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Karate - A Brief History

Legend has it, the evolution of Karate began over a thousand years ago, possibly as early as the fifth century B.C., when a Buddhist monk by the name of Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin temple in China, from India, where he taught Zen Buddhism.

He also introduced a set of exercises designed to strengthen the mind and body, exercises that allegedly marked the beginning of the Shaolin style of temple boxing. Bodhidharma's teachings later became the basis for the majority of Chinese martial arts. Little was known about the early development of Karate until it appeared in Okinawa.


Okinawa is a small island of the group that comprises modern day Japan. It is the main island in the chain of Ryuku Islands, which spans from Japan to Taiwan. Being at the cross road of major trading routes, its significance as a 'resting spot' was first discovered by the Japanese. It later developed as a trade centre for south East Asia, trading with Japan and China amongst others.

In it's early stages, the martial art known as "KARATE" was an indigenous form of closed fist fighting which was developed in Okinawa called "Te", or "hand". Further refinement came with the influence of other martial arts brought by nobles and trade merchants to the island.

Te continued to develop over the years, primarily in three Okinawan cities: Shuri, Naha and Tomari. Each of these towns was a centre to a different section of society: kings and nobles, merchants and business people, and farmers and anglers, respectively. For this reason, different forms developed within each city and subsequently became known as: Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te, collectively they were called "To-de" "Chinese Hand". Gradually, two main groups were formed: Shorin-Ryu, which developed around Shuri and Tomari and Shorei-Ryu from the Naha area.

The Chinese character used to write To-de could also be pronounced 'Kara' thus Te with Kara-te Jutsu or 'Chinese hand art’ by the Okinwan masters. This was later changed to Karate-do by the Japanese who adopted an alternative meaning for the Chinese character.

From this point on the term, Karate came to mean 'Empty Hand'. The 'Do' in Karate-Do means 'way' or 'path', and is indicative of the discipline and philosophy of Karate with its moral and spiritual connotations.

The first public demonstration of Karate in Japan was in 1917 by Gichin Funakoshi, who was also instrumental in changing the name to KARATE-DO.

Today there are four main styles of Karate-Do in Japan:

Shito-Ryu founded by Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952) - (摩文仁 賢和, Mabuni Kenwa)

Goju-Ryu founded by Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953) - (宮城 長順, Miyagi Chōjun)

Shoto-Kan founded by Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) - (船越 義珍, Funakoshi Gichin)

Wado-Ryu founded by Hironori Otsuka (1892-1982) - - (大塚 博紀, Ōtsuka Hironori)

Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952)
Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952)
Chōjun Miyagi (1888-1953)
Chōjun Miyagi (1888-1953)
Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957)
Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957)
Hironori Ōtsuka (1892-1982)
Hironori Ōtsuka (1892-1982)

SHITO-RYU KARATE-DO - A brief history

Shitō-Ryū Karate, was founded by Kenwa Mabuni Sensei (1889-1952)

When he was 13 years old, Kenwa Mabuni Sensei began his training in Shorin Ryu with Anko Itosu Sensei, a noted Karate master, in the Shuri area of Okinawa. Itosu Sensei was not only highly skilled in Budo but also a great innovator in teaching the martial arts.

Around 1905, Itosu Sensei introduced Karate into the Okinawan public school system. Among other accomplishments, Itosu Sensei created the Pinan Kata, which are still practised today as introductory or intermediate forms in many schools.

Itosu Sensei had an important effect on Karate in the 20th Century. Evidence of this can be found in the number of Karate styles that trace their lineage back to him.

In about 1909, through an introduction by his friend Chojun Miyagi Sensei (Founder of Goju-Ryu) Mabuni Sensei started to train with Kanryo Higaonna, in Shorei Ryu. Higaonna Sensei was a great expert from the Naha region of Okinawa.

In 1915, both Itosu Sensei and Higaonna Sensei passed away within a short time of each other. Mabuni Sensei continued his training. Ultimately, he and Miagi Sensei joined with other students of Karate to start a research group aimed at practising and spreading Karate.

