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Wondering About The Itosu Photo

As mentioned previously, a photograph of Anko Itosu was discovered by Sensei Hiroshi Kinjo and recently donated to the Okinawan Prefecture. Please see the February 28, 2006 Okinawa Times newspaper article (in Japanese) describing this and Sensei Patrick McCarthy's and Yuriko McCarthy's English translation of the article entitled Photo of Itosu Ankoh is Found (in pdf format). The translation of the newspaper article appears at the Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Kokusai Kenkyukai (International Ryukyu Karate-Jutsu Research Society) website and is linked here with permission of Sensei Patrick McCarthy.

Sensei Patrick McCarthy and Yuriko McCarthy have recently translated a second article entitled Itosu Anko Okina: The Restorer of Karate (in pdf format), by Hiroshi Kinjo. This article was published in the March 20, 2006 edition of the Okinawa Times newspaper (in Japanese) . It also appears at the Ryukyu Karate-jutsu Kokusai Kenkyukai (International Ryukyu Karate-Jutsu Research Society) website.

I have wondered why a famous sensei, such as Anko Itosu, was not featured in more photographs. Of course, for most of his life he lived in the 19th century (the 1800s). But he had many students, some of whom where or became pretty well known themselves. He seemed to have means. He was not destitute. I have seen photographs here in Hawaii that were taken in Okinawa before 1900 so taking a photo was possible. It seems that there should have been more photos of Itosu Sensei. Shouldn't his students have asked to take a photo with their respected sensei, particularly at the classes they taught with him at public schools?

Perhaps there is a reason for this. A few years ago, I interviewed Sensei Kiyoshi Aihara. He studied Karate under Gichin Funakoshi (who studied under Itosu Sensei) at Waseda University. At the time of my interview, he was about 70.

Aihara Sensei showed me several photos taken at the Waseda University Karate Club. But I did not see any of Funakoshi Sensei. So I asked him, "Did you take any photographs with Funakoshi Sensei?"

Aihara Sensei instantly blushed. He looked like a bashful young boy. "No, no, no," he explained. "I would never ask to take a picture with my sensei."

Today, we think nothing of asking our sensei to pose for a photo (or video). But in the early days, students would be very reluctant to impose on their sensei in any way. After all, many early students would not even think to ask their sensei a question. It simply wasn't the "Japanese" way, particularly in the strict martial arts environment.

Even here in Hawaii, many seniors have related to me that they never asked their teachers any questions as it would have been inappropriate to do so. Back in the pre-War era, they just listened and did as they were told.

A student might also appear arrogant by asking to take a photo with his sensei. His sensei was of a much higher level, not a peer. The student had to know and keep his place.

I can only speculate, but perhaps this explains why the recently discovered photo of Itosu Sensei shows him with Judo and Kendo students, and school officials, rather than his own Karate students. We may never know, but after all these years, it is certainly nice to have a face to go with the illustrious name of Anko Itosu. It will be easier now to imagine him watching us, across the decades, as we humbly perform his Pinan kata.


Charles C. Goodin