The founder of Shito-Ryu, Kenwa Mabuni, learned Itosu-Ha
from Ankou Itosu Sensei, the great master of Syuri-Te and
later, he learned Higaonna-Ha from Kanryou Higaonna
Sensei, the great master of Naha-Te. After his graduation
from Junior High School, he became a police officer and kept
looking for Kata and techniques which sunk into obscurity. He
learned Matsumura-Ha, Shingaki-Ha and besides Karate,
Bou-Jyutu and Sai-Jyutu of traditional Ryukyu martial arts. Shito-Ryu Karate-Do is all mixture of those techniques and spirits of martial arts.
In 1905 Itosu established the five Pinan katas for the Okinawa public schools' physical education department. He reportedly developed the Pinans for the kata "Channan" he learned from the Chinese in Tomari village. Mabuni became the master of the Pinan katas and in 1919 taught them to Gichin Funakoshi. However, Itosu was not Mabuni's only teacher. As a young man of 20 years old, Mabuni was introduced to Kanryo Higashionna (1853-1915), a prominent master from Naha, by his friend Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953, founder of Goju-ryu).
From Higashionna, Mabuni learned Naha-te, a Chinese-influenced karate style. However, Mabuni was only able to study from Hihashionna for one year. His training was interrupted because of his two-year military obligation. Mabuni also learned several gongfu quan (kata) from Go Kenki, To Daiki, and Uechi Kambun as well as the Naifuanchin kata from Shinkin Matayoshi.
In 1913 at age 23, Mabuni began a career in law enforcement. Later, as a detective he was able to travel around Okinawa and came in contact with many people who had a profound influence upon him and his eclectic style of martial arts. Mabuni also trained under the reclusive Arakaki Seisho (1840-1918), who taught a style similar to Higashionna's. Aragaki also taught Tsuyoshi Chitose, the founder of chito-ryu, Gichin Funakoshi of Shotokan, and Kanken Toyama of the Shudokan. Aragaki, who was an acknowledged Bo (staff) expert, taught Mabuni the karate katas unshu, sochin, niseishi, aragaki-sai and aragaki-bo forms. Aragaki was the first to teach Kanyro Higashionna.
Because Mabuni was a policeman it should not be any surprise that he specialized in the Sai or saijutsu (an iron truncheon) and bojutsu (6 foot wooden staff). Mabuni was influenced by weapons experts from all over the island, like Chinen Sanda (1842-1928) founder of Yamanni ryu bojutsu. Mabuni also studied with Sanda's his best known disciple, Yabiku Moden. Moden was Shinken Tairas weapons instructor. During the year 1925, Mabuni established his first real dojo while still teaching at the Toudijutsu clubs he started at the police department and local marine college. Mabuni also participated in a karate club operated by Miyagi and Choyu Motobu, with help from Chomo Hanashiro and Juhatsu Kiyoda.
Choyu Motobu was a master of Shurite (the antecedent of shorin-ryu) and gotende, the secret grappling art of the Okinawan royal court. Hanashiro was also a Shuri-te expert, while Kiyoda came from the same Naha-te background as Miyagi. Known as the Ryukyu Toudi Kenkyukai (Okinawa Gonfu Research Society of Okinawa), this dojo was one of history's gems. Experts from diverse backgrounds trained and taught there, and it was there that Mabuni learned some Fukien white crane kung fu from the legendary Woo Yin Gue (GoKen Ki, Okinawan pronounciation), a Chinese tea merchant living on Okinawa.
When Mabuni established a dojo at his home he was required by law to register it with the local police station, and in many ways this was the first step to having Toudi recognized by the Butokukais' judo department.
In 1927 Dr. Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo) made an official visit to the Okinawa Prefecture for judo demonstrations and seminars. Dr. Kano had connections to the Olympic Committee and politics. Okinawa's Board of Education had decided to have Mabuni, Miyagi, Yabu, and Hanashiro give a private demonstration of kata and their applications. Kano later asked Mabuni and Miyagi to visit the mainland to introduce Shuri-te and Nahate there. In 1928 Mabuni took an early retirement from the police department and traveled to Tokyo with his good friend Chojun Miyagi. There they put on demonstrations for Kano and Funakoshi at the Kodokan, Toyo University and the Police Stations.
Funakoshi introduced karate there in 1922. Mabuni spent many of his early traveling years with Yasuhiro Konishi, a friend and sometimes student who later founded shindo-jinen-ryu karate. In 1925 Mabuni and Konishi visited Japan's Wakayama prefecture where Kanbum Uechi, the founder of Uechi-Ryu, was teaching. It was after training with Uechi that Mabuni devised a kata called Shimpa (mind wave). Mabuni sought out Kanbun Uechi and others to gain a deeper understanding of Qinna (Chin Na) that represents the principles of seizing and controlling an adversary without injuring him seriously. This practice is referred to as bunkai: a common term describing the applications of the kata techniques. But Mabuni actually spent most of his time in Osaka, where he taught at various dojo, including the Seishinkai, the school of Kosei Kokuba (Kuniba).
Choki Motobu also taught at Kokuba's dojo. It was Kokuba who later formed Motobu-ha (Motobu faction) Shito-Ryu. In 1929, Mabuni moved permanently to Osaka. Shortly thereafter, the Japanese martial arts sanctioning body, the Butokukai, pressured all karate schools to register by style name. At first, Mabuni called his style Hanko-ryu (half-hard style), but by the early 1930's Shito-Ryu was the official name. It was coined from alternative renderings of the names of Mabuni's two foremost teachers, Itosu and Higashionna. Mabuni knew that by giving the style a name would not only satisfy the Dai Nippon Butokukai, but would give people something they could identify with and feel a part of. In early articles written by Mabuni he referred to himself as a "Gojuryukenpo shihan teaching Japanese kenpo karatejutsu.
