Hanashiro, Chomo (1869-1945)
Hanashiro was born in 1869 and at an early age began training with the
man many consider to be the greatest of all Tote masters, Matsumura Sokon
(1809-1901), well known as "Bushi" Matsumura. Matsumura was
quite an old man at the time and Hanashiro was primarily a student of
one of Matsumura's senior students, Itosu Anko (1830-1915). Itosu shaped
modern karate as much as any other person in history and spearheaded a
movement to bring Tote into the Okinawan school system around the turn
of the century. Hanashiro remained with Itosu, and acted as an assistant
instructor for him up until his death in 1915. From early in the 20th
century, Hanashiro taught gymnastics at a junior high school in Shuri
(Okinawa's capital) which gave him an excellent opportunity to aid Itosu
in the introduction of Tote into the school system.
In the 1920's, Hanashiro Chomo was one of the most highly regarded karate
masters in Okinawa, a fact that was acknowledged even by other masters.
Despite this, information about him is rare in English language texts,
and is usually scattered in existing references.
It is difficult to talk about the life of Hanashiro Chomo without also
talking about another of Itosu's senior students and assistants, Yabu
Kentsu (1863-1937), also originally a student of Matsumura. Yabu was probably
most famous for his many challenge matches, all without a single loss.
These two shared many common experiences and have remarkably similar
karate careers. Both were noted as having exceptional physiques in the
1891 Japanese army draft's medical exams. They were both pioneers in instructing
karate in the school system in the first decade of the 20th century, and
also taught Tote in military schools. Both were also present at the famous
Oct. 25th, 1936 meeting of Okinawan Masters. At this meeting, attended
by the greatest masters of the time, the name "karate do" was
officially adopted over "Tote Jutsu". A photo of members of
the meeting can be found on Page 7 of the Old Canadian Chito Ryu Technical
Manual and many other karate history books. Yabu and Hanashiro are in
the middle of the bottom row, O-Sensei is 2nd from the left in the top
An interesting story that demonstrates the association of Hanashiro and
his dojo-mate Yabu well into their lives comes from Nagamine Shoshin (1907-1998),
founder of Matsubayashi Ryu (a well known branch of shorin ryu), and author
of "The Essence of Okinawan Karate-do". While studying at the
Metropolitan Police Station in Tokyo in 1936, Nagamine met with Hanashiro
Chomo and Kentsu Yabu who warned him that the karate katas in Tokyo had
changed considerably and that Nagamine should take pains to keep the katas
he taught in their original forms. I find this interesting, as Nagamine
met with both masters at the same time, 50 years after they were dojo
mates at Bushi Matsumura's dojo. Obviously the two were very close.
Hanashiro was not only a pioneer in the school system, but he also pioneered
the use of the word "karate". In his August 1905 publication,
"Karate Shoshu Hen" (AKA "Karate Kumite"), the first
known use of the modern kanji was used.
The original two characters for the art were pronounced Tote meaning,
"China Hand." The first character, however, could also be pronounced
"kara." This character was changed to another that had the same
pronunciation ("kara"). Thus the modern term "Karate-te
(empty hand) appeared
Hanashiro was one of the primary instructors for an organization formed
in the early 1920's in Okinawa called the Ryukyu Tote Kenkyukai (Okinawan
Tote Research Club). The club was an expansion of an earlier organization
formed in 1918 by Miyagi Chojun, a famous Tote expert and founder of Goju
Ryu. Originally the organization was meant to continue the teachings of
Itosu Anko, Higashionna Kanryo and Aragaki Seisho, the last generation
of masters who had died between 1915 and 1918, leaving a great void.
Within this club, Okinawa's greatest masters hung around together, taught
Tote and exchanged ideas. Hanashiro Chomo wasn't the only teacher; others
included Miyagi Chojun (the original organizer), Mabuni Kenwa (founder
of Shito Ryu), Motobu Choyu (one of O-Sensei Chitose's teachers, his teachings
eventually became Motobu Ryu, a martial art called Te, precursor to Okinawan
Tote). Unfortunately, the Kenkyukai disbanded in the late 1920's, members
stated that the demands of their students was the reason. The face of
karate today would be different if the Kenkyukai had remained in existence.
Hanashiro Chomo had a few famous students. Of particular note are Nakamura
Shigeru (1892/95-1969 of Okinawan Kempo), Chitose Tsuyoshi (1898-1984,
founder Chito Ryu), Nakama Chozo (1899-1982, of Kobayashi Ryu), Shimabukuro
Zenryo (1904-1969, founder of Seibukan Shorin Ryu) and Kinjo Hiroshi (1919-,
Patrick McCarthy's current teacher and famous karate historian).
From discussions with Patrick McCarthy, it is believed that Hanashiro
received the kata Ryusan from a Chinese tea merchant and White Crane gungfu
practitioner named Gokenki. Gokenki worked for the Eiko Chako Tea Company
and taught White Crane in Okinawa between 1912 and his death in 1940.
Gokenki was an occasional member of the 1920's Kenkyukai, mentioned earlier,
and associated with many of Okinawa's great masters during this time.
1945 was a horrific year for karate and for Okinawa in general. The "Battle
of Okinawa" was fought and Okinawa was relentlessly pounded by U.S.
artillery and occupied by U.S. troops. The island where karate originated
was caught between the United States and Japan near the end of the Second
World War. Best estimates coming from Okinawa after the war state that
approximately 60,000 civilians were killed during the 82 days of fighting.
The time after the battle was no less forgiving and many died of starvation
and disease, including many karate masters and their students. Hanashiro
Chomo was one of the unfortunate victims of this time.
By: Travis Cottreau (Edited for punctuation and clarity)
Belote, James H. and William M. Belote, "Typhoon of Steel: The Battle
for Okinawa", Harper and Row, 1970
"Bible of Karate - Bubishi", Charles E. Tuttle, fourth printing
1997. Translated with commentary by Patrick McCarthy.
Bishop, Mark: "Okinawan Karate - Teachers, Styles and Secret Techniques",
A&C Black Ltd. London, 1989.
Higashi, Shane: "Chito Ryu Karate", Canadian Chito Ryu Karate
Do Association, 1984.
Sells, John: "Unante, the Secrets of Karate", John Sells and
Hawley Publications, 1996.
Published with persmission of Travis Cottreau. Note: The orignal article
was edited to insure understanding.