Shotokan Karate Histor


Karate is a system of fighting using the hands, feet, head, knees, and elbows as weapons. Karate was developed on the island of Okinawa and brought to Japan in the early 20th Century. Karate is a high risk, high yield martial art with an emphasis on maximizing the damage caused by each strike by harnessing every possible ounce of physical and mental leverage to exceed the normal limitations of the practitioner.

Shotokan Karate is recognizable by its linear, direct punching, blocking, and kicking techniques from low stances. Shotokan emphasizes correct posture, correct joint alignment, and formality of basic technique above all else. The Shotokan expert is expected to perform using strictly defined basic techniques even under harsh conditions. Basic techniques are defined to the minutest detail, and performing them with absolute perfection is given the highest priority. The intrinsic mastery of one’s body dynamics to generate fantastic amounts of power is really what sets Shotokan Karate apart from other styles. The modern science of Biomechanics and Sports Medicine has been fused with ancient Japanese and Okinawan training methods to produce one of the most powerful Martial Arts in Human history.

The Shotokan view is that purity of raw technique is most important. The idea behind this is that one elegant technique mastered so completely that it is as natural as flipping a light switch will finish off the opponent quickly and efficiently. In situations where there are multiple opponents, such an ability is believed essential because there may not be time to throw more than one technique per opponent, and grappling and getting tangled up with your adversary when two others are also trying to harm you is probably unwise. Therefore, each Karate technique is maximized at the expense of learning more complicated defenses. In combat, less is usually more. Simple techniques win (physical, mental and emotional) engagements. The Shotokan belief is that nothing is more important than strong basic technique.

When attacked, Shotokan fighters stand their ground. They may shift one step to the side in order to flank the attacker, but the most common defense used is a pre-emptive strike against an incoming opponent. While Shotokan is simple and does not employ a wide variety of motions, the few techniques are designed to be mastered to such a high degree of precision and ease of use that they "truly" become extremely effective weapons.

Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi has said, "The mind and the technique become one in true Karate-Do." We strive to make our physical techniques pure expressions of our mind's intention, and to improve our mind's focus by understanding the essence of the physical techniques. By polishing our Karate practice, we are polishing our own character and spirit. For example, eliminating weak and indecisive movements in our Karate helps us to eliminate weakness and indecision in our minds--and vice versa.

It is in this sense that Karate becomes a way of life, as we try to become very strong but happy and peaceful people. As Tsutomu Ohshima, chief instructor of Shotokan Karate of America, has put it, "We must be strong enough to express our true minds to any opponent, anytime, in any circumstance. We must be calm enough to express ourselves humbly."

Training in karate-do can be divided into three main categories:

Kihon (basic technical skills),

Kumite (sparring with another person),

Kata (formal training exercises performed by oneself).


Chatan Yara - (1668 - 1756) Master of Okinawan Weapons, studied in China at age 12 and was considered one of the famous Masters of the early 1700's.
Takahara Pechin - (1683 - 1762)
Responsible for the early training
of Karate Sakugawa, studied in China and under Master Chatan Yara.

Satunuku « Tode » Sakugawa -
(1733 - 181 5) Developed the Kata Ku Shan Ku, studied under both
Takahara Pechin and the Chinese Master Ku Shan ku.
Sokon  “Bushi” Matsumura - (1796 - 1893) Created the Kata Shinto and Seisan. Studied in China
and under Karate Sakugawa for ten years.
Yasutsune "Ankoh" Itosu - (1830 - 1915) Itosu created the Pinan series of kata and introduced Karate to public in 1903.
Gichin Funakoshi (10th Nov 1868 to 26th April 1957)
Masatoshi Nakayama 1913-1987
Kanazawa Hirokazu
Tsutomu Ohshima

Chatan Yara is a legendary figure in the Okinawan Martial Arts legacy. He travelled to Fukien\China in order to learn Chinese Kempo and weaponry and stayed there for 20 years. His teacher was Wong Chung-Yoh.

He created the kata: "Chatan Yara No Sai," "Chatan Yara Sho No Tonfa," and "Chatan Yara No Kon" & are widely practiced today.

