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Shuri-ryū Karate
FocusStriking & Eclectic
HardnessHard and soft
Country of originUnited States United States
CreatorRobert Trias
Famous practitionersPat Miletich, Sage Northcutt
ParenthoodKarate (Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, Shotokan), Xingyiquan, Judo

Shuri-ryū (首里流) karate, is an eclectic martial arts system developed by Robert Trias (1923–1989), reportedly the first Caucasian to teach karate in the mainland United States, who opened his public first dojo in 1946 in Phoenix, Arizona.[1][2] According to modern Shuri-Ryu stylists, Shu which means to learn from tradition, Ri means to transcend or go beyond, and Ryu means any style or particular school of thought (Please see Wikipedia article ShuHaRi). Although according to the Japanese and Okinawan language Shu (首) means head, Ri (里) means Village and Ryu (流) means Style.[3] Later in 1948 he formed the first karate association in the U.S., the United States Karate Association (USKA). The USKA became one of the largest karate associations in the country; its membership included almost all of the early top karate instructors.[4] The style of Shuri-ryū is taught in the United States, parts of Europe, and South America.


Shuri-ryū is a style that has a lineage coming from a variety of sources, including karate. Other influences include Xing Yi Quan (Hsing-Yi) Kung Fu.

Trias was first introduced to karate while in the Navy during World War II, when he was stationed in the Solomon Islands. In 1944 Robert Trias met Tung Gee Hsing and began training with him. Hsing practiced the Chinese system of Xingyiquan and had reportedly cross-trained with Motobu Chōki in the Okinawan village of Kume Mura several years previously. Later Trias reportedly studied with Hoy Yuan Ping in Singapore in 1944. In addition to these teachers, Trias learned from other martial art teachers, such as Yajui Yamada (judo), Gogen Yamaguchi (Gōjū-ryū), Roy Oshiro (Gōjū-ryū), Yasuhiro Konishi, Makoto Gima (Shotokan, Shitō-ryū), and several others. Both Konishi and Gima served as mentors to Trias instead of in a formal teacher-student relationship.

Konishi, a prominent student of Gichin Funakoshi, Choki Motobu, and Kenwa Mabuni, recognized and countersigned Trias's promotion certificate to 9th Dan by the USKA in the 1960s.[5]

Gima was a prominent student of Funakoshi and he recognized Trias as 10th Dan in 1983, reaffirming Trias as style head for Shuri-ryū.


In addition to the punches, blocks, and kicks of karate, Shuri-ryū also incorporates joint locks, take-downs and throws, and kobudō (traditional weapons). Several senior sensei also hold high ranks in jujitsu and judo.

Shuri Ryu follows a system of teachings called the Haryu which are identifiers of the system.

Shuri-ryū also has several short combinations. These include: 26 ippon (ippon kumite kata), which are performed to develop form and power; 10 taezu (taezu naru waza) which are performed to develop speed and fluidity; 30 kihon which are performed to develop fighting technique; eight sen-te motions; and seven kogeki-ho ho to develop attacking and retreating.

In addition, there are training exercises including form sparring (kata kumite), focus stance sparring (kime dachi kumite), free exercise (jiyū undō), and free sparring (jiyū kumite).


Shuri-ryū has three form exercises called Taikyoku Shodan, Nidan, and Sandan to prepare the student to learn the 15 core forms (kata):

  • Wansu
  • Anaku
  • Naihanchi Shō (Tekki Shodan)
  • Empi Shō (Wanshu)
  • Sanchin
  • Tsue Sho No Kon
  • Bassai Dai
  • Go Pei Shō
  • Dan Enn Shō
  • Naihanchi Ni (Tekki Nidan)
  • Nan Dan shō (Nijūshiho / Niseishi)
  • Kankū Shō (Kusanku Shō)
  • Tekatana No Sai
  • Naihanchi San (Tekki Sandan)
  • Ten Shō

Besides these forms, there exist numerous variations of Sanchin and Tenshō. Also, the senior sensei of Shuri-ryū also teach several other forms such as Shudo So and Hakutsuru Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, and Yondan.

Many of the above kata emphasize the use of various animal forms, and the definitions are often reflective of this. For example, Wunsu (Strong Arm Dumping Form or Dragon Boy Dumping Form) uses the tiger form, Anaku refers to a swallow pivoting on a beach, Empisho (First Elbow Form) refers to the flying swallow, and Go Pei Sho refers to a tearing peacock. Some kata will emphasize multiple animal forms, such as Dan Enn Sho, where ten animals are emulated. Also, there are 15 animal body and 20 fist form exercises. This is atypical of what is taught and practiced on the Island of Okinawa.


