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Training Tips from Seikichi Iha

Written by Mathew Hubinger, 7th Dan, Hombu Dojo



  1. Proper kata, makiwara, and partner practice are at the heart of Shorin ryu.  This is why each examination has three parts. 

  2. During individual kata demonstrations, one must balance between complete exhaustion and a lack of outpower. Sensei says this balance is found in your own body only if you train to complete exhaustion much of the time. He recalled that in his younger days in Okinawa he and his friends would figure out different ways to bring their bodies to the point of exhaustion. For example, they would use isometrics and see who could bring themselves to sweat first. Or they would assume various stances and push against immovable objects and see who could go longest while giving full outpower. Sometimes they would see who could break the makiwara or lift the heaviest weight. Sensei gave these examples to illustrate the point that we only grow when we put ourselves in situations where we max out on a regular basis. What weight lifter never adds weight to the bar? Kata, he says, is only kata if it is done in that spirit. It is a sprint, not a marathon. 

  3. While it’s true that at times we have to go slower to refine the technique, we must not stop there but rather understand that it is a martial technique that requires a certain balance, speed, and outpower as its end. This feeling in kata is called “ijiki”. Ijiki is this lively action that gives onlookers a sense of awe, that they can see that you are visualizing fighting when you move in kata

  4. Ijiki combines breath control and a balanced and rotating center (jiku) through correct posture (head always over center) and lower abdominal awareness (moderate pushing out from below the belly button). This, combined with the connection of the elbows to the body, allows for outpower to come from the hips and spine and not the shoulder and tricep. This centrifugal force is called “enshin ryoku”. Punches are not pushed out: they are whipped out. 

  5. Part of kata demonstration is the kiai. If possible, it should be jarring and off setting. It is the audible manifestation of your spirit. 

  6. Partner work for a test is never about competition. After a few moves a person’s skill is very apparent. Rather, during the examination, partner work demonstrates your ability to control yourself and harmonize with your partner. This difficult ability is “kakehiki”. Sensei says it is easy to sing a solo but much harder to harmonize. 

  7. Sensei also would like to see students stick to the standard curriculum in partner work with no affectations, creative counters, etc. While those are proper for exploring on your own, the examination setting is only about the curriculum. 

  8. When students demonstrate strikes on the bag and board, distance and recoil control are important.  This is only learned by doing it on s regular basis, but since students are using a bag and board that they are often unfamiliar with at hombu they should understand how heavy and stiff the objects are before the strike it. 

  9. Sensei says the ability to put your power into someone else is primarily developed by makiwara. It is your other sensei. 




Treat every class like a grading and every grading like a class

By Sensei Fortunato Restagno

A grading is designed to support your progress as a practitioner of the art and build ones character. Karateka know, whether you are young or old, never give up on bettering yourself. Getting your next belt is a sign of achievement and a recognition to your Sensei's that you have put the time, passion and effort into your training. At the same time, we can put too much emphasis on getting the belt and end up losing focus on realistic preparations.


Here are some grading Do's and Don'ts:



  • Focused on getting a belt more than learning the content.

  • Look like you are trying to remember the moves in kata and partner work.

  • Show lack effort, spirit and power

  • Miss classes prior a grading

  • Unrealistic goals setting. Wants to go for a grading even if you are not ready.

  • Looking tired and distracted. Not serious about the grading.

  • You put off paying your grading fee


The biggest one I see - we are all guilty of this as one time or another.
Someone who puts effort in a grading but less effort in regular class. This sends out several negative messages to your Sensei's and other members. It's easy to get caught up in this trap. In karate you are your worst enemy. Put your best effort into every class. Soon as you walk into the dojo floor think of three things. Cooperation, friendship, best effort.



  • Ask your Sensei if you are ready to be graded prior and is there anything in particular you should work on.

  • Learn the terminology. It's part of your grading.

  • Think of every regular class as a grading. Give each class your best effort. I guarantee you will feel great at the end of class. This will also help you mentally prepare for gradings.

  • If your Sensei asks you to do a kata in front of a class treat it like an opportunity. Yes it is confronting but it's great for building character and confidence.

