What is Soryu Karate?

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Karate-Do (empty hand way) is an unarmed martial art that is popular all over the world. While some people believe Karate originated in Japan, its origins go back to the Ryukyu Islands, today known as Okinawa. 

Karate, however, is still largely an umbrella term; there are dozens of different styles which vary greatly in their techniques, training methods, and philosophies. So what is Soryu Karate? While Soryu is a more modern style, it still easily traces back to the systems that originated in Okinawa. 

The founder of Soryu martial arts was Michio Koyasu. His teacher, Kanken Toyama, was among the early pioneers of Karate in Japan. One of the main distinguishing features of Soryu Martial Arts is its greater emphasis on Kumite (sparring), therefore, making it a practical Karate system. 

The Origins of Soryu Karate 

The origin of Soryu Karate goes back to Okinawa, and more specifically, Anko Itosu. Karate first began in Okinawa before being introduced to mainland Japan in the 1920s. 

Early Okinawa 

Before modern styles, Karate was typically known by the name of the Okinawan village it was practiced in. Almost all Karate today can trace back to Shuri-te, Naha-te, or Tomari-te. Shuri was the capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom, and Shuri-te has the longest history.

Prior to 1901, Karate wasn’t well known to the public and was largely practiced by the upper class of society known as the Peichin. Peichin had many roles within the Ryukyu Kingdom, including law enforcement, administrative duties, and protecting the King. 

It was Anko Itosu who finally brought Karate out of secrecy and introduced it into the school system as a form of physical education. Itosu, who practiced Shuri-te, is widely regarded as one of the most important Karate masters in history. The other great master of the time was Kanryo Higaonna, who is referred to as the father of Naha-te.

As Karate began to be taught in schools, its popularity started to grow. Soon it was practiced much more widely across all of Okinawa. Kanryo Higaonna followed shortly after Itosu and also began teaching Naha-te at Naha Commerical Highschool. 

Introduction to Japan

Japanese interest in Karate began to grow after military officers, and other officials, noticed that those who practiced Karate had stronger, more developed bodies. Jigoro Kano (founder of Judo) first visited Okinawa in 1927, and also expressed interest in Karate. 

Many Okinawan masters had sought to introduce their art to mainland Japan and be accepted and registered with the Dai Nippon Butokukai like the other Japanese martial arts. The early pioneers of Karate in Japan include the likes of Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, Chojun Miyagi, Choki Motobu, and most importantly, Soryu Karate Kanken Toyama. 

Soon, many masters started giving names to their styles, such as Goju-Ryu, Shotokan, and Shito Ryu. The Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, the highest authority of martial arts in Japan, began to issue teaching licenses to the Okinawan masters. Afterward, Karate began to be fully accepted in mainland Japan.

Kanken Toyama and the Shudokan Dojo 

Kanken Toyama was born in Shuri in September 24, 1888. He is regarded as one of the most senior students of Anko Itosu and was his Shihan Dai (assistant instructor). However, he also trained with other teachers, such as Kanryo Higaonna. 

In 1924 he moved to Taiwan for a few years and also studied Chinese martial arts. We can already see Soryu Karate has a wide variety of influences. Toyama finally moved to Japan in early 1930 and opened his own dojo (which he named the Shudokan) in Tokyo on March 20, 1930.

Unlike his contemporaries, Kanken Toyama wasn’t eager to “name” his Karate style. In fact, he thought all Karate was one, and the idea of styles and factions in Karate was ridiculous to him. He openly criticized other masters for naming their styles. 

Despite never giving a name to what he taught, it was generally referred to as “Shudokan Karate” (after the name of his dojo), “Toyama-Ryu,” or “Okinawa Seito Karate” (seito meaning orthodox). Shudokan, when broken down, means the place for studying the way. 

Toyama was highly influential in Japan, helping to establish many notable Karate organizations, and he also held high positions. He even taught several Koreans, such as Yoon Byung-in, who helped to establish Tae Kwon Do in their native Korea.

Michio Koyasu and Soryu Martial Arts 

Michio Koyasu was one of the senior students of Kanken Toyama at the Shudokan dojo. As the founder of Soryu Martial Arts, Koyasu was the first Soke. Therefore, his full name is sometimes written as Soke Michio Koyasu. 

Michio Koyasu was born on December 25, 1925, in Aomori. In 1938, his father signed him up at the Shudokan dojo, and he began learning Karate from Kanken Toyama. He also practiced other arts, including Judo and Kendo. 

Kanken Toyama graded Micho Koyasu to 5th dan (5th-degree black belt) in 1950 and awarded him the name Michio Koyasu (his birth name was Kiro Nagayama). In the same year, Koyasu also established the first Soryukan dojo in Matsu Ura. He later opened another school in Sasebo in 1955. Kanken Toyama had given Koyasu the task of spreading his Karate through the Kyushu region. Koyasu also served as vice chairman of the All Japan Karate-Do Association that Toyama established in 1958.

