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Our Shorin Ryu History


PROLOGUE - HANSHI Hawkins places key emphasis on kumite as one of the most important aspects of martial arts training for preparation concerning physical altercations. His describes kata as a combative exercise consisting of defensive, offensive, and counter striking techniques comprised in an organized system. HANSHI Hawkins teaches his students that they can greatly benefit their cardio & vascular respiratory systems, focus, balance, when performing kata training.

However, he places strong emphasis in our system that kumite is the most important aspect concerning self-defense on the street and free sparring. Hanshi Hawkins often says that Kata is analogous to what shadow boxing is to a boxer. As shadow boxing compliments a boxer’s fighting skills then so does kata compliment a karate ka’s kumite. Hanshi Hawkins “standard of kata” is that training should be rather proportionate to shadow boxing. For example, often boxer’s use shadow boxing as warm-up and cool down exercise consisting of only a few rounds. Instead, sparring is given more attention. He would often say, “just as swimming is the best training for swimming”, likewise sparring is the best training for sparring. Therefore, our system of Shorin-ryu may take longer to complete kata instruction because more valuable training time is devoted to kumite. For example in many Shorin-ryu systems kata’s Wanshu, Ananku, Jion, Jinn, Jette, and Wankan are lower belt kata’s, instead these are all Blackbelt kata’s in our system. This is because Hanshi Hawkins puts a great deal more emphasis on kumite during youth tenure of a karate-ka. He often says, “young martial artists should always spend more time sparring as compared to kata”. As a karate-ka ages and lessens kumite dojo training and tournament competition, he/she increases kata training.


The Avengers teach kata that’s indigenous to various diverse Okinawa-te Shorin ryu systems. Therefore, the Avengers teach Okinawa-te systems comprised of several Shorin ryu subsystems (such as Kobayashi, Shobayashi, Matsubayashi, etc.). Our system places eminent merit in numerous diverse cherished Okinawa-te systems. Shuri-te and Tomari-te kata systems make up our largest repertoire of kata techniques and patterns along with a few from Naha-te.

We know that in 1392, 36 official families were sent to Okinawa to help develop relations with the islanders. (1) These Chinese also taught their form of Shaolin Chuan Fa (the fist method) to the Okinawans. The local Okinawans called this art Kempo. The word for the Shaolin Temple in the Okinawan language was Shorin: thus was born the art of Shorin Kempo. Combined with the local fighting art, a new art developed that has become known around the world as the deadliest fighting art in the world. This art later became known as Kara-te (Kara meant China, and Te meant hand) or the way of the China Hand.

In the late 1500's, the Shaolin Temple was burned to the ground by the Imperial Army. The few monks that survived the battle fled for their lives and went to different regions of the country. Many in fact traveled to other countries in fear of their own safety. These monks, along with their disciples that they had trained, kept true to the Shaolin principles and taught only those individuals that were honest and would use their skills for the benefit of mankind. Many of these disciples ended up traveling to the small island off the east coast, Okinawa.

Originally there were three styles of Okinawan Karate named after the villages they came from: Shuri, Tomari, and Naha villages. The locals simply added Te to the end of the village's name to recognize where each style came from: Shun-Te, Tomari-Te and Naha-Te.

Many events and places contributed to the development of karate as we know it today. The island of Okinawa became a common port for travel and communication for centuries. By the 7th century many people were traveling between the China mainland and Japan. Karate may have been introduced to Okinawa from these travels. At the same time of these influences, there was also an indigenous fighting style in Okinawa called "te" or "tode" in 1372, Okinawa was a Chinese satellite country. More cultural exchanges resulted in Kung-Fu mixing with Okinawan fist-fighting. The developing art of karate spread further when the Chinese emperor Hung Wu-Ti sent a large mission of Chinese officials to Okinawa. in 1392 a group of 36 families moved from Fukien Province, China, to Kume-Mura, a suburb of Okinawa. The community established was called ('thirty-six families." Here, Chinese boxing was taught to the Okinawans. Then in 1477, King Sho Shin re-imposed the Okinawan weapons ban, thus increasing the emphasis of weaponless fighting.

