The original kata of Shotokan and Shito-Ryu
Published: March 10, 2020
Today, Shotokan and Shito-Ryu are known for their large amount of kata. Shotokan (mostly) has 26 kata in its curriculum. (Some organizations skipped Jiin and for example Hirokazu Kanazawa’s SKIF added kata like Seienchin and Tomari Chinto as Gangaku Sho.) Shito-Ryu’s kata curriculum goes up to more than 60 kata.
A lot of kata in both styles are credited to be taught to both Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan, and Kenwa Mabuni, the founder of Shito-ryu, by Anko Itosu and are also mentioned as ‘the original kata’ Funakoshi and Mabuni taught themselves. But is that true?
In 1939 Kenwa Mabuni registered Shitō-Ryū as an official ryūha-name with the Dai Nippon Butokukai. Later that year Mabuni established the Greater-Japan Karate Association (Dai Nippon Karate-dō Kai) as the national organization aiming at the education of karate teachers.
(Source: ‘Mabuni Kenwa and the establishment of Shitō-ryū’ by Andreas Quast http://ryukyu-bugei.com/?p=5404)
It was in 1937 that Kenwa Mabuni for the first time published a list of his ‘current kata’. This list names a total of 33 kata roughly categorized according to the lineages they originated from.
10 kata came from the 'Higaonna lineage':
23 kata came from the 'Itosu lineage':
• Naihanchi Shodan
• Naihanchi Nidan
• Naihanchi Sandan
• Pinan Shodan
• Pinan Nidan
• Pinan Sandan
• Pinan Yondan
• Pinan Godan
• Kosokun (Kusanku) Sho
• Kosokun (Kusanku) Dai
• Shiho Kosokun
• Bassai Sho
• Bassai Dai (Itosu no Passai)
• Rohai Shodan
• Rohai Nidan
• Rohai Sandan
Additionally he noted that: “Adding other kinds of kata the number increases. In the Aragaki-ha there are such kata as Niseishi, Unshu, and Sochin. … Of Sesan there are five or six kinds all together in Naha and Shuri. As for Gojūshiho and others there are also some differences in the Itosu-ha and the Matsumura-ha.”
As I also mentioned in 'The lineage of Gojushiho', being of the 'Itosu lineage', doesn’t necessarily have to mean that he learned it from Itosu. Mabuni also mentions kata like Saifa and Tensho being from the ‘Higaonna lineage’, but both kata were developed by Chojun Miyagi. Mabuni and Miyagi were both students of Kanryo Higaonna and they were good friends. Of course, it’s plausible that they exchanged kata, for example Saifa and Tensho.
When it comes to Rohai Shodan, Nidan and Sandan, there is an interesting thing. Nowadays, the three Rohai are often called 'Itosu no Rohai', as it is said they were developed by Anko Itosu. But, in Mabuni's list, they are just called 'Rohai Shodan, Nidan and Sandan', so without 'Itosu'.
Actually, there is no written evidence that Itosu developed and/or taught these kata. I personally wouldn't be surprised if Kenwa Mabuni developed the three Rohai kata. Only Rohai Shodan has close resemblance to Matsumora no Rohai. Nidan and Sandan have almost none. (Except the opening of the kata.) As a matter of fact, if we look at Nidan, you can see similarities with Shito-Ryu's Wansu. And in Rohai Sandan you can see similarities with Jiin, Chinte and Kusanku Sho.
Of course, it is often said that Gichin Funakoshi learned the three Rohai kata from Anko Itosu and combined them to Meikyo.
But as you can read below, Meikyo was not among the 15 kata that Funakoshi taught when he came to Tokyo in 1922.
So that's also debatable, which I'll explain further later in this article.
The 23 kata from the 'Itosu lineage' does not include the following kata, which are often said to be ‘original’ Shito-Ryu kata and are often said to be taught to Kenwa Mabuni by Anko Itosu:
• Matsumura no Sesan
• Matsumora no Rohai
• Matsumura no Bassai
• Tomari Bassai
• Tomari Wansu
• Matsukaze (original name: Wankan)
• Chatan Yara Kusanku
If Anko Itosu taught these kata to Kenwa Mabuni, I think it is most likely that Kenwa Mabuni also taught them, as he was known for his large kata curriculum and a ‘kata collector’.
So therefore I think that Kenwa Mabuni never learned these kata from Anko Itosu. So how did these kata get into the Shito-Ryu system?
The story goes that Teruo Hayashi, the founder of Hayashi-Ha Shito Ryu, learned Matsumora no Rohai, Tomari Bassai (which is in fact Oyadomari no Passai), Chatan Yara Kusanku and Wankan from Shoshin Nagamine, the founder of Matsubayashi-Ryu. After that they were added to the curriculum of other Shito-Ryu organizations.
How Matsumura no Passai and Matsumura no Sesan found their way into Shito-Ryu, I didn’t find out yet.
(Hayashi-Ha) Shito-Ryu Tomari Bassai
When Gichin Funakoshi came to Tokyo in 1922, he taught no more than 15 kata:
• Tekki (Naihanchi) Shodan
• Tekki (Naihanchi) Nidan
• Tekki (Naihanchi) Sandan
• Heian (Pinan) Shodan
• Heian (Pinan) Nidan
• Heian (Pinan) Sandan
• Heian (Pinan) Yondan
• Heian (Pinan) Godan
• Kanku (Kusanku) Dai
• Bassai (Dai)
• Gangaku (Chinto)
• Empi (Wansu)
• Hangetsu (Seisan)
Empi/Wansu is often said to be taught to Gichin Funakoshi by his grandfather and that it came from Choken Makabe (1769 - 1825 or 1850), who was also a teacher of Kishin Teruya (1804– 1864) and Karyu Uku (1800–1850). Teruya and Uku were both teachers of Kosaku Matsumora and Kokan Oyadomari. Choken Makabe's nickname was 'Birdman' and according to Hirokazu Kanazawa, Shotokan's Enpi (Wanshu) comes from Makabe. That would explain the name Enpi; Flying Swallow.
