Shotokan Karate A Brief History

shotokan datesOverview : Shotokan (松濤館 Shōtōkan?) is a style of karate, developed from various martial arts by Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957) and his son Gigo (Yoshitaka) Funakoshi (1906–1945). Gichin was born in Okinawa[1] and is widely credited with popularizing “karate do” through a series of public demonstrations, and by promoting the development of university karate clubs, including those at Keio, Waseda, Hitotsubashi (Shodai), Takushoku, Chuo, Gakushuin, and Hosei.[2]

Funakoshi had many students at the university clubs and outside dojos, who continued to teach karate after his death in 1957. However, internal disagreements (in particular the notion that competition is contrary to the essence of karate) led to the creation of different organisations—including an initial split between the Japan Karate Association (headed by Masatoshi Nakayama) and the Shotokai (headed by Motonobu Hironishi and Shigeru Egami), followed by many others—so that today there is no single “Shotokan school”, although they all bear Funakoshi’s influence.

As the most widely practiced style, Shotokan is considered a traditional and influential form of karate do.
Shotokan was the name of the first official dojo built by Gichin Funakoshi, in 1936[3] at Mejiro, and destroyed in 1945 as a result of an allied bombing.[4] Shoto (松濤 Shōtō?), meaning “pine-waves” (the movement of pine needles when the wind blows through them), was Funakoshi’s pen-name,[5] which he used in his poetic and philosophical writings and messages to his students. The Japanese kan (館 kan?) means “house” or “hall”. In honour of their sensei, Funakoshi’s students created a sign reading shōtō-kan, which they placed above the entrance of the hall where Funakoshi taught.[5] Gichin Funakoshi never gave his system a name, just calling it karate.

Shotokan training is usually divided into three parts: kihon (basics), kata (forms or patterns of moves), and kumite (sparring). Techniques in kihon and kata are characterised by deep, long stances that provide stability, enable powerful movements, and strengthen the legs. Shotokan is regarded as a dynamic martial art as it develops anaerobic, powerful techniques as well as developing speed. Initially strength and power are demonstrated instead of slower, more flowing motions. Those who progress to brown and black belt level develop a much more fluid style that incorporates grappling, throwing and some aikido-like techniques, which can be found even in basic kata.[6] Kumite (fighting) techniques are practised in the kihon and kata and developed from basic to advanced levels with an opponent.
gichin funakoshi shotokan karate Gichin Funakoshi had trained in both of the popular styles of Okinawan karate of the time: Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū. After years of study in both styles, Funakoshi created a simpler system that combined the ideals of the two.[5] He never named this system, however, always referring to it simply as “karate.” Funakoshi’s karate reflects the changes made in the art by Ankō Itosu, including the Heian/Pinan kata series. Funakoshi changed the names of some of the kata in an effort to make the Okinawan kata names easier to pronounce in the Japanese Honshū dialect.

In 1924, Funakoshi adopted the Kyū / Dan rank system and the uniform (keikogi) developed by Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo.[20] This system uses colored belts (obi) to indicate rank. Originally, karate had only three belt colors: white, brown, and black (with ranks within each). The original belt system, still used by many Shotokan schools, is:

8th rising to 4th kyū: white
3rd rising to 1st kyū: brown
1st and higher dan: black
Funakoshi awarded the first 1st dan (初段; shodan) Shotokan karate ranks to Tokuda, Hironori Ōtsuka (Otsuka), Akiba, Shimizu, Hirose, Makoto Gima, and Shinyō Kasuya on 10 April 1924.

gichin funakoshi shotokan karate doing kankuHistory in More detail
The history of Shotokan karate actually began with Gichin Funakoshi’s 1917 trip to Kyoto, where karate was demonstrated for the first time in Japan, at the Butokuden. While the demonstration was successful and the Japanese interest was high, there was no immediate rush to bring the Okinawan art to Japan on a formal basis. As taken as they were with it, the Japanese still tended to be suspicious of anything purely Okinawan, and they found it expedient to view karate as an interesting sideshow. This attitude could have been the end of karate in Japan had it not been for a fortuitous event on Mar. 6,1921 . On that date, the Crown Prince (the Emperor Hirohito) of Japan visited Okinawa on his way to Europe. Seeking to impress the Prince with the rich culture of Okinawa, the Department of Education asked Funakoshi to give a karate demonstration for him in the Great Hall of Shuri Castle. So fascinated was the prince by the demonstration, that he spoke of it excitedly throughout the rest of his voyage. Thus the Ministry of Education formally requested a karate demonstration be performed at the first National Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo. Funakoshi was of course chosen to perform.

