Shotokan Karate is one of the oldest and most popular styles of Karate. It was developed at the beginning of the twentieth century by Master Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) on the island of Okinawa.
Funakoshi trained in both of the popular styles of Karate that were popular in Okinawa at the time: Shorei-ryu, and Shorin-ryu.
Shorei was designed for well-built people, placed emphasis on developing physical strength and was impressive in its shear power; it utilized the heavy strikes of Okinawa-Te and some of the Sumo grappling moves.
Shorin was light and quick, with fast strikes and counterattacks, designed for people who were small in size and very agile. Shorin utilized attacks on pressure points characteristic of Dim-Mak and grappling moves from Jujutsu.
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.
The traditional Japanese martial arts, Sumo, Jujutsu and Kenjutsu were heavily centered around combat. However, in all Karate styles, it is the Katas, formal sequences of basic techniques, that form the backbone of the tradition.
Master Funakoshi 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.
In 1922, the first Karate Demonstration was held in Tokyo by Master Gichin Funakoshi and it made a powerful impression on the Japanese public.
At the time, the practice of martial arts was forbidden in Japan, but a man by the name of Gigori Kano had found a way around the law. Kano had spent years training in Jujutsu the traditional unarmed combat techniques of the samurai.
Kano knew 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 a uniform called a “Gi” which is tied closed with different colored belts representing 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.
Funakoshi was quick to follow his path. During Funakoshi’s demonstration, he had all his students dress in the same Gi as the Judo students; then he put the belts on them and had them demonstrate impressive feats and kata.
He 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.
Over time, several of the original shotokan karate masters split from the JKA organization.