Takahara was a monk, mapmaker and astronomer. Takahara Peichin was born in the village of Akata Cho in Southern Shuri. Takahara who 67 at the time and was a famous warrior of the Okinawan fighting arts. Sakugawa respectfully asked Takahara to become his student, and was accepted. He studied under him diligently.

He belonged to an upper class family of Okinawan society. The term "Peichin" stands for "senior". Some sources claim that he was a Buddhist monk from Shaolin and Martial Art expert. He was well educated person. His expertises were astronomy and mapping and he indeed mapped Okinawa. Takahara traveled a lot during his lifetime. He was well known as a great fighter who emphasized ethical principals as "Ijo" (compassion, humility and modesty), "Fo" (seriousness, devotion and dedication) and "Katsu" (deep understanding and essence of techniques). Takahara regarded Martial arts as way of life and he is considered as "father of Okinawan Karate".

Takahara attributed a major importance to Kata and it's significances. He saw Kata as an efficient instrument to understand and improvement fighting techniques.

He was a student of Chatan Yara and his most famous student was "Tode" Sakugawa.

"Tode" Satunuku Sakugawa
(first Teacher of Okinawan Karate)
One of the first great masters of Okinawa was Tode Sakugawa. Tode Sakugawa was born in Shuri in 1733 and died in 1815. At the age of 17, Tode Sakugawa began his martial arts training under an Okinawan monk named Peichin Takahara. At age 23, Sakugawa was advised by Takahara to go and train under Kusanku, a Chinese master in Kung Fu. For the next six years, Sakugawa learned all that he could. Sakugawa learned valuable lessons from karate and became a great master.

Tode Sakugawa was an important factor in the development of TE on the Okinawan Islands. Tode Sakugawa was credited with forming several Bo katas which are still practiced today. In addition, Sakugawa also created Dojo Kun which has become a tradition with many styles, including our Shito-Ryu Karate-Do Genbu-Kai!

Sokon Bushi Matsurmuras - (1796 - 1893) first teacher was seventy eight years old and a past student of both the great Takahara Pechin (Pechin is a title of status) (1683-1760) and Kusanku (Chinese official). His name was "Tode" (Chinese hand way) Sakugawa (1733-1815). Matsumura was the last of many students of Sakugawa but became the most famous. Many years later "Bushi" Matsumura studied with a Chinese trader named Chinto. It is believed Bushi Matsumura created the kata Chinto after his teacher from the movements he had taught him.

The Royal family of Sho acquired "Bushi" Matsumura for their service. There he became Chief Tode Instructor and a bodyguard of the King. Some time later around 1830 he traveled to China to study Shaolin Gong-fu (Kempo or Fist method). Most secret of what Bushi Matsumura learned was the White Crane method. This system he taught only to his son, Nabi Matsumura (1860-1930). As part as an envoy of the King he had the opportunity to travel into the Chinese province of Fukien. It is believed while there he studied under Ason and Iwah, both military attaches. The title "Bushi" was given to him by King Sho for his great accomplishments. Many times Bushi Matsumura had to prove his ability against foe, though never was he defeated.

Tode was the system of Te practiced among the upper class. The art of Te (hand) as it was known in Okinawa had three names. Each representing the township it was taught in. They were Tomari-te, Naha-te and Shuri-te. Bushi Matsumura being in the township of Shuri taught Shuri-te. After many years the name Shuri-te was replaced with Shorin-Ryu. Bushi Matsumura retired and moved to Sakiyama village in Shuri. He had many students, among them were Yasutsune Azato, Yasutsune Itosu, Choshin Chibana, Choki Motobu, and Chotoku Kyan. It would be his son who would pass on his purest teachings known as Shorin-Ryu. Later this system was passed onto Nabe Matsumura's nephew, Sokon Kohan (1889-1920).

Yasutsune Itosu
Perhaps the greatest teacher in the history of Karate, Yasutsune "Anko" Itosu simplified many of the ancient katas, created several new ones of his own, and pioneered teaching methods that would revolutionize the art by making its study easier and less dangerous for future generations. For this, he is recognized as the father of modern Karate.

