Toyama's karate training began at the age of nine in 1897 with Itarashiki, although he studied with Yasutsune Itosu for 18 years, until the latter's death in 1915. In 1907 Toyama was appointed shihandai (assistant master) to Itosu at the Okinawa Teacher's College, and he and Gichin Funakoshi, who later developed Shotokan karate, were the only two students to be granted the title of shihanshi (protégé). Even today, many do not know that Kanken Toyama out ranked Gichin Funakoshi with the rank of "Assistant Master" or "shihandai".
As Toyama did not view the Shu Do Kan as a distinct style of karate, but merely a place for training, he did not appoint a successor. Thus, the organization he founded fragmented after his death in 1966, although his student Toshi Hanaue maintained the original Shu Do Kan. A few other schools based on Toyama's teachings still exist such as Doshinkan. Today, a minimal overseeing of the Toyama lineage Karate is done by Kanken Toyama's son, Ha Toyama.