Ryo Kiyuna strives for Olympic gold bearing the pride of Okinawan karate and its 200-year-old secrets

Ryo Kiyuna strives for Olympic gold bearing the pride of Okinawan karate and its 200-year-old secrets

January 1, 2021 Ryukyu Shimpo

By Shun Furukawa


Ryuei-ryu karate is one of the origins of karate, incorporating the flowing motions of Naha-te. It has been over 200 years since the birth of its second-generation grandmaster, Norisato Nakaima. Ryo Kiyuna has inherited the lessons of the style, and continues to explore the meanings buried in the kata created by his predecessors. “Ryuei-ryu is a form of karate that connects all the way back to master Nakaima. While I have not nearly done enough, I want to continue researching the nuances of the techniques, and express them with my body.” As always, he bears the pride of Okinawan karate on his chest, and takes on the world.

Ryuei-ryu bears essential characteristics such as intervals of “one foot, two fists,” and a unification of movements between offensive and defensive moves. Fourth-generation grandmaster Kenko Nakaima had a saying, “The techniques gush forth like a fountain.” One thrusts and kicks as if it were a relentless interrogation with no space for an answer. There is a profundity to even the most basic moves.

The exploration continues for even a single thrust. While in Series A (Australia) in 2017, Kiyuna found a new sensation of “thrusting with the entirety of his body.” “When you become aware of somewhere, you can thrust even faster and stronger. You notice a variety of things from training every day.”

His teacher, Tsuguo Sakumoto, prioritizes Okinawan individuality as much as possible. In training, words like muchimi, which means to move as if you were stuck to something, and wabagutu, which he uses to admonish unnecessary movement. Sakumoto teaches not only unarmed methods, but also traditional weapon-based techniques using staves and sai.

Kiyuna trains tirelessly every day to reproduce a karate that was created for real combat that would decide life or death. “If I perform the kata that I am always training with, the results will follow.” His countless achievements are born from this everyday training, and attention to the dignity of the traditional techniques that have been passed from generation to generation.

Ryo Kiyuna

Born in Okinawa City July 12, 1990. Kiyuna has three consecutive world championships, and 19 titles in the KARATE1 Premier League, a feat which has been recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records.

In December of 2020 he won his ninth-straight All-Japan Emperor’s Cup, an all-time high for consecutive wins. He went to Konan High School in Naha before studying at Okinawa International University. He belongs to the Ryuei-ryu Ryuhou-kai organization.


(Photograph by Moriaki Kise)


(English translation by T&CT and Sam Grieb)


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