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Examining Yasutsune Itosu

Part 2: Itosu's Ten Precepts

by Tom Ross

Editor's Note: This is the second of two articles on Itosu. The first article examined the man and his lineage, while the second focuses on Itosu's famous "Ten Precepts," which he wrote to the draw the attention of the government to the budding art of karate as it was developing on Okinawa.

Karate developed on Okinawa not in public light but in secret, practiced at night and behind closed doors and taught only to the most trusted few. So secret was the practice that a student of the art would not tell his best friend or associates. This was the way of karate as it existed for centuries when arms had been banned, first by the government and later by the Japanese who occupied the country. When Okinawa was annexed along with the other Ryukyu islands late in the 19th century, the stage was set for the art to emerge from secrecy.

It was Itosu who brought karate from the shadows into the light of public study. In 1901 he began instructing karate at the Shuri Jinjo Primary school (Iwai 1992, Okinawa Pref. 1994) and taught at the Dai Ichi middle school and the Okinawa prefectural Men's Normal School in 1905 (Bishop 1999, Okinawa Pref. 1994, 1995).

In October of 1908 Itosu realized it was time for karate (meaning Chinese Hand) to reach beyond the shores of Okinawa to the heart of Japan itself. It was to this end that he wrote his famous letter of Ten Precepts (Tode Jukun) to draw the attention of both the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of War. After demonstrations were held for several naval vessels, the most important of which was the 1912 visit of Admiral Dewa, karate emerged as an attractive vehicle for developing young fighting men for the imperialistic Japanese government of the period.

Ten Precepts Of China Hand (1)

China Hand did not develop from Buddhism or Confucianism. In the past the Shorin School and the Shorei school were brought here from China. Both of these schools have strong points, which I will now mention before there are too many changes.

1. China Hand is not merely practiced for your own benefit: it can be used to protect one's family or master. It is not intended to be used against a single assailant but instead as a way of avoiding a fight should one be confronted by a villain or ruffian.

2. The purpose of China Hand is to make the muscles and bones hard as rock and to use the hands and legs as spears. If children were to begin training in China Hand while in elementary school, then they will be well suited for military service. Remember the words of the Duke of Wellington after he defeated Napoleon: "Our victory here today was achieved in our school yards."

3. China Hand cannot be quickly learned. Like a slow moving bull, it eventually travels a thousand miles. If one trains diligently everyday, then in three or four years one will come to understand China Hand.

Those who train in this fashion will discover China Hand.

4. In China Hand training of the hands and feet are important, so one must be thoroughly trained on the makiwara (striking post). In order to do this, drop your shoulders, open your lungs, take hold of your strength, grip the floor with your feet and sink your energy into your lower abdomen. Practice using each arm one to two hundred times each day.

5. When one practices the stances of China Hand, be sure to keep your back straight, lower your shoulders, put strength in your legs, stand firmly and drop your energy into your lower abdomen.

6. Practice each of the techniques of China Hand repeatedly, the use of which is passed by word of mouth. Learn the explanations well and decide when and in what manner to apply them when needed. Enter, counter, release is the rule of releasing hand (torite).

7. You must decide if China Hand is for your health or to aid your duty.

8. When you train, do so as if on the battlefield. Your eyes should glare, shoulders drop, and body harden.. You should always train with intensity and spirit and in this way you will naturally be ready.

9. One must not overtrain; this will cause you to lose the energy in your lower abdomen and will be harmful to your body. Your face and eyes will turn red. Train wisely.

10. In the past masters of China Hand have enjoyed long lives. China Hand aids in developing the bones and muscles. It helps the digestion as well as the circulation. If China Hand should be introduced beginning in the elementary schools, then we will produce many men each capable of defeating ten assailants. I further believe this can be done by having all students at the Okinawa Teachers Collage practice China Hand. In this way after graduation they can teach at the elementary schools that which they have been taught. I believe this will be a great benefit to our nation and our military. It is my hope you will seriously consider my suggestion.

Anko Itosu October 1908


(1) There are many translations of these Ten Precepts. I based this interpretation on the translations in works by the historians Sells, Nagamine (McCarthy) and Bishop. I believe it preserves the integrity of what Itosu said and is a compromise of the points made by the above translations which vary significantly in some areas.

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About The Author:

Tom Ross is a retired NYC Correction Officer who specialized in the Handling of Security Risk group prisoners. A Yudansha under Ashihara karate (current affiliation) and in Shorinjiryu Kenzenkai Karatedo (an Offshoot of the Shorinjiryu Kenkokan founded by Masayoshi Hisataka), he also spent six years studying Jujutsu (classical, modern and Brazilian). Possessing an avid interest in the history of martial arts and traditions he currently serves as the Research Coordinator for as well as moderating its Martial Arts Talk forum. He additionally serves as the moderator of the Sabaki List (which is dedicated to various martial artists and full contact stylists) and is a member of the International Hoplology Society.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

Anko Itosu, Yasutsune Itosu, Itosu's Ten Precepts, karate history, Shuri

Read more articles by Tom Ross

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