Born in Shuri, Itosu began his Karate training at an early age under Sokon Matsumura and subsequently trained under several other teachers, possibly including Kosaku Matsumora of Tomari. Well-educated in Chinese and Japanese literature, Itosu served as a translator to Sho Tai, the last of the Ryukyuan kings, until Sho Tai's fall from power in 1879.

In 1901, Itosu first introduced Karate into the physical education curriculum of the Okinawan public school system. This was a crucial step in transforming the public --Perception of Karate as a feudalistic killing art to one in which the emphasis was -in health and spiritual well-being.

Itosu created the original Pinan (peaceful mind) katas, shodan through godan, practiced today in various forms by virtually all Shorin-ryu styles.

A list of Itosu's students reads like a who's who of famous Karate masters and includes: Gichin Funakoshi, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Chosin Chibana, Kentsu Yabu, Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni, and Shigeru Nakamura.

Gichin Funakoshi
Gichin Funakoshi, known as the founder of modern karate, was a professor at the okinawan teacher‚Äôs college and president of the okinawan association of martial arts. In 1922, he was invited to lecture and demonstrated the art of karate at the first national athletic exhibition in Tokyo. The demonstration turned out to be a great success due to the inspiring personality of master Funakoshi. He was flooded with requests until he was able to establish the style of Shotokan in 1936, a great landmark in history of karate. When funakoshi Sensei was not only a Guinness in martial arts but also a literary talent and signed his work ‚Äúshoto,‚Äù hi pen name. Hence, the school where he taught came to be known as shoto‚Äôs school of shotokan. He combined the techniques and katas of the two major okinawan styles to form his own style of karate As a result, modern day shotokan includes the powerful techniques of the Shorei School and the lighter, more flexible movements of the shorin school. When the Japan karate association was established in 1949, gichin funakoshi was appointed as the chief instructor due to his advanced skills and leadership abilities. Although funakoshi sensei was famous as a great karate master, he always emphasized the most important benefit from karate training is the development of spiritual values and the perfection of character of its participants. After training and teaching karate for more than 75 years, master funakoshi died in 1957 at the age of 88 years old.

Karate-Do is a combination of three words: kara (empty). Te (hand) and do (way). Grand master Funakoshi formalized shotokan into a system, developing set techniques (kihon) that have to be perfected, and structured fighting forms (kata) from several styles of empty hand (kara-te) fighting, primarily Chinese and okinawan. These train the body and the mind for the next phase: fighting techniques (kumite). The fully trained student of karate (karate-ka) must be adapting at all three. Proficiency takes years of consistent practice through exercise of patience and perseverance.

In 1935, master Funikoshi published his third book: a master text titled karate-do kyohan. For the book, a famous artist drew a symbolic tiger that has become associated with shotokan. The tiger is a play on words from the term used to describe the master text of Japanese martial arts, tora no maki (tiger scroll). It implies that karate-do kyohan is the master text for shotokan karate. Karate-do is an art of self-defense, an exercise, and a sport. According to shihan (grand master) Gichin Funakoshi, “the ultimate aim of karate-do lies not neither in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of character of its participants.” This is the first of his twenty precepts, or guiding principles, for the student of karate (karate-ka). Developing and perfecting character is accomplished through the perfection of techniques and applications. Character development lies in patient repetition of techniques. The essence of karate techniques is kime, which begins with correct execution and ends with imparting maximum power in the shortest possible time. It requires patients and regular practice, intense concentration, and effort in performance.

Master Nakayama Masatoshi (1913-1987) Carrying On the Spirit and Tradition of Funakoshi Gichin's Work Master Nakayama Masatoshi had martial arts in his blood. Born in April 1913 in Yamaguchi Prefecture, he was a descendant of the Sanada clan, in the Nagano region. His ancestors were highly-skilled instructors of kenjutsu (the art of swordsmanship).

The author of a great many books on the subject of Shotokan Karate these publications are today still considered as essential reading on the subject for any serious student. Master Nakayama was the Chief Instructor of the JKA from 1955 until his death on April 15, 1987. With his passing the world of Shotokan lost one of its few remaining direct links to the Founder, and Father of Shotokan Karate, Sensei Gichin Funakoshi.

