What is Shotokan Karate?

Grandmaster Gichin Funakoshi
Grandmaster Gichin Funakoshi

Shotokan Karate was founded by Grandmaster Gichin Funakoshi who studied Te under Grandmaster Itosu and Grandmaster Higaonna in Okinawa. Back then, Karate was called Te (hand), and different types of Te were studied in various areas of Okinawa.

Grandmaster Funakoshi was the first Karate-ka to introduce Te to mainland Japan. He demonstrated his Karate at the physical education Expo held in Tokyo in 1921. Funakoshi was supposed to stay for only a short period of time, but Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, was impressed by Funakoshi’s Karate, and persuaded him to stay longer to teach Karate at the Kodokan (the Mecca of Judo).

After Grandmaster Funakoshi taught at the Kodokan, he started teaching privately at Meisei Juku where he stayed. At the request of college students, he began to teach Karate at several colleges, including Waseda University, with Master Noguchi and Master Watanabe, Keio University with Master Obata, and Taku Shoku University, with Master Nakayama. Around this time, he changed the writing of Karate in Chinese characters from “Karate” (Chinese Hand) to “Karate” (Empty Hand). This meant not only to defend yourself without weapons (empty hands) but also to create a state of empty mind (Kuu), so that you can be ready for any type of situation mentally.

There were two major Styles in Karate in Okinawa: Shorei-Ryu, which stressed power and strength, and Shorin-Ryu, which stressed speed and sharpness. Grandmaster Funakoshi selected 15 Katas (Forms) from these two styles and changed their names from Okinawan to Japanese.

After Grandmaster Funakoshi passed away in 1957, his followers started calling his Karate “Shotokan”, derived from his pen name “Shoto”. Today, Shotokan Karate is studied by many and is the most popular traditional Japanese Karate style in Japan and all over the world.