Itosu Anko (1831 – 1915) is seen by many as the grandfather of modern kata because he was the one who first formalized the method of teaching karate techniques and introduced karate to the general public for the first time.

Itosu Anko’s ten precepts of karate written in 1908 are probably the first ever precepts on karate, however, they are a lot lesser known than other precepts written by karate masters who were Itosu’s students.

This post briefly covers Itosu Anko’s life, his contribution to karate, and the ten precepts of karate that he wrote.

About Itosu Anko

Itosu Anko (also known as Itosu Yasutsune) was born into a noble family but of relatively low rank. He was well-educated in Chinese classics and calligraphy.

He first learned karate (known as toude at the time) from the great karate master Sokon Matsumura, Nagahama Sensei of Naha, and Gusukuma Sensei of Tomari.

After passing civil service exams, Itosu worked as a clerk for the Ryukyu government. He later rose to a more prominent position, the Secretary for the Administrative Office of the Ryukyu Kingdom, and held this post until the abolition of the Ryukyu monarchy by the Japanese government in 1879.

According to Motobu Choki, a student of Itosu Anko, Itosu first studied under Sokon Matsumura, but Matsumura disliked him and didn’t teach him much because he considered Itosu to be a slow learner. Itosu then left and trained under Nagahama sensei.

As his death approached, Nagahama sensei told Itosu that he realized that he had focused too much on building a strong body but did not think about actual fighting situations. Nagahama sensei then told Itosu to go and study under Matsumura sensei.

It seems that Itosu did focus his training on developing a strong body under Nagahama sensei’s instructions. In his book “Karate-Do Kyohan“, Gichin Funakoshi says the following about Itosu.

My teacher, Master Itosu, had a body that could be likened to a cast-iron torso. There were many occasions at parties when everyone enjoyed a few drinks and some of the younger members would punch at the teacher, but the master smiled and kept taking sips of the wine without any indication that he even noticed the blows.

The human body can be developed with training into such a powerful body as that of Master Itosu, so those who train in karate should develop, together with the training of the arms and legs for powerful strikes, literally ironlike or rocklike bodies through ceaseless effort.

However, it appears that after Nagahama’s death, Itosu did not return to Matsumura but went on to study under Gusukuma Sensei of Tomari village which explains the inclusion of some Tomari kata in his curriculum.

Amongst Itosu’s students were many influential karate masters including Yabu Kentsu, Funakoshi Gichin, Hanashiro Chomo, Motobu Choki, Kyan Chotoku, Chibana Choshin, Tokuda Anbun, Oshiro Chojo, Mabuni Kenwa, and Gusukuma Shinpan.

Itosu Anko: The Grandfather of Modern Karate

Itosu Anko was influential in the introduction of karate to the general public and the formalization of karate training programs.

Previously, karate known as toude at the time was only passed down within noble families or trusted individuals in Okinawa and was never taught to the general public.

According to the Okinawan karate master, Shoshin Nagamine (1907 – 1997), in 1890, the military draft system was introduced in Okinawa and the army doctors were impressed by the exceptional physical fitness of Itosu Anko’s three students, Yabu Kentsu, Hanashiro Chomo, and Kudeken Kenyu.

This led to the introduction of toude or karate into the physical education curriculum of the Okinawa school systems.

As a result, in 1901, Itosu began teaching karate at Shuri Jinjo Primary School. In 1905, ltosu also taught karate part-time at Okinawa’s First Junior Prefectural High School and at the Teacher’s College.

Around this time, Itosu developed a systematic method of teaching karate techniques to public school children.

Itosu felt that older kata of Chinese origin was too difficult for children to learn. So he created the five Pinan (Heian) kata that includes all basic karate techniques and has simpler patterns that are more suitable for beginners.

Itosu also introduced warm-up exercises (junbi undo) and basic exercises (kihon undo) which were previously not part of the karate training routines of the day.

In 1908, Itosu Anko wrote a letter to the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of War in Japan petitioning for the introduction of karate into the general public school curriculum beyond Okinawan shores.

The letter includes “Ten Precepts of Karate” which is reproduced below (using the translation from Shoshin Nagamine‘s book).

