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Shito-ryu (????) is a form of karate that was founded in 1931 by Kenwa Mabuni (??? ??, Mabuni Kenwa?).

Kenwa Mabuni was born in Shuri, a district of Naha, Okinawa in 1889. Mabuni was a 17th generation descendant of the famous warrior Oni Ufugusuku Kenyu.[1] Perhaps because of his weak constitution, he began his instruction in his home town in the art of Shuri-te (????) at the age of 13, under the tutelage of the legendary Anko Itosu (?? ??, Itosu Anko?) (1813–1915). He trained diligently for several years, learning many kata from this great master. It was Itosu who first developed the Pinan kata, which were most probably derived from the “Kusanku” form.

One of his close friends, Chojun Miyagi (?? ??, Miyagi Chojun?) (co-founder of Goju-ryu Karate) introduced Mabuni to another great of that period, Kanryo Higaonna (??? ??, Higaonna Kanryo?). Mabuni began to learn Naha-te (????) under him. While both Itosu and Higaonna taught a “hard-soft” style of Okinawan “Te”, their methods and emphases were quite distinct: the Itosu syllabus included straight and powerful techniques as exemplified in the Naifanchi and Bassai kata; the Higaonna syllabus stressed circular motion and shorter fighting methods as seen in the kataSeipai and Kururunfa. Shito-ryu focuses on both hard and soft techniques to this day.

Although he remained true to the teachings of these two great masters, Mabuni sought instruction from a number of other teachers, including Seisho Aragaki, Tawada Shimboku, Sueyoshi Jino and Wu Xianhui (a Chinese master known as Go-Kenki). In fact, Mabuni was legendary for his encyclopaedic knowledge of kata and their bunkai applications. By the 1920s, he was regarded as the foremost authority on Okinawan kata and their history and was much sought after as a teacher by his contemporaries. There is even some evidence that his expertise was sought out in China, as well as Okinawa and mainland Japan. As a police officer, he taught local law enforcement officers and at the behest of his teacher Itosu, began instruction in the various grammar schools in Shuri and Naha.

In an effort to popularize karate in mainland Japan, Mabuni made several trips to Tokyo in 1917 and 1928. Although much that was known as “Te” (Chinese Fist; lit. simply “hand”) or karate had been passed down through many generations with jealous secrecy, it was his view that it should be taught to anyone who sought knowledge with honesty and integrity. In fact, many masters of his generation held similar views on the future of Karate: Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan), another contemporary, had moved to Tokyo in the 1920s to promote their art on the mainland as well.

By 1929, Mabuni had moved to Osaka on the mainland, to become a full-time karate instructor of a style he originally called Hanko-ryu, or “half-hard style”. The name of the style changed to Shito-ryu, in honour of its main influences. Mabuni derived the name for his new style from the first kanji character in their names, Itosu and Higaonna. With the support of Ryusho Sakagami (1915–1993), he opened a number of Shito-ryu dojo in the Osaka area, including one at Kansai University and the Japan Karatedo-kai dojo. To this day, the largest contingent of Shito-ryu practitioners in Japan is centered in the Osaka area[2][3].

Mabuni published a number of books on the subject and continued to systematize the instruction method. In his latter years, he developed a number of formal kata, such as Aoyagi, for example, which was designed specifically for women’s self defense. Perhaps more than any other master in the last century, Mabuni was steeped in the traditions and history of Karate-do, yet forward thinking enough to realize that it could spread throughout the world. To this day, Shito-ryu recognizes the influences of Itosu and Higaonna: the kata syllabus of Shito-ryu is still often listed in such a way as to show the two lineages.

Kenwa Mabuni died on May 23, 1952, and the lineage of the style was disputed between his two sons, Kenzo and Kenei. Currently, the Shito-ryu International Karate-do Kai (also known as Seito Shito-ryu) lists Kenzo Mabuni as the second Soke of Shito-ryu[4], while the World Shito-ryu Karate-do Federation (also known as Shito-kai Shito-ryu) lists Kenei Mabuni.[5]

Other schools of Shito-ryu developed after the death of Kenwa Mabuni, both because the death of a founder typically results in a dispute as to who will succeed him as the leader of a given school and because many prominent Karate teachers choose to modify the style, thereby creating new branches.

Major existing branches of Shito-ryu include:

Shito-ryu is a combination style, which attempts to unite the diverse roots of karate. On one hand, Shito-ryu has the physical strength and long powerful stances of Shuri-te derived styles, such as Shorin Ryu and Shotokan (???), on the other hand Shito-ryu has circular and eight-directional movements, breathing power, hard and soft characteristics of Naha-te and Tomari-te (??) styles, such as Goju-ryu (???). Shito-ryu is extremely fast, but still can be artistic and powerful. In addition, Shito-ryu formalizes and emphasizes the five rules of defense, developed by Kenwa Mabuni, and known as Uke no go gensoku (??????), Uke no go genri (??????) or Uke no go ho (?????) [12]:

Modern Shito-ryu styles also place a strong emphasis on sparring. Shito-ryu stresses speed, and fighting is generally initiated from a higher, more upright stance than Shotokan employs. On the other hand, because the style has so many kata, a great deal of time is spent perfecting any one of its 40 to 60 forms.[3]