Upon entering Takushoku University in 1932, Master Nakayama immediately joined the university’s karate club, studying under Master Funakoshi Gichin and one of the master’s sons, Funakoshi Yoshitaka. Deciding to devote his life to karate, he traveled to China after graduation for further study and training.

When he returned from China in May 1946, he got together with fellow Shotokan practitioners from his university days to revive the Shotokan karate tradition with Funakoshi Gichin as Supreme Master. Together, in 1949, they established the Japan Karate Association. In 1955 a headquarters dojo was built at Yotsuya in Tokyo. It spurred the building of JKA branch dojo all across Japan.

The efforts of the Japan Karate Association to embody and promote the spirit of karate-do were highly regarded by the Ministry of Education (now Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture). In 1957, the Ministry granted the JKA exclusive legal recognition in Japan as an official association of members for the promotion of the way of karate.

During that time and over the next several years, Master Nakayama made immeasurable contributions to the art. He developed, together with his fellow JKA instructors, a new, rational method of teaching that was tailored to the level and goals of each student: karate as a physical development tool, karate as a method of self-defense, karate for matches, etc. He also emphasized the necessity for each aspect of training to be physically and kinesthetically practical, and he scientifically analyzed how to make them so.

Moreover, to ensure that the true essence of karate-do was being passed on correctly, he and his disciples established a two-year specialist instructor training program, which is still the only specialist instruction system in the world of karate. And the training never ends; the JKA is,and always has been, the only karate organization whose full-time in- structors continue to get together every day for joint practice. Through this program, JKA instructors constantly endeavor to refine and perfect their karate.

Master Nakayama also invented karate’s first match system: the first ever JKA All Japan Karate Championship was held at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in October, 1957—and was attended by so many participants and spectators that the venue was filled to capacity.

His adaptation of kata and kumite for the match system was a huge success; the 5th JKA All Japan Karate Championship in 1961 was even attended by His Majesty the Crown Prince of Japan (now His Majesty the Emperor of Japan). Karate was growing increasingly popular throughout the world.

Master Nakayama valued the spiritual aspects of karate that his teacher Funakoshi Gichin espoused—especially the virtue of modesty and the spirit of harmony. He never tired of teaching, by his example more than his words, that to demonstrate these qualities requires not only a deep sense of propriety, but also a constant remembrance that “there is no first attack in karate.”

In actual practice, Master Nakayama insisted that each technique should demonstrate one’s powerful and wholehearted personal best. He also emphasized that it is crucial to study the inseparable trinity of karate—kihon, kata, and kumite—as one. And he continually reminded everyone to keep in mind that “the way of karate we pursue is a bare-handed martial art which we practice with an unwavering heart in a state of emptiness; it is a way of developing the personality.”

In his later years, he summarized all his techniques and philosophy in the famous 11-volume series entitled “Best Karate.”

Master Nakayama passed away in 1987, at the age of 74.

Hirokazu Kanazawa
Born 1931 in Japan (10th Dan)
One of the world’s most renowned and respected traditional karate masters alive, Kanazawa Shihan is the only karateka ever to have won the notorious ‘All Japan Karate Championships’ an incredible three times in a row. On one occasion he won the finals while nursing a broken wrist from an earlier event. In recent years, his eldest son, Nobuaki, has preserved the family reputation by winning the current All Japan Championships.

Although Kanazawa is now a dedicated Karateist he started out originally as a Judoist. While in high school he held the 2nd Degree rank. After graduation he enrolled at Nippon University. One day, however, he happened to see students from another university practicing Karate. Impressed by their skills, he decided immediately to learn this art of self defense. The students he had seen were from Takushoku University which, at that time, was the most active in Karate participation, and his desire to learn Karate was so strong that he switched to Takushoku.

Kanazawa soon became the protege of the late headmaster of the Shotokan style, Matsatoshi Nakayama (10th Dan) and is one of the few remaining karateka privileged to have studied under Master Gichin Funakoshi.
It took Kanazawa one and one half years of disciplined training to attain the 1st Degree rank After three years he gained the 2nd Degree rank and passed the other members of the club who had started before him.