Anko Azato’s kata
But Gichin Funakoshi was also a student of Anko Azato. There is no written evidence about which kata Funakoshi learned from Azato. In his book 'Karate-Dō Nyūmon' Funakoshi writes in Chapter 3 (Karate in the Ruykyus) that he learned the Naihanchi (Tekki) and Pinan (Heian) kata from Anko Itosu: “Master Itosu, from whom I so gratefully learned the Heian, Tekki and other kata, was the private secretary to the Ryukyuan king.” In the same chapter, he talks about Azato, but he does not say which kata he learned from him.
But in January 1914, an article by Gichin Funakoshi based on an interview with his teacher Anko Azato, was published in the Ryūkyū Shinpō. (It is said the interview as already held around 1902, but wasn’t published until 1914.)
Azato says: “If you count them all together, there are certainly dozens of species, but you can not learn them all. There is also no need to learn so many. If you choose 5 to 6 from those, that's enough. To strengthen the body, Naihanchi and Seisan are suitable. The interception of a Bo is limited to Passai. To generate speed, Kunsanku is good. Jitte clearly distinguishes between the upper, middle and lower levels. As regards practical application, Seisan and Tomari no Passai are extremely effective.” - Ryūkyū Shinpō, January 18, 1914.
(Source: ‘The lineage of transmission of Passai’ https://amba.to/2TDx8AD)
So he is talking about Naihanchi, Seisan, Passai, Kusanku and Jitte. This does not necessarily mean that Azato taught these kata, but at least he was familiar with and had profound knowledge of them. So it is of course possible that he taught one or more of these kata to Gichin Funakoshi. Personally I think that Funakoshi's Seisan came from Peichin Kiyuna, about whom I wrote a separate article, 'In search of Kiyuna Tanmei': https://bit.ly/3bF4zvh
(NB. There is no written evidence that he learned Seisan from Peichin Kiyuna, my thoughts are based on statements in his book 'Karate-Do, My way of life’.)
Interesting thing is that, besides Seisan, Kenwa Mabuni labelled these kata (Naihanchi, Bassai, Kusanku and Jitte) as kata from the Itosu lineage. (By the way, Itosu did teach Seisan, but the Shito-Ryu version is from the Higaonna lineage.)
The 15 original kata which Funakoshi introduced in Tokyo in 1922, do not include the following kata:
• Nijushiho (Niseishi)
• Gojushiho Sho
• Gojushiho Dai
• Kanku (Kusanku) Sho
• Bassai Sho
So how did these kata get into the Shotokan system?
Shotokan members studying with Kenwa Mabuni
Nijushiho (Niseishi), Unsu, Gojushiho Sho, Jiin, Kanku (Kusanku) Sho, Bassai Sho and Chinte are believed to come from Kenwa Mabuni or his students.
The late Shotokan authority Masatoshi Nakayama is quoted: “Master Funakoshi never stopped to study other forms of Karate. When we visited master Mabuni, he told me to learn the Gojushiho and Nijushiho Kata, so that we could address them more intensively later on. Right after that, Mabuni Kenwa taught me these Kata.”
Most likely, Unsu, Jiin, Kanku (Kusanku) Sho, Bassai Sho and Chinte are also taught during that time.
(Also see ‘Kenwa Mabuni - The founder of Shotokan?’ by Damian Chambers: https://bit.ly/2xqvZ6Y and ‘Legends of Karate: Mabuni Kenwa and his Shitô-Ryû (pt. 4)’ by Jesse Enkamp: https://bit.ly/2wFjVyh
If we take a look at Shito-Ryu’s Gojushiho and Shotokan’s Gojushiho Sho, you can see that these kata are indeed very similar.
(NB. In Hirokazu Kanazawa SKIF Gojushiho Sho is called Gojushiho Dai and Gojushiho Dai is called Gojushiho Sho.)
Comparing Shito-Ryu Gojushiho and Shotokan (SKIF) Gojushiho Dai
Gojushiho Dai (JKA)
Also according to Masatoshi Nakayama, Gojushiho Dai (JKA) comes from Kanken Toyama: “Through Master Kanken Toyama, the kata ‘Koryu Gojushiho’ […] was introduced into the Shotokan style…”
Meikyo is said to be developed by Gichin Funakoshi himself, based on the three Itosu no Rohai kata. But as you have red earlier in this article, the three Rohai kata were not called 'Itosu no Rohai' by Mabuni in 1937. And if Gichin Funakoshi and other Shotokan practitioners learned kata from Kenwa Mabuni, it is possible that they also learned the three Rohai kata from him. And then combined them to Meikyo. (In the article 'Kenwa Mabuni - The founder of Shotokan?’ Damian Chambers actually writes that Rohai was among the kata that were taught by Mabuni to Funakoshi's senior instructors.)
And again; there is no written evidence that Anko Itosu taught these three kata.
Wankan and Sochin
Shotokan’s Wankan and Sochin are most likely developed by Gichin Funakoshi’s son Gigo. Both kata have nothing in common with Shito-Ryu’s Wankan, which is called Matsukaze in Shito-Ryu, and Sochin, which is also found in Okinawan Shorin-Ryu styles.
The Shito-Ryu and Okinawan Shorin-Ryu version are very similar by the way.
Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Sochin
Putting all the facts and assumptions above together, that would mean the following list for the presumable origins of the 26 Shotokan Kata.
Author: Olaf Steinbrecher