In 1929, Mabuni Sensei moved his entire family to Osaka. There he established a small dojo and began teaching his unique art, which was an eclectic mix of Shorin Ryu (Itosu) and Shorei Ryu (Higaonna), with some Kata from the White Crane that were taught to him by the legendary Go Kenki, a Chinese tea merchant who would visit Okinawa on business.

Mabuni Sensei ultimately decided to name his art 'SHI TO' which was formed by taking the first two characters (kanji) from the names of his two primary teachers, Itosu and Higaonna. Thus, the name Shito Ryu has no literal meaning but rather honours the two main teachers in Mabuni Sensei's life.

Mabuni Sensei worked tirelessly to teach Karate throughout Japan, and the impact that he had on the development of Japanese Karate was tremendous. Many groups trace an element of their lineage back to him. Kenwa Mabuni died on 23rd May 1952.

Yasutsune 'Ankō' Itosu (1830-1915)
Yasutsune 'Ankō' Itosu (1830-1915)
Kanryō Higaonna (Higashionna) (1851-1915)
Kanryō Higaonna (Higashionna) (1853-1915)

SHUKOKAI KARATE-DO (A brief history)

The Shukokai school of Karate was founded by Soke Chojiro Tani (1921-1998).

Tani Sensei began his study of Karate at junior high school, in the Go-Ju school of Karate. He then entered Doshisha University Kyoto and
continued to study Go-Ju under the great Karate master and founder of Go-Ju Chojun Miyagi.

After some years, Miyagi returned to Okinawa and asked his good friend Kenwa Mabuni to take over the university class
where he continued to teach Go-ju ryu (Shorei-Ryu) as taught to him by Higaonna Sensei.

After Tani Sensei graduated from university, he continued to train under Mabuni Sensei in the Shorin Ryu and the Shorei Ryu system
and ultimately Shito-ryu. After the war, Tani Sensei started to teach Karate in an open-air car park in the centre of Kobe.
His group (Shukokai) soon grew and one year later, he built his own Dojo attached to his house. In 1946, Tani Sensei was presented witth
the scroll of succession from Master Mabuni and was given permission to start up his own sect, Tani-Ha Shito-Ryu.

Chōjirō Tani (1921-1998) - (谷 長治郎 Tani Chōjirō)
Chōjirō Tani (1921-1998) - (谷 長治郎 Tani Chōjirō)
Haruyoshi Yamada (1938 - 2018) - (山田治義, Yamada Haruyoshi)
Haruyoshi Yamada (1938 - 2018) - (山田治義, Yamada Haruyoshi)

Master Tani passed away on Sunday 11th January 1998

He was succeeded by one of his most senior students;

Haruyoshi Yamada 10th Dan Hanshi

Master Yamada passed away on Sunday 7th January 2018


On the 11th January 1998, Shukokai lost its great master and leader Soke Chojiro Tani. This was a time of great sorrow for the students of this innovative Karate Master, the first man to harmonise martial arts and technology. Steps were immediately taken to continue the dreams and philosophy of Tani Sensei.

Tani's own students became councillors and met for a conference to make an agenda for the future of Shukokai. In attendance were nine Sensei of Hanshi rank (awarded by Tani Sensei) and thirty two members of Officer Rank.

On the 28th June 1998, the Shukokai general conference was held. At the conference, the Shito-ryu Shukokai Karate-do Union
was unanimously voted as the proper successor to the original Shukokai organised by Tani Sensei.

Soke Haruyoshi Yamada 10th Dan (8th Dan certification J.K.F.) was voted the new leader. Sensei Yamada is thoroughly knowledgeable with the constantly shifting world of Karate-do. He was the sole teacher at Shukokai who facilitated traditional Karate-do and who appealed to the rest of the Karate world.

Shito-ryu Shukokai Karate-do Union is now a worldwide organisation,  and is one of the most dynamic and successful schools of karate.

Yamada Sensei would be awarded the title of Soke 10th Dan Hanshi before his untimely passing on 7th January 2018.


In the United Kingdom, many senior Instructors already studying the Shito-ryu Shukokai system within different English associations expressed concern regarding the stagnation and deviation of kata and technique. In order to get back on track and continue to expand their knowledge, it was necessary to return to their roots.

