Most of us know about how Funakoshi is the fatherof modern day Karate, and that he was responsible for sending Karate teachersto the west and other parts of the world to teach. But who did he learn from? And
in turn, who did they learn from? and so on. Well, I decided to do a little
backtracking on this, as far back as possible, hoping to find the Chinese
Now, we know that Bodhidharma, a Hindu monk,
is said to be the one who started passing around the art of self defense to
young, homeless children, during his travels through China, where he decided to
stay and open up a monastery for these
young kids, whom he called Shaolin, and many years later, monks from the
Shaolin, spread their art and knowledge on their travels. Some of these monks
went to the Ryukyu Islands, where they taught their art called Chuan Fa (Kenpo in Japanese).
This is where I want to try to backtrack to. There’s some info on each of the masters mentioned here, but I want
to encourage everyone to research each one, or those who interest you most, so
that you guys can learn more about who they were and what they did. For this reason, I’m not posting links either. Can’t make it too easy now. =]
Starting back from Gichin Funakoshi’s teachers: Anko
Itosu and Anko Azato.
Anko Azato (1827 – 1906) -
Not much is known about him. Whatever information can be found is based on
Funakoshi’s descriptions of him. Azato was described by Funakoshi as “One
of Okinawa’s greatest experts in the art of Karate”. According to
Funakoshi, Azato was also a skilled Archer and horse rider, an adept in the art
of Jigen Ryu Kendo, and was an exceptional scholar.
Anko Itosu (1831 – 1915) was small in stature, very shy and
introverted in his youth. As an adult, he was secretary to the last king of
Okinawa, before the Japanese abolished the Okinawan monarchy in 1879.
He began his study in the art of Tode (Karate today) under Nagahama
Chikudun Pechin (Okinawan term for the scholar-officials class of the former Ryukyu Kingdom (modern-day Okinawa), the
class equivalent of the Japanese Samurai.), but was later on taught, alongside Azato, by Sokon Matsumura.
Itosu helped introduce Karate into
Okinawa’s schools. In 1905, he was a teacher of Tode at the First Junior
Prefectural High School, where he developed the method of teaching techniques
that are still used to this day, by creating the five Pinan, or Heian, so that
the students could learn in an easier manner, as he felt that the old forms
were too difficult for children. He’s also credited with breaking down the
Naihanchi, or Tekki, into the three forms that we know today. In 1908, he wrote
the “Tode Jukun” (Ten Precepts of Karate) in a letter to the Ministry
of Education and the Ministry of War in Japan, in order to gain their
The letter with the precepts read as follows:
Karate did not
develop from Buddhism or Confucianism. In the past the Shorin-ryu school
and the Shorei-ryu school were brought to Okinawa from China. Both of these
schools have strong points, which I will now mention before there are too many
1. Karate is not merely practiced for
your own benefit; it can be used to protect one’s family or master. It is not
intended to be used against a single assailant but instead as a way of avoiding
a fight should one be confronted by a villain or ruffian.
2. The purpose of karate is to make the
muscles and bones hard as rock and to use the hands and legs as spears.
children were to begin training in Tang Te (Chinese Hand) while in
elementary school, then they will be well suited for military service. Remember
the words attributed to the Duke of Wellington after he defeated Napoleon: “The
Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”
3. Karate cannot be quickly learned.
Like a slow moving bull, it eventually travels a thousand miles. If one trains
diligently every day, then in three or four years one will come to understand
karate. Those who train in this fashion will discover karate.
4. In karate, training of the hands and
feet are important, so one must be thoroughly trained on the makiwara. In
order to do this, drop your shoulders, open your lungs, take hold of your
strength, grip the floor with your feet, and sink your energy into your lower
abdomen. Practice using each arm one to two hundred times each day.
5. When one practices the stances of
Tang Te, be sure to keep your back straight, lower your shoulders, put strength
in your legs, stand firmly, and drop your energy into your lower abdomen.
6. Practice each of the techniques of
karate repeatedly, the use of which is passed by word of mouth. Learn the
explanations well, and decide when and in what manner to apply them when
needed. Enter, counter, release is the rule of releasing hand (torite).
7. You must decide if karate is for your
health or to aid your duty.
8. When you train, do so as if on the
battlefield. Your eyes should glare, shoulders drop, and body harden. You
should always train with intensity and spirit, and in this way you will
naturally be ready.
9. One must not over-train; this will
cause you to lose the energy in your lower abdomen and will be harmful to your
body. Your face and eyes will turn red. Train wisely.
10. In the past, masters of karate have
enjoyed long lives. Karate aids in developing the bones and muscles. It helps
the digestion as well as the circulation.
If karate should be introduced
beginning in the elementary schools, then we will produce many men each capable
of defeating ten assailants.
I further believe this can be done by having all
students at the Okinawa Teachers’ College practice karate. In this way, after
graduation, they can teach at the elementary schools at which they have been
taught. I believe this will be a great benefit to our nation and our military.
It is my hope you will seriously consider my suggestion.
- Anko Itosu, October
This letter was
influential in the spread of karate.
Itosu’s style, Shorin Ryu, became
known as Itosu Ryu, in recognition of his skills, mastery, and role as teacher.
Sokon Matsumura (1797 - 1889) began his study of Tode under the guidance of Sakugawa Kanga. Matsumura
had reputation as an expert martial artist, even as a young man. He was
recruited into the service of the royal family of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1816. He
became the chief martial arts instructor and bodyguard for the Okinawan King,
and later served in the same role for the last two Okinawan kings. Matsumura
traveled to China. While he was in China, he studied Chuan Fa at the Shaolin
Monastery, and later brought what he learned, back to Okinawa, helped to further
develop karate, and was later known as the “Forefather of Shorin Ryu”,
as he went on to develop the Shuri-Te which later developed into Shorin Ryu Karate.
