It was in the province of Shuri, the capital of Okinawa that the distinctive linear hard-style system of Karate began to emerge. In the 1800's Shuri became the spawning ground of the un-armed fighting system and gave birth to a modern uchinanchu (Okinawan) figting art called "te".

In 1903, A Shuri native, Yasutsune Itosu began introducing this Okinawan Fighting art at the Central Okinawan Middle School in the Shuri District. Later in 1905 Itosu became a teacher at the Dai Ichi Prefectural college in which the popularity of this once secret okinawan fighting art began to develop popularity. Perhaps it was at this time period saw the emergence of the name "Shorin Ryu" Itosu probably decided to integrate Shuri-Te and Naha-Te and re-named it as "Shorin Ryu".

Origin of the "Shorin Ryu" Name

According to Dr. Bruce Clayton "Shorin" is the Okinawan pronunciation of Shaolin," as in the Shaolin Temple of China. Western readers naturally assume that Itosu named shorin-ryu after the temple, acknowledging his debt to the ancient Shaolin monks. Maybe he did but Itosu had more pressing debts to pay and the language gave him a lot of room to be clever.

Hohan Soken image

Grand Master of Shorin Ryu
Hohan Soken

Itosu wrote a famous letter that mentions both the shorin and shorei style of karate. He spelled "shorin" using kanji characters that mean right/clear forest" instead of the traditional "young forest" characters of the Shaolin Temple.

Itosu was a linguist and scholar, secretary to the king, so this was a deliberate decision, not an error. I will take a momentary liberty and translate Itosu's bright/clear forest ryu as "shining forest style" for the sake of this discussion.

Spoken out loud, the "shorin" label is open to multiple interpretations in the mind of the listener. In the martial arts context it is natural to assume that "shorin" really refers to the Shaolin Temple, But that is not the only direction we can go.

The "sho" syllable of "shorin" could be interpreted as honoring the royal family of King Sho Tai, the first family of Shuri. Flattery is always a good idea when you work with a king every day as Itosu did. "Rin" is "forest." Listeners might interpret "shorin" as simply meaning "sho's forest" instead of " Shining forest."

Fusei Kise image

Grand Master of Shorin Ryu
Fusei Kise

There is a more compelling possibility, however. As you know, it is common to name a new style after the master who founded it. (what else is "shotokan?") Shuri-te was founded by Itosu's teacher, Matsumura, whose name means "pine village." The first kanji character in Matsumura s name has the kun reading "matsu," meaning "pine tree." The On reading of this is "sho" as in "shorin"

When Itosu and his students called the Shuri-te style " Sho's Forest", They might have been referring to their own Master Sho. Maysumura was the big pine tree; his students were the young forest saplings springing up around the big tree; and Shorin Ryu was the style they practiced in the shining forest.

Over the years "shorin-ryu" broke up into multiple styles founded by various masters. By using different selections of kanji characters with the same readings, these "shorin-ryu" styles have meanings such as "young forest style," "small forest style," and "pine forest style," The alternate spellings also have alternate readings, such as "kobayashi-ryu," "shobayashi-ryu," and "matsubayashi ryu", but the Japanese reader can tell at glance that they are all variants of Itosu's "shorin-ryu"

line image

Courtesy © 2012

[previous page]     [sitemap]

Official Website Sponsors
Interested in sponsoring this website? Find out more »
  • © Copyright shuriway 2004 - 2015

[ top ]

Website Designed and hosted by:
Adam Carter
Use of this website is governed by the Terms of Use.