The Masters

The history, development and art of karate can be followed through the lineage of the great Masters. Although there are many such people that contributed greatly to the development of karate through the ages, we have selected a few Masters that reflects the history and development of Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan – the style of karate taught at Villieria Tigers Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan Karate Dojo.

These Masters represent a direct lineage from Chatan Yara, (believed to be one of the first to teach martial arts from China on the island of Okinawa), right up to Minoru Nakazato, (the current head and Grand Master of Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan).

Chatan Yara (1668 – 1756)

Chatan Yara was born in Shuri, Okinawa, and credited with being one of the first to teach martial arts in Okinawa.

According to most accounts, Yara’s parents send him to China at the age of 12 to study the Chinese language and martial arts. It was here that Yara learned to master the bo and sai under the mentorship of his teacher Wong Chung-Yoh.

Shortly after returning to the Ryukyu Islands in 1700, Yara came to the assistance of a young woman being harassed by a Samurai. After avoiding the sword attack from the Samurai, he acquired an ebu (oar) from a nearby boat, and successfully disarmed and killed the Samurai. Soon after this rescue, Yara was recruited by local officials to teach martial arts to the local community for the purpose of self-defence.

These teachings of Yara developed into what became known as Okinawan Kobudo and Okinawan Te. His most notable student was Takahara Peichin, who later became the mentor of Kanga Sakugawa, the “Father of Okinawan Karate”.

Takahara Peichin (1683 – 1760)

Takahara Peichin was born in Shuri, Okinawa. He was a Budist monk, cartographer, astronomer and early practitioner of Okinawan Te.

He is credited with being the first to explain the principles of Te. These principles are Ijo (the way – compassion, humility and love), Katsu (the laws – complete understanding of all techniques and forms) and Fo (seriousness, devotion and dedication). The collective translation of “ijo katsu fo” is “one’s duty to himself and his fellow man”.

He was an early student of Chatan Yara, and later became the first mentor to Kanga Sakugawa.

Kwang Shang Fu (1720 – 1790)

Kwang Shang Fu, (better known simply as Kusanku), was born in Qing, China. Although he was Chinese, he had a massive impact on Okinawan Te. He is said to have influenced virtually every Karate-derived martial art.

Kusanku learned the art of Ch’uan Fa from a Shaolin monk in the Fujian province of China, where he lived and studied martial arts for most of his life. In 1756 he was sent to the Ryukyu Islands as an ambassador for the Qing Dynasty, and resided in Kumemura, near Naha. It was during this time that he became the teacher of Kanga Sakugawa.

One of the most influential things that Kusanku introduced to Okinawan Te was the idea of “hikite”, or the pulling back and “chambering” one fist at the side of the body. From this position Kusanku taught all his students to corkscrew the fist on impact to generate more power and deliver a devastating blow to one’s opponent.

Kanga Sakugawa (1733 – 1815)

Kanga Sakugawa was born in Shuri, Okinawa, and a major contributor to the development of Okinawan Te.

He started his training in 1750, at the age of 17 under Peichin Takahara, but after 6 years Takahara suggested that Sakugawa study under Kusanku, a Chinese Master in Ch’uan Fa. Sakugawa spend 6 more years training with Kusanku and began spreading what he has learned to the Ryukyu Islands in 1762. In the 6 years that he spent with Kusanku, he became such an expert in Ch’uan Fa that the people of Shuri gave him the nickname of Tode Sakugawa (Chinese hand Sakugawa).

From 1762 until his death in 1815, Sakugawa ran the largest Te school in Okinawa. He became the first to teach a style that he developed by combining what he learned from both Takahara and Kusanku, which became known as Tode, (named after his own nickname, and referring to the Chinese style he incorporated into Okinawan Te). This greatly influenced Okinawan Te, and more specifically, Shiri-Te. Because of this influence, Sakugawa is credited with being the “Father of Okinawan Karate”.

Many of his students rose to greatness, but his most famous student was Sokon Matsurura, who further developed Shuri-Te, which later evolved into Shorin-Ryu Karate.

