The origins of Shoto Ryu are in the island of Okinawa, which lies in between Japan and China.
Between 1600 and 1900 the art we now call Karate was developed from a range of sources – both indigenous and from abroad.
Karate developed in three areas in Okinawa and the Karate that developed in each place was suited to its environment.
In Shuri, where the royal palace was, the Karate was suited to the professional bodyguards who worked there. In Kume and other parts of Naha the Karate practiced by the Chinese-descended families was very close to the Chinese Kung Fu traditions. In Tomari, Okinawa’s seaport the Karate suited the kind of combat seen by sailors and pirates on the rocky beaches and caves.
The Okinawan fighting art came to be called Te (literally hand) and was also called Tegumi or Kumite meaning “meeting hands” in other words – “hand to hand combat.” It is also correct to speak of Uchina Te (Okinawan hand), Shuri Te, Naha Te, Tomari Te and so on.
When talking about the Chinese origins of the art, the name of the Chinese Tang dynasty was used. Just like in the Korean art of Tang Soo Do, the name Tang was pronounced as either the onyumi or kunyumi words To or Kara with hand rendered as either Shu or Te. Therefore the masters would speak of Karate Jutsu or Toshu Jutsu and sometimes To Te Jutsu.
In the mid 1800s the premier Karate master in all of Okinawa was Sokon ‘Bushi’ Matsumura, he was after all the bodyguard to three successive kings. Matsumura not only studied Shuri Te under Sakugawa and Yara, he also trained in Tomari with visiting Chinese masters, joined the Naha Te stylists from Kume in travelling to China and also went to train in Japan.
Among Matsumura’s senior students was a high ranking official named Yasutsune Azato. Like his teacher Matsumura he was a master of Japanese Jigen Ryu swordsmanship. Although primarily a Tomari stylist, the most famous of Matsumura’s students was Yasutsune ‘Anko’ Itosu who named the style Shorin Ryu in tribute to its Shaolin origins.
In the early years of the 20th century, a mild mannered school teacher named Funakoshi who was an uchideshi of both Azato and Itosu and had also trained with Matsumura, went to demonstrate his art in Japan. When he arrived in Japan, he was happy to befriend fellow Okinawan Makoto Gima who had also trained with Itosu and also with Kentsu Yabu (another student of Matsumura). Together they demonstrated the art of Karate in front of Japanese dignitaries. Funakoshi demonstrated the kata Kushanku (Kanku Dai), and Gima demonstrated the kata Naihanchi (Tekki Shodan).
With the emergence of Shito Ryu, Goju Ryu and Kobayashi Ryu, the style Funakoshi and Gima taught came to be known as Shoto Ryu (Funakoshi’s nickname was Shoto).
From this original school, many of Funakoshi’s students broke away and began their own schools such as Wado Ryu (Ohtsuka), Shotokai (Egami), Shotokan (Nakayama), Yoseikan (Mochizuki) and Taekwondo (Korean interpretation).