Date founded 1933
Country of origin Ryūkyū Kingdom
Founder Chōshin Chibana
Arts taught Karate
Ancestor schools Shuri-te
Descendant schools Shōrin-ryū Shidōkan, Shōrin-ryū Shōrinkan, Shōrin-ryū Kyudōkan
Practitioners Chosin Chibana, Katsuya Miyahira, Shūgorō Nakazato, Higa Yuchoku

Shōrin-ryū (少林流)[1][2][3][4][5][6] is one of the major modern Okinawan martial arts and is one of the oldest styles of karate. It was named by Choshin Chibana in 1933, but the system itself is much older. The characters 少林, meaning "small" and "forest" respectively and being pronounced "shōrin" in Japanese, are also used in the Chinese and Japanese words for Shaolin Kung Fu. "Ryū" means "school". Shōrin-ryū combines elements of the traditional Okinawan fighting styles of Shuri-te.[1][2][3][4][5][6]


Chosin Chibana was a top student of the great master of shuri-te, Anko Itosu. Anko Itosu was the top student of Matsumura Sōkon, who was a renowned warrior of his time; bodyguard to three kings of Okinawa, he has been called the Miyamoto Musashi of Okinawa and was dubbed bushi, or warrior, by his king. However, while he is often referred to as the "founder" of Shuri-te, he did not invent all the components of the style. In 1933, Chosin Chibana chose to call his style Shorin-ryu in honor of the Samurai roots, and to differentiate it from other styles that were being modified from the original teachings of Anko Itosu. Prior to this time, there were no names for styles in Okinawa (though common in Japan for Japanese martial arts). Several branches of traditional Shorin-Ryu exist today in both Okinawa and the Western World. While there is a more concentrated population of practitioners in its birthplace of Okinawa, Shorin-Ryu Karate has had many high level black belts in the Western World as well including: Joe Hess (Black Belt), Frank Grant (10th Dan of Matsubayashi-Ryu Shorin-Ryu), and James Smithey (9th Dan), and Soke Dave Shelton (10th Dan of Shorin Ryu Matsumura SokenDo).


Shōrin-ryū is generally characterized by natural breathing, natural (narrow, high) stances, and circular, rather than direct movements. Shōrin-ryū practitioners will say that correct motion matters, being able to move quickly to evade violence by having fluid movements and flexible positions is quite important, and that a solid structure is very important for powerful moves. Stances that are too deep will most likely make body movement very difficult. Another of the features in this system is how the student is taught to punch. Generally, there is neither a horizontal or vertical punch in Shorin Ryu. Punches are slightly canted to the inside, with the largest knuckle of the fore finger (third from the tip) in vertical alignment with the second knuckle of the pinky finger. It is believed that this position is key in lining up the bones of the arm and creates a faster, more stable and powerful strike.


Some of the key kata in Shōrin-ryū are:[7]p. 30

The study of weapons only starts at dan-level, and weapon kata are not standardised across the style.[7]p. 45



In 1924, Gichin Funakoshi adopted the Dan system from judo founder Kanō Jigorō using a rank scheme with a limited set of belt colors. In 1960, this practice was adopted in Okinawa.[10]

In a Kyū/Dan system, the beginner grade is a higher-numbered kyū (e.g., 7th Kyū) and progress is toward a lower-numbered Kyū. The Dan progression continues from 1st Dan (Shodan, or 'beginning dan') to the higher dan grades. Kyū-grade karateka are referred to as "color belt" or mudansha ("ones without dan"); Dan-grade karateka are referred to as yudansha (holders of dan rank). Yudansha typically wear a black belt.

Requirements of rank differ among styles, organizations, and schools. Kyū ranks stress stance, balance, and coordination. Speed and power are added at higher grades. Minimum age and time in rank are factors affecting promotion. Testing consists of demonstration of technique before a panel of examiners. Black belt testing is commonly done in a manner known as shinsa, which includes a written examination as well as demonstration of kihon, kumite, kata, and bunkai (applications of technique).

In Shōrin-ryū, one possible rank (belt) progression is listed below:[11] There are many others. For instance, the largest organization in North America does not use yellow, orange, blue, or purple belts.:[12] Nor are the colors or orders consistent from school to school within an organization.

In the USA, the mudansha generally are:

In the USA, the yudansha generally are:

Master Level


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Bishop, Mark. Okinawan Karate: Teachers, Styles and Secret Techniques. ISBN 0-8048-3205-6.
  2. 1 2 "Beikoku Shidokan Association, Iha Dojo". Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  3. 1 2 "History of Okinawan Karate". Okinawa Prefectural Government. 2003. Archived from the original on 15 April 2009.
  4. 1 2 "Kata of Shuri-te Karate". Okinawa Prefectural Government. 2003. Archived from the original on 26 March 2009.
  5. 1 2 "Okinawan Shorin-ryu Shorinkan Karate and Kobudo Dojo". Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  6. 1 2 Mateusz Staniszew. "World Oshukai Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Do Kobudo Federation". Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  7. 1 2 Cummins, William (1984). Shorin-Ryu : Okinawan karate question and answer book (1st ed.). New York: Person-to-Person Pub. ISBN 9780804814263.
  8. Reihokan Karate
  9. World Oshukai Dento Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Do Kobudo Federation
  10. "Shorin History". Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  11. "Sistema de Graduação". Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  12. "Beikoku Shidokan Association, Iha Dojo". 2004-08-14. Retrieved 2012-11-12.
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