Shito-Ryu History

A Brief History of the Origin of Shito-Ryu

Karate-do has a rich and colourful history. In popular culture it has been portrayed as a tough, rough and direct martial art characterized by the white uniform and the legendary ‘black belt’. While all of these might be true characteristics of most Karate styles, there is much more to discover about its history and roots in ancient oriental culture and thought.

To properly understand its origins, it is important to look at Karate in a broader context. Much of what we now call ‘Karate’ or ‘Empty Hand’ came from China. Some time in the mid 1300s the Ryukyu, a chain of islands lying between China and southern Japan, became a centre for trade and commerce. Known as Okinawa today, these islands developed a distinct culture, caught between the political and cultural trade routes of various cultures and peoples. Trade and intellectual life were primarily driven by the Chinese, however, until Japan took control in 1609 under the Shimazu clan and finally annexed it in 1875.

It was in this confluence that Karate and later Shito-ryu Karate were born. While Japanese culture and political influence remained paramount, the old traditions were always in the background: Chinese masters continued to travel to Okinawa on business, leaving behind a deep and significant tradition in the martial arts. Known among Okinawans as ‘Te’, or ‘Chinese Fist’, masters would secretly pass their knowledge from generation to generation, perhaps in large part because Chinese culture and influence were not germane to the 1okinawa2politics of mainland Japan.

By the 1800s, three distinct but closely related styles could be discerned in each of the main towns in Okinawa: Shuri (the old capital), Naha (the modern capital) and Tomari.  In truth, while each style or group was centred around one or two prominent teachers who would have their inevitable differences, they were rooted in similar traditions and influences and certainly knew each other very well.  All three towns were within a five kilometre radius of one another!