Where does karate come from?
Karate is a generic term for many different overlapping schools or styles. These can all trace their origins to systems of civilian self defence developed in Okinawa. It is not one single martial arts style but an umbrella term, like ‘ball sports’. New styles have been created throughout the history of karate. Some instructors choose to remain rigidly with the systems they were taught, while others adapt according to their own interests and experience.
Karate could accurately be described as the MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) of the 19th and early 20th century. In 19th Century Okinawa, it was a changing mix of their own fighting methods and those gained from studying under foreign teachers, predominantly from mainland China. Cross training and studying under different teachers was the norm rather than the exception. Karate was introduced to mainland Japan in 1922 by a number of Okinawan teachers and this affected the systems based on Okinawa and the new ones that grew up in Japan. Both Okinawan and Japanese karate systems are now practiced worldwide.
What is Shotokan Karate?
Shotokan Karate is a Japanese style of karate. It was developed from the teachings of Gichin Funakoshi and his son Gigo Funakoshi. The main framework of the style was formalised in the 1920s and 30s.
What is the history of Shotokan Karate?
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 honour 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 and ideas taken from a number of different Okinawan karate teachers. Shotokan Karate could very accurately be described as originally being a Mixed Martial Art! Karate ‘styles’ are a little like marketing ‘brands’. Similar products with different ‘takes’ on what they offer.
Gichin Funakoshi had many students at the university martial arts clubs and outside dojos in Japan. After his death in 1957 his students continued to teach karate. Unfortunately internal disagreements had already led to the creation of different organisations. One example is the initial split between the Japan Karate Association and the Shotokai. As a result there are many different ‘schools’ of Shotokan. Even in the UK there are many different Shotokan karate groups of varying sizes, some of which are still linked to the JKA and many others that have split away. There is no single recognised international governing body for Shotokan Karate.
What is modern Shotokan Karate like?
Most modern Shotokan differs considerably from the grappling and striking of Gichin Funakoshi’s 1935 book Karate Do Kyohan. That is the type of karate taught with modern coaching methods in the Practical Karate Association. We call the Karate we teach ‘Kyohan Shotokan Karate’ in reference to its hard and soft integrated grappling and striking style.
Shotokan Karate is well known for its sporting competitions that focus on kata performance and sparring. This is particularly true of groups that retain a similar ethos to the Japanese Karate Association organisation. Not all Shotokan groups compete. Many have returned to focusing on the kata as a template for techniques and tactics for self defence.
In the Practical Karate Association’s Shotokan classes in High Wycombe we focus on two approaches. The first is karate for legally appropriate self defence and the second is karate as health improving physical exercise.