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Chotoku Kyan

Chotoku Kyan 1870 - 1945

Chotoku Kyan was born in 1870, the son of Chofu Kyan, a high ranking official in the Okinawan royal court.  Chofu was a royal steward, personally attending to the Okinawan king, Tai Sho. Though by the time of Chotoku Kyan's birth in Gibo Village, Shuri, the Okinawan kingdom was already in transition.  Although the Satsuma samurai from Kyushu, Japan, had completely subjugated the Ryukyu archipelago in 1609, its monarchy and internal administrative bureaucracy, including its civil police and royal garrison, has been allowed to continue as a puppet state. 

However, even this pretense was abandoned in 1872, when the monarchy was dissolved by a Japanese Government that had itself move out of the feudal era under Emperor Meiji's leadership in 1868.  The now former king and his family were subsequently taken to Japan, where they continued for some time to live an aristocratic life.  Accompanying the king were some of his old retainers, including Chofu Kyan, who brought his twelve year old son to be educated in Tokyo.  However, Chofu's service to the former king ended when Chotoku was sixteen and the Kyan family moved back to Okinawa to a land where much of the gentry class, the people who developed karate, had fallen on hard times - their feudal largess having ended when Okinawa was made a prefecture of Japan and the kingdom period ended.

Still, a young Chotoku Kyan was to receive a remarkable martial arts education from some of Okinawas' most prominent karateka.  Though he was small and slight individual (Tatsuo Shimabuku said he was only 4'10''), he overcame his physical size by training arduously, often devising techniques that enhanced the art itself.  Techniques that he perfected under the guidance of such men as:
his grandfather, Oyakata Kyan (who was his first martial arts teacher); Sokon Matsumura, the old leading karateka of Shuri from whom he learned the old karate training routines (Kata) Seisan, Naifanchi and Gojushiho; Kokan Oyadami of Tomari-te, another former high ranking official, who taught him the Passai kata; and Kosaku Matsumora, known as Tomari-te's leading exponent, taught Chotoku Chinto kata.
These men have been secured by Chotoku's father to teach his son from the age of twenty.  By the time Chotoku was thirty, he had become well-known as a skilled karateka himself.  He also sought others whose knowledge and expertise would be beneficial to him.  These included Maeda, another formal official from whom he learned Wanshu kata; Yara of Yomitan village (A decendant of Chatan Yara, who was contemporary with Matsumura's alleged teacher, Tode Sakugawa), from whom he learned a beautiful long version of Kusanku kata; and Tokumine, the banished Shuri officer who is said to have taught Chotoku his bo kata, Tokumine No Kun (Though Tokumine may have been dead by the time Kyan visited Yaeyama Island, south of Okinawa Island, where the old regime had banished Tokumine)

It has also been said many times that Kyan was a student of Sokon Matsumura's most famous protege, Anko Itosu.  However, Kyan's own students and  Chosin Chibana, Anko's successor, steadfastly maintained that Chotoku never studied under Anko Itosu.  Nonetheless, Chotoku amassed a wide array of knowledge from some of his best sources in old-style Okinawan karate.  With his expertise and knowledge, Chotoku became a sought after and acknowledged master of the art.  He was famous for his kicking skills and fast, light and effective movements.  He was supposedly challenged many times and was able to emerge victorious throughout it all.

By the 1920's, karate was entering the modern era.  Many of the old masters who taught Chotoku's Generation were dead, and times were difficult for many who had belonged to the old privileged class.  Quite a few of them began to work out with each other and give demonstrations together.  Along with the others, Chotoku Kyan began teaching at various schools and institutions of higher learning.  New territory was opened up by the expansionist Japanese Government, including the island of Taiwan, where Chotoku went for a time.  Upon returning from Taiwan, he began to teach a new kata called Ananku, which he had evidently devised as a basic kata from techniques developed from or inspired by his Taiwan adventures.

His last teacher was Tokumine, who was reputed to be the best Bo-man on Okinawa.  Sensei Chotoku Kyan went to the island of Yaeyama and studied the weapon and the bo kata "Tokumine-no Kun". He also taught a sai kata he called "Kyan-no-Sai" and "Chatanyara-no-Sai".

Chotoku Kyan also took part in famous meeting in 1936 that essentially decided the future course of karate and changed the art's name from "China Hand" to "Empty Hand".  Chotoku Kyan died of starvation in 1945, after the battle of Okinawa during WWII.  He gave what little food there was to women and children, so that they might survive.