Shorin Ryu is one of the four original Okinawan styles of karate. Shorin Ryu makes use of hand techniques more than foot techniques and uses predominately high stances. Traditional weapons are also practiced in this martial art.

Shorin-Ryu kata was developed as a system of communication and defense. Since the Japanese occupiers of Okinawa forbid the Okinawans from meeting in groups, the Okinawans developed kata. An Okinawan could meet another on the road, teach him a kata and be gone. At that time, traditional weapons such as swords were outlawed, and farming tool derivatives, such as the Nunchaku, Sai and Kama were included in many martial arts systems of Okinawan origin, including Shorin-Ryu.

Origin of Shorin Ryu: Okinawa

Founder of Shorin Ryu: Sokon Matsumura, also known as “Miyamoto Musashi of Okinawa”.

Modern day Shorin-Ryu is comprised of four major branches: Kobayashi, Matsubayashi, Matsumura Seito (or Orthodox) and Shobayashi.  As with the evolution of all things, there's have many divisions since, but to understand the branches themselves, please read the following:

SHORIN-RYU Branch Lineage

The Shorin Ryu style has its origins in the mid 1700's when Tode Sakagawa, an Okinawan, met Kusanku, a Chinese diplomat. In the early twentieth century the style split into the four modern branches.

Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu the "family" or "orthodox" style
Shobayashi Shorin Ryu the "small forest" style
Kobayashi Shorin Ryu the "young forest" style
Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu the "pine forest" style

The following lists give the primary line of descent for the four Shorin Ryu styles. The founders or first people to use the current name are listed in bold.

Matsumura Seito Shorin Ryu   Kobayashi Shorin Ryu   Shobayashi/Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu
Tode Sakagawa   Tode Sakagawa   Tode Sakagawa
down arrow   down arrow   down arrow
Matsumura Chikuden Pechin Sokon
(Shorin Ryu)
  Matsumura Chikuden Pechin Sokon
(Shorin Ryu)
  Matsumura Chikuden Pechin Sokon
(Shorin Ryu)
down arrow   down arrow   down arrow
Matsumura Nabe
(Matsumura Shorin Ryu)
  Itosu "Anko" Yasutsune   Itosu "Anko" Yasutsune
down arrow   down arrow   down arrow
Soken Hohan
(Seito Matsumura Ryu)
  Chibana Chosin
(Kobayashi Shorin Ryu)
  Chotoku Kyan Chosin
(Shobayashi Shorin Ryu)
down arrow   down arrow   down arrow
Yuichi Kuda
(Matsumura Kenpo Shorin Ryu)
  Nakazato Shugoro   Nagamine Shoshin
(Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu)




"... now the Japanese call it 'kobayashi style' but that is incorrect - but that is all right because only people who do not know Okinawan karate will call it by that name. Since they do not know you must gently remind them or the Okinawan people will laugh at their ignorance. After all, it is funny, many foreign people call it kobayashi shorin-ryu - that is just like saying shorin shorin-ryu. It doesn't make much sense ..."
Miyahira Katsuya hanshi
Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate 10th dan

KOBAYASHI Shorin-Ryu, as founded by Chōshin Chibana. The style is properly called Shorin-Ryu. The kanji are never written as (kobayashi shorin-ryu) but always as (shorin-ryu). The term Kobayashi Shorin-ryu is only used in the west and only by certain branches of Shorin-ryu. The Japanese reader of the kanji automatically knows it is not Matsubayahsi-ryu because the kanji are different.

After the death of Anko Itosu in 1915, one of Itosu's most senior students, Choshin Chibana, wanted to continue to teach the Shorin-ryū style of karate he learned from his instructor. Chibana named his system Shorin-ryū, but using the Chinese characters for "small" and "forest" . Chibana lineage schools are commonly referred to as "kobayashi," but this is technically incorrect, as Chibana never used this term to refer to his karate. It was meant to be “Shorin” as tribute to the Shaolin Temple. (Shorin is the Japanese and Okinawan pronunciation of Shaolin). However, he believed strongly that Shorin-ryu was largely Okinawan and purposely modified the first character from the Chinese "Shao/Sho" so it would retain its originality. As other schools later adopted the name "Shorin-ryū," the term "kobayashi" was probably added to describe which exact characters were used to write the term "Shorin," but was never meant to be the official name of the style.

In 1920, Chibana opened his first dojo in the Torihori district of Shuri. Spellings such as "Tottoribori" or "Tottori-cho" are erroneous and incorrect. The old name of Torihori was Tunjumui, so it is unknown where these erroneous names came from. He later taught in other parts of Shuri such as Gibo and Yamakawa, and in Naha at Kumoji and Asato, with the main Chibana dojo being in Yamakawa.[3][4]

Chibana taught this style of Shorin-ryū until his death in 1969. Each of his top students went on to create his own branch of Shorin-ryū: Nakama Chozo created Shubokan, Yuchoku Higa created Kyudokan, Katsuya Miyahira created Shidō-kan, and Shūgorō Nakazato created Shorinkan.[5]

MATSUBAYASHI Shorin-Ryu, as founded by Nagamine Shoshin, is often referred to as just “Shorin Ryu”. Nagamine named his school in honor of two masters of Shorin-ryu, Sokon Matsumura and Kosaku Matsumora. The Japanese kanji characters that make up the name can be prounounced either as “Matsubayashi” or as “Shorin”. This led to a whole range of names for one and the same thing, namely “Shorin Ryu, “Matsubayashi Ryu”, and “Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu”.


