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Shorin History

Origins of Shorin-Ryu Karate

Shorin-ryu is one of the major modern Okinawan martial arts.  Said to have been founded by Sokon Matsumura during the 1800s, Shorin-ryu combines elements of the traditional Okinawan fighting styles Shuri-te and Tomari-te.  Shorin-ryu is widely considered to be one of the two major modern styles of Okinawan Karate, along with Goju-ryu, which is rooted in the other traditional Okinawan style, Naha-te.

Sokon Matsumura was a renowned warrior of his time; he has been called the Miyamoto Musashi of Okinawa.  However, while he is often referred to as the "founder" of Shorin-ryu, he did not invent all the components of the style, and perhaps did not ever call it "Shorin-ryu" himself.  It is quite possible that he synthesized his knowledge of Okinawan arts with Chinese fighting styles that he learned on his travels and taught it as a coherent system to some eager students, who subsequently refined it, labeled it, and passed it on.  (Highlighting Shorin-ryu's Chinese heritage is the fact that "Shorin" is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese, "Shaolin"; "ryu" means "school", or "style".)

Along with being a style on its own, Shorin-ryu is also perhaps the most influential single ancestor of modern Japanese karate.  One of Matsumura's best-known students, Anko (or "Ankoh") Itosu became a great practitioner and teacher of Okinawan karate and developed the five Pinan katas, which are now taught not only in Shorin-ryu, but also in a wide variety of Okinawan, Japanese and derived martial arts.  It is also believed by some that the first two Pinan katas were actually developed by Matsumura and the last three by Itosu.

In addition, Itosu and another student of Matsumura's named Anko Azato, were among the primary influences on a fellow Okinawan named Gichin Funakoshi.  Funakoshi introduced his Okinawan martial arts to mainland Japan in 1922, and in subsequent decades was instrumental in developing what he termed simply "karate" or "karate-do" as a popular Japanese sport and art. (The style Funakoshi taught on mainland Japan is now called Shotokan karate.)

Okinawa is the birthplace of the art of karate-do, a cultural treasure and oral tradition that has spread throughout the world and is practiced by millions.  The following timeline chronicles some of the teachers and events that have played significant roles in the development and spread into North America and the Origins of Okinawan Shorin-ryu as led by senior master, Katsuya Miyahira.

A Widely Accepted Chronology:

