In 2006 a photo was revealed to the public, showing a mysterious man with a mustache. This man is considered to be Itosu Ankō (1831–1915), the Okinawan father of modern Karate. The matter was publicly described for the first time in the Okinawa Times Newspaper on 28 February 2006. According to the article, the photo had been in the possession of Kinjō Hiroshi (1919–2013) for quite a long time. As the story goes, in 2006, Kinjō, 87 years of age at that time, donated about 3,000 documents and precious Karate-related books to Okinawa Prefecture to be used as materials to research historical facts and help make promote Karate worldwide from its Okinawan origin. Among the donated materials was the group photo in question. At that time, the person in the photo was verified as being Itosu Ankō by Kadekaru Tooru 嘉手苅徹, chief specialist from the Okinawa Prefectural Office of Historically Important Documents. Since that time, the person in the photo is quasi officially considered to show Itosu Ankō by the majority of Karate experts and laymen. Today, all the different language editions of Wikipedia use this photo.
The group photo is dated to 1909 or 1910. As regards this date, one might want to note middle school principal Ōkubo Shūhachi 大久保周八 at the the left side of Itosu. In May 1902, coming from the Tokushima Teacher College, Ōkubo Shūhachi assumed office as the principal of Okinawa Prefecture Middle School (Okinawa-ken Chūgakkō). In September 1903 he was reappointed and obviously remained in this office until June 1911, when he retired as principal (see timeline in: Gakkō Jōran 2015). BTW, in the same year, the school changed its name from Okinawa Prefecture Middle School (Okinawa-ken Chūgakkō) to Okinawa Prefectural 1st Middle School (Okinawa Kenritsu Dai Ichi Chūgakkō 沖縄県立第一中学校), which remained like this from 1911 to 1946.
According to the above, Ōkubo served as the principal of Okinawa Prefectural Shuri High School from 1902 until 1911, i.e. throughout the early years of implementation of Karate into the school system. Moreover, since Ōkubo retired in 1911 and left for another prefecture to a different job, the latest date for the photo is 1911. So there is no contradiction with the 1909 or 1910 date.
The group photo appears to be a commemorative photograph taken on occasion of a Jūdō and Kendō competition. Since Ōkubo Shūhachi is in the photo, the venue was most probably the Okinawa Prefecture Middle School in Shuri, of which Ōkubo was the principal. Two persons wear a haori decorated with the family crest. Itosu Ankō, on the other hand, appears in just an everyday cotton haori and hakama without a family crest.
Well, the majority of the world is happy with the photo of the person considered to be Itosu Ankō. I mean, in the end there is a face to the originator of modern Karate. But there are also the critics who claim the person in the photo is not Itosu. Granted, you can never be 100% sure. 70% of me say it is Itosu, 30% say it might be someone else. Sometimes it’s 80/20. So, let’s see how Kinjō Hiroshi himself described the process auf authentication of Itosu Ankō in the photo. Or in his own words, “As the person who donated the photograph to the Prefectural Library of Okinawa, I would like to write about its origin.” (Kinjō, in Okinawa Times: February 28, 2006).
In 1953, Miyagi Hisateru 宮城久輝 (1895–?) published his book “Karatedō”. In it he talks about his training under Yabu Kentsū and Itosu Ankō (see, Miyagi 1953). Miyagi graduated from the Okinawa Prefectural Teacher College in March 1916, became an elementary school teacher afterwards and 1921 went on to Tōkyō in pursuit of becoming a novelist. Under the pen name Miyagi Satoshi 宮城聡/聰 he worked for the Kaizō Company and went on to win the Kaizō’s writer’s award with his 1934 publication entitled, “My hometown is the Globe” (Kokyō ha Chikyū 故郷は地球).
