By Scot Mertz
As of late I have been working on a rather large translation project. By doing so I have ran across some information about the karate pioneer Anko Itosu that I don't believe is completely public.
Yasutsune "Anko" Itosu (糸洲 安恒), pronounced as Ichiji Anko in the Okinawan dialect was born in 1831 and lived until 1915. He is often considered to be the father of the modern karate movement. He passed traditional kata that he had learned as well as kata that he created. Itosu came from a low-rank Pechin (samurai) family.
Itosu served as a secretary to the last king of the Ryukyus (Sho Tai) until the monarchy was abolished in 1879. In 1905 at the age of 74, Itosu was a part time teacher of Toudi at Okinawan's first Junior Prefectural High School. It was during this time that he created the infamous Pinan Kata. He is also known to have broken the original Nahaihanchi form into three parts so that school kids could learn it. In 1908 at age 77 Itosu wrote "Ten Precepts of Karate".
**Before I get into this next part it needs to be said that after the Meiji restoration began taking effect on Okinawa many of the surnames were pronounced in Okinawan, around 1880 the names began shifting to a more Japanese pronunciation. So this explanation will use the original names as printed in the references, however I am going to explain who is who in their Japanese names.
So who trained Itosu?
I have four sources that I used to really get this answer.
My first reference is Choki Motobu's 1932 book 'Wasashi No Tode Jutsu". Motobu writings when translated shed some light on Itosu. Motobu said that Sensei Itosu was a student of Sensei Matsumura (Sokon), but that Matsumura didn't like him. Matsumura's complaint was that Itosu was to slow. Over time Itosu discovered that his teacher (Matsumura) didn't like him so he left and begain studying with Sensei Nagahama.
Sensei Nagahama was very well-known as he had learned karate in China with Bushi Sakiyama under the Military Attaché ASON.
Sensei Nagahama's karate was a complete opposite of Matsumura's karate, with the emphasis being placed on building the body. (More similar to Naha-Te). Motobu further describes the relationship between Itosu and Nagahama by saying. "Nagahama would often refer to his student Itosu as his right hand man."
When Nagahama was dying in 1879 there was an alleged meeting that took place where Itosu was present to hear his last words. Nagahama confessed that he had only taught Itosu strength building and had never thought about actual combat. He asked Itosu to make amends with Matsumura and continue his training with him.
On page 18 Funakoshi Gichin's "To-Te Jutsu" from 1925 Funakoshi write that Itosu was a student of Gusukuma. It is reasonable to put together that after Nagahama died Itosu did not go back to train with Matsumura but instead went to Gusukuma of Tomari Te to continue his training. In the Japanese edition of Karate-do Kyohan Funakoshi reiterates this and writes again that Itosu was a student of Gusukuma.
The last piece of evidence for this tale is a 1914 Ryukyu Shimbun article with Anko Azato. According to Azato, Gusukuma was a student of a man referred to as Anan or Chinto (same person two names) who washed ashore in Tomari.
The influence of Gusukuma is probably where Itosu actually got his kata from, which is why what he passed on is not like the Shorin Ryu of Matsumura.
So in summary Itosu begain his training with Matsumura, left and trained with Nagahama until his death, then finished his studies with Gusukuma.
Now for the who's who in the zoo. Gusukuma (??) name became Shiroma after the name change went into effect. It is likely that Shinpan Shiroma, a very famous student of Itosu, was Itosu's teacher's grandson.
Nagahama was a bit more difficult to discover his identity. However in 1840 Nagahama left Okinawa with Sakiyama for training in China. He supposedly stayed in China for about 7 years learning military tactics and traveling around before coming back to Okinawa. After he return and the name was changed Nagahama became Nakaima. So Itosu's Nagahama was none other than Nakaima Kenri, grandfather of the founder of Ryuei Ryu karate. Now if Nakaima Kenri had the Ryuei Ryu kata at that time it appears that he only taught those to his son Kenchu, while he taught something more similar to Naha Te to Itosu, working on strengthen his body and planting the seeds for teaching karate in schools for physical education purposes.
All the best from beautiful Yomiton!