Side note: In 1818, Matsumura Married Yonamine Chiru, who was
also a martial arts expert, and it was said that she would lift up 130 pound
sacks of rice, to sweep the floor underneath. It was also said that she wouldn’t marry anyone who couldn’t defeat
her. Supposedly, time and again, men tried, but failed. She married Matsumura,
although it isn’t known if they ever did fight.
Sakugawa Kanga (also known as Tode Sakugawa) (1733 - 1815) was a
martial arts master, who played a major role in the development of Te, the
precursor to modern day Karate. Sakugawa trained under the monk, Peichin Takahara, beginning in 1750,
for six years, after which Takahara sent Sakugawa to train under Kusanku, a Chinese master in the art of
Chuan Fa, for six more years. It is said that he combined Chuan Fa with his first
master’s style, forming what became known as Okinawa-te. After his training
under Kusanku, he began teaching the art. He was so recognized as an expert
that he was given the name To-de Sakugawa (Sakugawa “Chinese Hand”)
by Takahara. He is considered to be the “Father of Okinawan Karate”,
and his Okinawa-te became the base for his most famous student’s (Matsumura) Shuri-Te.
Sakugawa passed down to his students the kata Kusanku, said to be one of
Okinawa’s oldest kata, and developed the Bo kata, Sakugawa no Kon.
Peichin Takahara (1683 - 1760) was a Buddhist monk, mapmaker and
astronomer, belonging to an upper class family from Shuri. The word Peichin
isn’t a name, but a title similar to that of “Knight” given to some
regents of the Court of Shuri. Takahara was known as a martial arts expert, he
was highly respected as a great warrior, and his teacher was Chatan Yara. Takahara regarded the
martial arts as a way of life, and is attributed to have been the first to
explain the principles of Do (Way):
1. Ijo - Compassion, Humility and Modesty.
2. Fo - Seriousness, Devotion and Dedication.
3. Katsu - Deep understanding of techniques and forms.
Kusanku (Kwang Shang Fu)(1670
- 1762) was a Chinese martial arts master, who learned the art of Chuan Fa in
China from a Shaolin Monk. He is credited as having an influence on practically
every martial arts derived from Karate. Around 1756, Kusanku was sent, as an
ambassador of the Qing Dynasty, to Okinawa, where he lived in Kanemura, near
the city of Naha. During his stay in Okinawa, he instructed Sakugawa Kanga from
1756 to 1762, the year he died. After his death, Sakugawa developed, and named,
the kata Kusanku, in honor of his
Chatan Yara (1668 - 1756) was known as being one of the first to
spread the art of Te throughout Okinawa. At the age of 12, Yara’s parent’s sent
him to China to study the Chinese language and martial arts. During his time in
China, he mastered the use of the Bo and Sai while studying under the guidance
of his teacher, Wong Chung-Yoh. In
1700, he returned to Shuri. Shortly after, he assisted a woman who was being
harassed by a Samurai. After avoiding the Samurai’s attack, Yara took an oar
from a nearby boat and used it as a weapon. He successfully disarmed and killed
the Samurai. Hearing of this daring rescue, local officials recruited Yara to
teach martial arts to the locals for the purpose of self defense.
Wong Chung-Yoh (1630 - ????) Very little is known about this man.
He was a teacher of a martial art style called Xing Yi Quan, also known as
Hsing. His school was located in Fuzhou, in the Fukien Province in China. His
most notable student, who produced the lineage for modern Karate, was Chatan
Up to here, Gichin Funakoshi’s direct lineage
is over, or seems to be, at least by what I’ve been able to trace back. But
remember, there were other masters that aren’t as notable as the ones mentioned
here, not to mention their students. So this is in no way saying that these are
the ones and only, but it is more than clear that all karate styles come from the same
root, the Chinese martial art, Chuan Fa.
Another master from Okinawa worth mentioning:
Higa Peichin (1640 - 1720)
was a legendary martial artist who influenced the development of Karate and
Kobudo, especially in the art of the Bo (staff). He was a student of the
Chinese emissary, Wanshu, who taught
him Chuan Fa. Legend states that Matsu Higa, with his Bo, stood up to the head-hunters of Formosa, and to
Japanese pirates from the north, and never lost a battle. His contributions live on in several weapons kata, especially
for Tonfa, Sai, and Bo: Matsu Higa no Tonfa, Matsu Higa no Sai and Matsu
Higa no Kon.
(Wang) (1621 - 1689) - Wang was the leader
of an ambassadorial mission from China,
sent by the Qing government in 1683 to
the village of Tomari. He was a diplomat, poet,
calligrapher, and a martial artist of Shaolin White Crane. He is credited with
having taught Chaun Fa to the gentry of Tomari. The kata Wanshu was either
created by Wang, or his students developed it in his honor. Whichever the case,
this kata is practiced to this day in many styles of karate under the name
Wanshu, Anshu, Unsu and Empi (Gichin Funakoshi renamed it Empi for use in his
school). The two main versions of this kata are Matsumura’s and Itosu’s versions.
This kata is also practiced in various Korean styles such as Tang Soo Do and Soo Bak Do. They also have veried names for this
kata: Wangshū, Wang Shu, or Yun Bi in Korean. This kata is often
reserved for advanced students, because of its difficulty.
So in the end, my friends, there’s no absolute Way. Remember that next time somebody tells you about how their styles are the only truth.