Early students of Mabuni have their own distinct organizations and followings. Ryusho Sakagami, a contemporary of Kanei Mabuni, established the Itosu-kai just after Mabuni's death. In 1948, Chojiro Tani organized the Shukokai, where he taught Tani-ha Shito-Ryu. Since the 1970s, several other Shito-Ryu factions have formed. Most prominent is Hayashi-ha Shito-Ryu under Grand Master Teruo Hayashi.
Mabuni's eminent knowledge of both karate and kobudo combined with his personality helped to create his eclectic Shito-Ryu karate. Another reason for Mabuni's Shito-Ryu to become so broad and diverse in kata and techniques is the balanced way in which he used pliability and power. Mabuni's personality was in keeping with his karate. He was able to yield to the winds of adversity in politics. He is remembered as a man everyone liked. Kinjo Hiroshi remembers Mabuni saying: "There are no styles of karate, just varying interpretations of its principles. Karate can enhance the value of life itself."
Mabuni's Shito-Ryu can be said to be based on his five principles of blocking/self defense.
Rakka: Hard blocking. Striking an off-center or indirect attack with sudden maximum power.
Ryusui: Soft blocking. Redirecting a strong attack with a circular or deflecting parry. Kushin: Springing. A reflexive, darting "out and in" or "up and down" kind of body shifting from any angle.
Teni: Changing positions. Taisabaki (footwork). Shifting or turning quickly out of the opponent's way.
Hangeki: Defense as attack. Brief but intelligent responses. Sen no Sen.
Mabuni used the term "goju" (hard and soft) to symbolize the unique features of his self-defense method. Hard (go) characterizes the material force of the human body, while softness (ju) represents the principle of pliability; the potential to yield in the winds of adversity, also a personality trait to aspire for.
In it's appearance Shito-Ryu basically can be seen as a combination of Shotokan-like and Goju-like karate. Shotokan, which came from Shorinryu (from Shuri-te), utilizes long linear stances and physical power and Gojuryu, which came from Shorei-ryu (from Naha-te and Tomari-te) utilizes up and down stances and internal breathing power (hard and soft techniques). Mabuni's Shito-Ryu is a blend of principles from Shorinryu and Shoreiryu.
Shito-ryu is fast, but still powerful and artistic. It incorporates the powerful Shuri-te kata like Naifanchin and Bassai, the hard and soft Naha-te kata like Sanchin and Kururunfa, and the artistic Chinese white crane kata like Nipaipo and Paipuren. Shitoryu emphasizes considerable training on Kihon (basics) at the beginning, but for a senior Shito-ryu student, quality and quantity run together. Shitoryu contains all the eighteen Shorinryu kata, all the sixteen Shorei-ryu kata, the Chinese white crane kata, plus the kata devised by Master Mabuni himself from his broad knowledge and experiences, a total of more than sixty kata (depending on the organization).
Mabuni was especially interested in the application of kata or bunkai of the kata and his study of the martial arts has been handed down in the form of the practical applications of each technique. Mabuni had a keen interest in the Chinese Qinna or grappling and seizing methods. The blocks, grabs and traps all are associated together. Therefore, a block is a strike and or a seizing technique to control and subdue and adversary. Blocks are performed quickly and close to the body to develop leverage in the arms and the body's center mass.
Although Mabuni practiced goju kata with his friend Chojun Miyagi the Shito-Ryu method of performing breathing and body tension is not as strong, tight and constrictive. Therefore the sanchin dachi is not performed with a dangerous level of body tension that may cause harm to a persons blood pressure. All techniques are performed with the use of the hips and legs in mind to develop power and thrust. The shiko dachi (stance) is employed in most Shito-Ryu kata and is quicker and more pliable than the Shotokan version of kiba dachi. Moreover, the special characteristic of Shito-Ryu that distinguishes it from other schools is that Shito-Ryu lives together with Kobudo (weapon arts) and sometimes Iaido (sword-drawing-arts). The Kihon, Kumite, Karate, Kata, Kobudo Kata, Iaido Kata and the principles (bunkai) behind them Shito-Ryu a broad based style.
Shito-Ryu blocks and strikes are performed with simplicity and quickness. The hips, feet and ankles twist and recoil quickly with each movement, enabling the karateka to follow up with additional techniques without stopping. No extra movement in the hips and shoulders is employed as in the Shotokan block and counter combinations. Shotokan blocks in a Han Mae zenkutsu dachi with an emphasis of power on the side of the body that is closest to the opponent. There is very little recoil of energy to follow up a second technique. Shotokan stances tend to be more rigid in the hips and knees with an emphasis on developing strength in those parts of the body, whereas Shito-Ryu and Goju-Ryu uses shiko dachi and neko ashi dachi, allowing the karateka to move with quickness and pliability. Goju-Ryu's emphasis on breath control and internal body tension with semi-circular foot movements appears slow and methodical, but is used to develop power and strength. The Goju-Ryu katas are in the Shito-Ryu syllabus but are practiced with less tension to allow the karateka to move more quickly. The Goju blocks are circular in nature where as the Shito-Ryu blocks are more directed to the target area. Goju-Ryu rewinds energy in the hips and stomach after each technique but at a slower pace than Shito-Ryu.