In 1609, Japan conquered Okinawa, and again weapons were denied the Okinawans. Therefore, in the fights between the dominating Japanese versus the Okinawans, the Okinawans used only their hands and feet. Thus, the Okinawans had a great incentive to train hard in their art of weaponless warfare. They had to study and practice in secret, usually at night and at remote locations. The Okinawan martial artists did not share their knowledge, and often fought each other. Different strategies and techniques were tried and tested on the real battlefield -- the loser usually died. Thus, the surviving warrior's techniques were kept, and the loser's techniques were discarded. Okinawan karate improved at the expense of human life. Finally in 1629, the Okinawans stopped the unproductive fighting with each other. The fighting style that they had developed was a mixture of Okinawa-Te and Chinese Ch'uan Fa.

Also during this time, many Okinawans were secretly sent to China to learn other fighting styles. They learned from famous Chinese masters such forms as: Saifa, Sejunchin, Ason, Waishinzan, Ananku, Chinto and Kusanku. The Chinese lion and tiger styles of boxing were brought to Okinawa in 1692 probably by a shipwrecked Chinese boxer, Ko Sokun.

Before the 18th century, there were three main styles of Okinawan unarmed fighting: Naha-te, Shun-te, and Tomari-te each named after the main cities from which they were practiced. By this century, Okinawan karate was developing into its current form. The basic difference between these two styles is that Naha-te relies more on flexibility in movement, while Shuri-te relies more on speed. Karate historians agree that the secrecy of karate lasted until either 1875 when Okinawan occupation ended, or until 1903. From about 1915 to 1940, Okinawan karate grew in popularity. In this time frame, almost all major karate styles were established.

Shorin-Ryu is a popular karate style in Okinawa and has historical links through distinguished Chinese fighting systems. The two ancient Chinese masters of Shorin-Ryu were Iwah and Wai Shin-Zan. Sokon Matsumura was a student of these masters. Another influential master was Kusanku who learned the Chinese art of Ch'uan Fa from a Shaolin monk. In 1761 he was sent to Okinawa to teach this martial art. "Tode" Sakugawa was a student of Takahara, but then studied under Kusanku. He combined Ch'uan Fa and Tode, resulting in Okinawa-Te. After Sakugawa, there were three other masters before the founder of Shuri-Te karate, Sokon Matsumura. A political leader in Okinawa became friends with Sakugawa. The political leader died in 1799, but had asked Sakugawa to raise his three year old son, Sokon Matsumura. Matsumura learned karate from Sakugawa and is credited with creating all of the Shuri-te katas which include: Seisan, Nalhanchin, Ananku, Wanshu, Gojushiho, Chinto, Passal and Kusanku. In 1884, Sokon Matsumura died. However, he left many students, the most notable being Yasutsune Itosu and Yasutsune Azato.

Yasutsune Itosu (1830-1915) created the Pinan katas and the Naihanchi kata. Itosu was also nicknamed "Iron Horse" due to his strong stances. After Itosu's death his senior student, Kentsu Yabu took over. Yabu soon retired, and Itosu's second ranking student became the leader. However, many of his students thought they should be the number one leader. These disgruntled students formed their own separate schools, thus, several different types of Shorin-Ryu styles were established. Yabu's successor was Chosbin Chibana (1887-1969). Chibana was a very well respected karate grand master, and was first to name his style Shorin-Ryu in 1928. At Chibana's death, again there was a disagreement between two of his students over who should take over as leader. Currently, Katsuya Miyahira leads the Kobayshi Shorin-Ryu (small forest Shorin style) and Shugoro Nakazato leads the Kobayashi Shorin Kan Shuwakai (small forest Shorin school of all Shugoro's students.) The founder and former head of Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu (pine forest Shorin style) was Shoshin Nagamine (died in 1997). Nagamine studied with Chotoku Kyan. His style emphasizes a faster, lighter movement while the Kobayashi styles use more power and less mobility.

Chotoku Kyan (1870-1945) was a great karate master. He studied Shuri-Te from Sokon Matsumura and Master Itosu. He studied Tomari-Te from Peichin Gyadamari, Peichin Maeda and Kosaku Matsumora. The Shorin-Ryu style that he passed on to his students combined Shuri-Te and Tomari-Te. His style was known as the Sukunaihayashi style of Shorin-Ryu karate.

Zenryo Shimabukuro was one of Kyan's best students. He first called his style Shorinj-Ryu after the Shaolin Temple. Later, however, he changed the name of this style to Seibukan. His style taught the full combative techniques. His son, Zenpo, is Zenryo's successor. His style is also known as Seibukan.

