The son of Shito-Ryu Karate founder, Kenwa Mabuni, Kenzo Mabuni has devoted his life to the preservation of the style of Karate as taught by his father.
Kenzo Mabuni was born on 30 May 1927, in Akahira Machi, Shuri, Okinawa, to parents, Kenwa and Kame Mabuni. He had three brothers, Kenei, Kensuke, and Kenko. His father was a serving policeman.
By 1929, Kenwa Mabuni had retired from the police force. He had previously made several trips to Japan to give demonstrations 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 previously 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.
Kenzo Mabuni began training with his father, aged 13, in 1940. He remained his student until his father’s death.
On 1 August 1943, Kenzo Mabuni was promoted to 1st Dan by his father.
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 3000 of his students.
After Kenwa Mabuni’s death, there was a dispute as to who should become the next head of the Shito-Ryu lineage. Both Kenzo and his older brother Kenei claimed to be the successor to their father’s lineage. This led to a rift between the brothers, and they stopped speaking to each other.
In keeping with Japanese tradition, as the oldest son, Kenei Mabuni believed it was he who should succeed his father as the next head of Shito-Ryu Karate.
It was Kame Mabuni, who asked her son 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.
Unsure what to do, Kenzo Mabuni went on a two-year retreat. During this time he trained and contemplated. In the end, he accepted his mother’s request.
Kenzo Mabuni succeeded his father as the second head of Seito (pure) Shito-Ryu.
Kenei Mabuni succeeded his father as the second head of the Shito-Ryu Kai Shito-Ryu.
After taking over his fathers, dojo, Kenzo Mabuni constructed a memorial shrine to his father in 1954.
Mabuni was not concerned with the fame or politics that is rife in Karate. He concentrated on teaching the Karate he had been taught by his father. He mainly taught in Osaka and surrounding areas. He eventually taught a class, once a month, for his instructors. He wanted them to maintain the high standards he required.
The 13th Traditional Karate Tournament International was held in Los Angeles in 1993. The tournament was a showcase for traditional martial arts. It was organised by Osamu Ozawa, who was one of the most senior Shotokan instructors residing outside of Japan.
Mabuni and Ozawa were good friends. Ozawa invited him to give a demo of Seito Shito-Ryu at the tournament. This was the first time that this style of Shito-Ryu had been seen outside of Japan. The demo resulted in an interest in the style from other Shito-Ryu practitioners.
Mabuni was invited to the 14th. Traditional Karate Tournament, International in 1994. Like the previous year, he gave a demo of Seito Shito-Ryu. Goju-Ryu master, Teruo Chinen also gave a demo.
Once again, after the tournament, there was an interest in Seito Shito-Ryu.
In April 1994 Rudy Crosswell, a Shito-Ryu instructor from Phoenix, Arizona invited Mabuni to conduct several seminars in Albany and Phoenix. Several of the American instructors who attended the seminars wrote to Mabuni, requesting to become his direct student. After a careful review, he accepted some of them.
Mabuni eventually established Shito-Ryu International Karate Do Kai. Schools would eventually be established in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania.
In 1995 Mabuni returned to the United States. He spent a month teaching on the East Coast of America. He mainly taught in the Massachusetts and New York areas. Students travelled from across the United States to train with them.
The Shito Ryu Karate Do Kai of America was established in 1995. It comprised American dojos committed to teaching and spreading Seito Shito-Ryu.
In 1996, six instructors travelled from America to Osaka for two weeks. They stayed at Mabuni’s home and trained with him at his father’s dojo.
By the mid 2000s Seito Shito-Ryu Karate had spread across the world. In August 2004, Mabuni, who was now aged 77, travelled to Malaysia for seven days. During his visit, he taught several seminars. This was his last foreign trip.
On 26th June 2005, Kenzo Mabuni died aged 78, following a short illness. He was survived by his wife and two daughters.
On 29 June 2005, a traditional Buddhist ceremony was held for Mabuni. Many people from around the world were in attendance. His eldest daughter, Miwako, spoke on the family’s behalf.
Miwako Mabuni became the third head of Seito Shito-Ryu, with the full support and approval of the Saiko Shihan Kai (Head Council of Teachers). She goes by the title Tsukasa, which means ‘to manage‘. It has been agreed that she will be known as Tsukasa Mabuni, and this title will be passed down to the next head of Seito Shito-Ryu when the time comes.
Kenzo Mabuni was very loyal to his father’s teachings. He did not deviate from the curriculum created by his father. He felt his father had left a valuable gift, and it was his mission to teach it correctly.