Article by Emanuel Giordano

In the previous article we examined the words of the masters of the past, regarding the two main styles of Karate: Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu.
As we have seen, one of the most complete descriptions comes from the article Itosu no buyuden, written by Yabu sensei in 1915, while the first written source to mention the two terms is the famous Tode jukun, written by Itosu sensei in 1908.
Yabu sensei, in his article, pointed out that the two styles were based on the physical characteristics of their founders, defining as men of the Shorin-ryu the masters Asato and Matsumura, both endowed with agile and slender physique, while he defined the master Itosu as a man of the Shorei-ryu (in this case 60% Shorei-ryu / Naha-te and 40% Shorin-ryu / Shuri-te), due to his robust and strong physique.
But who were the "founders" of the two styles? Or rather, who introduced them to Okinawa? To answer this question we need to examine an article written in 1914 by Funakoshi sensei: Okinawa no Bugi. In the second part of Funakoshi sensei's article we find a chapter dealing with the two styles. According to Funakoshi sensei, who distinguishes the two styles in the same way as Yabu (Shorin-ryu = greater study of technique; Shorei-ryu = greater strength training), a military officer named Ason was a supporter of the Shorei style, while Waixinzan it was of the Shorin style. Funakoshi then continues, in a subsequent chapter, describing the lineages developed by Ason, Waixinzan and Iwah (of which neither the style nor the qualification is known):
  • Ason: Izumizaki of Sakiyama (master of Tomigusuku Uekata Seiko), Nagahama (one of the masters of Itosu sensei), Tomoyori (Tomoyose?) and Gushi Peichin (master of Ishimine of Gibo. The latter was mentioned by Yabu, in the aforementioned article, as an expert in typical okinawan martial arts (non-Chinese), as well as an expert in kata Passai and Kusanku. He is also mentioned by Chibana sensei, in the article of 1957, as his first teacher. Finally, he is also mentioned by Miyahira as an expert in Shuri-te, in the 1973 article).
  • Waixinzan: Shimabukuro from eastern Uemonden, Higa (father of a certain Higa Toku who was alive at the time of the article) and Higashionna from the west (Higaonna Kanryo).
  • Iwah: Matsumura Peichin from Shuri (Matsumura Sokon), Maezato from Kume (Kume-mura. Quoted by Yabu in Itosu no buyuden, in the part published on March 28, 1915) and Kojo Ko.
Now, the lineages of Karate should almost never be understood as family trees, as there was the habit of studying with different masters. For example, Matsumura Sokon studied with Iwah, but according to Yabu he learned old Tode at an advanced age, studying with Yabiku no Shu, who had started his training long before Matsumura, and who transmitted martial arts in the ancient way. Until then, however, Matsumura's training had been based on practical applications (Yabu, 1915). Obviously, having had multiple teachers applies to all the names mentioned above. In addition, the native martial practice of the island is prior to the historical period in which the aforementioned lived, and is therefore also prior to the Shorin and Shorei styles introduced from China, which merged with it to form Karate. It is no coincidence that Yabu cites, also in 1915, the kata Passai and Kusanku as indigenous to the Ryukyu, as opposed to Matsumura's Gojushiho, which was imported from China. Chibana (Taidan, 1957) also reported the words of Itosu, according to which the Okinawan Ti existed well before the arrival of the Toudi (Tode) from China.
Having said all this, is the correlation seen in the previous article correct (Shorin-ryu = Shuri-te; Shorei-ryu = Naha-te)? The answer is to be found in the historical period. Probably, in the past the distinction was not so clear, but with the passage of time the experts of Shuri specialized in the study of Shorin-ryu, while those of Naha in the Shorei-ryu, as also attested by the transmitted kata (topic that we will deepen in the next article). It is probable that this distinction reached its peak with the introduction of Karate in schools, as testified by Funakoshi again in the 1914 article. In fact, he wrote that in the secondary school of Naha the Shorei-ryu was studied, emphasizing the work on physical strength, while in Shuri the Shorin-ryu was studied, working more on the technique. In the same article, but in a previous paragraph, he also wrote that Higaonna Kanryo was in charge of teaching at the Naha commercial School. Funakoshi, as regards the topic of school Karate, is a very reliable source, as he was directly involved in the project, as also testified by Miyagi Hisateru in his book Karate-do (1953), so there is no reason to ignore these informations.
Obviously there is a point to clarify... If Higaonna sensei studied with a Shorin-ryu teacher, why is he described in the same article as a teacher at a scholastic institution where Shorei-ryu was practiced? As mentioned above, the aforementioned Chinese masters were not the only teachers of the Okinawan masters, and there is no doubt that the type of Karate handed down by Higaonna was classifiable as Shorei-ryu, that is, more focused on the development of the body. Among the various testimonies there is that of Miyagi Hisateru (Karate-do, 1953), who described Higaonna as a man with a body strongly tempered by the practice of kata Sanchin and with a great grip strength in the hands.
Folklore. Some sources report that Ason, Iwah and Waixinzan were part of the Sapposhi Wang Ji military escort, however this cannot be true, as Wang Ji led the investiture ceremony of King Sho Tei in 1683, and died in 1689, so much earlier of the birth of the masters mentioned as students of Ason, Iwah and Waixinzan.
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata 2" (here)
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: kata" (here)
  • "Shorin-ryu Karate: The legacy of the bodyguards of the king of Okinawa" (here)
  • "The legend of the masters of Okinawan Karate: Biographies, curiosities and mysteries"  (here)