A Brief History of Shotokan Karate
There has always been discussion between historians as to the origins of karate, some believing that it could have originated from many different parts of the globe. Suggestions that ancient Greek fighting styles, however, contributed to the development of karate seem implausible and even ludicrous when you bare in mind the difficulty of travelling long distances over a thousand years ago. When exploring possibilities as to the source of original karate you must also bear in mind the differential development of fighting styles across the globe. It would have been inevitable that people had to learn how to fight; this does not mean that all international fighting styles are inter-related. With this in mind, here is an historical overview of karate, and later, the Shotokan style.
If you go back many centuries there are various stories of the legendary Bodhidharma (circa 500AD). Dharma was said to have spread fighting styles throughout south-east Asia and also taught Shao Lin monks how to look after themselves. The monks were taught physical training to build strength, endurance and in the search of self-perfection. From the Shao Lin style many Martial Arts were said to have developed. This, though, is not necessarily fact as these stories are enshrouded in too much legend and not enough fact. However, it is likely that elements of karate found their way from the Asian mainland (with information suggesting India and China as main sources) to the homeland of Karate.
In the early stages of Karate’s long history Okinawa was not a part of Japan (as it is now) and was constantly changing rule, mostly between the Chinese and Japanese. Under King Sho Shin of the second Sho dynasty (who reigned from 1477-1526) the first prohibition of weapons on Okinawa took place. Following this ban many weapons developed from farming implements. Examples of this are Nunchaku (developed from a threshing tool), Tonfa (Rice grinding handles) and the Rokushakubo (also known similar as bo, a six foot staff).
As well as the development of these now traditional martial arts weapons, empty hand fighting became increasingly popular amongst Okinawan natives; that said, ‘Te’, or ‘hand’ as it was originally called, had to be practised in secret, away from the eyes of the ruling king.
In 1609 the Satsuma clan led by Shimazu Ichisa took firm control of Okinawa. Ichisa carried on the prohibition of weapons and all arms were again confiscated. The Satsuma clan’s rule ended in 1872 but during this time Okinawa’s fighting arts continued to develop.
In between the rule of the above mentioned groups Okinawan Missionaries who had been visiting China (when relations between the two were good) brought back Chinese systems of fighting. In addition to this, between the 18th and 19th centuries a Chinese visitor called Kushanku (or Koso Kun) demonstrated and taught Ch’uan Fa (Chinese boxing and grappling) on the island of Okinawa. The islanders apparently liked it and adapted parts of it to include with their indigenous fighting systems. This meant that ‘Te’, what was once a basic form of self-defence, was growing in complexity. Chinese influence brought open hand techniques from Ch’uan-Fa as what was now called Tode was developing. Tode’s most famous master was Sokon (Bushi) Matsumura (1798-1890), royal bodyguard to three generations of the Sho Dynasty. Due to his level of skill in the Martial Arts the name ‘Bushi’ meaning ‘Warrior’ was bestowed on him.
Shuri-te, Tomari-te and Naha-te were three different Styles of Te that had developed from different regions of Okinawa. In 1868 the soon to be renowned Gichin Funakoshi was born in the district of Yamakawa-cho in Shuri, Okinawa. He studied Shuri-te under Anko Itosu and Yasutsune Azato. Around 1902 Okinawans recognised the valuable character building aspects of karate and introduced it as part of physical education in schools. The first instructor was Anko Itosu, student of Sokon Matsumura and instructor to Funakoshi.
In 1922 Funakoshi was invited by the Japanese department of physical education to go to Tokyo to demonstrate karate. After the demonstration Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, asked Funakoshi to stay and teach karate at the Kodokan, his Judo dojo. The karate master did this and as well as teaching there, Funakoshi also instructed at Keio University, Tokyo and the Butokukai Military Arts College in Kyoto. In 1936 Funakoshi established his own dojo: the Shotokan. This gained it’s name from a combination of the Master’s pen name (‘Shoto’ or ‘pine waves’) and the Japanese for hall (kan).
Amongst those who taught at the Shotokan was Master Funakoshi’s own son, Yoshitaka (also known as Gigo). Although not much is documented about Funakoshi’s third son he is usually credited with a few adjustments of the Shotokan style. One of these was the use of deep stances that is typical of Shotokan today. Yoshitaka would have also had the means to pass on a lot of his technical differences – during the 1930s Master Funakoshi passed a lot of the teaching responsibilities to others including Yoshitaka. In 1945 Gigo was sadly taken ill and later died an early death.
The development of shotokan karate was hindered during the time of the Second World War, a time which would have been crucial in the development of both the whole art and also the style, in particular. The Shotokan dojo was destroyed in a bombing raid at the end of the World War 2 in 1945. During the ’40s, Post-war development of karate began, with most of the input coming from the late Master Nakayama and Nishiyama, 9th Dan. Around 1949 the Japan Karate Association (Nippon Karate Kyokai) was established with Funakoshi as honorary chief instructor. Masatoshi Nakayama, Takushoku university graduate and student of the master himself, was also named chief instructor. Between 1957 and 1958 the JKA was approved as a corporation by the ministry of education. In the same year the JKA held their first ever All Japan Karate Championships, won by Kanazawa sensei, which is now seen as one of the most prestigious karate competitions in existence.
Part of Nakayama’s plan for the development of Shotokan was the spread of karate worldwide. He established this by sending his young dynamic instructors around the world to spread the word of this new eastern fighting art. England was lucky enough to host many Japanese instructors, but two in particular had a massive influence on Karate in this county, Kanazawa sensei and Enoeda sensei.
(Taken from www.shotokankaratedatabase.com)