20th Century Karate Jutsu masters of Kansai

There is a great deal of focus on the Tokyo Karate movement, such as Gichin Funakoshi’s Shotokan, and lots of information about later Okinawan styles like Kobayashi Ryu and Matsubayashi Ryu. But a much under-researched area of Karate history is the developments in Kansai, Japan between 1920 and 1960. These Karate Jutsu styles include Hanko Ryu, Motobu Ryu, Kushin Ryu and Pangai Noon.

Between 1920 and 1944 there was a huge migration of Okinawans to Kansai, (including Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe). Among these were Karate masters Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni and Kanbun Uechi. Some of the styles regarded as ‘Okinawan Karate’ actually had their start in Kansai.

Motobu Ryu

Choki Motobu arrived in Osaka in 1921, before Funakoshi Gichin arrived in Tokyo. Motobu had been living in Japan a couple of years when he made the acquaintance of a judo teacher named Doi, who encouraged him to try to teach Karate in Japan. Motobu subsequently began giving demonstrations and teaching in the Kansai area, but development of the art was slow. After a couple of years he thought of giving it all up, but then in the mid-1920s interest in the art slowly began to grow.



Among Motobu’s students in Osaka was Fujiwara Ryozu. Motobu then left Osaka and moved to Tokyo where Funakoshi was teaching. Fujiwara later penned a Karate history book with Shinken Gima. According to Fujiwara, Motobu and Funakoshi did not get on because of their social classes, and Motobu whose Karate Jutsu was very brutal consider Funakoshi’s Karatedo to be dancelike. After Motobu left Osaka, Fujiwara joined the Shito Ryu Dojo of Chojiro Tani were he taught the likes of Shigeru Kimura.


Hanko Ryu to Shito Ryu

Kenwa Mabuni, a student of Shorin Ryu (Itosu) and Naha Te (Higaonna) established the Hanko Ryu (later Shito Ryu) style in Osaka.

Chojiro Tani taught a branch of Shito Ryu (Tani Ha) commonly called Shukokai. One of his co-students was Hiroshi Fujimoto. They were also co-students with Tomiyama, Yamashita and Ueshara at the Doshisha university Karate club where they trained under Shito Ryu founder Kenwa Mabuni. The Doshisha school was originally taught by Chojun Miyagi and then Kenwa Mabuni so the students began in Goju Ryu and then later Hanko Ryu (later Shito Ryu). One of Mabuni’s other notable students was Kanyei Uechi, a distant relative of Uechi Ryu founder Kanbun. Kanyei studied Karate under his father and uncle in Okinawa and then moved to Osaka in 1924 looking for work. There he befriended Mabuni and by 1935 was given the unusual grade of “2nd Dan Shihan”. He opened his own Shito Ryu Karate club in 1937 and closed it three years later when he returned to Okinawa.


Mabuni also studied Shinden Fudo Ryu and was listed as the art’s Soke and was friendly with the last historical Ninja, Seiko Fujita. We should note that Toshitsugu Takamatsu, also said to be a Shinden Fudo Ryu master and a Ninja also lived in the Kobe area.

Fujimoto and Kushin Ryu

In addition to Goju Ryu and Hanko Ryu, Fujimoto had also learnt Uechi-ryu and Kushin Ryu from Master Seijiro Sakihama who sometimes called the style Jugo-Shizen-ryu. Fujimoto’s teacher Seijiro Sakihama studied Uechi Ryu under the founder Kanbun Uechi, and Kushin Ryu he studied under its joint founder Kanemori “Kensei” Kinjo.

Kushin Ryu was jointly founded by Kanemori and Kiyotada Sannosuke Ueshima. Kanemori had studied two styles of Karate, the Shorin Ryu (Kobayashi Ryu) of Chosin Chibana and the Goju Ryu of Chojun Miyagi.

Ueshima (1893-1987) had studied Karate from the ahge of 9 under an Okinawan man named Sugaya who was presumed to be an early student of Itosu, since he taught the Channan and Kushanku forms. Ueshima had also from the age of 3 trained in a style of Jujutsu called Koshin Yujoyitsu in the Academy of Matsubara in the city of Akou, under his teacher Kiyotada Kajei Matsubara.

In 1918, at the age of 25, Ueshima received the title of professor of Konshin Yujoyitsu from professor Matsubara and professor Guikyo Mazai Akada. After receiving his title Ueshima transferred to the city of Osaka, where he opened the academy Konshin Ryu Yujoyitsu.