In 1956 he passed the exam for 3rd Degree rank and also passed the instructor’s exam. The first All-Japan Karate Tournament was held in Tokyo in 1957.

Kanazawa’s right hand had been broken at this time, and he was not going to participate. His mother, however, had come in from the country to watch him, and not wanting to disappoint her, he decided to enter in at least one match. A doctor had to follow him around to check on the injured hand and make sure it had not been aggravated in any way after each match. Using his left hand to fake and block and saving his bandaged right hand for the precise moment, he won all matches on clear one-point blows.

Kanazawa has sustained many injuries. He has had two broken hands, broken fingers, an injured shoulder and spine, and has had to have stitches over his right eye and right ear. He is quick to point out that these injuries were his own fault.
In addition to Kanazawa Shihan’s mastery of karate-do and expertise with various traditional weaponry, he also has a very extensive knowledge of Chinese art of Tai-Chi, having studied it to its conclusion under professor Wong for more than thirty years.

Currently, Kanazawa Shihan is both Chairman and World Chief Instructor of the world’s largest Shotokan Karate organisation, the Shotokan Karate-do International Federation (SKIF), with in excess of two and a half million members worldwide, in one hundred and  three countries (at the last count). In April 2000, while attending the 7th S.K.I.F. World Championships in Bali, Shihan Kanazawa was promoted to the grade of 10th Dan. He is currently the only living Shotokan Master to hold the grade of 10th Dan. Although having such a formidable pedigree and being accorded legendary status, Kanazawa Shihan is also extremely charismatic but easily approachable. Being a natural teacher and communicator, he chooses to spend individual time with as many of his students as possible. Demand for his services, worldwide, is on the increase and his schedule is extremely intense.

Tsutomu Ohshima

Tsutomu Ohshima is the founder and Shihan (Chief Instructor) of Shotokan Karate of America (SKA), and is also recognized as chief instructor of many other Shotokan organizations worldwide.

Mr. Ohshima was born on August 6, 1930, and by the age of five had already entered the disciplined and rigorous world of Japanese martial arts. Practicing daily, he pursued sumo wrestling from the age of five until he was fifteen; kendo (Japanese sword fighting) from the ages of eight to fifteen, and judo from the ages of nine to thirteen.

Mr. Ohshima's distinguished association with Shotokan karate began at Waseda University, beginning in 1948. While he was there he trained directly under the style's founder, Master Funakoshi, until 1953. His training was also influenced by his leading seniors, who were, in order of seniority:

Hiroshi Noguchi, First Waseda Captain
Shigeru Egami
Toshio Kamata-Watanabe
Todao Okuyama
Matsuo Shibuya

Seniors Egami, Kamata-Watanabe, and Okuyama have each honored Mr. Ohshima and Shotokan Karate of America by visiting the United States to observe and instruct our members.

At the All-Japan Sandan Promotional in 1952 Master Funakoshi personally awarded Mr. Ohshima his sandan (third degree black belt) rank, while honoring him with the highest score of any participant. Also in 1952 he became the Captain of the Waseda University Karate Club, working with Master Funakoshi. In 1957 Mr. Ohshima also received his godan (fifth degree black belt) rank from Master Funakoshi, the highest rank awarded by Funakoshi and still the highest rank achievable in SKA.

It was also during 1952 that Mr. Ohshima innovated the judging system still used in modern day tournaments. However, for students wishing to participate, he cautions that tournaments should not be viewed as an expression of true karate itself.

Mr. Ohshima left Japan in 1955 to continue his studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where, in January 1956, he led his first U.S. practice. The first university karate club in the United States was founded by Mr. Ohshima, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA, in 1957. In 1959 the Southern California Karate Association (SCKA) was founded, and for the next ten years the reputation and membership of the SCKA continued to grow.
Many new dojos were started by Mr. Ohshima's black belt instructors in California and across the nation. Thus the organization was renamed Shotokan Karate of America in 1969.

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