The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat,
but in the perfection of character of its participants
Andre G. Buret, Ph.D.
1. Introduction: Martial arts and karate
2. Chito Ryu
3. Chito Ryu in Canada
4. Chito Ryu crest
6. Canadian Chito Ryu Association katas
This represents a short introduction to the history of Chito ryu and its katas. Rather than being exhaustive, it is meant to provide just enough information to prompt deeper study into the topic. This is a compilation drawn from numerous existing documents. As such, the text aims at providing an updated reference to students, and does not pretend to be an original manuscript.
1. Introduction: Martial arts and karate
The present-day Okinawan martial arts are believed to have come from China. In the 7th century, Chinese martial arts were introduced to Okinawa through Taoist and Buddhist monks. These styles were practiced in Okinawa and developed into Te (手 , Hand) over several centuries.
Okinawa is the largest of a group of seventy-three islands called the Ryukyu Islands, that spread from the southern tip of Kyushu, Japan, to the southern most island, Yonaguni, close to the island of Formosa. In the 14th century, the three kingdoms on Okinawa island (Hokuzan, Chūzan, and Nanzan; respectively Northern, Central, and Southern Mountain) entered into a tributary relationship with the Ming Dynasty of China. Chinese Imperial envoys and many other Chinese arrived. Some of these taught Chinese Chuan Fa (Kempo) to the Okinawans. The Okinawans combined Chinese Chuan Fa with the existing martial art of Te to form Tō-de (唐手 , Tang hand or China hand), sometimes called Okinawa-te. Therefore, Okinawa, throughout its history, has been strongly influenced by China as well as by Japan. Okinawa managed to walk the tightrope between the countries of Japan and China for several hundreds of years by acknowledging them both.
In 1429, the three kingdoms on Okinawa unified to form the Kingdom of Ryūkyū. Ryūkyū was an independent kingdom which ruled most of the Ryukyu Islands from the 15th century to the 19th century. The Kings of Ryūkyū unified Okinawa Island and extended the kingdom to the Amami Islands in modern-day Kagoshima Prefecture, and the Sakishima Islands near Taiwan. Despite its small size, the kingdom played a central role in the maritime trade networks of medieval East and Southeast Asia. When King Shō Shin came into power in 1477, he banned the private ownership of arms and the practice of martial arts. Tō-te and kobudō continued to be taught in secret. The ban was continued in 1609 after Okinawa was invaded by the Satsuma Domain of Japan. The bans further contributed to the development of kobudō, which uses common household and farming tools as weaponry (including bo). The Ming dynasty was overthrown in 1642 and the Manchu started the Ching Dynasty. The Chinese were under orders to adopt the growing of the hair and other signs of submission to the Manchus. Villagers refused to do this and began to adopt Okinawan dress and customs. Cultural ties with China began to decline. Okinawans were also looked down upon by the Japanese, who considered them as inferior.
Okinawa was mostly populated in three “villages”, Shuri, Naha, and Tomari. By the 18th century, people who lived in Naha were presumed to be liberal, and they represented a cosmopolitan blend of sea-going peoples. A person who lived in Tomari suggested scholarship and association with the Chinese living there. Residence at Shuri indicated an association with the court. Different types of Te developed in these three different villages. The styles were named Naha-te, Shuri-te, and Tomari-te, respectively. Practitioners from these three villages went on to develop modern karate. From there, dojos evolved to practice the various styles.
Dojo literally means “the place to come and practice the way” (Do = road, path; jo = place). The word dojo finds its origin in a Buddhist term used to describe the hall of meditation in the temple. Therefore, the dojo links the spiritual and physical aspects of martial arts, and its simple and clean aspects are meant to reflect this atmosphere. The dojo should be a place of discipline and hard training, to enable students to change their way of thinking. It is a highly respected place where students start to question the essence of the “things of life”.
It is better not to use your sword to remove your opponent’s head, but instead, to use your head to remove your opponent’s sword.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Ruler of Japan (XVIth century)
Chitō-ryū is a style of karate founded by Tsuyoshi Chitose. The name of the style translates as: chi (千) - 1,000, or many; tō (唐)- China, or refers to Tang dynasty, to something foreign; ryū (流) - style. tō (唐) can also be pronounced kara (therefore, to-te can also be pronounced kara te, and karate can also mean Chinese, or foreign, or Tang hand, in addition to its more common translation of “empty hand”). Thus Chitō-ryū may mean "1,000 year old Chinese style", or “the 1,000 year old style originating from the Tang dynasty”, or the “many Chinese style”, or the “many Tang style”. The style was officially founded in 1946.
