Kenwa Mabuni (Mabuni Kenwa 摩文仁 賢和) was born in Shuri, Okinawa in 1889. Mabuni was a 17th generation descendant of the famous warrior Uni Ufugusuku Kenyu. Perhaps because of his weak constitution, he began his instruction in his home town in the art of Shuri-te (首里手) at the age of 13, under the tutelage of the legendary Ankō Itosu (糸州 安恒 Itosu Ankō?) (1831–1915). He trained diligently for several years, learning many kata from this great master. It was Itosu who first developed the Pinan kata, which were most probably derived from the “Kusanku” form.
One of his close friends, Chōjun Miyagi (宮城 長順 Miyagi Chōjun) (co-founder of Gojū-ryū Karate) introduced Mabuni to another great of that period, Kanryō Higaonna (東恩納 寛量 Higaonna Kanryō). Mabuni began to learn Naha-te (那覇手) under him. While both Itosu and Higaonna taught a “hard-soft” style of Okinawan “Te”, their methods and emphases were quite distinct: the Itosu syllabus included straight and powerful techniques as exemplified in the Naihanchi and Bassai kata; the Higaonna syllabus stressed circular motion and shorter fighting methods as seen in the kata Seipai and Kururunfa. Shitō-ryū focuses on both hard and soft techniques to this day.