History of Shotokan Karate


It is believed that Shotokan's ancestor martial art(s) came to Okinawa long ago (there are no written records that indicate any dates). From about the mid-fourteenth century, Okinawa began heavy trading with its other island and mainland neighbors. It is generally assumed that this contact with outside peoples allowed their respective fighting styles into Okinawa. Then, about five hundred years ago (1470), a ban was placed on Okinawans having weapons. Then, two hundred years later (1609), any weapons that the Okinawans did have were confiscated by the Japanese when they took control of the island. It is generally believed that Okinawa-te (which it became called), gained acceptance as a means of self-defense due to these prohibitions.

It is believed that about two hundred years ago, a man named Sakugawa, of Akata, traveled to China. When he returned to Okinawa, he was a karate (China hand) master. Also, about 150 years ago, Ku Shanku, of China, came to Okinawa to teach with some of his students. Other Okinawans were also taught by various Chinese military personnel. It is also said that Okinawans named Matsumura and Gusukuma were taught by a southern Chinese man who drifted ashore. These two men, Matsumura and Gusukuma were the men who would teach Masters Azato and Itosu, who would teach Gichin Funakoshi.

Gichin Funakoshi began studying under Azato and Itosu in 1879. In 1902, he gave history’s first formal private demonstration of karate. Then, in 1903, he introduced karate into the public school system at the Men's Normal School and the Daiichi Middle School. In 1906, he gave the first public demonstration of karate in Okinawa. In 1912, karate began being taught to the Imperial Navy. In 1914, Funakoshi began giving demonstration all over Okinawa. And, by 1917, karate was ready to move into Japan.


So, Funakoshi sensei was doing quite a lot to promote his art in his homeland of Okinawa. Word eventually made its way to Japan, which as we all know had a very rich martial history. So, in 1917, Gichin Funakoshi was invited to Japan to demonstrate his karate at the Butokuden in Kyoto.

Funakoshi continued to travel to Japan giving exhibitions, but Shotokan's "big" break came in 1922. The Japanese Ministry of Education asked Funakoshi to participate in a demonstration of ancient Japanese martial arts at the Women's Higher Normal School in Tokyo. After the demonstration, Gichin was approached by Jigaro Kano, the founder of judo. He asked Funakoshi to stay longer in Japan and show him (Kano) some basic techniques.

Months later, when he next tried to leave, Funakoshi was approached by the painter Hoan Kosugi. He also wanted instruction in karate for himself and members of his artists group. So, Funakoshi again postponed returning home and began first organized teaching of karate in Japan at the Tabata Poplar Club. While teaching at Tabata, Funakoshi decided to remain in Japan. He would spend the rest of his life teaching karate to the Japanese people.

While in Japan, Funakoshi wrote the first book ever on karate. Entitled "Ryukyu Kempo: Karate". The book was designed by Hoan Kosugi, who is also credited with designing the Shotokan tiger. Four years later the book was re-released with the new title "Renten Goshin Karate-jitsu". His next book, "Karate-do Kyohan" was written in 1935.

Funakoshi continued to teach and give exhibitions. In 1928, he was asked to give a demonstration for the royal family of Japan. For Funakoshi this would have been enough but of honor, but it was made all the greater because the demonstration was done on the palace grounds!

Karate's popularity continued to grow. Karate clubs had been and continued to spring up at colleges, universities and businesses throughout Japan. All this time, Funakoshi kept a dojo at the Meisei Juku. However, time and a 1923 earthquake eventually created the need for a new place to train. Funakoshi was offered to use space at the kendo hall of Hiromichi Nakayama. Eventually, Funakoshi was given another great honor. Nationwide, karate practioners chipped in to pay for the construction of a dojo dedicated to the instruction of Funakoshi's karate. In 1936, the Shoto-kan was born!

References: Karate-Do Kyohan, Karate-Do: My Way of Life, Shotokan Karate: History & Tradition

Elements of Shotokan Karate

Kihon - Basics

Kihon basics is the practice of basic techniques in Shotokan Karate. Kihon Kata, or Taikyoku Shodan, was developed by Yoshitaka Funakoshi, the son of Gichin Funakoshi, as a basic introduction to karate kata. These basic techniques teach the student how the body works through a combination of stances, blocking, striking and kicking movements which enhance hand-eye coordination.

Kata - Forms

Kata is often described as a set sequence of karate moves organized into a pre-arranged fight against imaginary opponents. The kata consists of kicks, punches, sweeps, strikes and blocks. Body movement in various kata includes stepping, twisting, turning, dropping to the ground, and jumping. In Shotokan, kata is a performance or a demonstration, with every technique potentially a killing blow (ikken hisatsu)—while paying particular attention to form and timing (rhythm). As the karateka grows older, more emphasis is placed on the health benefits of practicing kata, promoting fitness while keeping the body soft, supple, and agile. In traditional Shotokan Karate, there are 26 katas that the student learns throughout their study.

Kumite - Sparring

Kumite, or sparring (lit. Meeting of hands), is the practical application of kata to real opponents. While the techniques used in sparring are only slightly different than kihon, the formalities of kumite in Shotokan karate were first instituted by Masatoshi Nakayama wherein basic, intermediate, and advanced sparring techniques and rules were formalized.