1. Shito Ryu Branches in USA

Dear karate-ka;
Welcome to the first e-mailing of the gyo list-server information center. This e-mail center will serve the function of disseminating information to those training in Aoinagi Karate. It will have no particular order to its mailings; each should be taken as a brief introduction into the subject without particular sequential order with any other mailings.

This first mailing is a direct result of an e-mailing sent to me by Mr. Lee Carmean. If you have other questions send them to me as Lee did. You get your questions answered (if I can answer them) and help others along the way in Aoinagi Karate.

Lee’s first question was stated thusly: I am interested in knowing more about the various factions of shito-ryu and their similarities and differences. You mentioned that Sensei Kim learned shito-ryu from Yoshida Kotaro who was a student of Kenwa Mabuni. Demura was a student of Sakagama, who was also a student of Mabuni. What other lines of shito-ryu are still in existence?

Well let’s get the record straight. Yoshida Kotaro was the student of Takeda, and both Takeda and Yoshida Kotaro were members of the Dai Nippon Butokukai during the years that karate was introduced to the DNB by Funakoshi, Mabuni, Miyagi and Ohtsuka. When these four masters introduced their specific styles of karate (Funakoshi = Shotokan; Mabuni = Shito; Miyagi = Gojo; Ohtsuka = Wado) it was 1935 and Yoshida Kotaro was a well-respected member of the DNB. He undoubtly learned from all of the masters in karate, but as for him being a direct student of any one master is highly doubtful. The Shito-ryu kata that Mr. Kim knows, and he knows them all, were learned by the combined effort of Yoshida Kotaro and Mr. Kim’s experience in the DNB from 1935-1945. With that clarified (I hope), we will proceed with the Lee’s question.

I learned most of my Shito-ryu kata from Chuzo Kotaka. So let’s start with Sensei Chuzo Kotaka?

Kotaka began his training at the golden age of Shito-ryu karate and had the benefit of mixing with a number of Shito-ryu Sensei. These included Mabuni Kenwa (until 1957), Mabuni Kenei, Mabuni Kenzo, Kuniba Jr., Kuniba Sr. and, although he would deny it Hayashi.

In the early 1960’s Chuzo Kotaka of the Shito-ryu vied for the Japanese National Championship crown several times with another famous Shito-ryu practitioner, Fumio Demura. One won in 1962 and the other in 1963 (sorry I don’t remember which on which year). The important thing here is to recognize that both were Shito-ryu practitioners, and both won the Japanese National Championship, indicating the strength of Shito-ryu as a representative of karate in Japan.

Mr. Fumio Demura learned from Sakagami Ryusho until 1993 when the old master and love of his life died at 78 years old. Sensei Demura left Japan and started his schools in the US with Dan Ivan in 1965, just a couple of years after having won the All Japan National Championship. Demura was 53 years old when Sakagami died and was profoundly proficient in both Shotokan and Shito-ryu karate. He had taught Shotokan in Dan Ivan’s schools for years, because Dan Ivan was a Shotokan advocate. But out of deference to his teacher Sensei Demura returned to teaching Shito-ryu after teaching Shotokan for nearly 30 years.

Mr. Demura’s instructor Sakagami learned from the originator of Shito-ryu, Kenwa Mabuni. He trained with the master for around 30 years before Shihan Mabuni’s death in 1957.

Another prevalent name in Shito-ryu in the US is Hayashi. Hayashi runs a set of dojo based in Seattle. He promoted Minobu Miki to high rank and the two got along well for many years, but, I understand, that Minobu Miki is no longer with Mr. Hayashi. As you may recall Hayashi learned from Mabuni Kenwa and Kuniba Kosei (and because he came along in the time of the golden age of Shito-ryu some others, too).

Most of the Shito-ryu dojo in the USA derive from the three branches discussed; Kotaka, Demura, Hayashi. Then there are the secondary branches off of these three; Krieger, Crosswell, Miki, others.

In truth, Lee, the multiple attachments and detachments, the lack of understanding of loyalty have made following Shito-ryu’s family tree more of a nightmare than a history. So let’s go on to the differences in style and set aside family trees.

Kotaka’s karate is much the same as Demura’s. Demura tends to use a little higher stance in kata but the kata are notably the same as Kotaka’s in unit form. Body dynamics are similar although Kotaka tends to emphasize the hip twisting action about the axis more than does Demura. Demura, on the other hand tends to emphasize the tilting and thrusting of the hips about the axis more than Kotaka. The fact that these two great practitioners met in the ring a number of times in the 1960’s and neither was a decisive winner (although both may claim to be) indicates that both practice powerful karate. And, in essence, their Shito-ryu is excellent.

Hayashi, in my opinion, has a thing for winning tournaments. His karate is more designed for the tournament circuit and emphasizes what is important to win there. The fame accrued by his students winning so many trophies appears to be a strong influence in his design of kata and of the kind of body dynamics emphasized. It works! Hayashi and Miki before the split were winning consistently in local to national level tournaments. If the criteria for the value of a style of karate lies in how it does in the tournament arena then Mr. Hayashi’s Shito-ryu karate is tremendous. Personally, I find the kata lacking kimochi and the body dynamics dramatic but not powerful. To compare Hayashi’s Shito-ryu and Demura/Kotaka Shito-ryu, I would have to say that the first is good for tournaments but lacks kimochi and the second has greater potential for kimochi but sometimes gets beaten in the arena by the bias of judges who look for the in-vogue criteria for judging.

Then there are the two brothers Kenzo and Kenei Mabuni. They may have learned a lot of techniques and kata from their father but their body dynamics are much different than the Kuniba-Kotaka line. (Mr. Kotaka says that neither of them took their father seriously and only after his death did they claim a birthright to Shito-ryu karate.) Both of these brothers have small followings of Shito-ryu practitioners in the USA.

There are many who claim to be Shito-ryu karate practitioners. The reason is that Shito-ryu like Wado-ryu are comparatively unknown in the US. Shotokan and TaeKwonDo are the big names and charlatans don’t dare claim they know something as well known as these for they could be proven liars. They need names which are known but styles which are not-known. That way they can just say “I do Shito-ryu and it is different than what you do.” And who can argue if you don’t know Shito-ryu. So, unfortunately we have some imposters.

To determine the authenticity of a Shito-ryu karate practitioner or school observe their kata. You will recognize it as very similar to what you have been taught. You will also note body dynamics with centralization and peripheralization along with frequent use of the cat stance rather than the back stance. The essence for you, Lee, will be in familiarity. The kata, even if you have never seen it before, will just seem familiar to what you do. That is what we do, Shito-ryu karate.

Did this discussion pose any questions in your minds? If so, please send me an e-mail right now with what those questions are. I will try to answer them, if I can.