Karate can be traced back to 1400 years; to Western India where Daruma (Bodhidharma) the founder of Zen Buddhism, traveled to China to lecture on Buddhism, incorporating physical and spiritual training methods that were very demanding. The training was so harsh, that his followers were falling to exhaustion. He then developed a method by which the followers could enhance their physical strength to attain the essence of the way of the Buddha. His teachings spread to many other places--it was then called Shorin-ji Kempo.
About 500 years ago in Okinawa; a national policy was adopted, forbidding the possession and use of all kinds of weapons. All weapons were confiscated by the government. The development of Karate at that time was very well received, as a means of unarmed self-defense.
Many experts who traveled between Okinawa and China contributed greatly to bringing Karate to its present level.
In Okinawa, Karate developed from the synthesis of two fighting techniques.
The first one, used by the inhabitants of Okinawa, very simple, yet terribly effective and very close to reality since it was used for many centuries in real combat. The second one, was much more complicated based on the philosophical teachings, which was a product of the ancient culture of China.
THE INFLUENCE OF MASTER GICHIN FUNAKOSHI (1868-1957) Master Gichin Funakoshi is known as the father of modern karate, who was also a school teacher, poet, and calligrapher. He was born in Shuri, Okinawa in 1868. He began his Karate studies at the age of 11. He was a student of the two greatest masters of the time, Masters Azato, Itosu, Saito, and Matsumura, among others. He became so proficient, that he was initiated into all the major styles of Karate in Okinawa at the time. Master Training in Karate was conducted with utmost secrecy in Okinawa. It was never taught or trained openly as it is done today. This is why original books or written records of Karate are almost non-existent.
At the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912) while recruiting for the military, the government recognized that the young men with Karate training were very impressive. They were well balanced, very flexible, and had very good muscle development. It was strongly recommended to the Ministry of Education that Karate be introduced as part of the physical education program. This recommendation was accepted and initiated by the schools in 1902.
The foundation of Shotokan Karate comes from a combination of two different styles practiced by Master Funakoshi: Shorin and Shorei
These styles stressed different aspects of training, as did the katas and the formal basics, which were borrowed from these styles. Shorin Kata emphasized development of speed and body shifting, as the Shorei Kata emphasized development of muscular strength. In 1906, Master Gichin Funakoshi persuaded some friends to give public demonstrations, to which many prominent people were invited.
In 1916, he gave a demonstration at the Butokuden in Kyoto, Japan, which at that time was the official center of all martial arts Master Funakoshi introduced Karate to mainland Japan in 1916. In 1921, the Emperor of Japan requested a demonstration by Master Funakoshi and his students. In 1936, the first Karate Dojo or school was opened in Japan by Master Gichin Funakoshi’s students. It was called “Shotokan”, after Master Funakoshi’s pen name. Shoto- Pen name given to the Master for his poetry, and calligraphy, denoting the sound of the wind blowing through pines, and kan meaning house. The name of the style which he then taught became known as “SHOTOKAN.”
Shotokan is characterized by its powerful and linear techniques coupled with deep strong stances which were developed to accommodate the larger physical statures of the Japanese practitioners.
Master Takeshi Oishi, a devoted student of Hidetaka Nishiyama, who himself was a student of Master Gichin Funakoshi and his (third son), Yoshitaka or Gigo Funakoshi, opened a school of Shotokan karate in Japan, under the guidance of Master Hidetaka Nishiyama. Mr. Oishi immediately established a name for himself by winning tournaments. Many titles fell to his excellent punch and kick combinations. He was one of the premier Karate tournament fighters, as well as having later served on the technical and instructor committees for the JKA, including the JKA board of directors. Mr. Oishi went on to teach one of his top students, George Parulski, in the mid to late 20th century.
One of the large splinter groups assumed the name “Shotokai” and still maintains a significant influence in Japan today. The (JKA) Japan Karate Association remains the mainline Shotokan group, with Masatoshi Nakayama as chief instructor, taking over for the aging Funakoshi, who died in 1957. In later years, many changes took place. After many stable years, discontent again arose in the JKA, first with the departure of Hirozaku Kanazawa, who formed his own Shotokan organization called “Shotokan karate International,” and Instructors like Tetsuhiko Asai, who formed the “Japan Karate Shoto-Renmei.” Later, other senior instructors left to either form their own groups or align themselves with other former JKA groups. In the 1980’s a dispute arose between the JKA headquarters and one of the senior instructors, resulting in a court battle over the rights to the JKA name, and after years of litigation, the rights were awarded to the headquarters group.
Today, many JKA instructors have left the headquarters group, re-aligning themselves with competing groups or remained independent. With these many splits, some changes in the forms have been instituted, but the essence of Shotokan has remained.