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History of shotokan

​​The history of the martial arts style of Shotokan karate begins with Gichin Funakoshi, a man that is given great credit not only for its birth but also for helping to popularise karate in general.


Gichin Funakoshi (his pen-name was “Shoto”, hence “Shoto-kan” meaning Shoto’s club) was a school teacher, and in conjunction with Itosu and others had karate introduced to the Okinawan school system. In 1921, he lead a demonstration for the then Crown Prince Hirohito who was passing through Okinawa on his way to Europe. As a result of the interest shown by the Crown Prince, Funakoshi received invitations from various groups in Tokyo to demonstrate his art. Invitations came from, among others, the Ministry of Education and the Kodokan (judo’s headquarters). These demonstrations lead to the establishment of many clubs, most notably in Japan’s universities.

During this period (1920’s-40’s) what was to become known as “Shotokan” continued to be developed by Funakoshi and his senior students, especially his son, Yoshitaka (1906-1945). In order for karate to be accepted as a Japanese art (and not an Okinawan import) certain changes were necessary. One of these was to change the characters used to spell karate so that the meaning became “empty hand” rather than “Chinese hand”. Other requirements were the adoption of a standardised grading system and a standardised training uniform.

As a result of the Second World War, many of the top karate experts were either killed or stopped training. As Japan gradually recovered after the war and formal training resumed, it became apparent that much knowledge had been lost. In 1948 a meeting was held between some of the remaining top karate practitioners in Japan to pool their knowledge and standardise what was being taught. This meeting resulted in the formation of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1949, with Funakoshi as chief instructor.

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