Old Masters we are indebted to.

Legends one and all.

The change from Chinese Hand into the empty-handed way involved the contributions of a great many past Masters. Including those of both Chinese, and Okinawan lineage. Some of these Masters are known to us today through their deeds, or the through the deeds of their students. Other Masters however, are lost to us forever. Since they either practiced in solitude, and were unknown to the world at large, or they produced no students who went on to greater things.

While always acknowledging in our hearts the contributions made by those unknown Masters, here are a few of the well-known ones whose contributions have stood the test of time.

Takahara Peichin

Born in Shuri, Okinawa, the actual dates of Takahara's birth and death vary depending on the source. The most commonly held dates covering the span of his life are 1683 - 1760. As a member of the upper class of Okinawan society Takahara was both well traveled, and well educated during his lifetime. He was reputed to be a student of Chatan Yara (1668 - 1756) who was himself a Master of Okinawan weapons, and whose legacy lives on in katas such as "Chatan Yara no Kon Sho", "Chatan Yara no Sai Sho", and "Chatan Yara no Sai Dai". Takahara's most famous student was "Tode" Sakugawa.


A Chinese envoy to the island kingdom of Okinawa, Kūshankū had a substantial influence on the life of one of the greatest masters of all time, Tode Sakugawa. It has been said that they first met around 1756 when as a young man Sakugawa attempted to push Kushanku off a bridge. Only to find himself bested and on the receiving end of a lecture on the proper behaviour of young men towards their elders. The meeting was to be a fortuitous one for Sakugawa as it was to change his life forever, since soon after the episode on the bridge, he became a student of Kūshankū. Shortly after Kūshankū's death Sakugawa developed a new kata and he named it, Kushanku, in honour of his former teacher. Today it is one of the longest kata in the Shotokan syllabus and is known as Kanku Dai (Looking to the Sky). There are many versions of this kata in circulation today and it is one of the oldest known kata. 

Kanga "Tode" Sakugawa

Born in Shuri, Okinawa, the actual dates of Sakugawa's birth and death vary depending on the source. The most commonly held dates covering the span of his life are 1782 to sometime around 1862. Tode Sakugawa was a pupil of a Buddhist monk, Takahara Peichin, and for a brief period of time studied under the Chinese master Kushanku. During his brief time with Kushanku he travelled with him to study in China, when he returned to Okinawa, he introduced his fighting style to the local community. In time he would become known as the, Father of Okinawan Karate and amongst his legacy is the concept of the dojo kun. His proficiency with the bo is also with us today in the form of the kata “Sakugawa no Kon Sho". One of Sakugawa's principal students was Sokon Matsumura, the son of a prominent family Matsumura was himself to go on to became one of Okinawa’s great karate teachers. 

Soken "Bushi" Matsumura

Born on Okinawa, the actual dates of Matsumura's birth and death vary depending on the source. The most commonly held dates covering the span of his life are 1809 to sometime after 1896, the year in which he celebrated his 88th birthday. Matsumura was born into the upper class of Okinawan society and first started studying under the great master "Tode" Sakugawa. During Matsumura's lifetime he, like may of the other great masters, traveled to China where it is said he studied for a time under Iwah. He was later in life to encounter a man named Chinto, after whom he was later to name a kata of his own design. Amongst his many students was Anko Itosu, who later to be known as one of the early teachers of Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of the Shotokan who would one day be recognized as the "Father of Modern Karate". Matsumura is said to have had a hand in the creation of the style we know today as Shorin-Ryu. His grandson Chitose Tsuyoshi founded the Chito Ryu style of karate.

Yasutsune Azato

Born in the town of Azato, the actual dates of Master Azato's birth and death vary depending on the source. The most commonly held dates covering the span of his life are 1828 - 1906. Having been born into the upper class and having family members who were of very high rank within Okinawan society, made it much easier for Azato to enter into the world martial arts. An expert in many forms of Budo, Master Azato despite his own skill, was to gain fame in a more indirect way. As one of the two primary teachers to the future "Father of Modern Karate", Sensei Gichin Funakoshi.

Azato Itosu

Born in Shuri, Okinawa in the town of Shuri the actual dates of Itosu's birth and death vary depending on the source. The most commonly held dates covering the span of his life are 1831 - 1915. Itosu at an early age was taken to study under "Bushi" Matsumura. It is from Azato Itosu's and also Yasutsune Azato's style of Shuri-te that Gichin Funakoshi later developed the style we know today as Shotokan. While another of  Azato Itosu’s students Kenwa Mabuni would later go on to create the style that we know today as Shito-Ryu. Azato Itosu was said to have given the first public demonstration of karate in Okinawa in 1903, and he was a major factor in karate being introduced into the Okinawan public school system. Various sources credited him with using the kata, "Kushanku" to create the Shorin Ryu Pinan katas, or Heian katas as they are known in Shotokan karate. Today however, there is a widely growing belief that the truest source used by Azato for the creation of the Pinan katas were much earlier katas commonly referred to a "root katas". In addition to his skill, Itosu was said to be noted through out Okinawa for his legendary strength.  

Remember: "What we know today, we owe to those who came before us."