1429Three states of Okinawa were unified into the Ryukyu Kingdom by King Sho Hashi of Chuzan.  Three styles eventually developed which, much later in the 1900's, became known by the names: "Sui-tee" (also called "Shuri-te" or "Sui-di"-from Shuri, the capitol); "Nafa-tee" (also called "Naha-te" or "Nafa-di" - from Naha City); "Tumaii-tee" (also called "Tomari-te" or "Tumai-di" - from Tomari Village).  The 14th to 16th centuries are often referred to as the "Golden Age of Trade" with much commerce between Okinawa and China.  Okinawan "te" (also referred to as "ti," "to-di," and "to-ti") practitioners learned and incorporated techniques from Chinese, and other South East Asian fighting arts. 1, 3, 15
1477King Sho Shin made the wearing of swords and possession of large quantities of weapons illegal throughout the Ryukyu Kingdom.
1609Okinawa invaded by the Satsuma Clan of Kyushu, Japan.  In years following the invasion, the previous ban on import, possession and use of weapons became reinforced.  Karate "kobudo" became a secret, taught to members of the ruling class for 250 years. 1, 3
1809Sokon Matsumura was born in Yamagawa Village (Yamagawa-cho), Shuri.  During his lifetime, Matsumura worked as a martial arts instructor for the kingdom and bodyguard to the last three Ryukyuan kings. 1,4
1831Anko Itosu was born in Gibo Village, Shuri.  Learned sui-tee from Matsumura while a clerk of the royal family.  Studied under two Chinese attachés. 1,4
1879Ryukyu Kingdom was dissolved and Okinawa was annexed as a prefecture of Japan. 1
1885Choshin Chibana was born, June 5, Torihori Village (Tottori-cho), Shuri. 1, 3, 4, 13
1890Shinpan Gusukuma (Shiroma) was born in Taira Village (Taira-cho), Shuri. 1, 13 Military draft system imposed on Okinawa. 13
1896Beginning of Meiji era.
1899 Sokon Matsumura died. 1
1900Choshin Chibana studied under Anko Itosu. 4, 3
1901Anko Itosu taught karate at the Shuri Jinjo Elementary School as an extra-curricular activity. 4, 7, 13
1903Shinpan Gusukuma began to study with Anko Itosu in Kubagawa.  He studied Sanchin kata at Kanryo Higaonna's dojo and also studied with many other masters under all of the major styles.  He selected Shorin-ryu as his main concentration. 4, 14
1905Anko Itosu taught karate at the Okinawa Prefectural Middle School (later called the Okinawa Prefecture Dai-ichi Middle School) where Chomo Hanashiro was the chief instructor.  Itosu also taught at the Okinawa Prefectural Men's Teacher's Training College where Kentsu Yabu was the chief instructor.  Itosu began the development of the five pinan katas for beginning students to learn the fundamentals of technique. 4, 11, 12, 13 The characters translating as "empty hand" were first used for the word "karate." 1
1908Anko Itosu petitioned to introduce karate into public school curriculum.  The "10 articles" ("Ten lessons of to-te") document was written to report on the results of his teaching in the schools and to petition for its dissemination in more schools. 4, 11, 13 Shinpan Gusukuma was drafted into the Japanese army.  After service, he continued training under Anko Itosu.  Later, Gusukuma became a school teacher at Dai Ichi Elementary School in Shuri and taught karate.  He opened a dojo at Taira Village, Shuri. 4
1912Beginning of theTaisho era.  Karate demonstrated in mainland Japan 1
1915Anko Itosu died on March 26 in Yamakawa Village. 1, 13
1918"Karate Preservation Association" founded.  Katsuya Miyahira was born on August 8 in Kaneku Village, Nishihara. 2
1920Choshin Chibana began teaching at Tottori-bori.  Later opened 2nd dojo in Kumoji Village, Naha. 4,.5
1922Gichin Funakoshi demonstrated in Tokyo at Japanese Sport Show (Taikutenraikai). 7
1926Beginning of Showa era. "Okinawa Karate Club" founded.  Karate and kobudo spread overseas. 1,4,7,9
1930Choshin Chibana taught at a dojo located in Gibo Village, Shuri, at Nakijin Goten, of Yoshitsuga Teishi, (also called "Nakijin Gima" by local residents at that time); the courtyard of Baron Nakijin and a famous location of past karate practitioners. 4, 8, 14
1932Seikichi Iha was born, Tanahara Village, Nishihara on July 9.
1933Okinawa Athletic Association officially recognized by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai. Katsuya Miyahira began study in April with Choshin Chibana at Okinawa Prefecture Number 1 School (now Shuri High School).  On the same day, Choshin Chibana changed the kanji for "Shorei-ryu" to "Shorin-ryu" to try to avoid confusion with the Chinese shaolin name and to give the style an Okinawan name. 7, 14.  Miyahira also studied with Anbun Tokuda (another student of Itosu) in September. 4
1937"Okinawa Prefectural Karate-do Promotion Society" was founded.  Shinpan Gusukuma was the instructor at the Shuri City Dai Ichi Elementary School. 1 Katsuya Miyahira studied with Choki Motobu in January. 2, 4 Early 1940's WW II: Karate activity was suspended.  Katsuya Miyahira worked as a school teacher in Manchuria and taught self- defense. 4
1945April 1 - August 15: WW II Battle of Okinawa.  Many important members in the karate society lost their lives along with hundreds of thousands of Okinawans.  Shuri city was destroyed.  Choshin Chibana narrowly escaped to Chinen Village. 4 Late 1940's Karate divided into four major ryuhas (Shorin-ryu, Goju-ryu, Uechi-ryu and Matsubayashi-ryu). Choshin Chibana taught karate from 1945 to 1948 on the Chinen Peninsula, later opening several dojos in Naha and Shuri. 4
1948Katsuya Miyahira received Shihan Certificate from Choshin Chibana.  In October, opened a dojo in Kanehisa, Nishihara. Miyahira named his dojo "Shido-kan." 2, 6
1950Seikichi Iha began study with Shinpan Gusukuma in Gibo-cho, Shuri. 14
1952Shinpan Gusukuma moved dojo to Naminoue-gu, Naha.  Seikichi Iha continued studies with Gusukuma there. 14 Katsuya Miyahira moved to Naha City in September.
1953Katsuya Miyahira became karate teacher at Ryukyu University in October. 2, 4
1954Shinpan Gusukuma died. 1 Choshin Chibana served as Karate Advisor and Senior Instructor for the Shuri City Police Precinct (until 1958.) 4 Seikichi Iha began study with Katsuya Miyahira in Naha after being introduced by Shoei Miyazato. 3, 8, 14
1956Choshin Chibana was appointed first president of the newly formed Okinawa Karate-do League in May. 4, 5, 6, 7 Katsuya Miyahira built the Shido-kan dojo behind his house at Tsuboya. 4 1958 Katsuya Miyahira received Kyoshi title from Dainippon Butokukai in April. 2, 6
1960Dan/kyu rank system introduced by the Okinawan Karate-do League.  Choshin Chibana received 1st Award for Distinguished Public Service in Physical Education by the Okinawa Times newspaper. 4 Choshin Chibana formed the Okinawa Shorin-ryu Karate-do Association on April 15th. 7
1963Seikichi Iha promoted to 5th Dan, Shihan 6
1964On August 30, 1964, Choshin Chibana erected a monument for Anko Itosu beside the master's gravesite in the forest of Furushima in Mawashi to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Itosu's death. 6, 8, 13 A memorial celebration featured 4 students (Iko Oshiro, a student of Higa; Katsuyuki Shimabukuro, a student of Chibana; Takeshi Miyagi, a student of Miyahira; Seikichi Iha, a student of Miyahira) who were selected to perform a kata demonstration in Itosu's memory. 14 Choshin Chibana diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. 6
1965Seikichi Iha served as advisor to Latino Gonzales dojo in Manila, Philippines for 11 months. (Ferdinand Marcos became president of the Philippines during that time.) 14 Returned to Okinawa afterwards and taught karate to Marines in Futenma.  Promoted to 6th Dan.  Opened dojo in hometown of Nishihara. 6
1966Katsuya Miyahira visited and taught karate in Manila, the Philippines. 10
1967Katsuya Miyahira received 9th Dan (kudan) Hanshi (master) title in February 2 Seikichi Iha was promoted to 7th Dan, Kyoshi, and sent to Los Angeles with Seizun ("Santos") Kina and Kensai Taba.  Taught at the American Okinawan Club for 5 months then opened the Shureikan dojo. 6
1968Choshin Chibana awarded 4th Degree of Merit Zuiho.  Decorated by Emperor of Japan. 4, 3 Interview with Seikichi Iha, Seizun Kina and Kensai Taba published in April issue of "Black Belt" magazine.
1969Choshin Chibana died on February 26.  Katsuya Miyahira became President of the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate-do Association. 2, 8 Seikichi Iha visited Guam with Seigi Shiroma. Shiroma began his Guam dojo. 14 Seikichi Iha opened Shido-kan dojo in Los Angeles. 6
1970Seikichi Iha featured in June, "Karate Illustrated" magazine.  While instructing in the Los Angeles dojos, met and was invited to come to Lansing, Michigan by visiting senior students of Tadashi Yamashita.
1974Katsuya Miyahira participated in 1st Karate World Championship and received Distinguished Service Award. 2 In the fall, Seikichi Iha moved to Lansing, Michigan with Toshiyuki Itokazu (Uechi-ryu). Harold Armour, a senior student in Tadashi Yamashita's Lansing branch dojo and founder of the Michigan State University Shorin-ryu karate club, invited Iha to lead the East Lansing dojo.  Iha renamed the dojo "Original Okinawa Karate" to include the two styles (Shorin-ryu and Uechi-ryu) of the senior instructors. 14
1976Seikichi Iha moved dojo to current Lansing location and formed the Beikoku Shido-kan Association. (Formally recognized by Katsuya Miyahira in July 1996.) 14
1978Katsuya Miyahira received title of 10th Dan, Hanshi on September 2 from the Shorin-ryu Kyokai (Association). 14 Seikichi Iha promoted to 8th Dan, Kyoshi in September. 14
1982Katsuya Miyahira became Counselor of Japan Karate Federation. 2
1986Katsuya Miyahira took office as President of the Okinawa Prefecture Karate Federation. 2
1989Beginning of the Heisei Era.  Katsuya Miyahira was given the Martial Arts Distinguished Service Award (the highest honor of its kind in the world of Japanese martial arts) by Shigeyoshi, president of the Japan Martial Arts Council in recognition of his long years of distinguished service in the advancement and expansion of karate-do. 2, 3 Seikichi Iha received title of 9th Dan, Hanshi (master) on March 12 from Katsuya Miyahira and the Okinawa Prefecture Karate Federation. 6, 14
1992Katsuya Miyahira celebrated 40th Dojo Anniversary, Okinawa Shorin-ryu Shido-kan Demonstration, Naha. 8

