.

A list of Itosu's students reads like a who's-who of famous Karate masters and includes Gichin Funakoshi, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Chosin Chibana, Kentsu Yabu, Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni and Shigeru Nakamura.

Chosin Chibana (1885 – 1969)

Choshin Chibana was born on June 5, 1885, at Tottori-cho in Shuri City, Okinawa. He began his karate training with Yasutsune "Anku" Itosu in 1900 with whom he studied until Itosu's death. In 1920, Chibana opened his first dojo in Tottori-bori and later a second in Kumo-cho Naha where he instructed until he suspended his teaching during WWII.

After the war Chibana resumed formal teaching in Giho-cho, a section of Shuri City. During the 1950's he maintained his dojo as well as a position as the Chief Karate Instructor for the Shuri City Police Department, and in May 1956 his accomplishments were recognized by his appointment as the first President of the Okinawa Karate-Do Association. Chibana's reputation as a Karate master continued to spread, not only in Okinawa but also in mainland Japan.

Prior to his death in Ohama Hospital on February 26, 1969 from cancer, Sensei Chibana was recognized with honors such as:

1957 - Title of Hanshi (High Master) from the Dai Nippon Butokukai (The Greater Japan Martial Virtue Association)

1960 - received the First Sports Award from theOkinawa Times Newspaper for his accomplishments in the study and practice of traditional Okinawan Karate-do

1968 - awarded the 4th Order of the Sacred Treasure (Kunyonto) by the Emperor of Japan in recognition of his devotion to the study and practice of Okinawan Karate-do

Chibana sensei is credited with creating the three Kihon Kata that we practice in the Shorinkan.

Shugoro Nakazato (1920 - 2016)

Hanshi Judan Nakazato has spent most of his life in the martial arts and in 1967, after nearly twenty years of training, was awarded Ninth Dan by his eminent instructor Chibana Choshin. Upon Chibana Sensei's death in 1969, Nakazato Sensei became the President of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan Karatedo Kyokai, and was promoted to Tenth Dan in 1980.

Nakazato Sensei is one of the most influential living Karate Grand Masters in Okinawa and traveled many times a year to promote the traditional Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan Karate (Kobayashi-Ryu) System.

Hanshi Nakazato headed the Okinawa Karate delegation and was asked to give a special performance at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. In May 1999, he led an Okinawan Seminar Delegation of Grand Masters to the United States promoting the first Okinawa Traditional Karatedo & Kobudo World Tournament.

In addition, Hanshi Nakazato is credited for the introduction of the Gorin kata. In August 2000, the Okinawan Prefecture Board of Education bestowed upon Hanshi Nakazato the title of "Kenmukei Bunkazi" Intangible Cultural Asset.

Hanshi Shuguro Nakazato passed away on August 24, 2016 at the age of 96.

Tadashi Yamashita (1942 - Present)

One of Nakazato Sensei’s most dedicated students is 10th Degree Black Belt Tadashi Yamashita. Tadashi Yamashita was born in Japan in 1942, but he considers himself and Okinawan. His father died when he was three, and his mother, who never remarried (the older Japanese did not believe in remarriage), moved to Okinawa when Tadashi was eight years old. He lived in Okinawa until, at the age of 24, he came to the United States where he has since become a citizen.

Yamashita’s experience of more than 40 years in martial arts began at the age of 11. The roughest kid in school, he not only picked fights with the other students, but with the teachers as well. This was brought to the attention of the PTA which realized they could not handle him.

One day, the PTA President, who was also a karate instructor, stopped by to pick up Tadashi after school. Always the warrior, Tadashi tried to fight him. The instructor slapped the rebellious youngster and dragged him off to the dojo where he was taught the elements of kicking, punching, and most important of all, discipline. Tadashi found his probation period very interesting, his destructiveness was channeled into a hidden talent. The young man had discovered an art form, a religion, and a way of life. Yamashita was awarded his black belt at the age of 16. In 1970, he captured the All-Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Free sparring Grand Champion Title.

On Okinawa, in addition to practicing martial arts, he was also an outstanding baseball pitcher and collected some 60 trophies for motorcycle racing.

When he came to the United States, he opened a karate school which he owned and operated for five years.

In 1968, he visited Japan and tested before his instructor, Shugoro Nakazato, 9th Degree Black Belt. Also on the panel was the famous Chosin Chibana, 10th Degree Black Belt. Tadashi became the youngest 7th Degree Black Belt in Japan’s history.

In 1972, in search of a fuller life, Tadashi moved to Southern California. At the Pro-Am Tournament in Los Angeles in 1973, the first of many tournaments in which he would demonstrate his talent, Yamashita brought 7,000 spectators to their feet for the standing ovation, and from then on, his reputation in the United States as a karate and a weapons expert grew.

Yamashita is the head instructor of Shorin-Ryu in the United States, and the Head Instructor of the American Karate Association. Hanshi Yamashita is currently a 10th Degree Black Belt.