Yasutsune sensei (1830-1915)- ( Image by Dr. Blog )

Legends of the Past

The evolution "Tode" or "Chinese Hand" as it was once called into what we know today as "karate" or "the empty handed way" has involved the contributions of a great many past Masters including those of both Chinese and Okinawan lineage.

Perhaps the greatest teacher in the history of Karate, Yasutsune "Anko" Itosu simplified many of the ancient katas, created several new ones of his own, and pioneered teaching methods that would revolutionize the art by making its study easier and less dangerous for future generations. For this, he is recognized as the father of modern Karate.

Born in Shuri, Okinawa. He is also known by the name Tonochi, Azato. At the age of 16 he started to train Karate with Master Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura and subsequently trained under several other teachers, possibly including Kosaku Matsumora of Tomari. Well-educated in Chinese and Japanese literature, Itosu served as a translator to Sho Tai, the last of the Ryukyuan kings, until Sho Tai’s fall from power in 1879.

In 1901, Itosu first introduced Karate into the physical education curriculum of the Okinawan public school system. This was a crucial step in transforming the public --Perception of Karate as a feudalistic killing art to one in which the emphasis was -in health and spiritual well-being.

Itosu created the original Pinan (peaceful mind) katas, shodan through godan, practiced today in various forms by virtually all Shorin-ryu styles.

A list of Itosu’s students reads like a who’s who of famous Karate masters and includes: Gichin Funakoshi, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Chosin Chibana, Kentsu Yabu, Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni, and Shigeru Nakamura.

What is perfectly clear is the fact that he was a master who had innumerable and very important students, many of them created a series of different styles of Karate, even though it was never his intention to have this happen.

Although he excelled in archery and swordsmanship, Azato was also accredited with bringing even the best swordsman (carrying katana) down with his bare hands

One of his most famous students was Gichin Funakoshi, someone that always remembered him throughout his life as a great example of what a great master should be and tried to transmit the teachings he received from him.

His attainments are very often told to emphasize the high technical level he attained. Gichin Funakoshi refers to his physical strength, his incredible ability to withstand blows and his incredible grip.

Master Funakoshi recounts that neither Master Itosu nor Azato ever bragged fo their “heroic” attainments in karate, they would say that those “crazy things” were to be blamed on their youth.

Azato advised Funakoshi to “turn your hands and feet into swords”. He drilled him unmercifully in kata. Funakoshi was required to practice a single kata for months before being allowed to move onto another kata.

Sensei Azato told his student “the secret of victory is to know yourself and your opponent through careful preparation and observation.” This way you will never be caught off guard. Azato’s principles remain very important for all Karate practitioners.