On the same day he gave the demonstration, he was approached by members of the Sho family, direct descendants of Shotai, the last king of Okinawa, and asked to extend his visit. Humbled and inspired by their supplications, Funakoshi agreed to stay for a few weeks. From Jlgoro Kano, the founder of judo, came a request to demonstrate karate at the Kodokan, the judo headquarters To assist him with the demonstration, Funakoshi prevailed upon Shinkin Gima, a student et Tokyo Shoka Daigaku,who had attained a high degree of proficiency in karate while still in Okinawa. At a private demonstration for Kano and selected members of the Kodokan, Funakoshi performed the kata, kanku dad, and Gima performed naihanchii (now known to the Japanese as tekkli). So impressed was Kano by the demonstration that he enthusiastically asked Funakoshi to prolong his stay in Japan and to teach him the basics of karate. Funakoshi indeed taught Kano some basic blocks, punches, strikes, and kicks, and Kano later incorporated some of these into an advanced judo kata.

The demonstration at the National Athletic Exhibition, and Kano’s introductions to influential Japanese, soon led to official requests for karate instruction by the military academy, the Tokyo Bar Association, and the Society for Research in High School Physical Education. While eager to demonstrate before these groups, Funakoshi was struggling with homesickness, worry about his family, and guilt over leaving his responsibilities behind. After correspondence with his wife, in which she gave her blessing, Funakoshi decided to stay in Japan and fulfill what he now perceived to be his destiny: to teach karate to the Japanese people.

While the Japanese in general were reluctant to endorse anything of Okinawan extraction, they were more than eager to pursue almost anything popular with the upper classes. In less than nine months, karate had become a fad with the intelligentsia. In 1922 Funakoshi established the first formal Japanese karate club at the Meisei Juku, a dormitory and school for newly arrived Okinawan students in the Suidobata section of Tokyo To support himself, he cleaned the dormitory during the day, often tending the garden and lawns, and taught karate in a lecture hall in the evening. Throwing himself completely into his mission, he wrote the first book on karate, RyuRyu Kempo: Karate, published by Bukyo-sha in 1922.

An instant best-seller (by textbook standards), it went out of print prematurely, for a time, when the book’s plates were destroyed in the great Kanto earthquake of Sept. 1, 1923. The book was not printed again until 1926, when it was re-issued by Kobundo as Rentan Goshin Karate jitsu (“Strengthening of Willpower and Self-defense Through Techniques of Karate”). Many of Funakoshi’s finest pupils were lost in the earthquake also, and he was forced to take a job making stencils at the Daiichi Sogo Bank in Kyobashi. Since this was some distance from the Meisei Juku, Funakoshi was invited to move his dojo to the dojo of Hiromichi Nakayama, the great kendo teacher. For a great kendo sensei to allow another art to be practiced in his dojo was quite unprecedented.

In 1924, at the age of 56, when most men are contemplating retirement, Funakoshi entered and qualified in the Tokyo Invitational Prize Contest for Athletes. Throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, Funakoshi continued to teach at Nakayama’s kendo dojo. The number of active students increased steadily, until his fame brought him an invitation to demonstrate karate before the Imperial Household.

In 1924, Funakoshi was asked by Prof. Shinyo Kasuya of the department of German language and literature at Keio Universityto teach a group of students at the university. A club was soon organized with the sanction of the university. The Keio club was the first collegiate karate club in Japan, and it is active to this day. By 1926 the Tokyo University Karate Club was officially chartered, followed in the early 1930s by clubs at Takushoku, Chuo, Shodai (now called Hitotsubashi University), Gakushu-in, Hosei, Nihon, Meiji, and others, until today there are over 200 collegiate karate clubs in Japan. Karate made its greatest headway on campuses, but also through instruction to employee groups at companies such as the Tokyo Department Store, Tokyo Railroad Co., the Matsuzakaya Department Stores, and others.

As karate grew in the 1930s, it spawned several ryu (schools or styles). Chojun Miyagi and Kenwa Mabuni brought the goju-ryu and Shito-ryu styles from Okinawa, and in 1935 one of Funakoshi’s most brilliant senior students, Hironishi Ohtsuka, broke away, forming his own wado-ryu style. Many others formed styles, of course, but these four-Shotokan, goju, wado, and Shito-comprise the bulk of Japanese karate. Early on, at least, there was very little bickering among the leaders of the various schools It was perfectly acceptable, they believed, for different masters to teach in different ways; after all, they were striving toward the same goal: perfection of human character through karate-do.

In 1935 karate men from all over Japan formed a committee that solicited funds to build a free-standing karate dojo Construction on the building in Zoshigaya. Toshima Ward, began in mid-1935, and was completed in the spring of 1936 Gichin Funakoshi, at the age of 68, bowed and entered the world’s first karate dojo in the spring of 1936. As a tribute to him from karate students all over Japan, a plaque was hung over the door inscribed with the characters for “Shoto-kan,” (“the hall of Shoto”).

