Styles of Karate (pt.1) – by Kanken Toyama

Today I thought I would share one of my absolute favourite articles ever written on Karate.

It’s about the different “styles” that seem to exist in Karate, and it is written by a gentleman named Kanken Toyama (1888-1966).

Kanken Toyama was – apart from being a schoolteacher – a master of Karate. He began his Karate training at 9 years old under “the father of modern Karate”, Itosu Anko, but later moves to Taiwan and studied the Chinese styles. Given his diverse martial arts background, the Japanese government soon recognized Toyama, and awarded him the title of master instructor.

In 1946, Toyama founded the All Japan Karate-Do Federation (AJKF) with the intention of unifying the various forms of Karate of Japan and Okinawa under one governing organization. I can’t really say he succeeded…

Anyway, here is a picture of the man in his younger years:

I think I even visited his grave last year, but I can’t seem to find the right picture… Well, enough with the introduction, here is part one of his article/essay about styles in Karate.


How many styles does Karate have? I have been asked this question numerous times but usually by those that really do not understand the essential elements of a martial art.

If one seriously thinks about these essential elements that make up a martial art, one then can easily understand the reasoning that Karate does not have any one style. Karate molds an individual to be the only object of defense or offense and, through this, it teaches the basic concept of self-protection.

The exquisite skill of Karate that is based on self-protection does not need to contain several different “styles,” but a combination of what works or is effective. In other words, Sumo wrestlers, boxers and airplane pilots do not have any one special style and neither does Karate. The methods of training, techniques and successes can only be achieved through sheer ability!

The orthodox Karate has, in reality, only one style but what does the word “style” mean? Your methods of etiquette and formality or the various methods of flower arrangement have several different “styles” but they are reasonably the same. People set forth a criteria on how to create a beautiful flower arrangement using the same material or how to show respect to one another as a method of etiquette.

It is understandable that people in Japan show respect by bowing and people of Europe and America show the same respect by shaking hands or saluting. As far as etiquette and formality goes, there are several styles from different points of view, ideology and social standing but they accomplish the same purpose.

So, one can now understand that although there maybe a number of ways of doing things, they all accomplish the same end and purpose.

And that is what counts.

Now, let us discuss Karate styles. One of the major styles that come to our attention is Shorin-ryu (ryu meaning a way or style that was created from an individual’s point of view, belief or ideology). Shorei-ryu, Goju-ryu and Shito-ryu are other styles that are very closely related and this will be discussed.

