Shorinryu Karate is known for quick, accurate hand and foot movement, supported by healthy, natural body movement and breathing. Shoryu uses the entire body in a whip like fashion to add velocity to strikes and blocks. Shorinryu Karate began as  Shuri-te, or tiy, and is known as the style of the Ryukyuan court.  Shuri Castle in the town of Shuri was the center of the Ryukyu Sho Dynasty and  home to the Ryukyuan kings.  Te means hand in Japanese (tiy means hand in the ancient Ryukyuan language Hogen).  Shuri-te was the martial art that was developed by the warriors and royal families of Shuri Castle. The Ryukyuan Sho Dynasty was a tributary to China for hundreds of years. The Ryukyu Kingdom warriors protected the Ryukyu kings at home, and accompanied Ryukyuan dignitaries traveling throughout Asia.  These warriors had the opportunity to train with the best martial artists of their time, and refined Shuri-te to a high degree over hundreds of years. Due to a lack of written history, complicated by written records lost in the path of WWII, only a handful of the original Shuri-te masters can be studied today.

One Shuri-te master whose fame has stood the test of time is Sokon Matsumura, nicknamed Bushi Matsumura for his status as a great warrior.  Matsumura Sensei served as chief Shuri-te instructor and body guard to Kings Shō Kō, Shō Iku and Shō Tai, the last three kings of the Ryukyu Kingdom. He was married to Yonamine Chiru, a well known Tiy master in her own right. Bushi Matsumura is the subject of a number of Okinawan folk tales, and is an historical link between ancient and modern Shuri-te.

ANKO ITOSU (1831-1915)
Anko Itosu, student of Matsumura, served as a secretary to King Sho Tai, the last king of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Japan was expanding its military power under the Meiji Restoration, and ended the authority of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879.   The Ryukyuan culture was fighting for its existence and respect in the face of the growing Japanese influence over the region.  Itosu Sensei believed that his Shuri-tiy could be a valuable asset to the Japanese government. He promoted Shuri-tiy training as a way to develop a nation of strong, healthy children and teens to support Japan’s goal of military might. Itosu began teaching Shuri-tiy in the prefectural school system, which was under the direction of mainland Japan.  Itosu developed the Pinan katas, using simplified patterns best suited to training rows of students.  He also presented the ancient Naihanchi Katas in three parts. In 1921, the Crown Prince and future Emperor of Japan Hirohito verified Japan’s interest in Okinawan tiy by visiting Okinawa and viewing a demonstration of Itosu’s students.

A number of Itosu’s students migrated to mainland Japan during this time period. Notable teachers are Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan Karate), Kenwa Mabuni and Shinpan Gusukuma (founders of Shito ryu Karate), and Choki Motubu (founder of Motobu-ryu).

Two of Itosu’s top students remained in Okinawa to pass on Shuri-tiy as Shorinryu Karate. They were Chotoku Kyan and Chosin Chibana.

CHOSIN CHIBANA (1885 - 1969)
Chibana Sensei continued the Itosu Shuri-tiy tradition, naming his style Shorinryu Karate. He was the first to use name Ryu (style) for Shuri-tiy.  Chibana chose the Chinese kanji characters 小林 流 also pronounced Shorinryu, which translates as "small forest style".  The letters can also be pronounced Ko bayashi ryu, but this pronunciation is not used by karate teachers in Okinawa; Shorinryu is the preferred pronunciation. Chibana Sensei has been called the “Last Warrior of Shuri”.

CHOTOKU KYAN (1870-1945)
Kyan Sensei continued the Shuri-tiy tradition, naming his style Shorinryu Karate just as his friend Chibana did, but chose the Chinese kanji characters  少林流. The  letters are pronounced Sho (little) ryn (forest) ryu (style). The letters can also be pronounced Sho bayashi ryu, but this pronunciation is not used by karate teachers in Okinawa. In 1947, a student of Kyan, Shoshin Nagamine, founded another branch of Shorinryu spelled with the kanji letters 松林流. The first kanji is matsu, or pine.  This spelling of Shorinryu means pine forest style.

Kyan Sensei was a colorful character and skilled karate master.  It is said that Kyan Sensei died from starvation after the Battle of Okinawa during World War II, refusing food to allow children to eat in his place.