By 1940, with Japan engaged in war on several fronts, Funakoshi’s dojo was filled with eager young men. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Funakoshi’s dojo was so crowded with students that they frequently spilled over into the street and neighboring yards. Japan’s defeat in World War I I of course brought to a temporary halt the development of virtually all the martial arts, but only for a short time.

In 1944 Funakoshi’s students-the university clubs, the Old Boys clubs, and the private dojos all over Japan-officially organized themselves into the Nihon Karate Kyokai (Japan Karate Association, or JKA) and named Funakoshi their chief instructor emeritus Isao Obata, the chairman, was the wealthy president of his own trading company; the first JKA president, Kichinosuku Saigo, was a wealthy politician with major political influence These men had neither the time nor the inclination to administer the affairs of such a large and burgeoning organization, and the board of directors immediately hired a full-time, paid staff to run the organization. Masatomo Takagi, a business manager and a 5th dan in karate, was hired as general secretary. Masatoshi Nakayama was made chief instructor, to conduct day-to-day training at the headquarters; Kimio Ito was appointed director of administration; and Hidetaka Nishiyama was named chief of the instruction committee.

shotokan karate kicks

To understand what happened next to the JKA and it’s export of karate to the rest of the world some background will be useful Both ancestry and wealth contributed to a man’s position within the class structure, and Japanese institutions, especially the colleges and universities, reflect this state of affairs Even today, a family’s wealth and position determine to a large degree which university the children will attend, and a graduate’s chances for success are strongly influenced thereby. The “Big Three” colleges, in terms of social and political prestige, are Keio, Waseda, and Hosei These three, along with Takushoku, also represented the best collegiate karate in Japan. Takushoku, however, was not part of the “establishment” of colleges. Commonly called Takudai, it was created before World War II expressly for the purpose of training administrators for overseas work.Takudai men therefore typically majored in economics, importing and exporting, and international law.

The types of jobs available to Takudai graduates were not considered prestigious by the old-line university graduates, and a good deal of class friction was evident in the JKA between upper echelon Old Boys and highly expert (in karate) but “lower class” Takudai men. Disputes arose over business practices, philosophy, and training methods. The class division among administrators crystallized around the fact that the Takudai staff, Takagi and Nakayama among them, was being paid for teaching karate. In April 1955 the JKA opened its first commercial dojo in the preview room of the Kataoka Movie Center, and a strong campaign was launched for the recruitment of new students. Many old-line masters, chief among them Isao Obata of Keio, felt it was absolutely immoral for a man to accept money for teaching the art Even those who would not deny a man the right to be paid voiced opposition to placing karate on the market.

The Hosei Old Boys were the first to leave the JKA, followed by Obata and the Keio group. Unburdened of the conserved ve Old Boys, the Takudai men pursued the development of karate in their own way; not surprisingly, in view of their training, they chose to internationalize the art.

The Tadukai group thought the best way for an art like karate to gain international acceptance was to give it a sporting aspect Turning karate into a sport with rules for competition was not new Since 1936 college clubs had been conducting kokangeiko (exchange of courtesies and practice), in which they tested their techniques against each other on a free-style basis. Without formal rules or supervision, however, these exchange and training sessions were, more often than not, bloodbaths. The Old Boys refused to acknowledge the existence of such shenanigans because these bouts were obviously opposed to the principles of karate as Funakoshi taught them.

Nevertheless, the JKA directors and leaders in other styles brought free-sparring into the open, experimenting with it, debating it, and, finally, encouraging it. By 1950, virtually all the major styles of karate in Japan were practicing some form of free-style sparring. The JKA contest rules, comprising three chapters and 16 articles, were completed in Aug. 1956. Collegiate clubs and branch dojo immediately commenced staging tournaments to try contestant skills and to train judges. This flurry of activity culminated in the 1st All Japan Karate-do Championship Tournament in June 1957.

Concurrent with their efforts to devise a workable set of contest rules, the JKA instituted a stringent instructor training program. Only the cream of young karate men were admitted to the program, and only after graduating honorably from college and attaining 2nd dan rank. In an intensive year of study, candidates were instructed not only in karate but in psychology, physics, anatomy, business management, history and philosophy of physical education and sports, and other subjects. On completing the training program (with 3rd dan and a dissertation) they were assigned to a year’s teaching internship. The results of this difficult apprenticeship were a dozen or so highly proficient karate men, well prepared to plant and nourish their art overseas.