Sokon Matsumura (1797 – 1889)

Sokon Matsumura, (better known simply by his title of Bushi), was born in Shuri, Okinawa, and a major role player in the development of Shiri-Te under the influence of the teachings of Kanga Sakugawa.

Matsumura started his training at a very young age under Sakugawa. At first, Sakukawa, who was by then already an old man, was reluctant to teach the young Matsumura, who even at his young age, already had a reputation as a trouble maker. Sakukawa however made a promise to Matsumura’s father, and therefor took him on as a student. Matsumura spent only five years studying under Sakukawa, but in that short time earned himself a reputation as a true expert in the Tode style that Sakugawa was teaching. As early as 1820, Matsumura was teaching a mixture of Shuri-Te and Naha-Te, strongly influenced by Sakugawa’s Tode style.

In 1836, Matsumura was recruited into the service of the Okinawan Royal Family and became one of very few to ever be awarded the title of Bushi (meaning warrior). He served the last 3 Kings of the Ryukyu Islands as body guard and Chief Martial Arts Instructor. In the service of these various Kings, Matsumura travelled to China, where he studied Ch’uan Fa, Shaolin Kung Fu, as well as other Chinese martial arts and brought what he learned back with him to Okinawa.

His teachings heavily influenced various modern styles of Karate, most notably Shorin-Ryu and Shotokan.

Yasutsune Itosu (1830 – 1915)

Yasutsune Itosu, (also known by his nickname Anko or “Iron Horse” Itosu), was born in Shuri, Okinawa, and is credited as being the “Father of modern Karate”, although this title is often attributed to Gichin Funakoshi, who later spread Karate to Japan and the rest of the world. He is definitely one of the most respected martial artists in Okinawa during the 19th century.

Itosu started his study of Sakugawa’s Tode style under Chikudun Pechin, but his studies soon led him to Sokon Matsumura. It is said that while studying under Matsumura, Itosu tied a sandal to a stone wall in order to make a makiwara. After several strikes, a stone fell from the wall, so he moved the sandal. The same thing happened, and the sandal was moved again. After moving the sandal several times, over the space of a few weeks, Itosu completely destroyed Matsumura’s entire garden wall.

Itosu served as a secretary to the last King of the Ryukyu Islands, (at the same time as Matsumura was serving as the King’s body guard), until Japan abolished the Okinawan-based monarchy in 1879. In 1901 Itosu was instrumental in getting Tode introduced into the Okinawan school system, and by 1905 he was a teacher of Tode at Okinawa’s First Junior Prefectural High School. It is here that Itosu first developed the systematic method of teaching Karate that is still in use today.

He created and introduced the Pinan series of katas as learning steps for the students because the older katas were to difficult for the young students to learn. He is also credited with taking the original (and much larger) Naihanchi kata and breaking it up into the smaller and well-known modern katas we know today as Naihanci Shodan, Naihanchi Nidan, and Naihanchi Sandan.

Although Itosu did not invent Karate, he modernised it, and taught it to many. His style and teachings were major stepping stones that helped one of his students, Chochin Chibana, develop Shiri-Te and Tode into what is today Shorin-Ryu.

Choshin Chibana (1885 – 1969)

Choshin Chibana was born Shuri, Okinawa. He was the last of the pre-World War Karate Masters and was also known as “The Last Warrior of Shuri”.

He came from a distinguished family that traced their history back to the 5th King of the Ryukyu Islands, but lost their titles and status after Japan abolished the Okinawan-based monarchy. To support themselves, the family turned to sake brewing.

Chibana started his training in 1899, at the age of 15, and studied under Anko Itosu until Itosu’s death in 1915. For five years Chibanna trained on his own, and in 1920 opened his first dojo in the Tori-Hori district of Shuri. He later opened a second dojo in the Kumojo district in Naha. During the WWII Battle of Okinawa, Chibana lost his whole family, his livelihood, his dojo, several of his students, and very nearly his own life. He fled the war but returned afterwards and began teaching again. He first taught at Gibo, and later in the Yamakawa district between Shiri and Naha, and eventually settled in Mihara.

