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The Shotokan Lineage

by on August 28, 2008

I’ve been doing some research on the lineage of Shotokan karate masters. Although there is a lot of contention on the internet about the origins and major influences of modern karate, there’s not much debating a history of who taught whom.

As a reference point only, I began with myself (clearly no master of karate). I knew that a few steps ahead I would come to the real founder of modern karate, so I thought this was a good place to begin. My sensei are Tony Tam, 6th dan, and Dan Tam, 6th dan. Although Tony sensei began teaching himself karate and teaching others in Nova Scotia, I believe he would agree that if there was one person who remains his direct sensei, it would be master Okazaki.

Master Okazaki trained directly with master Funakoshi! Can you believe it? His fellow karateka, too, are among the most known karate masters of recent times: Yutaka Yaguchi, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Chair of the SKIF, and Masatoshi Nakayama, perhaps the most well known master among all descendants of Okinawan karate. From master Funakoshi, the names will become more obscure to most people, but are well known to (even amateur) karate historians: Masters Itosu and Azato.

A sliver of the Shotokan Karate Tree

A sliver of the Shotokan masters-tree

Master Funakoshi is considered the father of karate due to his expertise in teaching, but more importantly his efforts in permeating the Chinese and Japanese cultures with the teachings of karate. These teachings, however, stem largely from his aforementioned masters.

Although philosophical and political, Azato’s contribution to the karate we witness today is based on his technical merit. Anko Azato was revered as a master swordsmen, horse rider, and archer. Master Funakoshi met Azato by attending grade school with his son, and later received his teachings.

Itosu first formalized some precepts of karate in a letter to the Japanese Ministers of Education and War in 1908. This letter, referred to now as the Tode Jukun (”10 principles of te“). These 10 principles are the basis for the renowned nijukun of Funakoshi and the dojo kun of the JKA and ISKF. Also a technical proponent of modern karate, Azato codified the kata learned from his Master, Sokon Matsumura.

Master Matsumura is the progenitor of shorin-ryu and was the first personal body-guard to the Okinawan King. It is recorded (although unverified/unverifiable) that Matsumura was sent by the king to defeat a stranded Chinese sailor, Annan, but found himself equally matched. Seeking instruction from Chinto, Matsumura later formalized Annan’s teachings and passed on the kata we know today as Gankaku which was originally called Chintō (”fighter to the east”). Master Matsumura’s main teacher, Sakukawa, was a philosopher first and a martial artist second; he is attributed the merit for first describing/formalizing “Te”.

Sakukawa trained under a Chinese monk, Takahara Pechin (Japanese name), for 6 years in the art of Chuan’Fa and later took up studies with Kusanku for whom the kata Kanku Dai is named. I have a post in the works that outlines the history of Kanku Dai as well. You’ll just have to check back once I’ve finished enough research to post it.

From Sakukawa things get somewhat more obscure. I have to get back to work right now, so I’ll finish this lineage a little later.

Have thoughts on this lineage thus far? Additions to the tree? Let me know in comments.


From → karate, research

  1. Brad permalink

    This is very interesting. I’ve read up on this a little on Wikipedia but your “masters tree” summarizes it very nicely; at least for the shotokan aspect. It would be great to see how this relates to other styles of karate as well. Will you be doing this in the future?

  2. You make no mention of Tsutomu Ohshima, which I find confusing. According to my Sensei, he was a student of Gichin Funakoshi. Wikipedia seems to be in accord with this. How that lineage made it to Arizona, I don’t know. Both of my instructors were Canadian, and Shotokan seems to have a strong following in Canada. You can find their lineage chart here:

    Since moving back to Utah, I’ve switched over to Wado-Ryu, a style similar to Shotokan. (Not to be confused with Wado-Kai, which is very different). Wado-Ryu’s originator is Otsuka, who studied under Choki Motobu, apparently a rival of Funakoshi. I’ve been told that Otsuka trained with Funkakoshi.ōkiŌtsuka

    I’ve heard both Nishiyama and Nakayama mentioned repeatedly. Nishiyama seems to be the direct student of Funakoshi, while Nakayama studied under Funakoshi’s son. Nakayama seems to have been instrumental in keeping the karate world organized under one banner until his death, when it fragmented into a number of competing organizations. At which point things become highly political and all claims highly suspect.

    Kanazawa seems to be the semi-successor to Nakayama.

    My Utah Shotokan lineage runs from Nakayama to Mike Berger ( to Andy Pacejka. Berger has been affiliated with Kubota for the last fifteen years or so. The bio lists a whole series of teachers, including Osaka, a Utah Wado-Ryu instructor. Osaka also taught Doug Jepperson, my Wado-Ryu Sensei. I am unsure about Osaka’s own lineage.

    I typically hear karate described in four main ‘branches’: Shotokan, Wadu-Ryu, Goju-Ryu and Shito-Ryu. I know almost nothing of the other two branches.

  3. Matt:
    I didn’t mention Ohshima in this article because it was fairly early on in my shotokan lineage research and I had not come across Ohshima yet. Since then though, I’ve found out about Ohshima and have written here about his influence on Shotokan in America.

    But about Nakayama, he was a student of Funakoshi’s son as you say, but first and foremost studied under Gichin Funakoshi until the day Funakoshi died. Read Master Yaguchi’s book “Mind and Body, Like Bullet” or the numerous videos online with interviews of Master Okazaki.

  4. We have a started on WIKI on karate lineage if you would like to take the above further or add to the existing Karate lineage charts there. The WIKI tools is at and has separate page for each of the 5-6 major lineages…

  5. Matt there are many he did not mention as he is trying more to track backwards from Soke Funakoshi not forward. Very much research indeed. Their is this site that has more lineage on it. This one above is great as it adds on to the one have making a more complete Keizu.

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