Chito-ryu karate-do – modern karate with deep roots

By Rune Ingebrigtsen.

This is an article copy from Soke Cup 2007 pamphlet.


Chito-ryu karate-do

- modern karate with deep roots

Karate is made up of almost 200 recognized styles, all more or less different, and with varying degrees of spread throughout the world. In Japan, Chito-ryu is a well known style with a membership that ranks in the middle of the pack. It is practiced in about 100 dojos spread around the country, including Okinawa. On a world wide basis the growth of Chito-ryu has been slow and steady since the early 1950s, and is now found in more than 20 countries on all five continents. Chito-ryu came to Norway 1992.


Tsuyoshi Chitose was born October 18, 1898 in the Kume district of Naha on the island of Okinawa. He was from an upper class family, and Gua Chinen, which was Chitose’s original name, came from an ancestry of distinction. Among oth- ers, his grandfather was none other than the karate legend Soken Bushi (the warrior) Matsumura who had been in charge of the per- sonal bodyguards for three of the island’s kings.

While living in Naha Chinen Gua started practicing toudi, which was the name karate was known by at the time. He was only 7 years old at the time, and his instructor was the legendary Aragaki (1840-1918). Aragaki was one of the all times most respected teachers, and many of the best known practitioners were among his students. Kanryo Higashionna (1853-1915), founder of the Naha-te tradition, Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953), founder of Goju-ryu, Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952), founder of Shito-ryu and Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), the father of japanese karate, were all Aragaki’s students.

Aragaki taught Chinen the Shihohai, Niseishi and Sanchin katas, and in addition he also practiced bo-jutsu. It is also believed that he learnt several ko-ryu (old style) katas from Aragaki. This would mean that he learnt some Chinese katas, Aragaki had Chinese ancestry and had visited China on several occasions on various mis- sions for the king of Okinawa.

An interesting detail in this connection is that when Ginchin Funakoshi came to Aragaki and asked to be taught bo techniques, the teenager Chinen was given the job of teaching Funakoshi the basics.

As important as his early studies were, it was the legendary Chotoku Kyan (1870-1945) who was the instructor that Chinen had the most regard for and whose influence has left the deepest technical imprint on today’s Chito ryu. Kyan is known as the founder of his own tradi- tion within Shorin ryu karate, and as the main teacher for several of Okinawa’s best known karateka.

Kyan was also renowned as a trouble maker who made frequent visits to Naha’s red light district where he visited gambling establishments, engaged in heavy drinking and worse, and often ended up in fights. Chinen was an enthusiastic participants in these excursions, and soon acquired the nickname ”The Challenger”.



Choyu Motobu (1865-1927) was also an important teacher in Chinen’s devlopment. Motobu was the first born son in a family that had royal connections, and he had been trained in his family’s secret martial art called ti. The movements in ti seem soft and resemble Okinawa’s folk dances. When used in conflict, however, ti has a lot in common with aikido, but the practitioners use both punches and kicks, as well as evasion, locks, throws, sweeps, fall and choking techniques. Through the influence of Motobu these techniques have gained a prominent place in Chito-ruy.


Chinen grew up before the various styles saw the light of day in karate, and at a time when it was normal to train openly under different teachers at the same time. In addition to the three teachers we have mentioned, Chinen had the opportunity to study with a series of well known and respected instructors. Among others he trained with Higashionna for a period before his death in 1915. He also trained under Hanashiro (1869-1945), and learned, among other things, the little known and difficult kata Ryusan from him.

Chinen was not satisfied with only searching out the experts in karate. He also trained under several well respected teachers in kobudo: with Sanra Chinen (1842-1925) in Yamani-ryu bo-jutsu, with Kinjo (1841-1921) police arrest techniques, and with Maezato and Kojo (1849- 1925) in sai, nunchaku, tonfa and eku. In the 1930s in Tokyo, he also trained with the famous instructor Moden Yabiku (1878-1945) in sai, nunchaku and tonfa.

Once Chinen had completed high school, he travelled as a17 year old young man to Kyoto to try to obtain admission to university there. He was not successful in this, but while there he held what is supposed to be the first public demonstration of karate on the japanese mainland.



He then returned to Okinawa, where he for several years made a living as a junior school teacher.

