Chatan Yara was an early Okinawan master of whom some information exists. Some authorities place his birth at about 1670, in the village of Chatan, Okinawa; others place his birth at a much later date. In any case, he contributed much to Okinawa karate. He reportedly studied in China for 20 years. His bo and sai techniques greatly influenced Okinawan kobudo, his Kata, “CHATAN YARA NO SAI,” “CHATAN YARA SHO NO TONFA,” and “CHATAN YARA NO KON” are widely practiced today.

Satunuku “Tode” Sakugawa
Most modern karate styles can be traced to the famous Satunuku Sakugawa (1733-1857) called “Tode” Sakugawa. Sakugawa first studied under Takabara Peichin of Shuri. Later, Sakugawa went to China to train under the famous Kusanku. Kusanku had been a military attache in Okinawa. When Master Kusanku returned to China, Sakugawa followed and remained in China for six years. In 1762, he returned to Okinawa and introduced his kempo (“fist way”). This resulted in the karate we know today. Sakugawa became a famous samurai and was given the title of Satunuky or Satonushi, titles given to Okinawan warriors for service to the Okinawan King. Sakugawa had many famous students; among them were:

Sakugawa contributed greatly to Okinawan karate. We honor him today by continuing many of the concepts he introduced. Sakugawa’s greatest contribution was in teaching the great “Bushi” Matsumura Sokon.

More History

Okinawa, the birth place of karate ,has produced many versions or individual styles of its bare-handed fighting art. Some styles evolved from the teachings of different masters, other styles are indicative of a particular town, or villager family tradition handed down from one generation to another. However in terms of the main stream of historical development of karate, there are really only two styles. One style is known as Shuri-Te(Shuri hands) and the other is Naha-Te(Naha hands).

Naha-Te was developed around the principal port city of Naha, a large trade center. This method of Te (empty hand fighting) was perpetuated by Bushi (warrior) Sakiyama (b.1819), Arakaki Kamadeunchu (1840-1920) and Kanryo Higashionna (1851-1915). Naha-Te ultimately became known as Shorei Ryu (inspirational style) and evolved into the Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu styles of modern karate. The use of soft circlular blocks in Goju and Uechi Ryu make them similar although Uechi Ryu Shows a much stronger Chinese influence.

Shuri-Te, on the other hand, was a style that developed mainly in the ancient city of Shuri, the ancient capital of Okinawa. This is where the king and members of the nobility lived. Actually another style known as Tomari-Tewas a closely related system and was considered to be an off shoot of Shuri-Te. Tomari-Te was practiced in Tomari Village. This village was located close to Shuri and was populated mostly by farmers and fishermen. Tomari-Te eventually blended back into Shuri-Te. Ultimately Shuri-Te developed into Shorin Ryu (Young Forest Style). Of the two styles of Okinawan Karate, it should be noted that the Shuri-Te system is characterized by speedy movements rather than the more forceful movements of the Naha-Te system. Shuri-Te was a more offensive style while Naha-Te was a more defensive one. The differences of style are really only surface differences as both styles are derived from similar Chinese martial traditions. Naha-Te seems to have more of the soft-techniques and emphasis on breathing and control of Ki (intrinsic energy) influenced by Taoist philosophy. While Shuri-Te appears to be derived from the Shaolin Kenpo Style. The Shuri-Te style was practiced by the samurai of the court at Shuri Castle. The original Shuri-Te and its evolved counterpart Shorin Ryu traces its history back over two hundred years in Okinawa.

Shinjo Choken is a “Dai Jo” or an important figure in Shorin Ryu’s history. He is one of the earliest known practitioners of Shuri-Te. He was active in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s. It has been handed down that after Shinjo Choken another martial artist by the name of Tode Sakugawa (1733-1815) became prominent in Okinawa. In fact, he is considered to be the first true teacher of Okinawan Karate. Sakugawa’s martial art was a mixture of Shuri-Te and Chinese Kenpo. In 1756, Sakugawa became a student of the Chinese military envoy Kusanku (also Kushanku). Kusanku was a highly skilled Kenpo master and famous for his fighting ability. Kusanku did many things which influenced Shuri-Te’s and ultimately Shorin-Ryu’s development. He taught many native Okinawans including Chatan Yara and Shionja of Shuri. He brought some of his students from China to Okinawa and they spread the Chinese style on Okinawa. In addition, it is reported that Kusanku introduced a maneuver whereby the closed fist was held in a chambered or ready position along the side of the torso (hikite) and then from this position a punch was thrown, corkscrewing it in karate fashion, toward the intended target. Kusanku is also credited with the introduction of a type of kumite or sparring to Okinawan karate. This kumite was referred to as Kumiai Jutsu or fighting technique.

After his training with Kusanku, Sakugawa became known as an expert in the Chinese style of fighting called Tode. This is the basis for his nickname Tode (Chinese hand) Sakugawa. He is credited with being the first Okinawan Karate teacher. The reasoning behind this is that Sakugawa is said to have combined the techniques of Chinese style Kenpo (Tode) with the native Okinawan techniques of Shuri-Te and thereby formed the basis of a truly Okinawan Karate. He has three students who distinguished themselves as excellent martial artists. They were Bushi Ukuda, Macabe Chokun and Bushi Matsumoto of Urazoe. However his last and most famous student was Bushi Matsumura (1797-1889).