NABE MATSUMURA brought the old Shorin-ryu secrets into the modern age. His name does not appear in many karate lineage charts According to Hohan Soken (1889-1982), the purest teaching of Matsumura's Shorin Ryu was carried on by Matsumura Nabi (c.1860-1930). He received training in the family style of Matsumura Shorin Ryu which also included the secret techniques of the white crane. The white crane system was reputed to be a secret family style that was only taught to immediate family members. In his later years, Nabe Matsumura was referred to as Nabe Tanme or "old man" Nabe. He was known to be a stern and disciplined teacher. He had only one student, Hohan Soken. It is said he was one of the top karate men of his time. He passed on his menkyo kaiden to his nephew, SOKEN HOHAN.

SOKEN HOHAN The next successor in the lineage of Matsumura Shorin Ryu was Hohan Soken(1889-1982). He began training at age thirteen under his uncle, Nabe Matsumura. Soken had to work in the fields as a youth in spite of his Samurai heritage. This was due to a political reorganization in the Ryukyu Islands and all of Japan as a result of the Meiji restoration. After ten years of basic training under Nabe Matsumura, Soken began learning the techniques of the white crane or Hakutsuru. This was in 1912 when he was twenty-three years old. According to Soken, this was a secret technique or training methodology which was confined to the Matsumura family. Bushi Matsumura had learned the white crane system in China. Soken's instruction in the white crane technique emphasized balance training. One training method that he practiced was to perform the Hakutsuru kata on a board floating in a pond. The board was just large enough to support his weight. The Hakutsuru kata, which was erroneously referred to as the "White Swan" technique in a 1967 magazine article is the advanced level of Matsumura Shorin Ryu. The Hakutsuru technique is the main part of the style. It manifests the Chinese concept of the soft (defensive) fist and balance training while imitating the delicate movements of the white crane. In fact, this concept is inherent and woven throughout all the kata of Matsumura Shorin Ryu. For example, Chinto uses the one legged stance of the crane extensively, Gojushiho uses the movements of the neck and beak of the crane in its technique and Hakutsuru uses the wing (hane) of the crane. Master Soken also trained for a while with Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1953) and Gokenki, a Chinese tea merchant living in Okinawa. Gokenki, Soken, Mabuni and several other Okinawans all trained together as a group. Gokenki's style was Hakutsuru Kenpo (white crane fist style) and he was from the Fukien coast of China.

Up until the 1950's Master Soken referred to his martial art as Matsumura Shuri-Te, then he began calling his style Matsumura Seito(orthodox) Shorin Ryu. The empty hand kata of the style included those passed on by Bushi Matsumura (as previously noted). However, Master Soken later added to his system's  Rohai . Rohai means vision of a crane and was originally a Tomari-Te kata dating back to the 1600's


SHOBAYASHI Shorin-Ryu, as founded by Chotoku Kyan and passed to Eizo Shimabukuro. Eizo Shimabukuro dropped the Chatan Yara no Kusanku and the Oyadamari no Passai he learned from Chotoku Kyan and he added Kusanku Sho and Dai and Passai Sho and Dai of Yasutsune Itosu lineage. It is said that Eizo Shimabukuro learned these Itosu kata as well as Pinan Shodan to Godan and Naihanchin Shodan to Sandan from Choshin Chibana. However, in his book "Okinawa Karatedo Old Grandmaster Stories" Eizo Shimabukuro says that Chibana was too old to teach and so Chibana referred Shimabukuro to his senior student, Nakazato, for instruction. Eizo Shimabuku also added two kata from his time in Goju-ryu with Chojun Miyagi. These kata being Seiunchin and Sanchin (Eizo Shimabukuro used to call his version of Sanchin, Sanchu).

Although Chinese martial arts began spreading to Okinawa in the 14th century, it was not prominent until the 18th century, when Kusanku, a Chinese military official, visited Okinawa and gave a demonstration. In subsequent visits, he started teaching "chuan fa" (meaning "fist way") to Okinawans.

Kanga Sakukawa blended Kusanku's chuan fa with indigenous Okinawan martial arts to form the first martial art style called karate. His student Sokon Matsumura blended Sakukawa's style with Shaolin kung fu to form Shorin-ryu karate.

Matsumura was Anko Itosu's primary instructor, and both Matsumura and Itosu instructed Chotoku Kyan and Choki Motobu. Several of Kyan's students would go on to lead their own branches of karate. These are: Shoshin Nagamine (Matsubayashi-ryu), Tatsuo Shimabukuro (Isshin-ryu), Eizo Shimabukuro, Joen Nakazato (Shorinji-ryu), and Zenryo Shimabukuro (Chubu Shorin-ryu).

Eizo Shimabukuro studied under Chojun Miyagi before taking up Shorin-Ryu under Chotoku Kyan. Although Kyan then became his primary instructor, Shimabukuro also studied under Choki Motobu and weapons under Taira Shinken. When Kyan died in 1945, Shimabukuro was left in charge of the Shobayashi-ryu system. In 1959 at the Kodokan in Japan, Kanken Tōyama promoted Eizo Shimabukuro to 10th Dan. At the age of 34, Shimabukuro was the youngest person ever to receive such an honor.

Shimabukuro was also the instructor of Matt Larsen (who later founded the US Army Combatives School) and American kickboxer Joe Lewis and Bill Wallace.

Shimabukuro currently lives in Okinawa and actively teaches classes on the island. He also tours around the United States upon request, visiting dojos within his organization and performing demonstrations on proper form and technique.

To distinguish today’s Shorin Ryu from the original Shorin Ryu, many schools call themselves Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu.