Shotokan Karate - 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 to teach in China. He found many students eager to listen to his ideas but where physically unable to keep up to perform the rigorous meditation exercises. He set out to designed a method of training to develop his followers' physical strength, and endurance. Daruma also realized that the people of China were being terrorized by thieves. So, when he developed his training exercises, he made the moves based on animals defensive maneuvers. His art became Shaolin Kenpo which formed the traditions and principles that all martial arts would follow.

Although he felt that the way of Buddha was preached for the soul, he taught that "the body, mind and soul are inseparable."

From Kung-Fu to Karate
While the origins of Karate are truly a mystery, there are some obvious influences seen in the art. Foremost there is Kung-Fu. This art form developed first by Daruma, migrated into Okinawa by fishermen who had accidentally landed in China. The art was then reinforced by the Chinese moving Buddhist temples to Okinawa. There, the art of Kung-fu, which then greatly relied on mimicking animal moves and the deadly art of Dim-Mak (Death touching or pressure point fighting), was modified by adding more grappling related techniques as well as heavy powerful striking. New striking moves came from an art known as Okinawa-Te, and possibly even from Temples in Japan that where set up by Daruma on his return trip to India, while Okinawan wrestling and the strong Japanese influences of Sumo and Ju-jitsu added to the grappling techniques now seen in Karate. From there karate branched into two main ways Shorei-Ryu and Shorin-Ryu.

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 island of Okinawa.

Funakoshi trained in both of the popular styles of Okinawan Karate of the time Shorei-ryu and Shorin-ryu. Shorin-Ryu techniques were unique to Okinawa and were designed to be more linear than the existing arts. Shorei-ryu was more similar to existing Kung Fu styles, it had more grappling and controlling moves.

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

As in all Karate styles it is Kata, formal sequences of basic techniques, that form the backbone of the tradition. The traditional Japanese martial arts, Sumo, Jujutsu and Ken-Jutsu were heavily centered around combat. Master Funakoshi instead, sought a path to physical health and stamina through individual technique. Thus, Modern Karate focused on breathing, releasing energy and outstanding mind and body control.

Entering 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. At the time the practice of martial arts was forbidden, but a man by the name of Gigori Kano had found a way around the law and Funakoshi was quick to follow his path. Kano had spent years training in Jujutsu the traditional unarmed combat techniques of the samurai. Kano new if he modified Jujutsu (the gentle art) into Judo (the gentle way) he could accomplish his goal and legalize it. What Kano did was to have his students wear white uniforms called "gi's" tied closed with colored belts representing each students training accomplishments. He then demonstrated the sports aspect of Judo to the Japanese government. The Japanese government immediately embraced the new "way" and judo became an overnight success.

During Funakoshi's demonstration, he had all his students dress in the same gis as the Judo students, then he put the belts on them and had them demonstrate impressive feats and kata. He then renamed the art from TO-TE Jutsu(The art of the Chinese hand) to Karate-Do(The way of the Empty Hand). Again the Japanese government became impressed with the new way and Karate-do became legal. 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.

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. One of Funakoshi's greatest students was Shihan Iso Obata, he became the president of the Japan Karate Association. One of Obata's finest student's Shihan Kazumi Tabata, brought Shotokan to New England and established two major Organizations the NECKC (New England Collegiate Karate Conference) and the NAKF (North American Karate Federation). Kancho John Almeida, several of his own instructors and current students were students of Master Tabata.

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