The History Of Karate

Chotoku Kyan
1870 - 1945

Chotoku Kyan

Chotoku Kyan was born into a high-ranking family of Shuri in 1870. He was small at 4'10", slightly built and frail looking. His small physique contrasted with his strong personality. His father Chofu Kyan was an official of the Ryukyu king. Chotoku studied under 6 Okinawan masters. Chofu started to teach Chotoku the empty hand art of self-defense when he was 8 years old. When he was around 20 years of age Chotoku went to learn from Kukan Oyadomari, Kosaku Matsumora and Anko Itosu. He also learned from Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura. By the age of 30 he was recognized as an expert in Shuri-Te and Tomari-Te. He is believed to be Itosu's greatest student. It is said that his favorite katas where Chinto, Passai and Kusanku.

Chotoku was challenged often, and he never backed down or lost a fight. Due to his size, he did not train to trade punches but practiced stepping and evasive techniques. He often practiced on the banks of the Hija River. To practice his jumping techniques he would jump off the Hija Bashi (Bridge) onto a boat 9 feet below and then back up onto the bridge! You can read this on page 9 of O'Sensei's book. He was also known to jump into the air and kick his 7' high ceiling. His nickname was Chan Mi-Gua, which meant "small eyed Kyan". No one knows why he received this nickname. He could have received it because of his narrow eyes or that he was blind or poorly sighted in one eye. He could also have received this nickname because he use to have his students train without their tops which allowed him to closely observe their movements and the tension of their muscles. This habit made him fix his eyes rigidly on his students to see if they where using their muscles correctly.

After Japan's annex of the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879, the old social ranking system was abolished. Aristocrats lost privileges and financial support, and Kyan's family suffered. The former king and 90 of his people including Chofu & Chotoku where brought to Japan. After some time Chotoku returned to Okinawa. To earn a living he bred silkworms and pulled a rickshaw. Through all of this, his enthusiasm for karate never waned.

Chotoku's karate was known for it's powerful, explosive techniques and the practice of easily evading opponent's techniques. To compensate for his small size, he developed unique footwork that allowed him to make rapid, side-to-side evasive maneuvers. To increase the power of his punches, he generated energy by rotating his hip using the ball of his foot as a pivot.

He taught students karate at the Okinawan College of Agriculture, the Kadena Police Station, as well as at his home dojo in Kadena. Besides formal karate, he taught his students the traditional Okinawan dance that was developed during the weapons and karate bans to disguise karate moves. He had his students train at night and on uneven ground. Sometimes he would throw water on the ground to make their footing difficult. To develop their night vision, he had students stop using their lanterns.

Chotoku stressed that the "way" was found through constant practice. He continued to train and teach throughout his life. He was considered the "perfect Shorin Ryu stylist"; his small statue and light weight contributed to his quickness and mobility.

When he was 60, a judo instructor challenged him to a match. To avoid being grabbed, he removed his top. When the match started they both kept their distance. Suddenly Chotoku closed in and grabbed his opponent's cheek. He then kicked his opponent, knocking him to the ground and stuck his solar plexus. The judo instructor immediately conceded the match. Even at 70 he still demonstrated his kata for an audience.

Chotoku survived World War Two's Battle of Okinawa, but died shortly after it at the age 75 due to starvation. Kyan Sensei gave his food to the children of his neighborhood instead of eating it himself. It is a credit to who Kyan Sensei was even though it killed him in the end.