Without Itosu Anko’s effort to bring karate out of secrecy to the general public, karate may never have become a prominent and beloved martial art that is practiced all over the world today.

When Itosu passed away in 1915, Funakoshi Gichin continued his teacher’s mission to spread the art of karate in mainland Japan with great success.

Itosu Anko’s ten precepts of karate

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

1. Karate does not endeavor only to discipline one’s physique. If and when the necessity arises to fight for a just cause, karate provides the fortitude with which to risk one’s own life in support of that campaign. It is not meant to be employed against a single adversary but rather as a means of avoiding the use of one’s hands and feet in the event of a potentially dangerous encounter with a ruffian or a villain.

2. The primary purpose of karate training is to strengthen the muscles, making the physique strong like iron and stone so that one can use the hands and feet to approximate such weapons as a spear or halberd. In doing so, karate training cultivates bravery and valor in children and it should be encouraged in our elementary schools. Don’t forget what the Duke of Wellington said after defeating Emperor Napoleon: “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.”

3. Karate cannot be adequately learned in a short period of time. Like a sluggish bull, regardless of how slowly it moves it will eventually cover a thousand miles. So too, for one who resolves to study diligently for two or three hours every day, after three or four years of unremitting effort, one’s body will undergo a great transformation, revealing the very essence of karate.

4. One of the most important issues in karate is the importance of training the hands and the feet. Therefore, one must always make use of the makiwara in order to develop them thoroughly. In order to do this effectively, lower the shoulders, open the lungs, focus your energy, firmly grip the ground to root your posture, and sink your ki (the life force or intrinsic energy), forcing it into your tanden (the area just below the navel). Following this procedure, perform one to two hundred tsuki (punches) with each hand every day.

5. One must maintain an upright position in the training postures of karate. The back should be straight, loins pointing upward with the shoulders down, while maintaining a pliable power in your legs. Relax and bring together the upper and lower parts of the body with the ki force focused in your tanden.

6. Handed down by word of mouth, karate is comprised of a myriad of techniques and corresponding meanings. Resolve to independently explore the context of these techniques, observing the principles of torite (theory of usage), and the practical applications will be more easily understood.

7. In karate training, one must determine whether the interpretation of a movement is suitable for defense or for cultivating the body.

8. Intensity is an important issue in karate training. To visualize that one is actually engaged on the battlefield during training does much to enhance progression. Therefore, the eyes should dispatch fierceness while lowering the shoulders and contracting the body when delivering a blow. Training in this spirit prepares one for actual combat.

9. The amount of training must be in proportion to one’s physical reservoir of strength and conditioning. Excessive practice is harmful to one’s body and can be recognized when the face and eyes become red.

10. Participants of karate usually enjoy a long and healthy life, thanks to the benefits of unremitting training. Practice strengthens muscle and bone, improves the digestive organs, and regulates blood circulation. Therefore, if the study of karate were introduced into our (athletic) curricula from elementary school and practiced extensively we could more easily produce men of immeasurable defense capabilities.

With these teachings in mind, it is my conviction that if the students at the Shihan Chugakko (the old name of Okinawa’s Teachers College) practice karate they could, after graduation, introduce the discipline at the local levels; namely to elementary schools. In this way, karate could be disseminated throughout the entire nation and not only benefit people in general but also serve as an enormous asset to our military forces.

Anko Itosu's ten precepts
Itosu Anko’s Ten Precepts of Karate

Other posts you might be interested in:

Goju Ryu Karate’s Dojo Kun and Their Philosophical Meanings

Shotokan Karate’s Dojo Kun and Their Philosophical Meanings

The Twenty Precepts of Karate and Their Meanings

Do Not Forget that Karate-do Begins and Ends with Rei

The Intended Meaning of Karate Ni Sente Nashi


My Art and Skill of Karate” by Motobu Choki (1932), translated by Andreas Quast and Motobu Naoki

Karate-Do Kyohan: The Master Text

Tales of Okinawa’s Great Masters (Tuttle Martial Arts)

Ankō Itosu – Wikipedia

Itosu Anko – Original Okinawa Karate Beikoku Shidokan Association

Examining Yasutsune Itosu