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Understanding the history of Isshinryu and karate can provide the Isshinryu Karateka with a greater knowledge of the masters of Karate and their contributions to creating Isshinryu. Understanding the people involved leads the student and instructor alike to a deeper respect for the evolution of the art.

Kyan Chotoku

(1870-1945)

Who he was

A student of Matsumura Sokon, Itosu Anko, Matsumora Kosaku and other top instructors of his time. One of the top teachers of his era and reknowned for his skill across Okinawa.

Key Instructors

Matsumura Sokon—The last “Bushi” and already profiled, you should read the previous newsletters!
Itosu Anko—
Brought Karate into the school system and already profiled, you should read the previous newsletters.
Matsumora Kosaku—
Top martial artist in Tomari, and already profiled, you should read the previous newsletters!

Key Students

Arakaki Ankichi / Shimabuku Taro—Two close friends and early students of Kyan. Initial instructors of Nagamine Shoshin.
Nagamine Shoshin—
Founder of Matsubayashiryu and well known Martial Arts author.
Nakazato Joen—
Founder of Shorinjiryu.
Shimabukuro Zenryo—
Founder of Chubu Shorinryu.
Shimabuku Eizo —
Younger brorther of Shimabuku Tatsuo, the youngest Judan (10th Degree Black Belt) and current head of Kyan’s Shorinryu lineage.
Shimabuku Tatsuo—
Founder of Isshinryu Karate.

The Individual

Rather than outline the training and many details of his life, which exceeds the space allocated for this article, I will instead share a specific incident from his life.

Kyan Chotoku was both a great and a highly intellectual karateka, although many of the stories associated with him are of a less than wholesome nature. Much of the reason for this relates to the conditions in which he was forced to live. Life on Okinawa during Kyan’s life was not easy, it was frequently a struggle to survive and many succumbed to depression and wasted away.

A story which exemplifies Kyan’s intelligence as a martial artist occurred at a karate demonstration in Taiwan. In August of 1930, Kyan Chotoku, Kuwae Ryosei (student of Matsumura Sokon), and Kudaka Kori were in Taipai to give a karate demonstration. Prior to the demonstration, a large judoka named Ishida Shinzou approached the three and requested a fight in order to judge the effectiveness of karate. While his request was made with respect, the three realized it would be seen as a sign of weakness to refuse. Okinawa’s honour was at stake.

Accepting the challenge, it was decided that Kyan would face the much larger opponent as Kuwae was too old, and Kudaka was too young. In preparation of the match, Kyan removed his good demonstration gi and stood, only in flimsy underwear, prepared to meet his opponent. Ishida was clearly intending on being aggressive in the battle, his mannerisms showing his power in comparison to the frail Kyan.

Kyan waited in his ready position for Ishida to attack. Ishida lunged in seeking to grab Kyan, only to find Kyan’s thumb stuck in his mouth and felt incredible pain in his cheek. Kyan gripped Ishida’s face tightly and pull on the cheek forcing Ishida to the ground. Kyan then executed a hammer fist towards Ishida’s jaw stopping it mere millimeters from the intended target. Realizing he was bested, Ishida immediately submitted.

Kyan used an unexpected yet highly effective technique against the experienced Judoka. At the same time, by removing his uniform was able to severely limit the Judoka’s technique.

Kyan named his art Shorinryu, which was a combination of the most effective techniques that he had encountered through his studies. From his initial teaching until the time he founded his art, Kyan’s techniques remained relatively unchanged, though the kata were quite different. Kyan appreciated the need for each student to learn the kata in their own style, just as he had adapted the system to himself.

Kyan continued training and teaching in the northern portion of Okinawa until his death on September 20, 1945, at the age of seventy-six. As a result of the scarcity of food during World War II, Kyan felt it was more important that the available food go to the children. As a result of caring for those in need, he eventually succumbed to illness due to poor nutrition. One favorite saying of Kyan was “A mastery of karate does not depend on the learner’s physical constitution, but mainly on constant practice. Merely an excellent physical constitution cannot guarantee a mastery of karate-do.”

I sincerely hope that you enjoyed reading this series of articles on the history of Isshinryu. For more information about this master and karate in general, please refer to Essential Isshinryu.

Up next in the Isshinryu history will be additional biographies of Okinawan Karate masters. If you have corrections or comments regarding this article or any future article, please feel free to contact me directly.