The Shuri-ryū style, like most systems of the martial arts, uses a belt system to designate rank. The appropriate rank is awarded when the student demonstrates a certain level of proficiency when performing the required techniques, kata, etc. The ranking system as spelled out in "The Pinnacle of Karate" by Trias is as follows:

  • White
  • White with stripe (jukyu)
  • Gold (kukyu)
  • Yellow (hachikyu)
  • Orange (shichikyu)
  • Green (rokukyu)
  • Blue (gokyu)
  • Purple (yonkyu)
  • Brown (sankyu, nikyu, ikkyu)
  • Black (shodan through judan)

At each rank, the student must also pass a rigorous physical requirement before performing the technical requirements. Running one or two miles (up to blue = 1 mile, purple and beyond = 2 miles), lifting 10 or 15 lb weights 75 times over the head (depending on gender), performing 500–1000 front kicks, and various hand technique exercises are commonly used.

Identifying features[edit]

One characteristic feature of Shuri-ryū is the use of the Shuri fist, in lieu of a standard fist. Instead of curling the index finger when making the fist, the upper half of the index finger is laid flat against the palm, with the thumb curled around the index finger and pushing down between the first and second joints, resulting in a tighter fist and better alignment of the ulna and radius bones with the first two knuckles of the fist.[citation needed]

Another feature of Shuri-ryū is the position of the thumb of the knife hand strike or block. The thumb and forefinger form a "j" so that the hand may be used in a variety of techniques (ridgehand, spearhand, open-hand throat strikes, etc.) without changing the thumb position.

A feature seen in katas: when the next move is to be done, the head snaps in the direction of the attacker before anything else.

The Dojo Kun used by the style of Shuri-ryū remains in its intact form, as originally penned by Trias:

  • I shall conduct myself in a manner which will reflect credit upon myself and society.
  • I shall be loyal to my school and to the art it teaches.
  • I shall be honest and exercise integrity with the purpose of developing cooperation and trust with my fellow karate-ka and my teachers.
  • I shall exercise restraint in the use of my karate knowledge, employing it only in fair competition or in defense of my life, my family, and my country.

Chief instructors and senior sensei[edit]

Prior to 1989, Trias had designated 8 Chief Instructors and 3 assistant Chief Instructors of the Shuri-ryū system to perpetuate Shuri-ryū after his death; Roberta Trias-Kelley, John Pachivas, Robert Bowles, the late Ridgely Abele,[6] Pete Rabino, Michael Awad, Dale Benson, and Dirk Mosig,

Other individuals who were designated Chief Instructors at one time but left Trias are Victor Moore, Phillip Koeppel (his most senior student), James McLain, John Hutchcroft, and Randy Holman.

Traditionally, a karate system was owned by the family of the founder. Thus, upon Trias' death in 1989, his daughter, Roberta Trias-Kelley, inherited the Shuri-ryū system as style head. Dirk Mosig followed her leadership. Eventually three factions developed from the Shuri-ryū style.

In 1995 John Pachivas appointed Robert Bowles as style head of Shuri-ryū. Bowles founded the International Shuri-ryū Association (ISA) with the following Chief Instructors as Executive Directors: John Pachivas, Ridgely Abele, Pete Rabino, Michael Awad, and Dale Benson. Since then, the International Shuri-ryū Association under Robert Bowles has become the largest organization of Shuri-ryū stylists and has appointed more Chief Instructors and more Assistant Chief Instructors for the ISA. Additionally prior to his death in 2000, John Pachivas passed on his American Shuri Karate lineage to Jerry Piddington.

A number of Shuri-ryu stylists can also be found in the United States Karate-Do Kai (USKK), an organization founded by former Chief Instructor and Trias' senior most student, Phillip Koeppel. Unlike the ISA, the USKK has not appointed new Chief Instructors. Instead, Koeppel appointed a Style Head which serves a similar function. The current USKK Style Head for Shuri-ryu is David Hamann, other senior instructors in this group include James McLain and Michael Awad. Former Chief Instructors Phillip Koeppel and John Hutchcroft are also USKK members, though they now practice Matsumura Seito Shorin-Ryu. Another USKK member and Trias student, Glenn R. Keeney also teaches Shuri-Ryu.

