Shotokan Karate-do History


Karate classes, Martial art classes, Self-defence classes, in London, Paddington, W2 and the surrounding areas.


Toyama Kanken, Ohtsuka Hironori, Shimoda Takeshi, Funakoshi Gichin, Motobu Choki, Mabuni Kenwa, Nakasone Genwa and Taira Shinken


Shotokan 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 and is widely credited with popularizing "karate do" through a series of public demonstrations.

Date founded - 1936
Country of origin - Japan
Founder - Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957) - Yoshitaka Funakoshi (1906–1945)

Arts taught - Karate
Ancestor schools - Shōrei-ryū, Shōrin-ryū

Descendant schools -  Wadō-ryū • Shōtōkai • Chitō-ryū • Shindō jinen-ryū • Yoseikan Karate • Kyokushin

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 at Mejiro, and destroyed in 1945 as a result of an allied bombing.  Shoto (松濤 Shōtō), meaning "pine-waves" (the movement of pine needles when the wind blows through them), was Funakoshi's pen-name, which he used in his poetic and philosophical writings and messages to his students. The Japanese kan( 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.  Gichin Funakoshi never gave his system a name, just calling it karate.


The word “Karate” has been known since the 1920’s; however the roots of the art extend back well over a thousand years and possibly to the 5th century B.C. According to legend, a Buddhist monk named Bodhi Dharma took unarmed combat techniques, practiced in India, with him to China. There he developed a system of physical training based on yoga breathing methods and a Chinese unarmed fighting method called “Kempo.” China’s advanced knowledge of acupuncture improved the kempo techniques by making use of weak points in the human body. In 628 A.D. a 12 chapter book appeared which was a curriculum for physical fitness (massage therapy) but did not discuss fighting techniques. The author of this book claimed to be a student of Dharma. This is the legend of the beginnings of Karate but cannot be taken as factual history. In truth little is known about the early development of Karate until the 17th century in Okinawa.

It was on the Island of Okinawa, the traditional point of contact between the Chinese and the Japanese cultures, where combat techniques developed and self-development aspects were introduced. Over a long period of time a combative art, known as Tang Hand or Tang Te, developed from a blend of kempo and Te (hand) which was a form of fighting used by the local people. During the Japanese occupation of Okinawa (1609-1868), the use of weapons was prohibited, which forced the people to fight with their bare hands. Some Karate techniques are difficult to explain today since they were originally used against weapons. Over a period of some 300 years different forms of Tang Te evolved in various areas of the island. In 1902 the Okinawan government introduced Karate into the secondary school system. Itosu was the first instructor; Gichin Funakoshi was also an instructor of this program. It was at this time that a systematized and methodological approach to learning this combative art developed which later became popular among the public.

Gichin Funakoshi was born in 1868 and first studied his Karate techniques which Shuri-te and Shorin masters Anko Itosu and Yasutsune Azato. Funakoshi practiced calligraphy and published his work under his pen name “Shoto.” The school where he taught Karate became known as the Shotokan (Shoto’s school). Later his students and many outsiders acknowledge his style of teaching as Shotokan Ryu; Funakoshi did not refer to his methodology as such. In 1917, Funakoshi was invited to give demonstrations in Japan and the Japanese were so impressed that, in the early 1920’s, Karate was introduced into the Japanese elementary school system and given its currently accepted name Karate. As Karate became more popular, many other Okinawan experts came to give instruction in other systems which, although different from each other, were based on the same common principles. For a short time, at the end of World War II, the teaching of martial arts was outlawed by the American forces, but the ban was soon lifted.

Many western service men in Japan during and after the war studied Karate and spread it to Europe and the America’s. An increasing number of Japanese instructors also moved overseas. During the late 1950’s and the 1960’s this process accelerated and by the 70’s Karate was practiced extensively throughout the world. Unfortunately, this accelerated process resulted in many instructors without the knowledge required to fully understand the martial arts of Karate-Do. These instructors created many splinter groups and “home- made” systems (styles).


KARA       TE         DO
(empty) (hand) (the way)

Karate is taught in a training hall called a “dojo.” A dojo can take many physical forms, from a school gym to a converted bowling alley or a basement. It is not the physical shape or size of the dojo that is important but rather the attitude and the spirit of the students towards the place of learning.
The dojo is almost a sacred place. Most dojo’s allot some time for the practice of meditation. In some, it begins and ends the training session and may last anywhere from a minute to half an hour. At the end of meditation, and upon entering or leaving the dojo, each student must bow to the front of the dojo to show a sign of respect.

Respect is an integral part of Karate-do and it is shown at all levels. The lower belts show respect to those of higher ranking, with the ultimate respect being shown to the “Sensei.” These gestures comprise a formalized ritual that is part of Karate-do etiquette which determines how one behaves in the dojo, during a sparring match and at tournaments. Etiquette will only be an empty shell of physical movement until made to come alive by a student’s positive attitude. In developing student’s positive attitudes we will stress both the virtues of respect, kindness, courtesy, patience, humility and the drive to develop personal skills to the maximum possible.


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The sensei

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