From 1954 to 1958, Chibana served as Karate Advisor and Senior Instructor for the Shuri Police Precinct. In May 1956, the Okinawa Karate Federation was formed, and Chibana took office as its first President. By 1957, Chibana received the title of Hanshi from the Dai Nippon Butokukai (The Greater Japan Martial Virtue Association).

In 1964 Chibana learned that he is suffering from terminal throat cancer but continued to teach his students in his dojo. He was admitted to Tokyo’s Cancer Research Centre in 1966 for treatment and after some improvement, he returned to teaching with the assistance of his grandson, Nakazato Akira (Shorin-Ryu 7th Dan). In April 1968 he was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, 4th Class, by the Emperor of Japan, for his devotion to the practice of traditional Okinawan Karate, but by the end of that year his condition worsened, and he was admitted to Ohama Hospital, where he died early in 1969.

Shugoro Nakazato (1920 – 2016)

Shurogo Nakazata was born in Shuri, Okinawa, and was one of the most influential martial artists of his time.

In 1936, while attending school in Osaka, Japan, Nakazato started training under Seiichi Ishu, and trained with him for six years. During World War II, Nakazato joined the military, and served in the Japanese Cavalry, where he trained new recruits in bayonet and military discipline. After Japan’s surrender, he returned to Shuri, only to find that his family was lost in the war.

In June 1946, Nakazato started training under Choshin Chibana, the Menkyu inheritor of Anko Itosu’s style. According to Nakazato, Chibana was “the most eminent karate master of that time”. In 1948 Chibana closed his dojo in Shuri, but Nakazato continued his study under Chibana, being privately tutored in Chibana’s own home. Nakazato was instrumental in helping Chibana open his new Dai Ichi Dojo in Matsuo, Naha, in 1951.

Chibana continued his personal training of Nakazato at the Dai Ichi Dojo until January 1954, when Nakazato received his Shihan Menkyu and became Cibana’s Shihan Dai (main assistant). After spending a year and a half as Chibana’s assistant, Chibana commissioned Nakazato to found Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan, and open a dojo in Aza, Nana.

Nakazato was appointed as one of the directors of the Okinawan Karate Federation when it was formed in 1956, while Chibana was its first President. During this time Nakazato devoted all his time and energy in the perfection of Shorin-Ryu Karate, and in 1960 the Okinawan Karate Federation promoted him to 8th Dan and gave him the title of Kyoshi. Seven years later, he continued his progress, when Chibana and the Shorin-Ryu Karate Do Kyokai promoted him to 9th Dan and bestowed the title of Hanshi on him. When Chibana passed away in February of 1969, Nakazato inherited the leadership of Shorin-Ryu Karate Do, and thus became a 10th Dan, and Grand Master of the style.

In August 2000, the Okinawan Prefecture Board of Education bestowed on him the title of “Kenmukei Bunkazi” (Intangible Cultural Assit), and in November 2004, he was awarded the “Asahi Soukou Sho” (Order of the Rising Sun with Gold and Silver Rays), by the Japanese Prime Minister, under order of the Emperor of Japan. This was one of the legendary Grand Master’s greatest achievements – from all the prefectures over the entire Japan, a total of 960 Asahi medals were ever awarded in various fields, with Shugoru Nakazato being the only martial artist ever to be presented with this prestigious award.

Grand Master Nakazato passed away from aspiration pneumonia, on 24 August 2014.

Minoro Nakazato (1952 – )

A few years prior to his passing, Shugoro Nakazato retired from actively teaching karate, and appointed his son, Minoro Nakazato as the head of Shorin-Ryu Shorinkan.

Minoru Nakazato has brought a youthful, vigorous method of training and very fine details into Shorinkan since his appointment. He travels the world to teach seminars, and those of us lucky enough to be able to travel to Okinawa train directly with him at the headquarters dojo located in Aja, Naha.

As with many systems the torch has been passed from one generation to the next and the future looks great with Minoro Nakazato at the helm. He has been very active in the development of Karate in Okinawa, including assisting with overseeing the new Karate Kaikan training hall and museum as an appointee on their board. Shorinkan’s history is still in the making and we are very honored to be a part of helping people learn authentic Okinawan Karate as it was meant to be.