During this period Chinen got married to a young lady from the neighbouring island of Miyako. The marriage produced two sons. The oldest became a keen and highly ranked practitioner of both karate and judo. He was for many years a policeman on Okinawa, until he was run down by a drunk driver in the mid 1960’s and ended up as a paraplegic. The other son lived in Tokyo for many years, but was never active in any martial art.

In March of 1922, during a visit to Okinawa by the crown prince of Japan, Chinen took part in a large demonstration of karate, and was on this occasion also given the opportunity to meet the future emperor Hirohito.

But Chinen still took part in the excursions with Chotoku Kyan, something that finally had such serious consequences that he found it advisable to disappear from Okinawa. He moved to the capital Tokyo where he took the name Tsuyoshi Chitose. In one period he had to earn a living as a rickshaw driver, but he got lucky and befriended some well to do people that helped him out and got him on his feet. Later he was admitted as a medical student at the university in Tokyo.

In the early 1930s Chitose got married again. This time it was to the daughter of a wealthy Tokyo doctor, but it did not work out well and a few years later the childless marriage was dissolved.

In the years that followed, Chitose deeply regretted the mistakes he had made and the wild life he had lived on Okinawa, and he changed his out- look on life completely and profoundly.




During his student days, and later while he was working as a doctor in Tokyo, Gichin Funakoshi asked Chitose to help out with instruction in karate. He taught, among other places, at Keio University where Funakoshi started the first university karate club in Japan. Chitose was a close friend of both Funakoshi and his oldest son Giei. He had been in the same class in school as Funakoshi junior, and at that time Funakoshi senior had been his home room teacher. Even though Chitose never sought out Funakoshi for instruction, he had a lot of respect for him and the work Funakoshi carried out to establish karate in Japan.

Unfortunately we know very little about Chitose’s life in Tokyo in 1920’s and early 1930’s. We know that he worked in a hospital as a doctor, and that he felt that he had to keep his interest in karate from his colleagues since many considered karate an activity for the yakusa (mafia). We also know that he taught in many different karate dojos in and around Tokyo, among others Kanken Toyama’s (1888 – 1966) Shudokan dojo as well as Funakoshi’s many dojos. It is also known that he stayed on Okinawa for several extended periods during this time.

When Japan entered World War 2 Chitose was called up to serve as a military doctor. He served several places including southern China and in Burma. There he got sick and was sent home to Japan. He finished the war serving in the garrisson in Kumamoto on Kyushu, the most southerly of Japan’s main islands. Kumamoto is also the town on the japanese main islands that has the largest proportion of people orginating from Okinawa.

After the war Chitose settled in Kumamoto and opened his first dojo there in 1946. A couple of years later he was part of the group that founded the first Japanese Karate Association, the others were Funakoshi, Mabuni, Toyama, Konishi (1893-1983) and Yamaguchi (1909- 1989). In the late 1940s he got married for the third time, and adopted his new wife’s young daughter.

In the early 1950s Chitose started teaching karate on American and Japanese military bases, and he eventually gave up his medical practice and committed himself to karate on a full time basis.



Chitose was actively involved in the circles around the different japanese martial arts, and counted many of the well know practitioners as close friends, among others Mifune (judo), Takano (kendo), Nakayama (aido), Miyagi (goju-ryu karate) and Nakamura (Okinawa kenpo karate). From the time he moved to Tokyo he was training in several different martial arts, and acheived rankings such as: 6. dan in judo, 4. dan in kyudo og 4. dan in kendo.



In 1967 Chitose became one of a few who were ranked as 10. dan in karate and kobudo by the karate association on Okinawa (Zen Okinawa Karate-do Kobudo Rengo Kai). At the same time he was given the title of Hanshi which is granted only to a leader of rec- ognized style in karate.



From the middle of the 1950s Chito-ryu spread to USA and Canada, and Chitose made several trips to North America over the years. The last was in 1982 when at the age of 84 he participated in several clinics and exhibitions.

Tsuyoshi Chitose died on June 6, 1984. He was then nearly 86 years old.




The name of the style is not, as many believe, derived from the name of the founder. Chi means thousand and symbolizes the thousand year tradition on which the Chito-ryu style is built. To points to an era in Chinese history and symbolizes the strong influence of the Chinese martial arts on Chito-ryu. Ryu means tradition or style.