Chitose (also meaning “one thousand years”) was born with the name Chinen Gua (Gwa) on October 18, 1898 in the town of Kumochi, Naha City, Okinawa Prefecture. He changed his name from Chinen to Chitose. He came from a martial arts lineage - his maternal grandfather was Matsumura Sōkon, the personal bodyguard to the Okinawan (Ryūkyū Kingdom) royal household and one of the original Karate masters of Okinawa. However, his father never practiced martial arts. As a young man born and raised in Okinawa, Chitose grew up studying the pre-karate art of Tō-de (or "Tō-te") from many of the top masters of the period. He later moved to mainland Japan to practice medicine, where Chitō-ryū evolved as he utilized his modern medical knowledge of anatomy and physiology to modify traditional techniques to make them both more effective against opponents, as well as less detrimental to the bodies and joints of long-term practitioners.
Although generally classified as a Japanese karate style simply because Chitose formulated and founded Chitō-ryū principally while living in Kumamoto, Japan, some modern practitioners feel it is more properly categorized as an Okinawan style given that its roots and techniques are firmly grounded in, and derived from, traditional Okinawan Tō-de. Compared with other Japanese karate styles, Chito ryu is more fluid, with higher and shorter stances. The style makes use of more hand techniques than kicks.
Chitose began his training in Tote under Aragaki Seishō in 1905 when he was seven years old and continued to train with him until 1913/1914. During this time, Funakoshi Gichin sensei, now recognized as the pioneer of modern-day karate, was a student and senior instructor with the Aragaki-O-sensei’s school. Funakoshi Gichin was also Chitose’s elementary school teacher in Naha.
While there is some discrepancy as to whether Chitose's first kata was Sanchin or Seisan, his book "Kempō Karate-dō" states that he learned Sanchin from Aragaki for seven years before being taught another. Later, Chitose studied seisan for another 7 years with Kyan Chotoku. Also attributed to his training with Aragaki Seishō are the kata Unshu, Seisan, Niseishi, and possibly Shihōhai. Aragaki was also a famous weapons master, leaving behind several bo and sai kata including Aragaki-no-kun, Aragaki-no-sai and Sesoku-no-kun.
Chitose-O-sensei’s co-students included Chibana Chiyoshin-shi, widely recognized as one of the greatest karate masters in Okinawa, Mabuni Ken Wa, founder of Shito-ryu, and Miyagusuku Chojiun, founder of Goju-ryu.
Dr Chitose opened his first dojo in 1946 in Nakamachi (today called Kikuchi), on Kumamoto. He called this first central dojo Yoseikan karate dojo.
3. Chito ryu in Canada
Chito-ryū is a popular mainstream karate style in Canada, with approximately 60 Chito-ryū dojos in 8 of Canada's 10 provinces. Chitose visited Canada in 1967, accompanied by one of his leading protégés, Mamoru Yamamoto (who would later go on to found Yōshūkai Karate-do). This trip was organized by Masami Tsuruoka, recognized as the father of Canadian karate, who was then head of Chito-ryū in Canada. During this trip, Chitose presided over events at the Canadian National Karate Tournament in Toronto and conducted clinics at dojos across Canada. The current head of the International Chito-ryū style, the son of Chitose, continued this practice, conducting clinics in Canada for Chito-ryū practitioners approximately every other year. However, in 2008, a rift occurred between the Canadian Chito-ryū Karate-dō Association and the parent organization. The result was that the Canadian association and approximately three quarters of the Canadian dojos agreed to separate from Japan’s International Chito ryu association, and became independent. The remaining Canadian dojos, in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia, remain associated with the parent organization in Japan. In 2009, 6 dojos from Japan, and a number of others from around the World, including some in Norway, decided to join the Canadian association. Other groups went on their own, including a few dojos in Quebec that followed sensei Jean-Noel Blanchette, then a rokudan and renshi in Chito Ryu, who founded Shin-bu Karate-do, which closely resembles traditional Chito ryu.