By 1880, the term karate had replaced the word," te" (hand) in Okinawa. In 1905, Chomo Hanashiro used this new karate character meaning "empty hand." Later, Gichin Funakoshi also used this karate character. Funakoshi was one of the most well known Okinawan karate masters. He was the first to formally introduce Okinawa karate to Japan in 1922. He was born to a government official in the year 1868. His father was a member of a privileged dass in society called "Shizoku." He was quite small and in poor health as a child so his father thought he would benefit by training in karate. He began training in his primary years with Master Azato, who trained under Matsumura, Sokon. Azato encouraged him to train with other masters and introduces him to Anko Itosu.

Funakoshi was invited to Japan in 1902 to perform his technique to the commissioner of schools. As a result of this demonstration, karate was installed as a part of the physical education program at the Dai Chi Middle School and the Men's Normal School in Shuri. In 1913, Funakoshi formed a team of karate masters to demonstrate publicly in Japan. The first demonstration of karate ever given outside of Okinawa was in 1917 at the Butokuden, the center for Japanese martial arts. In 1921, he gave another demonstration at Shuri Castle for the Crown Prince Hirohito. Hirohito was so impressed, he mentioned it in his report. Shortly after this demonstration, Funakoshi was persuaded to stay in Japan giving lectures and doing demonstrations. He never returned to Okinawa and by 1936 established a permanent Dojo in Tokyo known as Shotokan; Shoto after his pen name meaning pine waves and Kan meaning house. Through his writings, the meaning of karate changed from "Chinese hands" to "empty hands." This served two purposes.

The Japanese and the Chinese had extreme political tensions and were at war by 1937, so this served to disassociate the art from its Chinese origins. Plus, Funakoshi, who did not like Kumite and the use of force as he thought it degraded the art, wanted the meaning of empty hand and it implied not using weapons and more of a defensive sport instead of offensive. Funakoshi is also responsible for developing the Heian Katas 1 through 5 which were derived from the Pinan Kata 1 through 5, developed by Master Itosu. Okinawan karate clubs began to form in 1927. Today there are about 200 karate schools in Okinawa.

It was not until recent times that Okinawan systems of karate and kobudo developed into systems with set curriculum. (2) One must remember that Te was practiced for a great period of time in secrecy, among Peichin Class, villages and families, as was Kobudo. Teachers corresponding and sharing openly their kata and techniques is more of a recent phenomena. In the late 1800's and through the 1900's, many of the famous masters of Okinawan Te and Kobudo knew each other and began to share information amongst one another. The trading of kata was common in karate and kobudo and those people who trained together adopted each other's kata or modified them to suit their own preferences. As a result, kata were not "owned" by one family, village or teacher but were practiced and modified by many practitioners and teachers. Evidence of this would be the many versions of various karate and kobudo kata that exist in the dojo of Okinawa. There is some argument as to whose kata is authentic or the original form. The likelihood that any of the kata are exactly the same in movement and position as the forefathers of karate and kobudo left them, is questionable and to call one style's kata more authentic than another would be considered opinion.

According to Author/Historian John Sells, there was a great deal of cross-training occurring in the 1960's due to the All Japan Karate Do Federation/Okinawa Branch which merged with the Okinawa Karate-Do United Association and the Okinawa Kobudo Rengokai. The roster of these associations shows a tremendous grouping of some of the most famous teachers of 20th century Okinawa and explains the diversity and trading of knowledge.

Many students become confused about the differences between Kobayashi-Ryu, Shobayashi-Ryu, Sukunaihashi-Ryu, Matsubayashi-Ryu, Shorinji-Ryu and Matsumura-Seito, especially since they are all classified as Shorin-Ryu. Besides the lineage of teachers, the variation of emphasis is usually the distinguishing characteristic to the observer but the curriculum has branched down from one or two main sources. Through this network of information, we see variation within the footwork, rhythm, bio-mechanics, speed, and angular movements. Movements themselves that exist in one Shorin kata may not be found in another kaiha or the techniques may be different. Certain groups can be recognized by their instructor just by watching their version of a Shuri-based form.

Kata have remained the same but have also changed equally over time and many variations or movement alterations can be seen over a system's history. Some would argue that to change the form dilutes the original intent of the technique or bunkai. There is the preservation issue that Uchinadi is historic and so culturally important that to change it is to destroy or desecrate historical treasures. The other thought is that application should be different to the individual and that learning one person's combative preferences isolates battle effectiveness. If every enemy is different and requires a different "reaction to action" then the alteration of kata is more supported and it should be tailored to include movements that are more efficiently performed by the individual.

1) http://www.americanblackbeltacademy.com/dojo/MartialArtsHistory.htm
2) http://www.shoryukan.com/Topics/Extra/Articles/development.html