Shito Ryu Karate was founded by Kenwa Mabuni (November 14, 1889 - May 23, 1952). When he was 13 years old, Mabuni Sensei began training with Anko Itosu, a noted Karate master in the Shuri area of Okinawa. Itosu Sensei was not only highly skilled in Budo but also a great innovator in teaching the martial arts.
Around 1905, Itosu Sensei introduced Karate into the Okinawan public school system. Among other accomplishments, Itosu Sensei created the Pinan (Heian) kata which are still practiced today as introductory or intermediate forms in many schools. Itosu Sensei had an important effect on Karate in the 20th Century. Evidence of this can be found in the number of ryuha or Karate styles that trace their lineage back to him. This includes notables such as Gichin Funakoshi, who founded Shotokan Karate, Chomo Hanashiro, Kentsu Yabe, Choshin Chibana and others.
About 1909, through an introduction by his friend Chojun Miyagi, Mabuni Sensei started to also train with Kanryo Higaonna (sometimes known as Higashionna). Higaonna Sensei was a expert from the Naha region of Okinawa. Through Higaonna, Mabuni Sensei learned kata such as Saiha, Sanchin, Seienchin, Seipai and others. Miyagi Sensei went on to found the Goju Ryu style of Karate.
In 1915, both Itosu Sensei and Higaonna Sensei passed away within a short time of one another. Mabuni Sensei continued his training. Ultimately, he and Miyagi Sensei joined with other students of Karate to start a research group aimed at practicing and spreading Karate. During this time Mabuni Sensei also trained in various forms of Okinanwan weaponry or Ryukyu Kobudo.
In 1929, Mabuni Kenwa Sensei moved his entire family to Osaka. There he established a small dojo and began teaching his unique art. Hanko Ryu or Half-Hard Style. In the 1930's, the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (the Japanese martial arts sanctioning organization) began to demand the different groups applying for membership, be more specific in the description of their Karate systems, and pressured them to name their systems.
Originally, Mabuni Kenwa Sensei was going to name his system Hanko Ryu or "half-hard" style. However, ultimately Mabuni Sensei decided on the name Shito. The name "Shito" is the combination of "shi" and "to" , the two first characters of the names of Master Itosu and Master Higaonna . Thus, the name Shito Ryu has no literal meaning but rather honours the two main teachers in Mabuni Kenwa Sensei's life. In the same context, the kata syllabus of Shito Ryu is still listed as having two lineages, Itosu Ke and Higaonna Ke.
Mabuni Kenwa Sensei worked tirelessly to teach Karate throughout Japan. His efforts brought him into contact with other people who were essential to the growth of Karate in Japan. The impact that Mabuni Kenwa had on the development of Japanese Karate was tremendous. Many groups trace an element of their lineage back to him. Mabuni Kenwa died on May 23rd, 1952.
Information provided by Shihan Kazuo Sakai