The Canadian Chito-ryū Karate-dō Association is now an independent organization, fundamentally dedicated to teaching the style as it was taught by its founder, O'Sensei Chitose. It is headed by Shane Higashi, who was formerly the Kyoshi for Canada and the Vice-Sohonbucho for International Chito-ryū. In 2008, Higashi Sensei was awarded the title of Hanshi and 9th dan. He studied under O'Sensei Tsuruoka, becoming his first black belt student, and also briefly lived with and studied under Chito ryū founder O'Sensei Chitose. Both Higashi Sensei and Tsuruoka Sensei have been inducted into Canada's National Karate Association (NKA) Hall of Fame.
4. Chito ryu crest
There are four main parts to the Chitō-ryū Crest:
* The outline of the crest represents Yata No Kagami, the sacred mirror of Japan, which stands for wisdom and honesty.
* The disc in the center of the crest is the Hinomaru ("sun disc"). The sun is the cultural symbol of Japan, which is derived from Asian mythology, and is represented as the national symbol seen on the flag of Japan.
* The Japanese characters seen on the Crest (千唐流 空手道) are read as Chitō-ryū -Karate-do and represent the Association.
* Finally (no longer used on some crests; however, the above illustration represents the current -2010- crest used by the Canadian Chito ryu association), there is Clasping of the Hands illustrated in the Circle. The fingers clasping hands in a circle are representative of the way of Karate. Many Eastern philosophies understand the belief in life as a continuity, or a continual flow as seen in the mathematical symbol, the circle, a line without beginning or end. Within that circle lie two hands clasping together in apposition. Where one ends the other begins, continuously chasing each other, year after year. Karate can also be seen as a world of contrasts; hard and direct, soft and circular. It takes these two contrasting feelings to make a whole and, in the same way, Karate requires a person to be hard and direct, soft and circular. Only when a student has mastered these two elements does he/she really know the Way of Karate.
Kata (型 or 形, literally means "form") is a Japanese word describing detailed choreographed patterns of movements practiced either individually or in pairs (“bunkai”). Kata are used in many traditional Japanese arts, such as theater forms like kabuki and schools of tea ceremony (chadō), but are most commonly known through the martial arts. Kata are used by most traditional Japanese and Okinawan martial arts, such as aikidō, iaidō, jūdō, jūjutsu, kendō and karatedō. Other arts such as t'ai chi ch'uan and taekwondo feature the same kind of training, but use the respective Chinese and Korean words instead. There are perhaps 100 kata across the various forms of karate, each with many minor variations. The original Okinawa katas include: Pinan 1-5, Naihanchi 1-3, jitte, jion, wansu, kusanku, passai (bassai), seisan, chinto. By choosing Kusanku, Passai (Bassai), Seisan, and Chinto, Chitose selected katas for Chito ryu that represent both the “soft” and “hard” expression of kata. Therefore, Chito ryu’s katas find their origin in Shorei (Naha-te) and Shorin (Shuri-te, Tomari-te). Chito ryu katas originating in Shorei-ryu are: Shi-ho-hai, Seisan, Niseishi (Sho and Dai), Sochin, Sanseru, Sanchin. From Shorin-ryu: Bassai (passai), Chinto, Rohai (Sho and Dai), Ryusan, Kushanku, Tenshin. In addition, katas such as Shime-no-kata (breathing katas), are practiced only by Chito ryu students.
Chitose was acknowledged in Okinawa as one of the last of the great Tō-te masters, and the best kata technician of his time. He created Chitō-ryū by combining the knowledge generated from the 3 original Okinawa “villages”, Shuri, Naha, and Tomari. Shorei ryu (Naha-te) uses 80% strength in its techniques, and it was the style taught to Chitose by sensei Aragaki O’sensei. In contrast, Shorin ryu (Shuri-te) uses 50% strength, and was taught to Chitose by Kiyan Chotoku O’sensei. Chitose integrated in Chitō-ryū 70% of the strength techniques he learnt, and 30% of the softer techniques. While present, the influence of Tomari-te is less evident than that of the two other foundation styles.
The various axes of a plan along which a kata is performed are called “embusen”. In modern kata, the starting point (kiten), from which one salutes when announcing the kata, is also the finishing point. The embusen for each Chito-ryu kata should be executed according to the “Chito-ryu Karate-do – tournament kata officiating guide for judges” (see list of references).
A key concept of any kata is Ichi gan ni soku san tan shi roku. Literally, it means “eyes first, stance second, tanden third, and technique fourth”. Techniques, steps, and changes of direction must be executed following this order. Each technique also requires proper posture, breathing, mental attitude, and eye position (metsuke). Hence, core components of correct kata execution include metsuke, stance, tanden, kime, spirit, speed, alternations of slow and fast / strong and soft, direction, accuracy, zanshin, attitude.