First to arrive in the U.S. were Hidetaka Nishiyama, Los Angeles, and Teruyuki Okazaki, Philadelphia, both in 1961. Others followed in rapid succession: Takayuki Mikami, twice All Japan Champion, went first to Kansas City and later to New Orleans; Yutaka Yaguchi was assigned to Denver after a brief stay in Los Angeles; and Hirokazu Kanazawa, also twice All Japan Champion, brought the JKA to Hawaii. Kanazawa was replaced after two years by Masataka Mori, who ultimately went to New York, relinquishing the Hawaii province to Tetsuhiko Asai. Shojiro Sugiyama, not a graduate of the instructor program, founded a strong organization in Chicago. Later arrivals were Masaaki Ueki and Shigeru Takashina in Florida, Katsuya Kisaka in New Jersey, and Shojiro Koyama in Arizona.

By the mid-1970s, American students were themselves achieving instructor status. The most senior of these, and the most successful, was Robert Fusaro of Minneapolis. Other notables include Robert Graves of Oregon, Greer Golden of Ohio, Ray Dalke, Frank Smith, and James Yabe of California, and Gerald Evans of Philadelphia.

The All America Karate Federation (now the American Amateur Karate Federation) finally opened its doors to non-JKA karate people in the late 1960s, but too late to salvage an American karate unified under the guidance of the JKA. Indeed, internal strife led in the 1970’s to a split in the organization, with master Okazaki spearheading a separate JKA organization, the International Shotokan Karate Federation. Both organizations continue to prosper, but there is no indication of reunification.

Outside the U.S. the JKA is stronger as an international organization. Taiji Kase, from the European branch in Paris, oversees Hideki Ochi in Germany, Hiroshi Shirai in Italy, Keinosuke Enoeda in Great Britain, and Satoshi Miyazaki in Belgium. JKA is represented around the world by Higashino in Brazil, Ishiyama in Venezuela, Stan Schmidt (the first non-Japanese 5th dan) in South Africa, Hideki Okamoto in Syria and Lebanon, Tanaka in Denmark, Sasaki in the Philippines, Hiroshi Matsaura in Mexico, and others. JKA Shotokan karate-do is now practiced daily by approximately 5,000,000 people in almost every country in the world.

While the JKA has led the way in internationalizing karate, still there is a large, unaffiliated contingent practicing Gichin Funakoshi’s karate. Several of Funakoshi’s best pupils chose to leave the Shotokan altogether and develop their own, eclectic systems. Notable among these are Ryosuke Konishi, who founded the shindo-linen-ryu (commonly known as the Ryobukan), and Hironishi Ohtsuka, who developed wado-ryu.

But the most significant faction outside the JKA has grown from the unmollified Old Boys in Japan. Prior to leaving the JKA, Isao Obata, head of the Old Boys at Keio University, was instrumental in organizing the Zen Nihon Gakusei Karate-do Renmei (All Japan Shotokan karate is noted for its wide, strong stances, as demonstrated by Italian karate champion Falsoni.

shotokan karate badge

(University Students Karate League). This organization hoped to unite collegiate practitioners from all styles. Ultimately, it evolved into a loose structure sheltering disaffected Shotokan students who wished to pursue their art free from the directives of the JKA. They called themselves the Shotokai, and their principal leaders included Shigeru Egami and Genshin Hironishi of Chuo University, and Hiroshi Noguchi at Waseda. It was from Waseda University that Tsutomu Oshima came to the U.S. in 1956 and founded Shotokan Karate of America. Hirokazu Kanazawa broke with the JKA in the 1970s, establishing Shotokan Karate International. Among the famous practitioners who remained within the JKA are: Minoru Miyata, Osamu Ozawa and Junpei Sugano of Hosei, Kimio Ito, Motokun Sugiura, and Hiroshi Shoji.

Technically, there are some gaps between JKA Shotokan and the Shotokai; practically, the gaps are very narrow. While most of the Shotokai groups still regularly practice the taikyoku and ten-no-kata that were so dear to Funakoshi, the JKA has abandoned them as repetitious and of questionable value. Stances among most of the Shotokai groups are generally higher than those seen in the JKA, and there is relatively little emphasis on free-style sparring in Shotokai dojo. From about 1960 forward, the JKA has pursued the study of karate from a scientific viewpoint-body mechanics, kinesiology, anatomy, physics, and modern psychology. This, contend most of the Shotokai people, is unnecessary and detrimental to the traditional ways taught by Funakoshi. Each group continues to insist that it practices karate exactly as Funakoshi would practice it were he alive today. The present authors, based on the writings of the master, lean toward the JKA claim. Funakoshi frequently said that karate was an unfinished art; it would continue to grow and change, he said, as man’s knowledge and circumstances grew and changed.


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