Master Anko Itosu, after being one of the driving forces behind the push to get karate into Okinawan schools, he is also considered by many, to be the main reason karate spread to mainland Japan and then the rest of the world!
Anko Itosu was born in 1831 and died in 1915. He was small in stature and shy as a child. He was raised in a strict home of the keimochi (a family of position), and was educated in the Chinese classics and calligraphy. Itosu began his karate study under Nagahama Chikudun Pechin. His karate practice led him to Sokon Matsumura.
Anko Itosu served as a secretary to the last king of the Ryukyu Kingdom until Japan abolished the Okinawa-based native monarchy in 1879.
It is believed that he created and introduced the Heian kata forms (although some historians would disagree) as the longer older kata, were too difficult for schoolchildren to learn.
In 1908, Itosu wrote the influential “Ten Precepts (Tode Jukun) of Karate,” reaching beyond Okinawa to Japan. Itosu’s style of karate, Shorin-ryu, came to be known as Itosu-ryu in recognition of his skill, mastery, and role as teacher to many.
Although he was the main force behind the push to get karate introduced into Okinawa’s schools, but he soon realised the old ways of teaching karate was not the way to teach young children. He changed the ‘way’ for the children and this is the ‘way’ that spread to Japan and then ultimately, the rest of the world. A karate where the ikken hissatsu was replaced with a very athletic and diciplined karate training. Gone were the majority of open hand strikes, eye gauges, chokes, grappling techniques, bites and head butts! Replaced with a much ‘safer for the masses’ karate.
Now i’m not saying this shift in the meaning of karate, was good or bad, but it was definately beneficial to the kids, then later on, university students.
I sometimes wonder what karate would be like today if it had stayed underground, not hidden, just not put into tournaments or practiced by the masses.
The majority of karate practice today, is focused on the athletic and health benefits of karate and there is nothing wrong with that. Few karate dojo, focus on the ‘Ikken Hissatsu‘ (to finish with one blow) philosophy. But! In recent years, there does seem to be many Karate Sensei who would like to get back to the older karate ways.
My sensei used to say, ‘they never used to compete with karate and the only fighting practiced, was kata applications, repeated 100’s of times, then once the defenders were confident, the attackers would try to take the defenders out!’
While Itosu did not invent karate himself, he modified the kata (forms) he learned from his master, Matsumura, and taught many karate masters.
Itosu’s students included Choyu Motobu (1857–1927), Choki Motobu (1870–1944), Kentsu Yabu (1866–1937), Chomo Hanashiro (1869–1945), Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957), Moden Yabiku (1880–1941), Kanken Toyama (1888–1966), Chotoku Kyan (1870–1945), Shinpan Shiroma (Gusukuma) (1890–1954), Anbun Tokuda (1886–1945),Kenwa Mabuni (1887–1952), and Choshin Chibana (1885–1969).
Many would say the karate that is practiced today is for tournaments, health and well being and as I get older, the health benefits really do appeal to me, but then some would say, the true meaning of karate is lost. What do you think?