The number of moves in a kata may be referred to in the name of the kata, for example “Niseishi” (“24”). The number of moves may also have links with Buddhist spirituality. The number 108 is significant in Buddhism, and katas with 54, 36, or 27 moves (divisors of 108) are common. The practitioner should visualize the opponent’s attacks, and his or her responses, as actually occurring. Karateka should also be able to "read" a kata, and hence to explain the imagined events. The study of the meaning of the kata movements is referred to as the “bunkai”, meaning “analysis”. At a more advanced level, one will then learn the “gyaku waza” (or counter) of each bunkai, in order to learn how to escape from these techniques. In either instance, one must always practice the left and the right side of the body. Moreover, in every application, there is one obvious aspect, as well as techniques that are less obvious. The omote (or outside surface) of the kata may look simple. But through deeper study, one discovers the ura (or hidden technique) that is underneath the surface. These combinations of applications make kata infinite. When studied in this fashion, one understands why kata is at the roots of martial arts, as designed by Tsuyoshi Chitose O’sensei for Chito Ryu.
Many Chitō-ryū kata bear the same name as other traditional Okinawan kata, but the kata itself is typically different from the original or standard version. Chitō-ryū also contains a few kata that are not found in other systems such as: Shihōhai, Tenshin and Ryūsan. Overall, the higher-level kata of Chitō-ryū show a decisively strong Chinese influence compared to other Karate systems. Additionally, outside and above of the standard syllabus are kata such as Unsu and Hoen which are very fluid complex kata that are undoubtedly derived from a strong Chinese martial arts influence. This mix of kata derived from various sources sets the groundwork for a unique and comprehensive fighting system.
There are a number of 'signature techniques' in Chito ryu kata, which point to its Okinawan Tō-te roots. These include:
1) an emphasis on 'shime' - the contraction of the muscles in the lower part of the body to generate additional strength and stability in stances -.
2) the use of 'shibori' - twisting contraction of the muscles in a specific area (often the arms and the legs) aimed at generating strength (as in the strands of a cable). Perhaps fittingly, the Japanese term shibori also refers to the traditional patterned dyeing of cloth through the use of a twisting and clamping technique.
3) rapid rotational movements.
4) and frequent use of movement off the line of attack (tai sabaki) at advanced levels.
Chitō-ryū versions of Seisan, Bassai and Chintō are near identical to the original Shōrin-ryū forms as taught by the famous Okinawan karate master Chōtoku Kyan.
Chitose O’Sensei learned a great number of kata over his life from many different teachers. When he decided to design his own system, however, he chose to bring into it only kata which would promote the principles he had decided should form the basis for proper training. He also removed techniques from some kata, where these techniques were repeated several times. For this reason, many of the Chito-ryu kata are shorter than similar ones in other styles.
On a slightly deeper level of understanding, one can say that the word kata represents one or more principles of how to deal with an opponent, or one or more training doctrines to prepare for this. Kata is kumite, and kumite is kata. In this way we can say that a particular kata represents a certain model or strategy of how to deal with the problems of facing a hostile situation – for example evasion by dropping down (Chinto, Kusanku), counter-attacking by strong defense (Seisan) or attacking before the attacker has completed his attack (Ryushan). It is not enough to learn the sequences of kata. At a more advanced stage of learning, the student applies “shugyo” (literally “austere training/studying”), and discovers the infinite possibilities in kata, as well as the limits of his/her own knowledge. At that stage, one realizes that it is not a priority to know a multitude of kata, but rather, that one must develop a deep understanding of a few. Only then should a student start to learn from other disciplines, in order to be able to fully appreciate them.
1. Alexander, George. Okinawa, Island of Karate. Yamazato Publications, Kanazawa; 1991.
2. Bishop, Mark, Okinawan Karate, Teachers, Styles, and Secret Techniques. Tuttle, Boston (MA); 1999.
3. Blanchette, Jean-Noel. Maitre des arts martiaux. Ed ACRTQ. ISBN 2-9805083-1-4.
4. Chitose, Tsuyoshi. Kempo Karate-dō — Universal Art of Self-Defense, ISBN 0-9687791-0-7; 1957.
5. Chitose, Tsuyoshi (second generation). Chito-ryu Karate-do – tournament kata officiating guide for judges. Chitose International Pub., Kumamoto; 2001.