Currently, there appears to be four strains of Shuri-ryū each, respectively, centering on Roberta Trias-Kelley, Robert Bowles' ISA, Victor Moore's TWKA, and the USKK group under McLain/Awad/Hamann. Membership in the various organizations is not mutually exclusive, and many Shuri-ryu practitioners are active in multiple groups.

The instructors below are either spelled out to be Chief Instructors in "The Pinnacle of Karate" or affiliated with the ISA /USKK.

Trias Appointed Chief Instructors[edit]

  • Roberta Trias-Kelley, 10th Dan, Arizona
  • * Robert Bowles, 10th Dan, Indiana
  • 'John Pachivas'(deceased),10th Dan, Florida
  • Ridgely Abele (deceased), 9th Dan, South Carolina
  • Pete Rabino, 9th Dan, California
  • Dale Benson, 9th Dan, Arizona
  • Michael Awad, 8th Dan, Ohio
  • 'Dirk Mosig PhD), 8th Dan, Nebraska

Trias Appointed Assistant Chief Instructors[edit]

  • Tony Bisanz, 8th Dan, Arizona
  • Johnny Linebarger, 8th Dan, Arizona
  • Joe Walker, 9th Dan, Illinois

Trias Dojo Chief Staff Instructors[edit]

  • Robert Bowles, 10th Dan, Indiana
  • Pete Rabino, 9th Dan, California
  • Michael Awad, 8th Dan, Ohio
  • Milt Calander, 8th Dan, Arizona
  • Dale Benson, 9th Dan, Arizona

ISA Chief Instructors[edit]

  • Robert Bowles, 10th Dan, Indiana
  • Pete Rabino, 9th Dan, California
  • Dale Benson, 9th Dan, Arizona
  • Joseph W. Walker, 9th Dan, Texas
  • Sandra Bowles, 9th Dan, Michigan
  • Vitus Bilking (deceased), 8th Dan, Denmark
  • George Sheridan Jr., 8th Dan, Indiana
  • Tony Bisanz, 8th Dan, Arizona
  • Glenn Wallace, 7th Dan, Indiana
  • Lon Bradfield, 7th Dan, Colorado
  • Niels Larsen, 7th Dan, Denmark
  • Todd Sullivan, 6th Dan, Indiana
  • Joey Johnston, 5th Dan, Illinois

current as of 9/2017

ISA Assistant Chief Instructors[edit]

  • Wendi Dragonfire, 9th Dan
  • John Linebarger, 7th Dan, Arizona
  • Gustavo Lugo 6th Dan Florida
  • Rick Scoppe, 7th Dan North Carolina
  • John Venson, 9th Dan, Chicago, IL
  • Donna Judge 8th dan Florida
  • Luis Lugo, 6th Dan, Florida
  • Amanda Kaufman 5th Dan, Ohio

Reggie Venson 7th Dan, Illinois Jon Wong 5th Dan Florida

International Shuri-ryū Association Council members[edit]

  • Tony Bisanz, 8th Dan, Arizona
  • Sandra Bowles, 8th Dan, Indiana
  • Milt Calander, 8th Dan, Arizona
  • John Linebarger, 7th Dan, Arizona
  • Joseph W. Walker, 9th Dan, Texas
  • Rodolfo Rodriguez, 7th Dan, Venezuela, Caracas

TWKA Chief Instructors[edit]

  • Victor Moore, 10th Dan, From Ohio lives in North Carolina
  • Woodrow Fairbanks, 10th Dan, Ohio
  • 'John Jelks'(deceased),10th Dan, Ohio
  • William Friend, 7th Dan, Kentucky
  • Thomas Boyajian Jr, 6th Dan, Ohio

USKK Style Heads[edit]

  • James McLain (deceased), 9th Dan, Tennessee
  • Michael Awad, 8th Dan, Ohio (previous)
  • David Hamann, 8th Dan, Ohio (current)

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Bruce A. Haines, Karate's History and Traditions: Revised Edition (Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1995), pg.154.
  2. ^ Jones, C. Michial (August 21, 2011). Entering Through the Gateway of Gojuryu (1st ed.). Lulu Press. ISBN 9781257979387.
  3. ^ O'Neal, P.G. (November 1, 1987). Essential Kanji. Weatherhill. pp. 328. ISBN 0834802228.
  4. ^ Corcoran, John and Emil Farkas, Martial Arts: Traditions, History, People (Gallery Books, 1983), pg. 387.
  5. ^ Isshinryu Karate: Donald Bohan's Memorial Website: John Bartusevics
  6. ^ The Columbia School of Karatedo celebrates 29th anniversary