"If you leave the main stream your river of knowledge will dry up"

(Denis Casey)                                     

On the 6th December 1998, the inaugural meeting of the Shukokai Shito-ryu Karate-do Great Britain took place and the new association was formed under the leadership of Denis Casey Sensei 8th Dan.

Links were made with Japan and in August 1999 the chief instructor together with a group of senior instructors travelled to Japan to train under the chief instructor and president of the Shito-ryu Shukokai Union, Haruyoshi Yamada Hanshi. After this enlightening experience, Yamada Sensei was invited to England to pass on some of his vast knowledge to the U.K. Karate-Ka.

It was at a meeting after the seminar that Yamada Sensei expressed his wish for Denis Casey to be his representative for the U.K., and for the Shukokai Shito-ryu Karate-do Great Britain to become members of the Shito-ryu Shukokai Karate-do Union. The name of the association was changed accordingly. The association continues to grow and is now the largest Shito-ryu / Shukokai group in the United Kingdom.


The Union

In 2013 at the world congress of the Shito-ryu Shukokai Union in Japan it was decided that the Shito-ryu Shukokai Union Europe would be renamed the Shito-ryu Shukokai Karate-do World Union and become the governing body for all international members of the Shito-ryu Shukokai Union outside of Japan.

Unfortunately a dissident group that were no-longer members of the official Shito-ryu Shukokai Union (The Shukokai) in Japan continued to use the name. To avoid any confusion it was suggested that the name of the union change to honour our great sensei SOKE YAMADA HARUYOSHI 10th Dan HANSHI.

On the 21st April 2016 the name YAMADA-HA SHITO-RYU SHUKOKAI SAKI RENGO (World Union) was officially and legally registered in Japan.

Although many clubs and associations within the U.K. and Europe insist on using the name Shukokai, it is only Yamada-ha Shito-ryu Shukokai Karate-do World Union that are actual members of the original SHUKOKAI founded by Tani Chojiro Sensei (Japan).


After the sad passing of Soke Yamada, the title of Soke has passed to his daughter Keiko FUJITA (nee YAMADA).

Master Yamada's Tokaido Gi and Obi

Presented to Denis Casey Sensei

Soke Haruyoshi Yamada's last visit to Europe before his passing was in May 2017.
The occasion was the World Union International Seminar held in Croatia.

Master Yamada & Denis Casey sensei
Master Yamada presenting Denis Casey sensei
Master Yamada & Master Tani (1990)
Master Tani & Master Yamada (1990)

Yamada Haruyoshi sensei at the age of 21 years (1959), training along with o-sensei Tani Chojiro, founder of The Shukokai at the Shukokai Honbu dojo

The seminar itself was a great success with lots of members from Europe and around the world, one big happy family with the father at the head (Yamada sensei). However, it was at the closing of the seminar that I received the biggest shock and honour of my entire Karate life (49 years at the time) when Yamada sensei informed me that he wished to present me with his gi and obi.


This was a massive honour for me. I was overwhelmed, full of emotion and humbled beyond belief to be given this great Karate masters' personal gi and obi.


This was no ordinary gi but the gi Yamada Sensei was wearing when he successfully presented himself for his 8th Dan grading in front of the Japan Karate Federation. Making him the youngest ever JKF 8th Dan at the age of 53.


The obi had even more significance as this was the obi made especially for him by Tani sensei to celebrate the opening of his dojo in Amagasaki, the now famous Gishinkan.


They were very personal to him and no doubt held lots of memories, which makes it even more of an honour for me.


I promise I will treasure them and keep them safe until the time comes for me to pass them on in order to keep his memory alive.

Denis Casey Sensei (8th Dan)

Photo Gallery fo Master Yamada's Gi & Obi

Master Tani's Shukokai Honbu Dojo
Denis Casey sensei outside the entrance to Master Tani's dojo
Master Yamada & Denis Casey sensei
Denis Casey (デニスケイシー)
Denis Casey (デニス • ケイシー)
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"The Shukokai"

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