In 1956, aiming for providing a comprehensive magazine for the Karate circles, Kinjō Hiroshi launched his monthly magazine “Gekkan Karatedō 月刊空手道”. At that time he decided to ask Miyagi Hisateru to write an article about Itosu Ankō which was to be published in the first issue (Miyagi, in: Gekkan Karatedō, May 1, 1956, page 46). For this article, Kinjō tried everything to obtain a photograph of Itosu, but finally wasn’t successful. However, Kinjō vividly remembered one of Miyagi descriptions of Itosu: “Wearing a cotton Hakama, and with both legs opened, he appeared as if he walked in Kiba-dachi.” Later, when Kinjō found the group photo, this memory was one reason he believed that this photo showed Itosu Ankō: Because the person in the photo, and contrary to the other persons’ haori, had an everyday cotton haori without a family crest.
Around December 1980, Kinjō boarded a plane to participate in the ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the establishment of his old school, the Okinawa Prefectural 1st Middle School. Arasaki Seibin 新崎盛敏 (1912–1989), an emeritus professor of Tōkyō University and one of Kinjō’s middle school seniors handed him the group photo in question saying,
“Ichiji no Tanmē [venerable old gentleman Itosu] is in there.”
However, he did not indicate which person in the photo was Itosu Ankō. At that time Miyagi also said
“The photo is from the personal album of Tokuda Antei.”
Tokuda Antei 徳田安貞 (1884–1979) entered the Okinawa Prefecture Middle School in Shuri in 1905, the year Karate was introduced as a compulsory school subject of physical education. He graduated five years later, in 1910, in the 22nd graduation class of the middle school. After that, he entered the Okinawa Prefecture Teacher College in Shuri, where he continued to receive karate instruction as a member of the Teacher College Karate Club for a period of one year, until 1911. As can also be seen in “Tokuda’s Memorandum” (see Kinjō 2011: 367–68), he experienced the original Karate taught in the Okinawan school system by Itosu Ankō, Yabu Kentsū and Hanashiro Chōmo, as well as the Karate of venerable Kiyuna from Tamaudun and others, including Funakoshi Gichin, and also the Kobudō of Yamannī Usumē, i.e. venerable old man Chinen Sanrā. In other words: The photo came from the personal collection of an eyewitness and personal Karate disciple of Itosu.
Around 1985 Kinjō Hiroshi asked Itosu Ankō’s adopted heir, Itosu Angō 糸洲安剛, about his expert opinion as regards the group photo. However, Angō replied that he couldn’t remember if Itosu Ankō had a mustache or beard so he couldn’t determine who was Itosu in the photo. Kinjō wrote “At that time I suddenly remembered Arasaki Seibin’s words, that the photo is ‘from the personal album of Tokuda Antei’ and so I thought it would make the most sense to ask him directly.” Immediately after returning home he tried to call Tokuda at his home in Ikebukuro, Tōkyō, but was unable to reach him even after many more tries. Of course, today we know that Tokuda Antei already passed away in 1979.
While Kinjō still couldn’t identify the person in the photo as Itosu Ankō, he remained confident for several reason that Itosu was the figure in the group photo: The cotton hakama as mentioned by Itosu’s student Miyagi Hisateru, the memory of the white beard, or mustache, by Itosu’s adopted son Angō, and the presumed age of Itosu Ankō in 1909 or 1910 when the photo was taken. Moreover, the fact that Arasaki Seibin explicitly mentioned that Itosu is in the photo and that the photo is from the personal album of Tokuda Antei, a direct student of Itosu. However, since Kinjō thought this not enough solid evidence, he refrained from any public announcement of the existence of the group photo at the time.
It was only in 2006 that Kinjō donated the group photo to the Okinawa Prefectural Library. There, as a result of a detailed comparison and verification carried out by Kadekaru Tooru, chief specialist from the Okinawa Prefectural Office of Historically Important Documents, the mysterious person on the group photo was finally identified as being Itosu Ankō. In other words: Kinjō had good reason to believe it was Itosu all the time. He just waited for a nonbiased second expert opinion, which he found in 2006 in Kadekaru Tooru. As Kinjō stated himself,
“From Kadekaru Tooru I have received special cooperation in connection with identifying the photo of Itosu Ankō”
Kinjō 2011: 299
One of the reasons for Kadekaru Tooru’s assessment was that he digitized the photo and used computer enhancement to reveal more detail. When he closely inspected the hands of the mysterious person in the photo he found what he considers to be Makiwara calousses.
