Shotokan History and Tradition

The beginnings of modern-day karate date back to 560 AD when Daruma Boddhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism, left western India and traveled thousands of miles alone to teach in China. He found many students eager to listen to his ideas but physically unable to keep up with him. So he designed a method of training to develop his followers' physical strength, which he considered a crucial aid in attaining spiritual strength. His reasoning became the basis of karate-do, or "the way of the empty hand." Although he felt that the way of Buddha was preached for the soul, he taught that "the body mind and soul are inseparable."

The Creation of a Karate Style

Shotokan Karate is one of the oldest and most popular styles of Karate. It was developed at the beginning of the last century by Master Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) from the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.

Two relatively different styles - in spirit as well as in mechanics - used to exist in Okinawa in late 19th Century: Shorei-ryu and Shorin-ryu  The former was designed for well built people, placed emphasis on developing physical strength and was impressive in its shear power.  The latter was light and quick, with fast strikes and counterattacks, designed for people who were small in size and very agile.

After years of intense study of both styles, Master Funakoshi arrived at a new understanding of martial arts, and a novel style was created, that combined the ideals of Shorei and Shorin.

As in all Karate styles it is Katas, formal sequences of basic techniques, that form the backbone of the tradition. The traditional Japanese martial arts, Judo and Kendo, two of the seven traditional paths to enlightenment in Japanese classical culture, were heavily centered around combat (Kumite). Master Funakoshi instead, in the centuries old Okinawa tradition, sought a path to spiritual depth through individual technique. Thus, Shotokan initially developed as a formal style with little Kumite application, instead focusing on breathing, releasing energy and outstanding mind and body control.

Penetrating Mainland Japan

In 1922, the first Karate Demonstration was held in Tokyo by Master Gichin Funakoshi and had made a powerful impression on the Japanese public. After that, Karate became very popular and spread very fast in Japan. From the beginning, Master Funakoshi insisted on teaching Karate to college students. The first Karate-do Club was in Keio University. Today, Karate-do is spread into many countries around the world. In May 1948, the Japan Karate Association (JKA) was founded by the students of Master Gichin Funakoshi, and the standards of training (Kihon, Kata, Kumite) and competition were established.

House of Pine Waves

shotokanThe word Shotokan is composed of three kanji characters in Japanese.  The sho character is taken from the word matsu which means pine tree. To is the character for waves. Pine Waves is supposed to mean "the sound that pine trees make when the wind blows through their needles." Some people also translate this to mean the waves that pine trees seem to make visually when bending in the wind. Master Funakoshi signed his works of calligraphy with the pen name Shoto. That is where the first part of the name of this type of karate came from. The word kan means building.  The name Shotokan comes from the world's first karate dojo, which was constructed in 1939 by Funakoshi's students. They placed a plaque over the door that said "Shotokan", or " The Hall of Pine Waves", in honor of Funakoshi.  This first dojo was completely destroyed in an American bombing raid on Japan in 1945.

Shotokan in New England

Master Gichin Funakoshi was the moving force behind the introduction of Karate-do to Japan in the early 1900s, and eventually to the rest of the world. He always emphasized the spiritual aspects of karate-do, and passed this on to his students. It is this same spirit that has been passed on to the North American Karate Federation (NAKF) and the New England Collegiate Karate Conference (NECKC) by Master Kazumi Tabata, whose teacher, Master Iso Obata, was one of Master Funakoshi's first students and president of the Japan Karate Association.