Stay tuned for part 2…


  • Ny Iago
    Looking forward to part 2! If the end is self-defense, then karate might have been superseded by self-defense specialists like Geoff Thompson. I guess karate-honed bodies and skills would be a good pairing with such modern tactics. The latter might even take legal issues into account.
  • That's an interesting theory! I have read some of Geoff Thompsons books, pretty rough stuff. Karate-honed bodies (and brains) would indeed be a good pairing with such modern tactics.
    • Gene Wheeler
      Jesse, I am Gene Wheeler and I had the pleasure to study under Toshio Hanaue in Fussa Machi Japan from 1967 to 1972, Karata and Bojutsu Would love to talk with you.
      • Anthony Perez
        Gene: I am Tony Perez and I studied under Toshio Hanaue in Fussa from 1970 to 1973, My memory is hazy but you and I had to have been classmates. Small world.
      • Brian Williams
        Mr. Wheeler, our head instructor Master Sam Brock studied under Hanaue Sensei in Japan, at the Air Base. Not sure if the years though.
  • Jim
    One could also imply that Karate "style" is much like "beauty" - all in the eye of the Beholder..... Jim
    2009-7,31 TAMPA FL 1 PM TAMPA TIMES. thanks for the email. karate are differnts branches of the same tree but shares the same roots. but sometimes you have to consider karate do way of life to karate jitsu surviving. ot like in 1940 karate for war. always karate teachning are diffrents because teacher and goals are diffrents. wath are your goals ?? are you a serious students practicing for 10 years or more or you go to the dojo for social activities. ? anyhow qui va piano va sano et qui va sano va longtano !! and it is at the ends of the nite that we reconnized the best dancer like shoshin nagamine sensei. here and now is important. like daruma said outside the scripture pointing direct of the hart of the man. just find your middle path. everywhere for ever. like in the shobogenzo chapter of uji. for style it is easy to reconnize a practionner of goju and shotokan just by their stances. even when both they do kobudo. takusan jotto !!! columbo san... have a nice day...
  • Thank you for using the article on Toyama Kanken Dai Sensei. He was one of my favorite (scary) teachers from the earl 1960's. I encourage you to visit my website for more info on Toyama Dai Sensei. Kind Regards, Ernest PS - I enjoy watching your videos. You have a good eye!
    • Hi Ernest! Thank you for making your presence felt! Your website truly contains much of interest :) /Jesse
  • Alex
    Thank you so much Jesse for mentioning Toyama Sensei. I am a student of Shudokan Karate, one of the multiple styles that were founded by the students of Kanken Toyama (Ironically). Unlike many orthodox karateka, we train many styles of karate, and many of our techniques are influenced by Judo (a developement by the late Shihan Walter Todd, this can be seen through our obi, which lacks the traditional "over under"). So much of our training is about open mindedness, about accepting the differences between wado-ryu, shorin-ryu, doshinkan, etc etc. We learn that movement has meaning, and it was done a certain way for a certain reason. A style shows us history, and lineage, but it is not to be thought of as the "only" interpretation of the truth, for there are many. I have come to learn that karate is all about interpretation. When movement is involved what works for one person almost never works perfectly for another, and I find that many sensei misunderstand this. Study is key to this conundrum, finding new more effecient ways to build off of the foundation of traditional karatedo. This is what I feel Shudokan is about. Continuing down the path of karate and gathering more and more information. Gathering so much information that every situation has an answer that is not only articulate but precise. Its a bit late so I hope that wasnt to rambling... Thats my two cents Alex
  • I may be visiting Okinawa next October and would like to know where Master Toyama Kanken is buried . Do you know the name of the cemetery? Are any of the other "old masters " buried in the same cemetery ? My Grandmaster ( Ki Whang Kim) was one of his students in Japan back in the 30's.
    • Mary
      Hi, Someone at the Yakima School of Karate would know where Kanken Toyama is buried; several of the long-time teachers went with Sensei Mack to the grave, (ten years ago?) and they described cleaning it (and a large black butterfly?). I too knew Shihan Walter Todd; he was so funny. He would say, "I'm an old man, don't hurt me" and then he would touch my shoulder, and I would fall down.It was like having Spock put the touch on you.
    • Dai Shihan Kanken Toyama's family burial plot is located in a Tokyo suburb. He is not buried in Okinawa.
  • Toyama Kanken also studied extensively under Kanryo Higashiona at the behest of Itosu Anko. He was expert in all the Okinawan systems from Naha, Shuri and Tomari. He never founded a "style". The name Shudokan was only the name of the building where his school was. Toyama taught Orthodox Okinawan Karate. He actually spent a longer period with Itosu than many of the other great Students of the Master. My Sensei Walter Todd Shihan was Toyama's representative here in the USA, thru the urgings of Yoko Takahashi Sensei ( a student of Toyama living in the US at the time ). Yes, while he was teaching in Taiwan, he learned several systems which he later incorporated into his special kata that he developed with his top students. There is really no " style" called Shudokan from Toyama Sensei
  • This is a gem--I study Chayon-Ryu, which preserves the forms of Senesi Toyama Kanken, and they came to us through our senior Grandmaster, Yoon, Byung-In, a Korean gentleman who studied with Sensei at university in the 1940's in Tokyo. After the liberation, Yoon returned to Korea where he taught the line he had learned from Toyama Kanken. I will direct the Grandmaster of my system to this article because I think he will appreciate it. My teacher is Grandmaster Kim Pyung-Soo.
    • I am a teacher and student of Soryu Karate-Do. Soryu Karate-Do was founded by Michio Koyasu, my instructor, who was a student of Kanken Toyama.
      • Brian Williams
        I am also a student of Shudokan, lineage Toshio Hanuae, Sensei a direct student of Toyama Sensei. Hanuae Sensei instructed Master Sam Brock who instructed Mr. David Brownridge, Mr. Doug Dennis and Mr. Dennis Boardman. Bellina Sensei has wrote a very good book on the Master, well worth reading, check it out at
        • Shane Tutwiler
          You didn't happen to teach at a dojo in rural Illinois, did you sir?
          • William Amsler
            Hoopston, IL I believe.
          • Brian Williams
  • If you like to read more about Toyama Kanken Sensei. Check out

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