After opening his academy in Osaka several teachers of Karate arrived from Okinawa to the city of Osaka. On arrival to Osaka they visited Ueshima’s academy to practice and teach martial arts. These masters were Chōki Motobu, Kanemori Kinjo and Chosin Chibana. According to Mark Bishop it was Ueshima who visited Kinjo’s Dojo in Osaka, but regardless the two became friends and founded Kushin Ryu together. In 1933 Ueshima received the title of Kyoshi (Judo) from the Dai Nippon Butokukai and in 1935 and for the first time in Japan, the Dai Nippon Butokukai conferred the title of professor of Kyoshi (Karate) to Ueshima with other two teachers, Miyagi and Konishi. In 1940, Kinjo was awarded the title of Renshi.

In 1960 Kinjo’s top student Shintaro Yoshizato introduced Kushin Ryu to Okinawa. In 1965, Ueshima received the title of 8th Dan in Judo from the Kodokan. Kanamori Kinjo returned to Okinawa where he spread the Kushin Ryu style. In 1987 at 94 years of age, Soke Kiyotada Sannosuke Ueshima, founder of the Kushin Ryu style died in the city of Osaka.

Pangainoon to Uechi Ryu

Kanbun Uechi (1877) was an Okinawan Karateka who like his peers Kanryo Higaonna and Norisato Nakaima, studied Quan Fa in Fujian. It seems the styles they studied were related. Patrick McCarthy has conjectured that Higaonna studied Whooping Crane, but it seems as likely that the styles were Pangainoon and Kingainoon. In 1922 Uechi moved to Wakayama near Osaka and in 1923 started teaching Karate to a few friends. By 1932 he was teaching a well established Karate academy. He only returned to Okinawa in 1946 at the age of 69 and died two years later.

Uechi’s son Kanyei Uechi lived with his father in Japan and in 1937 opened an Uechi Ryu Dojo in Osaka which he ran for two years until he returned to Okinawa in 1939.


After the war the original Karate Jutsu methods fell into the abyss as Japan pushed for its brand of Karatedo to be universally standardised. The styles of Shotokan, Goju Ryu, Wado Ryu and Shito Ryu were the first to be recognised. There were however some masters who remembered the old ways including Hideo Tsuchiya (student of Kanken Toyama), Hiroshi Fujimoto (Uechi Ryu and Kushin Ryu), Shinken Gima (Shoto Ryu) and Mikio Sindo (student of Choki Motobu).

Unique insight is provided for the period 1965-1985 as Terry Wingrove (now a 9th Dan in both Karate and Jujutsu) lived in Japan in that period, trained with the above masters and many more besides and was a key officer in FAJKO.

Terry Wingrove (b1941) had commenced Karate study with Vernon Bell in 1957 having studied Jujutsu/Judo since 1953. He had trained with Tetsuji Murikami, Hiroo Mochizuki and Jim Alcheik and held the grade of 1st Kyu. He declined to take his 1st Dan under Murikami as Bell advised him to grade under the JKA. Wingrove took his Shodan under Shirai after almost 8 years of Karate training.

Kinjo Hiroshi and Terry Wingrove
Kinjo Hiroshi and Terry Wingrove

Wingrove was employed as a physical education teacher at the Marist International School in Kobe and joined the biggest Karate Dojo in the area which was the Shito-Ryu Dojo of Chojiro Tani and became secretary of the international Shukokai organisation training with Kimura and Tani who graded him 3rd Dan. In 1968 Wingrove became an office for FAJKO there he was able to travel around, training with many different masters.

Through his friendship with his mentor Hideo Tsuchiya, Wingrove got to know masters like Shinken Gima and Fujiwara Ryozu. He told me: “I was very fortunate to have contact with Shinken Gima sensei almost on a daily basis when I was working at FAJKO from 1968 and he would often have lunch with [Hideo] Tsuchiya sensei and myself and tell us stories of the early days of Karate in Japan.

“Fujiwara was senior instructor at Chojiro Tani’s Shukokai dojo in Kobe and was Kimura’s teacher and mine for 3 years from 1967- 70. He studied as young student with Motobu during his first stint in Kobe/Osaka (Kansai) in the mid/late 20s and was a goldmine of knowledge re early Karate in Japan.”

Introduced to Hiroshi Fujimoto he was taught about pre-war Karate Jutsu and gave displays of Karate Jutsu at the Budokan Hall. He also trained at length with Sato Kimbei in Jujutsu/Yawara and in Aikido with Morihei Ueshiba and Bujutsu with Hideo Sonobe. He was present in Kobe for Sato’s Yawara demonstration at Shukokai Championships in Osaka, Japan 1968 and his demonstration of Chinese Kung Fu and sword in Kobe in 1969.

He describes the Karate Jutsu (of Hiroshi Fujimoto, Mikio Sindo et al) and the Yawara/Jutsu (of Sato Kimbei, Hideo Sonobe) as being the ‘egg’ (as in the raw form that can then be served up in different ways) and martial arts in their original combative purpose – to disable, main or kill. He describes how Karate Jutsu and Yawara must be taught with precision of target and how pressure (whether applied throw compression, torsion, shear) must be deliver with this precision.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s