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Mabuni Kenwa





Mabuni Kenwa
1889 - 1952

Who is Mabuni Kenwa Soke?

Mabuni Kenwa (1889 - 1952) was one of the most influential and pioneering karate masters of the 20th century, and the founder of Shito-Ryu Karate-do, along with its official governing organization, the Nippon Karate-do Kai.

He was the second son of a well known shizoku family (descendants of samurai), born in Tonokura Village in the capitol city of Shuri, Okinawa in 1889. His ill health as a child prompted his father to seek out legendary 19th century karate master, Itosu Yasutsune, and request that he teach 13-year-old Mabuni the art of Shuri-te karate-do in order to strengthen his body to match his inherited samurai spirit.

Young Mabuni's best friend in middle school was Miyagi Chojun, himself a karate-ka studying Naha-te under its leading proponent, Higaonna Kanryo. Shortly after Mabuni obtained a teaching position at Naha Elementary School, Miyagi introduced him to Higaonna Sensei and convinced him to accept Mabuni as a student. So, from 1907 until his military induction in 1909 -- and then again after the completion of his enlistment three years later -- he was able to train under the two preeminent karate masters of his time.

Higaonna Sensei died in 1915 and Itsou Sensei passed away the following year. In 1918, Mabuni Sensei organized the Karate Kenkyu-Kai ("Karate Research Association"), where such legends as Funakoshi Gichin, Hanashiro Chomo, Miyagi Chojun, Kyan Chotoku, Chibana Choshin, Yabu Kentsu, Tokuda Ambun, and many other leading karate-ka regularly met to exchange martial arts theories and techniques. Drawing from his previous training and the knowledge of this unprecedented collection of karate masters, Mabuni Sensei was able to perfect his knowledge of the kata of Shuri-te, Tomari-te, and Naha-te, as well as learn Okinawa Kobudo from Aragaki Ankichi and master of the sai, Tawada Shimpachi. Since the Karate Kenkyu-Kai never had a dojo, in 1925, Mabuni Sensei opened the garden of his home for use by the group. At this time, the group's name was modernized to the Karate Kenkyu Karabu ("Karate Research Club"), and added such notable members as Motobu Choyu, and a Chinese master of Fukien White Crane ch'uan fa whose name is pronounced Go Kenki in the Okinawan dialect.

As the years passed following the deaths of Itosu Sensei and HIgaonna Sensei, many of the members of this group developed substantial retinues of their own students, splintering Shuri-te and Naha-te into more than a dozen factions and styles. Soon the adherents of these styles were creating their own variations of the traditional kata of karate-do, based upon their own interpretations and theories. Mabuni Sensei saw in this trend a danger of dissention between styles and karate-do losing much of its original content, so he dedicated himself to preserving the form and substance of the traditional kata exactly as they had been taught to him by Itosu Sensei and Higaonna Sensei.

Due to his unique background and knowledge, Mabuni Sensei was able to accomplish something of tremendous importance for the legacy of traditional karate-do: he reversed the trend of most of his contemporaries and consolidated the three major 19th century styles -- Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te -- into a comprehensive, integrated system that he later named Shito-Ryu in honor of his two principal instructors.

In 1926, judo founder, Professor Kano Jigoro, invited Mabuni Sensei to mainland Japan to promulgate his unique style of karate-do. In 1928, Mabuni Sensei went to Tokyo to meet with Professor Kano, then moved permanently to Osaka in 1929, where he completed the written syllabus for the style he would later name Shito-Ryu. Even before he could establish a dojo, martial artists from all over mainland Japan travelled to Mabuni Sensei's residence in Osaka to train with him. There, in his garden, he would teach kata or explain karate principles handed down from Itosu Sensei and Higaonna Sensei to the leading karate masters of that time. In 1934 Mabuni Sensei opened his first dojo, the Yoshukan in the Nishi Nari-ku district of Osaka. In 1939 he coined the name Shito-Ryu for the style and created an umbrella organization for the many dojo teaching his style -- the Nippon Karate-do Kai ("Japan Karate-do Association"). Because of its comprehensiveness and strict adherance to the original kata of karate-do, Shito-Ryu quickly established itself as one of Japan's four major styles of traditional karate-do.

Mabuni Kenwa Sensei passed away on May 23, 1952. Several of his senior disciples broke away and established organizations of their own, but it was Mabuni Kenzo -- second son of the founder -- who was appointed to take over as nidai-me Soke ("second-generation family-leader") of the Nippon Karate-do Kai. To learn about Mabuni Kenzo Sensei, click here.


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2003   Leonard J. Pellman

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