Sunday, January 17, 2010

Karate - a brief history

The father of modern karate
Funakoshi Gichin sensei - Karate master and founder of shotokan karate-do

The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat but in the perfection of the character of its participants - Gichin Funakoshi


The origin of karate dates back more than a thousand years, the early form of karate was developed in China and was known as "Sho Lin boxing" or Sho Lin Kung Fu.

Eventually many of the methods that made up Sho Lin boxing found their way to Okinawa where they were referred to as "China Hand" by the indigenous martial artists.

Sho Lin monks

These methods were mixed with the indigenous Okinawan martial arts of "Te" for striking and "Tegumi" for grappling along with other martial art influences from the surrounding neighbours (countries).

Okinawan karate incorporated many different types of martial arts into its syllabus, it had a mixture of stand up striking methods using most parts of the body as a weapon including grappling and throws that today are more synonymous with wrestling, judo, jujitsu and aikido.

There were also other out side influences from south east asia, including Thai boxing, jujitsu etc. which all helped to developed karate in to a dynamic, effective and systematic martial art for self defence on the island of Okinawa.

Karate was first introduced to the main land (Japan) and the Japanese public first in 1917 and then again by invitation in 1922 it was well received with plenty of interest shown in this newly introduced Okinawan martial art.

In both 1917 and 1922 the man most responsible for introducing karate to the mainland (Japan) was Funakoshi Gichin sensei, who is also credited with the title of "father of modern karate" on the mainland because of this achievement.

Further refining in Japan produced karate-do the martial art as we know it today, and the meaning of the word karate was changed by Funakoshi sensei from meaning China hand to empty hand, Funakoshi sensei also changed kata names and techniques.

Judo founder Jigoro Kano was so impressed with Funakoshi's exibition of Okinawan karate he invited Funakoshi to teach karate from the Kodokan (home of judo) until Funakoshi could establish himself.

Jigoro Kano received private lessons in Okinawan karate from Funakoshi while he was teaching karate from the Kodokan, the atemi-waza found in the self defence component of judo are heavily influenced by karate. 

Many other Okinawan karate masters followed Funakoshi's footsteps and went to Japan to exhibit thier style of karate. Chojun Miyagi master and founder of Goju ryu karate-do first went to Japan in 1928 to demonstrate his Naha-te karate which would latter become known as Goju ryu.

Kenwa Mabuni master and founder of Shito ryu karate-do also demonstrated his style of karate which was a mixture of Shuri-te and Naha-te on the Japanese mainland in 1929 when he moved to Osaka Japan to form his school.

the shotokan tiger

In 1936 Funakoshi sensei with the help of his most senior students bought a building and established the first full time karate-do dojo in Japan, a great landmark for karate-do and the history of karate in Japan and the rest of the world.

This dojo / building was named the "shotokan" by his senior students, shoto referring to Funakoshi's pen name when writing poems and kan meaning house therefore in english shotokan translates to shoto's house.

Later many martial artists including karateka from other styles of karate, would refer to the style of karate practiced at Funakoshi sensei's dojo as shotokan.

The name shotokan stuck and the style shotokan is today practiced and enjoyed by millions of karate enthusiasts in most countries all over the world.


The Japan Karate Association  (JKA) was formed in 1949 with Funakoshi Gichin sensei as the supreme master and Nakayama sensei as the chief instructor, once again karate was put under the microscope and analysed.

Study, evolution and refinement by Nakayama sensei brought most JKA karate waza in line with newtonian physics and up until this day the original formulae that makes JKA shotokan karate waza remains unscathed.

Since its inception JKA shotokan karate-do has not diluted itself by borrowing, pinching or cutting and pasting formulas, methods or techniques from other martial arts like so many are doing today, making them unrecognisable from their original martial art form.

JKA shotokan karate-do techniques have a vast arsenal of stand up fighting principles, tactics and strategy based on scientific princples and with the evolution of close quarter combat and grappling methods found in its kata bunkai, oyo and henka makes for a complete self defence system.

JKA shotokan karate-do waza has remained as original and recognisable as an art form can be and when trained in the correct manner and attitude in my opinion is still one of the superior forms of self defence in today's myriad of martial arts schools.

Nakayama sensei is also responsible for spreading shotokan karate around the world by sending some of his most senior and best instructors to all four corners of the world to spread the art of shotokan karate-do.

JKA shotokan karate-do is practiced and can be found in most civilised countries around the world, the curriculum is the same where ever you go and your qualifications and grade are recognised all around the globe.

The JKA is also a non profit organisation and the largest single-style traditional karate group in the world.

 What is the JKA ?


Not entirely sure but from my understanding, Shotokan kata is heavily influenced by Shuri-te 57% and Tomari-te 35% with some Naha-te 8%.


The World Karate Federation recognises five main styles of karate (Wikipedia),

1. Shotokan ryu
2. Shotokai
3. Goju ryu
4. Shito ryu
5. Wado ryu

The World Union of Karate-do Federations (WUKF), recognizes these styles of karate

1. Gōjū-ryū,
2. Shitō-ryū,
3. Shōtōkan-ryū,
4. Wadō-ryū,
5. Shōrin-ryū,
6. Uechi-ryū,
7. Kyokushinkai,
8. Budōkan.

The History of Kata in Karate by Iain Abernethy


The above information is in accordance with my understanding of karate-do history from various sources on the Internet.

Funakoshi sensei makiwara practice