Shotokan karate isn’t just for kids, it’s for everyone who wants to become the best selves they can be both physically and mentally. “The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of the participant.” —Gichin Funakoshi
Shotokan Karate was founded by Gichin Funakoshi in Okinawa, Japan. Through various teachers and many years of training, he refined a simple and straightforward martial art form and named it Karate. In 1936 when he opened his first dojo, his students crafted the name Shotokan thereby terming the discipline Shotokan Karate although Funakoshi never referred to it by that name. Shoto meaning “pine waves” was Funakoshi’s pen name with which he wrote his philosophical musings. Kan meaning “house.”
Not only did Funakoshi establish the first Shotokan school, but he also became well known for bringing karate to the Japanese public. Through demonstrations of skill, he helped bring Shotokan and other forms to clubs and universities where they attracted students and flourished. Although known for his establishment of the first Shotokan school, and his groundbreaking work, his crowning glory is the development of the Twenty Precepts of Karateor as it is known in Japanese, Niju kun. This collection of philosophical points and foundations create the basis of Shotokan and ultimately sets Shotokan training apart from other forms of karate.
Funakoshi’s son, Yoshitaka, continued to refine Shotokan after his father. He is most noted for adding lower stances and higher kicks. This style extended the separation between Shotokan training and other Karate forms.
Shotokan is characterized by the simplicity of its form, unlike the complex stances and maneuverings of other Martial Arts. Correct posture, joint alignment, and formality of basic techniques are emphasized during training. These simple techniques are meant to be mastered to a high degree of precision. Rather than having Shotokan instructors teach an arsenal of potential techniques, the discipline expects students to attain a mastery of the form and “truly” become a weapon of self-defense. There is no room for creativity. In the heat of battle a technique must be as basic and ingrained as breathing. In short, the philosophy behind Shotokan is this: Simple techniques win.
Shotokan is a striking form of Martial Art. Instructors teach through kihon (basics), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring) and is not intended for long engagement fights. Students are expected to be able to perform basic techniques with precision, speed, and power even under harsh conditions. The idea is to synchronize speed and power to inflict major damage before an opponent has time to engage.
The most common defense is often a pre-emptive strike. Through diligence to constant training, students strengthen and tone their bodies. Mental determination and physical performance are demanded at every level. It has been said that Shotokan is the perfect combination of modern biomechanics and sports medicine intermixed with traditional training methods. This combination allows the synchronization of speed and power by properly mastering the movement of the body.
Often referred to as Karate-do, meaning the “way of the empty hand,” Shotokan training incorporates many strikes, blocks, throws, chokes, among other techniques. Higher belts often learn some Jiu Jitsu techniques. Funakoshi focused on teaching the meaning behind the force of Karate. He desired his students learn to develop themselves spiritually through physical means. Shotokan is less about the sport of the Martial Art and more about personal development of both mind and body.
The “empty hand” refers to the Zen-like state which artists strive to attain, free of fear and distraction. Students train so that in the event of a situation requiring self-defense, they may act free from the crippling restraint of fear and doubt.
Shotokan schools follow a ranking system which uses kyu and dan ranks. The traditional belt colors include white, brown, and black. It is now becoming more common to award belts of different colors much like other Martial Arts disciplines, but it varies depending on the school. Traditionally the 8th through 4th kyu is a white belt, the 3rd through 1st kyu is brown, and the 1st through 5th dan is black. The maximum number of dans changes from school to school, but 5th dan is traditionally considered the highest as it was the highest rank given from Gichin Funakoshi before his death.
During competitions rivals wear either a red or blue belt.
Organizations, including the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF), exist all over the world and they are continuously growing. Shotokan at its finest is a lifetime discipline of self actualization for all ages. Both children and adults are encouraged to join. Newcomers are always welcomed with open arms. If you’re interested in taking a self-defense class, Shotokan classes are available almost everywhere. Take a few minutes and find a school near you!
Shotokan is a sub-style of karate that was developed in 1939 by Master Gichin Funakoshi and son, Gigo Funakoshi. Shotokan is a blend of six different schools of karate, which are Shotokai, Kyokushin, Chito-ryu, Wado-ryu, Shindo Jinen-ryu and Yoseikan karate. The founder of Shotokan, Gichin Funakoshi, helped to spread the popularity of this form of martial arts by staging public demonstrations and through the establishment of karate schools and classes at various Japanese universities and other places of education.
The name “Shotokan” is derived from Funakoshi’s pen name, which he used to sign all of his philosophical musings and poetry compositions. It is translated from Japanese to “house of pine waves” and refers to the gentle motion of pine needles as the wind moves through them. The name was created in Funakoshi’s honor after his death.
Shotokan karate teaches students to hold and maintain deep, powerful stances that provide one with great stability, balance and a position from which very strong punches or kicks can be made. Holding these stances strengthens the legs and core body strength. Shotokan karate is a very dynamic martial art that combines fluid movements and stances with great agility and powerful offensive and defensive techniques.
Since 1955, “Shotokan Karate of America” has been teaching students the traditional techniques, philosophies and practices of the martial art form of Karate. A non-profit organization, SKA National was originally founded and is still run by Tsutomu Ohshima. Shotokan Karate of America organizes numerous exhibitions and tournaments worldwide, so if you are enthusiastic about Shotokan, it is worth keeping an eye on their activity.
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