Yasutsune ‘Ankoh’ Itosu
Born in Shuri, Okinawa, Itosu trained under karate greats Sokon “Bushi” Matsumura and Kosaku Matsumora. His good friend Yasutsune Azato recommended him to the position of secretary to the king of the Ryukyu Islands. He was famous for the superior strength of his arms, legs and hands. Itosu was said to have even walked in the horse stance (from which he received his nickname, Anko). Itosu supposedly was easily able to defeat Azato in arm wrestling. Itosu had very strong hands and could crush a thick stalk of bamboo with his vice-like grip. It is said that he walked past the imperial tombs everyday and would practice his punches against the stone walls that lined the road. Itosu believed that the body should be trained to withstand the hardest of blows. Describing the art in his own words: “Karate means not only to develop one’s physical strength but to learn how to defend oneself. Be helpful to all people and never fight against one person. Never try to strike if possible. even when taken unawares, as perhaps meeting a robber or a deranged person. Never face others with fists and feet. As you practice karate, try to open your eyes brightly and keep your shoulders down, stiffen your body as if you are on the battleground. Imagine that you are facing the enemy when you practice the punching or blocking techniques. Soon you will find your own striking performance. Always concentrate attention around you. A man of character will avoid any quarrels and loves peace. Thus the more a karateka practices the more modest he should be with others. This is the true karateka.”
ITOSU’s LETTER 1908
Below is a letter written by Itosu Sensei in October of 1908. This letter preceded the introduction of karate to Okinawan schools and eventually to the Japanese mainland.
Itosu’s Ten Lessons on Karate
Karate did not originate from Buddhism or Confucianism. In the recent past, both Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu were introduced from China. Both styles have many similarities and they both have their strong points. They should not be changed. I would like to make a record of the following things:
1. Karate is not only for the benefit of health. In order to protect one’s parents or one’s master, it is proper to attack a foe regardless of one’s own life. Never fight an enemy without good reason. If you encounter a criminal or a ruffian, don’t fight him if you can help it, but just block as you evade, stepping out of the way.
2. The purpose of Karate is to make the body like iron, or as hard as rock. Your hands and feet should be used like the points of arrows. Your heart should be strong and brave. If children would practice Karate from the time they are in elementary school, they would be well prepared for military service. After the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon, he mentioned the fact that tomorrow’s triumph will come from today’s school yard.
3. Karate cannot be learned in a short space of time. A bull that walks very slowly will, in due time, travel a thousand miles. In like manner, if you study and practice diligently each day, in three or four years you will understand what the essence of Karate is about. Indeed, the very shape of your bones will change.
You will discover the essence of Karate if you follow these points:
4. In Karate the training of the hands and the feet are very important. You should train them thoroughly on the makiwara. When you do it, drop your shoulders, open your lungs, take hold of your strength, grip the floor with your feet and sink your ki (intrinsic forge) to your lower abdomen. Practice with each arm one to two hundred times.
5. When you are practicing Karate make sure your back is straight, drop your shoulders, take your strength and put it in your legs, stand firmly and direct the ki into your lower abdomen. You must hold the top and bottom of your abdomen together tightly.
6. You should practice the external techniques of Karate one by one, repeated over and over again, many times. These things are passed down verbally. Therefore, it is very important to spend the time and effort to learn the explanations and decide when and how they should be used. Go in, counter, release; is the rule of torite.
7. You must decide for yourself why you practice Karate, whether it is for making your body more healthy or for improving yourself in defence.
8. During practice you should imagine that you are in a real battle. When blocking and striking make your eyes glare, drop your shoulders and harden your body. Then block the incoming punch and strike! Always practice with this spirit so that when you are in a real battle, you will be well prepared to be able to react naturally.
9. Do not overexert yourself during practice, because your ki will rise up, your face and eyes will turn red and your body will be harmed. Be careful.
10. In the past, many of those who have mastered Karate have lived to an old age. This is because Karate helps to develop the bones and sinews. It also helps the digestive organs and is good for the circulation of blood. Therefore, from now on, Karate should become the foundation of all sports lessons from the elementary schools onward. If this is put into practice there will, I think, be many men who can win against ten aggressors.
The reason for writing all this is that, in my opinion, all students at the ‘Shihan Chugakko’ (Okinawa Prefectural Teachers’ Training College) should practice Karate, so that when they graduate, they will be able to teach the school children the same way I have taught them. I predict that within ten years Karate will spread all over Okinawa and to the Japanese mainland. This will be a great asset to the military and to our society. I hope you will carefully study the words I have written here.
Anko Itosu, Meiji 41, Year of the Monkey (October 1908)