  • Talk to your Sensei after a grading for an evaluation on what to improve on.


The history of the 'fathers' of Karate is not well known. Information gets more speculative as we go further back in time. While we hope to have it right, it will require more work by experienced historians to further sift the truth from the fiction.


Peichin Takahara (1683-1760)

Takahara is thought to be an Okinawan monk who would have been a teacher as well. He was revered as a great warrior and is attributed to have been the first to explain the aspects or principles of the "Do" ("way"). These principals are: 1) "ijo" the way of compassion, humility and love; 2) "katsu" the laws-complete understanding of all techniques and forms of karate, and 3) "fo", the dedication and seriousness of karate that must be understood not only in practice, but in actual combat. The collective translation is: "One's duty to himself and his fellow man."


Most importantly, Takahara was the first teacher of Satsunuku Sakugawa who was to become known as the "father of Okinawan karate."



Kusanku's teachings would influence the development of Shuri-te and eventually Shorin-ryu. He brought some of his other students from China to Okinawa and they would spread his style of Chinese Kempo on the island.
It is rumoured that Kusanku was the person who introduced the corkscrew motion to Karate's punch. He taught students to chamber a closed fist against the side of their torso and then, from this position, the punch was thrown out in a twisting motion at the intended target. He is also credited with creating a new type of kumite (sparring) for the Okinawans. It was referred to as Kumiai Jutsu or "fighting technique".
Kusanku was the second teacher to Satsunuku Sakugawa.


Satsunuku Sakugawa (1733-1815)

Satsunuku Sakugawa was born in Shuri, the capital of Okinawa in 1733. He began his martial arts training at age 17, under Peichin Takahara. At age 23, Takahara granted Sakugawa permission to train under Kusanku, a Chinese envoy who had been settled in Okinawa. For the next six years, Sakugawa studied under Kusanku, travelling to China with Kusanku to study and learn valuable lessons from Kung Fu and went on to become a great master himself.
Sakugawa learned valuable lessons from Kusanku. Sakugawa returned to Okinawa in 1762 to teach. He combined the techniques of Chinese Kempo "ch-uan fa" with the native Okinawan techniques he had learned from Takahara to create the basis of Okinawan Karate and form "Te" into a structured training system.
Sakugawa was awarded the title of Satunushi for his services to the Okinawa King, He is credited with forming several kata including the kata Kusanku and several "Bo" kata, which are still practiced today. In addition, Sakugawa also created the concept of the Dojo Kun (dojo etiquette/rules) which has become a tradition with many styles.
It is believed that Sakugawa was almost 78 when he began teaching his greatest student of all, Sokon Chikatosinumjo Matsumura.


Matsumura Sokon (1796-1893)

Matsumura was recruited into the service of the royal family of the Ryukyu Kingdom. In 1818 he married Yonamine Chiru, also a martial arts expert. Matsumura eventually became the chief martial arts instructor and bodyguard for the Okinawan king. Matsumura traveled on behalf of the royal government, studied martial arts in China and brought what he learned back to Okinawa.
With the records of the development of karate sometimes conflicting, Matsumura is credited with passing on the kata known as Naihanchi, Channan, Seisan, Chinto, Gojushiho, Kusanku and Hakutsuru. The Hakutsuru kata contain elements of the Fujian White Crane system from the Chinese Shaolin system. He is believed to have created the Tsuken Bo tradition as well.
Matsumura was given the title "bushi" (warrior) by the Okinawan king in recognition of his martial arts skills. Described as a sensei with a terrifying presence, he was tall, blindingly fast and deceptively strong, Matsumura was never defeated in any of the many duels he fought. Ultimately, all modern styles of karate evolving from the Shuri-te lineage (Shorin-ryu, Shotokan, and Shito-ryu) can be traced back to his teachings.


Anko (Yasutsune) Itosu (1831-1915)

Itosu played an important role as the personal secretary to the last king of the Ryukyu Islands.
Itosu began to study the martial arts under the eye of Nagahama Chikudon. He continued his training with Matsumora Kosaku and is said to have begun training with Matsumura Sokon following the death of Nagahama Sensei.
Itosu took the old Channan kata he had practised and created the Pinan which he thought would be more appealing to students. Later he expanded the Naihanchi by creating Nidan and Sandan, and possibly Kusanku Sho and Passai Sho.


