Yasutsune “Ankoh” Itosu (1830-1915) was born in Shuri. Itosu was a low-rank Okinawan samurai who was small in stature and an introvert as a child.
Master Itosu began his training in Tode (precursor to modern day Karate) under the direction of the famous Sokon Matsumura. He also studied Tomari-Te under Kosaku Matsumura.
Itosu was the first to teach karate in the Okinawan Dai Ichi Junior high school in 1901 and is credited for creating the Pinan (peaceful mind) kata (also known as Heian). After learning the formal kata exercise, Kusanku, he created the Pinan kata as segmented learning steps for students because he felt that the longer and more complex kata were too difficult for younger students. Besides the five Pinan kata, Itosu is also credited for taking the large Naihanchi kata (Tekki in Japanese Karate) and breaking them down into three parts, all of which are still being practiced to this day – they are Naihanchi Shodan, Naihanchi Nidan and Naihanchi Sandan.
In 1908, Itosu wrote a letter called the “Ten Precepts of Karate” (also known as Tode Jukun). The purpose of this was to draw the attention of the Prefectural Educational Department to encourage the introduction of Karate to all Okinawan schools, including those on the Japanese mainland. The letter reads (paraphrased):
“Karate did not develop from Buddhism or Confucianism. In the past the Shorin-ryu school and the Shorei-ryu school were brought to Okinawa from China. Both of these schools have strong points, which I will now mention before there are too many changes:
1. Karate practice should be used as a means of self-defense and in order to protect one’s parents and loved ones. It should be used to improve your health and should not be used for your own selfish interests or to deliberately hurt someone.
2. The purpose of Karate is to train the human body to become as hard as rock and as strong as iron (steel). To effectively develop the hands and feet to be used as spears or arrows, and to develop a strong spirit and brave heart through continuous practice. If Karate were introduced at the elementary school level, the children would be well prepared for the military in the future. Both the First Duke of Wellington and Napoleon discussed the concept of “tomorrow’s victory can come from today’s playgrounds”.
3. Karate is not learned over a brief period of time. To understand Karate more fully, one should practice seriously everyday for at least three or four years.
4. In Karate the hands and feet should be trained on the ‘makiwara’ by striking it about one or two hundred times. This can be achieved by dropping or relaxing (without tension) the shoulders. Open your lungs (inhale deeply) without raising the shoulders, take hold of your strength (hold your breath briefly), grip the ground with your feet and sink your intrinsic energy (Ki, Chi, Internal Life Force) to your lower abdomen (Tanden).
5. Karate should be practiced with the proper stances executed by keeping the back straight, lowering the shoulders, allowing the strength to develop in the legs, positioning the feet firmly on the ground and delivering the Ki through the tanden, while keeping the upper and lower parts connected throughout the movement.
6. Karate techniques should be practiced repeatedly over and over a great number of times. The correct explanation (Bunkai) of the techniques should be learned and then properly applied to the given circumstances.
7. Karate practitioners should decide whether the emphasis is on purely physical fitness training or only the practical use of the body.
8. Karate should be practiced with great intensity and the concept of always being prepared to defend your self, as if on the field of battle.
9. Karate should be practiced correctly and to develop the proper strength of technique. Do not over exert your self or over do it.
10. Those who have previously mastered Karate have lived to an old age. This was achieved because Karate helps in the development of muscles and bones, helps the digestive organs, and improves the circulation of blood. Therefore, Karate should be introduced into the physical education classes and practiced from the elementary school level onwards.”
Itosu’s style of Karate would later be coined as Shorin-Ryu – a name used to pay hommage to its Chinese roots and the Shaolin Temple (the kanji for “Shorin” translates to “Shaolin”). During Itosu’s time, he was the primary instructor to many famous karateka who would eventually create their own styles and spread the art to what we know of it today. Some of his famous students include Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan), Kenwa Mabuni (founder of Shito-Ryu), Chosin Chibana (founder of Kobayashi Shorin-Ryu), Chotoku Kyan (founder of Shobayashi Shorin-Ryu) and Choki Motobu (famous fighter from the ‘golden era’ of Karate).
Prior to 2006, there was no photo of Master Itosu and only hand-drawn facsimiles were produced. The picture shown is the ONLY legitimate photo of Itosu available. The photo was made available by Master Kinjo Hiroshi, whose instructor, Chomo Hanashiro was a direct student under Itosu.
Although Itosu did not create Karate himself, he is credited for the widespread development of the current art that many practice today. The format and renditions of many popular kata practiced today such as Kusanku, Chinto, Gojushiho and Bassai all adhere to the original teachings of Itosu. For his contribution to the time-honored tradition that millions of people practice globally, we show our sincerest gratitude, respect and appreciation.