Koyasu spent about 10 years traveling across the Kyushu region and visiting all the major prefectures. According to his senior student and current 3rd Soke Takashi Nakamura (aka Takamichi Koyasu), it’s this time period that led to the birth of Soryu Karate

Ideas and Process Behind Soryu 

Soryu Karate was finally named and formally established in 1960, with blessings from Kanken Toyama. There are a few reasons why Koyasu felt the need to establish his own style. 

Most Okinawan Karate schools mainly focused on the practice of Kata. Kata is a prearranged set of blocks and attacks which allows Karate practitioners to train on their own. Koyasu felt that while Kata was okay to practice when you are by yourself, Kumite (the sparring) was more important in the dojo when other people were present. 

The Soryu name is 総流 in Japanese. Soryu can be translated to mean that you should flow like water. Movements shouldn’t be stiff or hard. 

How Is Soryu Karate Different From Other Styles?

At its core, Karate is based on Kihon, Kata, and Kumite (the three Ks). Most Karate styles will share the same fundamental techniques, but the exact way they’re performed will vary slightly. 

The thing that typically sets Karate styles apart is the Kata, the way of moving, training methods, and the strategies they utilize. Kyokushin Karate, for example, focuses on hard full contact sparring. Goju-Ryu has an emphasis on building a strong body and using training known as Hojo Undo. 

In Soryu Martial Arts, Koyasu sought to find a middle ground between an over-emphasis on Kata and intense, full contact sparring. He experimented with different protective gear for a period of time. Eventually, he settled on the idea that Yakusoku Kumite (prearranged sparring) was best for practice. 

Soryu Karate Main Teachings & Philosophy 

Although Karate is a martial art, the primary focus isn’t on fighting. There are two famous quotes by Gichin Funakoshi which underline the philosophy behind Karate. The first “Karate ni sente nashi” means there is no first attack in Karate. Karate is a defensive art only, used as a last resort.

The second quote is, “the ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but the perfection of one’s character.” Many Karate schools will focus on proper behavior, character, and how to be a contributing member of society. 

In Soryu Karate, there are also five rules to remember, laid out by Michio Koyasu: 

  1. Plan (Rikkei 立計)

Clarify the purpose and make an achievable plan.

  1. Endeavor (Senrei 専励)

Make an earnest effort toward the purpose.

  1. Enjoyment (Shoraku 正楽) 

Enjoy your human nature, and enrich your life.

  1. Reflection (Shōkō 省考) 

Always study and reflect on your own behavior and training situation, and aim for progress.

  1. Continuity (Kyuzoku 久続)

Don’t give up and continue until you achieve the plan you made

How Long Does it Take to Master Soryu Karate?

A common question new students may have is how long does it take to get a black belt? While a black belt is sometimes viewed as achieving mastery, it’s important to remember the first-degree black belt (Shodan) is only the first of 10. Generally, you can earn Shodan in three to five years with diligent effort. 

Before the black belts (Dan rank), students go through the colored belts (Kyu rank). The general order is white, yellow, orange, green, blue, and brown. Some schools may have additional belts or use stripes on belts to indicate progress. You can expect to spend a few months at each level.

For the black belt ranks, a general rule of thumb is you wait a number of years, equal to the degree. For example, a second-degree black belt (Nidan) may be awarded roughly two years after Shodan. The third-degree black belt (Sandan) may be received about three years after the Nidan and so on. 

A fifth-degree blackbelt (Godan) is typically considered a senior teacher. At this stage, the individual has a firm knowledge of the system, techniques, history, and other teachings. However, one may not be considered a true “master” until the higher dan ranks of 7th or 8th degree. The highest rank, 10th-degree black belt (Judan), is represented by a red belt as worn by the current Soryu Karate Soke, Takamichi Koyasu.

Should I Learn Soryu Karate?

Soryu Karate can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of age or experience level. Often, people begin their karate training when they’re kids, but it’s not unusual for someone to begin later in life. 

Karate is known for building endurance, strength, coordination, confidence, perseverance, and also the ability to defend yourself if the need arises. Karate training is structured so that everyone begins with the basics and gradually learns more advanced techniques and knowledge. 

Students of Soryu Karate can expect a good balance of Kihon, Kata, and Kumite. Kihon represents the fundamentals of the style, while Kata puts the Kihon together in different combinations for solo practice. In Kumite, you begin to use the techniques against a training partner to develop practical skills. 


The Soryu fighting style is a system founded by Michio Koyasu, which goes back directly to Kanken Toyama, one of the most important early pioneers of Karate in Japan. Soryu’s history can easily be traced further back to Okinawa and Anko Itosu, who is sometimes considered the most important master in history.

Soryu Martial Arts differ from many other styles of Karate in that it tries to achieve a better balance between Kata and Kumite and encourages the greater practice of sparring exercises. Karate is a suitable martial art for everyone to learn and enjoy. Be sure to check back for more exciting articles on Soryu and other martial arts.

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