Karate consists of many different overlapping schools or styles that can all trace their origins to systems of civilian self defence developed in Okinawa. Karate itself is not one single martial arts style but a generic term, like ‘Kung Fu’, so there are many differences between the different styles. New styles have been created throughout the history of karate depending on whether instructors choose to remain rigidly with the systems they were taught, or adapt according to their own knowledge, preferences and training aims.
The karate that the Okinawans practiced was a fusion of their own fighting methods and those gained from studying under foreign teachers, predominantly from mainland China. Karate could accurately be described as the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) of the 19th and early 20th century. Karate was introduced to mainland Japan in 1922 by a number of Okinawan teachers and this movement affected both the systems based on Okinawa as well the new ones that grew up in Japan. Both Okinawan and Japanese karate systems are now practiced worldwide.
Shotokan Karate is a Japanese style of karate developed from the teachings of Gichin Funakoshi and his son Gigo Funakoshi in the first half of the Twentieth century. The Shotokan was the name of the first official dojo built by Gichin Funakoshi, in 1936 at Mejiro, and destroyed in 1945 as a result of an allied bombing in World War II. ‘Shoto’, meaning “pine-waves” (the movement of pine needles when the wind blows through them), was Funakoshi’s pen-name and ‘kan’ means “house” or “hall”. In honor of their teacher, Funakoshi’s students created a sign reading shōtō-kan, which they placed above the entrance of the hall where Funakoshi taught. Gichin Funakoshi did not believe in ‘styles’ of karate and taught it primarily as a form of character improvement through physical development and never gave his system a name, just calling it ‘karate’. During his lifetime he taught a syllabus that included kata taken from a number of different Okinawan karate teachers and Shotokan Karate could very accurately be described as a Mixed Martial Art.
Gichin Funakoshi had many students at the university martial arts clubs and outside dojos in Japan, who continued to teach karate after his death in 1957. Internal disagreements led to the creation of different organisations even before his death, such as the initial split between the Japan Karate Association (then headed by Masatoshi Nakayama) and the Shotokai (then headed by Motonobu Hironishi and Shigeru Egami). As a result there are many different ‘schools’ of Shotokan, and even in the UK there are many different Shotokan karate groups of varying sizes, some of which are still linked to the JKA and others that have split away over the last sixty years. There is no universally recognised national or international governing body for Shotokan Karate. Most modern Shotokan differs considerably from the older grappling and striking Shotokan of Gichin Funakoshi’s 1935 Karate Do Kyohan which is the type of karate taught in the Practical Karate Association. We call the Karate we teach in High Wycombe and Princes Risborough ‘Kyohan Shotokan Karate’ in reference to the hard and soft grappling and striking style illustrated there.
Shotokan Karate is well known for its sporting competitions that focus on the disciplines of kata performance and sparring. This is particularly true of associations that are members of or retain a similar ethos to the Japanese Karate Association. Not all Shotokan organisations compete however, and many (particularly some of the more modern groups) have gone back to focusing on the kata as a template for techniques and tactics for self defence. In the Practical Karate Association’s Shotokan we focus on karate as a method of close quarter self defence and a health improving form of physical exercise.