Born in Shuri during 1889, Kenwa Mabuni was a descendant of one of the bravest warriors of Okinawan nobility.
Mabuni wanted to be so very much like his great ancestors, but as a child he was weak and sickly. In 1902 at the age of 13 he was introduced to the most famous martial artist in Shuri, Master Ankoh Itosu.
His family hoped that Itosu would be able to improve Kenwa Mabuni health and it is said that from that day onwards for almost seven years, Mabuni never missed a days training with Itosu.
Itosu encouraged Mabuni to further expand his knowledge of the martial arts and on the advice of his best friend Chojun Miyagi, Mabuni started to take lessons from Kanryo Higashionna of Naha. Something Mabuni did until the death of Higashionna in 1915.
During the same period Mabuni was also receiving instruction from Seisho Arakaki, also of Naha. He was teaching a similar style to Higashionna, Arakaki was also an accomplished Kobujutsu teacher and taught the young Mabuni Bo and Sai techniques which included various weapon forms. The ‘White-Crane-Fist’ master Wu Xian Gui was also an influence on Mabuni at this time.
During 1915 on hearing of the death of Itosu legend suggests that Mabuni was so upset that he built a shrine in front of Itosu’s grave and looked after the gravemarker Diligently for over a year Mabuni would practice kata daily at the graveside of Itosu out of respect and in honour of his late master.
After graduating high school, Mabuni completed his required military service, before becoming a policeman. Respected by his peers by 1918 Mabuni was an important figure within the martial arts community. It was around this time that Mabuni established a research and study group at his home, participating members included Chosin Chibana, Gichin Funakoshi, Anbun Tokuda, Shinpan Shiroma, Choju Oshiro, Seicho Tokumura and Hoko Ishikawa.
Originally Mabuni called his style Hanko Ryu (Half-Hard style) but later changed it to reflect the deep respect he felt towards his two great masters, Itosu and Higashionna. The alternative kanji to Ito from Itosu can be read as Shi and Higa from Higashionna which can be interpreted as to, Mabuni created the name Shito for his his style of karate-do.
Mabuni worked tirelessly before and after the Pacific War to gain acceptance of his style in Japan, even moving to Osaka permanently to teach. Eventually his efforts paid off and Shito-Ryu became accepted.
Kenwa Mabuni died on May 23 1952.