In 1901 he began teaching karate to students in the schools of Okinawa. His greatest testament is the skilled students he trained including Shinpan Gusukuma, Chosin Chibana, Gichin Funakoshi, Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Jiro Shiroma, Chojo Oshiro, Shigeru Nakamura, Anbun Tokuda, Moden Yabiku, Kenwa Mabuni, Moden Yabiku, Motobu Choki and Kanken Toyama.


In October 1908, Itosu wrote the "Ten Precepts of Karate," to draw Okinawan Karate to the attention of the Japanese Ministry of Education and Ministry of War.


Motobu Choki (1870-1944)

A direct descendent of the Okinawan royalty. Motobu was extremely agile. He began practicing karate under Matsumura Sokon and continued under Anko Itosu.
Motobu focused on the Naihanchi kata and deemed it the "fundamental of karate". He was committed to using the makiwara and was instrumental in developing the kumite and was reported to have developed his own kata: Shiro Kuma (White Bear). He created Motobu-ryu which differs from Motobu Udun Di, which is the unique style of the Motobu royal family.
Motobu trained many students who became key leaders in developing karate, including: Katsuya Miyahira, founder of Shorin-ryu Shidokan, Nakamura Shigeru, founder of Okinawa Kenpo, Hironori Otsuka, founder of Wado-ryu, Tatsuo Shimabuku, founder of Isshin-ryu and Shoshin Nagamine, founder of Matsubayashi-ryu.
He published two books on karate, Okinawa Kenpo Karate-jutsu Kumite-hen (1926) and Watashi no Karate Jutsu (1933).


Gusukuma Shinpan (1890-1954)

Although a peer of Chibana Choshin, very little is said about the master technician, Gusukuma Shinpan. He began teaching shortly after WWII and was close friends with Miyagi Chojun, Kyoda Jyuhatsu and Kyan Chotoku. He taught regularly at Shuri Castle and had a dojo at his home in Nishihara City. He was a school teacher by profession but his first love was Shuri-style karate.


One of his former students was Iha Seikichi (who presently resides in East Lansing, Michigan) who often talks about his teacher. The following are some thoughts concerning how it was like to train in the l950's under Gusukuma:


Training under Gusukuma-sensei was very strict and traditional. It was a lot of self-training where he would watch to see how hard you wanted to learn. All students would first become an apprentice student and help clean the dojo for six months to a year. They could watch training but could not take part in receiving instructions.


When Gusukuma-sensei thought that they were ready, he would then tell them to join in. Sensei never actively taught but would have the senior students do all the teaching. Sensei would only teach the top two or three students and then have them pass on the knowledge. This was a very traditional way of teaching.


During class, sensei would evaluate every student and advise them of their weaknesses. He would allow each student to demonstrate two kata for him while he watched. Sensei would then tell them that they needed work on their stances, or their power, etc. They would then train themselves based on sensei's evaluation. Sensei would sometimes show a student a technique and then say, "Ha, I showed you something! You are very lucky I did this! Now go train!!!"


Gusukuma-sensei would personally teach the top two or three senior students and it was then their responsibility to pass on the methods to the rest of the students. One senior would always be there to teach while sensei observed or trained by himself. Sensei was about 5'1" and weighed about 125 pounds. He was extremely strong and trained his fists and toes on the makiwara everyday. He believed a karate-man must be able to generate power equivalent to three times their own body weight with either fist or foot. Needless to say, the students were constantly repairing the makiwara punching boards.


If a student did not train hard, Gusukuma-sensei would tell him that he should leave and come back when he was ready to train. If the student continued with this attitude, Gusukuma-sensei would tell him not to come back unless he was serious about learning and training. Sensei was hardest on students that did not listen. He had a good memory and would often tell a student to work on his punch or kick or kata. If the student did not do this then sensei would bring it to their attention and kick him out of the dojo for wasting his time by not listening.

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