Compared with most of the other Japanese karate styles, Chito-ryu is distinguished by its natural and flowing movements. Chitose believed that many of the techniques in karate could be damaging, and he therefore emphasized natural stances and natural breathing techniques. At same time he taught that karate should be practiced without aggression and with emphasis on self control.



Chitose developed protective gear (bogu) for kumite early on, and this equipment is used in all Chito-ruy competitions. Practitioners of Chito-ruy also compete in WKF tournaments and have many strong results to their credit.

Chito-ryu uses kata from both Shuri-te/Tomari- te and Naha-te-traditions. Most of the katas are practiced in their original form the way Chitose learned them and, with emphasis on bunkai. A unique feature of Chito-ryu is that each individual kata focuses on one specific technique, which is different from the rest of the katas. In addition kobudo, and especially bojutsu, are important in Chito-ryu.

The Chitose family, in addition to the official Chito-ryu katas, also practice several older katas with a clear connection to the martial arts practiced in southern China.


After the death of the founder in 1984 his son took over leadership of Chito-ryu. The new leader, who was born in December 1950, was put into hard training from a young age, and he is regarded as worthy successor to his father. In keeping with Japanese tradition he has taken on his father’s name. He has been fortunate to have a large number of instructors around him with deep experience and rankings up to 7. and 8. dan from the Japanese karate federation.

The leadership in Chito-ryu is far from aggressive when it comes to spreading the style. Those who want to practice Chito-ryu most show a honest interest in karate. In spite of the somewhat reluctant attitude to promote the style, Chito-ryu has taken hold in more than 20 countries, in all parts of the world. The largest group outside Japan is in Canada where there are more than 100 clubs. In Europe, Chito-ryu is practiced in five countries.

Every third year the Soke Cup is staged in memory of the founder. In 1995 the Soke Cup was held in Japan with 400 participants from 12 countries, including Norway. In 1998 the Soke Cup was held in Canada where 18 Norwegians participated. In July 2001 the Cup was back in Kumamoto in Japan, and 15 Norwegians took part. The Soke Cup in 2004 was held in Newcastle in Australia, and in August 2007 Norway and Bergen will stage the Soke Cup.




As previously mentioned Chito-ryu came to Norway in 1992. This happened when kyoshi Shane Y Higashi 8. dan, renshi Micheal Delaney 6. dan and the ex-bergenser Asbjørn Andersen 1. dan visited the University Karateclub (UKK) in March of that year.



In August 1992 Canadian Chito-kai sent shihan Peter Giffen 5. dan to Bergen with the sole purpose of giving private instruction to the chief instructor in UKK, Rune Ingebrigtsen. He, at that time, already had a 4. dan from a different style. In the spring of 1993 Ingebrigtsen took part in a training camp held in Scotland under the direction of Higashi sensei.

Then in the summer of 1993, Ingebrigtsen spent time initially in Higashi sensei’s dojo in Toronto and thereafter at a training camp in Banff in western Canada, where he was graded to 2.dan. Thereafter UKK changed style to Chito-ryu in the fall of 1993, and the karate club in Bodø, which Rune Ingebrigtsen had started in 1980, followed suit in 1994.

In the spring of 1994 the first dan grading was done in Norway by sensei Higashi, and six karateka passed the test for shodan.

Norwegian practitioners have visited the sohonbu in Japan on several occasions, and many have visited sister clubs in Europe and North America. Since 1992 Chito-Ryu Norway has arranged 19 visits from various senior instructors. The popular Higashi sensei has been here nine times, Soke sensei has been here twice and Tanaka sensei four times.

Currently, in the spring of 2006, there are just over 25 active dan graded practitioners in Norway. Of these seven have reached the ni-dan level and three have been graded to san-dan: Johnny Tverlid, Trond Erdal and Jan Petter Markussen. Rune Ingebrigtsen became a shihan in June 2000 and in August 2001 he was graded to godan.

Today one can practice Chito-ryu karate in Bergen, Bodø, Tromsø, Oslo and in Hundvåg just outside Stavanger.

In August 2002 UKK arranged an international training camp in Bergen. Soke Sensei, five kyoshi 8. dan, and four other highly graded instructors took part. The camp duration was four days, and 90 participants from all over the world took part. They came from Japan, Canada, Australia, Scotland, Ireland, England, Hungary and Norway.








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