The Shuri middle school was called “Okinawa Prefecture Middle School” 沖縄県中学校 from 1899 to 1911, and “Okinawa Prefectural 1st Middle School” 沖縄県立第一中学校 from 1911 to 1946. Since 1972 it is called the “Okinawa Kenritsu Shuri Kotō-gakkō” 沖縄県立首里高等学校 or “Okinawa Prefectural Shuri High School”.
Gakkō Jōran. Heisei 27 Nendo. Okinawa Kenritsu Shuri Kotō-gakkō (School Handbook. Fiscal Year 2015. Okinawa Prefectural Shuri High School). 903-0816 Naha-shi Shuri Mawashi-chō 2 Chōme 43 Banchi. 学校要覧. 平成 ２７ 年度. 沖縄県立首里高等学校. 〒903-0816 那覇市首里真和志町２丁目４３番地.
Itosu Ankō no Shashin Hakken – Dentō Karate-ka hajimete Sugao (Discovery of a Photo of Itosu Ankō – The Unpainted Face of Traditional Karate Man for the First Time). Okinawa Times (evening paper), February 28, 2006. 糸洲安恒の写真発見 伝統の空手家 初めて素顔。沖縄タイムス（夕刊）、２００６年２月２８日。
Itosu Photo Discovered ~ The First True Face of a Karate Legend. Tues 28 Feb 2006, Okinawa Times Evening Paper [2nd edition] p5 Society Section. English translation by Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy.
Kadekaru Tooru, Ikehara Hitomi, Shinzato Sayaka: Kinjō Hiroshi Uji Shozō Karate Budō nado Kankei Shiryō ni tsuite (About the historical materials related to Karate and Budō etc. from the possession of Mr. Kinjō Hiroshi). Okinawa-ken Kyōiku Iinkai Shiryō Henshū-shitsu Kyō (Bulletin of the Historiographical Institute of Okinawa Prefectural Board of Education) #30, 2005, pp. 175-190. 嘉手關徹・池原ひとみ・新里彩：金城裕氏所蔵空手・武道等関係史料について。 沖縄県教育委員会史料編集室紀要（30）、2005年：175-190。
Kinjo Hiroshi (Transl. Patrick & Yuriko McCarthy): Itosu Anko Okina. The Restorer of Karate. Okinawa Times (Morning Paper), March 20, 2006.
Kinjō Hiroshi: Karate Chūkō no So Itosu Ankō Okina Futatabi (Jō). Ichiji no Tanmē / Shashin no Jinbutsu tsuini Tokutei (Again, The Ancestor Who Rejuvenated Karate: Itosu Ankō Okina (Part 1). Ichiji no Tanmē / Person in the Photo Finally Identified). Okinawa Times (evening paper), February 28, 2006. 金城裕：空手中興の祖・糸洲安恒翁再び（上）。イチジのタンメー/写真の人物ついに特定。沖縄タイムス（朝刊）、２００６年３月２０日。
Kinjō Hiroshi: Tōde kara karate made (From tōdī to karate) . Nihon budōkan, Bēsubōru Magajin-sha, Tōkyō 2011. 439 pp. 20cm. ISBN: 9784583104294. 金城裕：唐手から空手へ。日本武道館・ベースボール・マガジン社, 東京2011。
Miyagi Hisateru: Itosu Sensei no Inshōki. Gekkan Karatedō Sōkango. May 1, 1956, page 46. 宮城久輝: 糸洲先生の印象記. 月刊空手道創刊号。昭和31年5月1日発行, 46頁.
Miyagi Hisateru: Karatedō. Nichigetsu-sha, 1953. 宮城久輝: 空手道.日月社1953
Quast, Andreas: How tradition really works.
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