Sources of Historical Information
1. "Okinawa Karate Kobudo Graph," Okinawa Prefecture Board of Education,1995.
2. Article by Morinobu Maeshiro commemorating Katsuya Miyahira's receipt of the 1989 Award for Distinguished Services from the Japan Martial Arts Council. Published in 1990 Masters Demonstration Program, "3rd Karate-do Bugeisai."*
3. Okinawa Karatedo History article by Seikichi Iha, published in the "20th Anniversary Beikoku Shidokan Shorin-ryu Celebration Program," 1996.
4. "Okinawan Karate," by Mark Bishop, Tuttle Publishing, 1999.
5. Katsuya Miyahira article, 1972.*
6. Interviews and research by Ernest Estrada, 1985 - 1992.*
7. "Karate-do History and Philosophy," by Takao Nakaya, 1986.
8. "40th Anniversary Shido-kan Dojo, Okinawa Shorin-ryu Demonstration Program," 1992.
9. "All Okinawa Karate Federation," Website:, To-de Communications, 1997. 10. "The Techniques of Okinawa, Shorin-ryu Karate," by Latino H. Gonzales, 1965.
11. "Kuden no Waza ni Semare," Gekkan Karatedo, June 2000, Tokyo: Fukushodo, pp. 3-7, 20-37.
12. "The First Appearance of Karate in Okinawa's School System," Michihara S. and Yen Y., originally presented at the International Seminar of Physical Education and Sports History, 26-30 September, 1978 in Tokyo.
13. "Tales of Okinawa's Great Masters," by Shoshin Nagamine, Tuttle Publishing, 2000.
14. Interviews with Seikichi Iha by Mark McCloud and Marian Reiter, October 2000 to May 2001.
15. "Koden Ryukyu Karatejutsu," by Iwai T., 1992, Tokyo: Airyudo. *Published on Iha Dojo Web site:

Copyright © 1989 Universal Martial Arts