Karate’s Family Tree

Karate as we know it today has a long rich history which does not start with noted masters such as Gichin Funakoshi, Chojun Miyagi, and Kenwa Mabuni. Although Funakoshi is widely regarded as the “Father of Karate”, being one of the first Okinawan masters to introduce karate to the Japanese mainland in 1922, he was carrying on the lineage of a number of noted masters. It is these masters who are responsible for many of the kata practiced today in the various karate styles.

The following diagram shows the key men who influenced much of the karate practiced today.


The first notable figure in the family tree is Satunushi “Tode” Sakugawa. His first teacher was a Buddhist monk called Peichin Takahara. He later continued his studies with a Chinese diplomat called Kong Su Kung (pronounced Kusanku in Okinawan), learning White Crane Kung fu. It is through Sakugawa that we have the kata Kusanku, developed in honor of his teacher. He is also credited with the creation of the dojo system of training, and with the creation of the first set of dojo kun (the rules of behavior for a karateka).

The next notable figure in the lineage tree is Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura, a direct student of Sakugawa. He can be thought of as the great grandfather of linear karate. He was the chief bodyguard to the kings of Okinawa. It is Matsumura who is primarily responsible for the linear techniques practiced in Shotokan as opposed to the circular techniques practiced in other styles of karate. He is also notable for the introduction of the following kata:

  • Bassai (Passai)
  • Gankaku
  • Heian Nidan
  • Tekki Shodan
  • Kanku from Kusanku
  • Gojushiho
  • Hangetsu

Yasutsune “Anko” Itosu was a direct student of Matsumura. It is Itosu who is largely responsible for many of the techniques practiced in linear karate today. Itosu started his career as a bodyguard in the service of the Okinawan king, like his teacher. He eventually went on to work in the Okinawan public school system, introducing the Heian katas into the school system as a form of physical education, in 1905.

Apart from being a teacher of Gichin Funakoshi, and introducing the Heian katas into the school system, Itosu is also responsible for the creation/introduction of the following kata:

  • Heian/Pinan Shodan, Sandan, Yondan, Godan
  • Tekki Nidan, Tekki Sandan
  • The Temple katas – Jion, Jitte, Jiin
  • Cinte
  • Rohai
  • Bassai Sho/Dai
  • Kanku Sho/Dai
  • Gojushiho

A contemporary and close friend of Itosu was Yasutsune Azato, who is normally recognized as being the first teacher of Funakoshi. Azato was a direct student of Matsumura. He was a highly trained swordsman and an expert in tai sabaki. He is said to have believed that avoiding being hit was the key to success as a martial artist. Unfortunately, there is not much more known about Azato, and no known photographs exist of him.

Seisho Arakaki was a kobudo master, especially skilled in the weapons of the sickles, sai, and bo. He was also skilled in Monk Fist and White Crane Kung fu. He was the teacher of Kanryo Higaonna, the renowned teacher of Chogun Miyagi and Kenwa Mabuni. Arakaki is also responsible for the introduction of the following kata:

  • Unsu
  • Nijushiho
  • Sochin

In this post, I have only scratched the surface of how the above masters influenced the various styles of karate. One thing to note is that many of the karate styles practiced today have common roots, with the of the originators of these styles being taught by several of the same teachers.

For a more detailed background about the masters mentioned here read the following books:

  • Shotokan’s Secret: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate’s Fighting Origins – Bruce D. Clayton
  • The Bible of Karate: Bubishi – Patrick McCarthy


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