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.
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.