6. Gichin, Funakoshi. Karate-do – my way of life. Kodansha international, Tokyo; 1975.
7. Habersetzer, Gabrielle et Roland. Encyclopedie des arts martiaux de l’extreme Orient. Amphora sports, ISBN:2-85 180-556-8; 2000.
8. Higashi, Shane Y. Chito Ryu karate.
9. Kim, Richard. The Weaponless Warriors. Ohara, Burbank (CA) ;1974.
10. Masao, Kitami. Swordless samurai. TT Books St Martins Press, New York; 2007.
11. Musashi, Miyamoto. A book of five rings. The Overlook Press, Woodstock New York; 1982.
12. Rowell, Richard E. Budo theory, Vol. 1: Introduction to budo theory. ISBN 0-9697959-0-4. Canadian Cataloguing in publication data. 1994.
13. Tzu, Sun. The art of war. Shambhala classics, Boston (MA) ; 2002.
6. Canadian Chito Ryu Association katas
Shihōhai is a kata that is peculiar to Chitō-ryū (and derivative systems). The name translates as: Shi (四) - Four; Hō (方) - side or direction; Hai (拝) – pay respects to, reverence, to look at with reverence. The name thus translates as “to pay respects to the four cardinal directions.” Also it should be noted that the combination of kanji Shihō (四方) can mean "all sides” or “all directions." In which case, the kata name could translate as “salute to all directions.”
There is some dispute as to the origin of this kata. Some sources claim the kata comes from Chitose's first teacher, Aragaki Seishō. Other sources (specifically Chitose's own book, Kempō Karate-dō) state that he learned this kata from Hanashiro Chōmo at Sōgen-ji as well as the kata Jion and Jitte. Historically, it has been handed down from Chitose that this kata was used in the royal ceremonies of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. The "salutation to all four cardinal directions" was of great significance during these ceremonies.
The Chinese over 3500 years ago divided the celestial sphere into 28 constellations, belonging to the 4 cardinal quadrants. The four quadrants were represented by four sacred creatures, regarded as guardian deities in ancient China. These four talismanic animals also represented the four seasons, in addition to the four cardinal directions. The Azure Dragon (Seiryuu) also called the "Dragon of the East" presides over the eastern quarter (Spring.) The Red bird (Suzaku) often called the Chinese phoenix, presides over the southern quadrant (Summer). The White Tiger (Byakko) is of the West (Fall), and the Black Tortoise (Genbu) of the North (Winter). While four cardinal directions East, West, South, and North are represented, five directions exist: The other direction is the center, represented by the Earth. Each of the four quadrants were considered to be ‘mansions’ or ‘resting-places’ for the sun and moon in their revolutions. Seven mansions were allocated to each of the four quadrants for the sun and moon to rest, which amounts to the total of 28 constellations of ancient China. Therefore, to salute these 4 quadrants in Shihōhai is a sign of respect to the 4 cardinal directions, to the 4 talismanic creatures, to the 4 seasons, and to everything that keeps the Earth in its place.
First impressions of this kata are that the techniques in Shihohai are simple, direct and strong. The kata provides a practice ground for the basic principle of Ichi gan, ni soku, san tan, shi roku. This concept must be emphasized throughout the performance of the kata. One who practices Shihohai learns to stand firmly on both feet as well as only on one foot.
To a more advanced student the kata is anything but simple and direct. Upon examining the bunkai (analysis) of the kata, one learns this kata involves indirect approaches using the concepts of Tai Sabaki, Hiraki, Tenkan and Irimi, uses strikes with the elbow or backfist, teaches sweeping and blocking movements with the legs, Nage waza (throwing techniques), and provides for learning to deal with multiple attackers.
Key Concept List
• Ichi gan, ni soku, san tan, shi roku
• Tai Sabaki – Body Shifting
• Hiraki- Opening
• Tenkan – Spinning
• Irimi – Entering
• Uraken – back fist strike
• Empi (Elbow strike)
Additional informationChitō-ryū practices a Dai version of Shihōhai that contains a few additional techniques throughout the kata; however, the overall format is still the same. The Shihōhai version of the Ryūsei Karate group under Ō-sensei's son-in-law, Sakamoto-sensei, concludes with a few additional techniques, but again the overall format of the