From an early age, Kenei Mabuni was exposed to Karate from his father, Kenwa Mabuni, and many of the top, Karate masters of the time, including Chojun Miyagi, Choki Motobu, Yasuhiro Konishi, and Gichin Funakoshi. He continued the legacy of what he learned from his father.
Kenei Mabuni was born on 13 February 1918 in Shuri, Okinawa. His father, Kenwa, was a police officer and the eventual founder of Shito-Ryu Karate. His mother was named Kane. He was the oldest of four children, having three younger brothers, Kensuke, Kenzo, and Kenko.
In 1925 Kenei Mabuni began training with his father, aged seven.
By 1929 Kenwa Mabuni had retired from the police force. He had previously made several trips to Japan to give demos and teach Karate. In April 1929, he permanently moved to the Asahi-ku district of Osaka.
Before his permanent move to Japan, Kenwa Mabuni had previously stayed in the house of Yasuhiro Konishi in Tokyo for a year. Konishi, who had once trained with Gichin Funakoshi, had become his student.
In Japan, Kenwa Mabuni taught at various universities and police departments. This included Kansai and Gakuin Universities.
Kenei Mabuni frequently accompanied his father around Japan, giving demos in the 1930s. During this period there was a famous photograph taken. It centred around the meeting between Gichin Funakoshi, Genwa, Nakasone, Hironori Ohtsuka, Yasuhiro Konishi, and Kenwa Mabuni, accompanied by a young Kenei.
In March 1934, Kenwa Mabuni opened his first dojo in Japan, the Yoshukan, in Osaka. Five years later, he registered the Karate style of Shito-Ryu with the Dai Nippon Butokukai.
In 1940 Kenei Mabuni was conscripted into the Japanese army. The following year he was deployed to Taiwan and the Philippines. However, he became a prisoner of war when he was captured by the United States Army.
Kenei Mabuni returned to Osaka at the war’s end in 1945. He resumed his teaching duties with his father.
In 1947 Mabuni left Osaka for Tokyo. He had enrolled for a degree in Physiotherapy.
On 4 June 1951, Kenei Mabuni’s first child, Kenyu, was born. He would later also have a daughter.
On 23 May 1952, Kenwa Mabuni died at home from a heart attack. He was aged 62. He was buried at a Hattori Cemetery in Osaka, and his funeral was attended by over 3000 of the students.
After Kenwa Mabuni’s death, there was a dispute as to who should become the next head of the Shito-Ryu lineage. Both Kenei and his younger brother Kenzo claimed to be the successor of their father’s lineage. This led to a rift between the brothers and they stopped speaking to each other.
In keeping with Japanese tradition, Kenei, as the eldest son believed that he should succeed his father. However, his mother had asked his younger brother Kenzo to take over the Shito-Ryu lineage. His father had left him the Shito-Ryu name, the family dojo, and the complete Shito-Ryu syllabus.
Kenei Mabuni succeeded his father as the second head of the Shito Kai Shito-Ryu. He was aged 34.
Kenzo Mabuni succeeded his father as the second head of the Seito (pure) Shito-Ryu.
In November 1960 Kenei was appointed the President of the Shito-Ryu Federation of Western Japan. Manzo Iwata was appointed the President of the Shito-Ryu Federation of Eastern Japan. Both organisations operated independently of each other, becoming two of the most prominent Shito-Ryu organisations in the world.
Mabuni took a series of trips abroad in 1962. It was his intention to spread Shito-Ryu internationally. He visited Guatemala, Honduras, and the United States.
The following year Mabuni made his first visit to Mexico. He stayed in the country for several months.
In April 1964, the 1st All Japan Shito-Ryu Karate Championships were held. This was on the occasion of the 13th Anniversary of the death of Kenwa Mabuni. Both Kenei Mabuni and Manzo Iwata’s groups came together for the championships.
On 1 October 1964, the JKF (Japan Karate Federation) was established. It acted as an umbrella for various Karate styles and became the official governing body for Karate in Japan.
The members of the JKF included Ryochi Sasakawa; Hironori Ohtsuka (Wado-Ryu); Gogen Yamaguchi (Goju-Ryu); Manzo Iwata (Shito-Ryu); Kenei Mabuni (Shito-Ryu); Masatoshi Nakayama (Shotokan); and Eichi Eriguchi.
Between 10-13 October 1970, the 1st WUKO Karate Championships were held in Tokyo, Japan. Mabuni was invited to give a kata demonstration at the opening ceremony.
In 1972 FAJKO (Federation of All Japan Karate-do Organisation) appointed Mabuni as a First Class Examiner.
After much work behind the scenes, Iwata and Mabuni agreed to merge the two main Shito-Ryu organisations into a single entity. The JKF Shito-Kai (Japan Karate-do Federation Shito-Kai) was established.
On 15 January 1984, the Japan Martial Arts Council (Nippon Budo Kyougi Kai) presented Mabuni with the ‘Distinguished Service Medal‘ for his contributions to martial arts.
Mabuni helped establish the WSKF (World Shito-Ryu Karate-Do Federation) on 17 March 1993. He was named Chairman.
On 19 December 2015, Kenei Mabuni died in Osaka, Japan, aged 97. On 28 February 2016, his son, Kenyu succeeded him as the third head of the Shito-Ryu. He was anointed successor in an inauguration ceremony held in Osaka.
At the time of his death, Mabuni had been promoted to 10th Dan. During his life, he tried to continue the Karate legacy passed to him by his father.
Mabuni was exposed to Karate from an early age by his father and many of the top karate Masters of the time, including Chojun Miyagi, Choki Motobu, Yasuhiro Konishi, and Gichin Funakoshi.
In his teaching and practice, Mabuni emphasised a more spiritual approach to Karate. He also believed that there should be a clear distinction between traditional and sports Karate.
Over the years Mabuni has had several books published. These are considered a must-read for karate-ka, regardless of style.