Today there are four main styles of karate-do in Japan: Shotokan, Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, and Wado-ryu.

Shotokan Karate was developed from a combination of martial arts by Gichin Funakoshi and his son Gigo (Yoshitaka) Funakoshi. Gichin Funakoshi was responsible for importing karate to mainland Japan and is widely credited with popularising karate through a series of public demonstrations, and by promoting the development of university karate clubs.

Funakoshi had many students at the university clubs and outside dojos, who continued to teach karate after his death in 1957. Although there is no single "Shotokan school", they all bear Funakoshi's influence. Being one of the first and biggest styles, Shotokan is considered a traditional and influential form of karate.

Gichin Funakoshi had trained in both of the popular styles of Okinawan karate of the time: Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū. After years of study in both styles, Funakoshi created a simpler style that combined the ideals of the two. He never named his style, however, always referring to it simply as "karate." Funakoshi's karate reflects the changes made in the art by Ankō Itosu, including the Heian/Pinan kata series. Funakoshi changed the names of some of the kata in an effort to make the Okinawan kata names easier to pronounce in the Japanese Honshū dialect.

In 1924, Funakoshi adopted the Kyū/Dan rank system and the uniform (keikogi) developed by Kano Jigoro, the founder of judo. This system uses colored belts (obi) to indicate rank. Originally, karate had only three belt colors: white, brown, and black (with ranks within each).

Funakoshi awarded the first 1st dan (初段; shodan) Shotokan karate ranks on 10th April 1924.

Keikogi

Keikogi (稽古着 or 稽古衣) or dōgi (道着) is a uniform for training, used in martial arts derived from Japan, or budō. (keiko means practice, gi means dress or clothes). The prototype for the modern keikogi emerged in the late 19th century. The keikogi was developed by judo founder Kanō Jigorō.

Until the 1920s, Okinawan karate practice was usually performed in everyday clothes. Given the social climate between the Japanese and Okinawans during this time, karate was seen as brutish compared to Japanese martial arts which had their roots in samurai culture, such as jujutsu. To help market karate to the Japanese, Funakoshi adopted a uniform style similar to Kano's design. Over time, Karate practitioners modified the keikogi for karate by lightening weave of the fabric and adding strings to the inside of the jacket that are tied keep the jacket neatly closed. The jacket is also held closed by the belt or obi.

The top part of the keikogi is called the uwagi (uwa means "upper" and, again, "gi" means clothes). The pants of the keikogi are called shitabaki, which is the Japanese word for pants.

In English, the term keikogi is sometimes referred to simply as the gi, which would be an incorrect use of the word in Japanese. Often keiko is replaced with the name of the Japanese martial art being practiced.

Etymology

Shoto (松濤 Shōtō), means "pine-waves" (the movement of pine needles when the wind blows through them), and was Funakoshi's pen-name which he used in his poetic and philosophical writings and messages to his students.

The Japanese kan (館 kan) means "house" or "hall".

In honor of their sensei, Funakoshi's students created a sign reading shōtō-kan, which they placed above the entrance of the hall where Funakoshi taught. Gichin Funakoshi however never gave his style a name, just calling it karate.

Characteristics

Shotokan training is usually divided into three parts: kihon (basics), kata (forms or patterns of moves), and kumite (sparring). Techniques in kihon and kata are characterized by deep, long stances that provide stability, enable powerful movements, and strengthen the legs. Shotokan is often regarded as a 'hard' and 'external' martial art because it is taught that way to beginners and coloured belts to develop strong basic techniques and stances. Initially strength and power are demonstrated instead of slower, more flowing motions. Those who progress to brown and black belt level develop a much more fluid style that incorporates grappling and some aikido-like techniques, which can be found in the black belt katas. Kumite techniques mirror these stances and movements at a basic level, but are less structured, with a focus instead on speed and efficiency.

Twenty Precepts of Karate

Gichin Funakoshi laid out the, Twenty Precepts of Karate (or Niju kun) which form the foundations of the art, before some of his students established the Japanese Karate Association (JKA). Within these twenty principles, based heavily on Bushido and Zen, lies the philosophy of Shotokan. The principles allude to notions of humility, respect, compassion, patience, and both an inward and outward calmness. It was Funakoshi's belief that through karate practice and observation of these 20 principles, the karateka would improve their person.

You can find the 20 principles on our website by clicking here.

Dojo Kun

The Dojo kun lists five philosophical rules for training in the dojo; seek perfection of character, be faithful, endeavor to excel, respect others, refrain from violent behavior. Some shotokan clubs recite the Dojo kun at the beginning and/or end of each class to provide motivation and a context for further training.

Funakoshi also wrote: "The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of the participant."

You can find the dojo kun on our website under the members area. To listen to the audios, you will need to have registered with our club and be provided with a username and password.

Ranks

Rank is used in karate to indicate experience, expertise, and to a lesser degree, seniority. As with many martial arts, Shotokan uses a system of colored belts to indicate rank. Most Shotokan schools use the kyū / dan system.

 

Kihon

Kihon (基本, きほん) is a Japanese term meaning "basics" or "fundamentals." The term is used to refer to the basic techniques that are taught and practiced as the foundation of most Japanese martial arts.

The practice and mastery of kihon is essential to all advanced training, and includes the practice of correct body form and breathing, while practicing basics such as stances, punches, kicks, blocks, and thrusts, but it also includes basic representative kata.

Kihon is not only practicing of techniques, it is also the karateka fostering the correct spirit and attitude at all times.

Kihon techniques tend to be practiced often, in many cases during each practice session. They are considered fundamental to mastery and improvement of all movements of greater complexity.

Styles of karate differ greatly in the emphasis placed on kihon. Kihon may be practiced as "floor exercises", where the same technique or combination is repeated multiple times as the students move back and forth across the floor.

Kihon may take the form of prearranged partner drills whereby two students face each other and alternate execution of a technique. This approach combines repetition with training in distancing. Targets for punching and kicking, such as bags, shields, or dummies, are generally used at more advanced stages of kihon training to strengthen muscles, bones, and skin.

Kata

Kata is a set sequence of karate moves organized into a pre-arranged fight against imaginary opponents. In Shotokan, kata is not a performance or a demonstration, but is for individual karateka to practice full techniques—with every technique potentially a killing blow (ikken hisatsu)—while paying particular attention to form and timing (rhythm).

The original Shotokan kata syllabus is introduced in Funakoshi's book Karate-do Kyohan, which is the Master Text of Shotokan karate. When the Japanase Karate Association (JKA) was formed, 27 kata were laid down as the kata syllabus for this organisation. Even today, thousands of Shotokan dojo only practice 26 of these 27 kata.

The standard JKA kata are:

Taikyoku shodan (太極初段)

Heian shodan (平安初段)

Heian nidan (平安二段)

Heian sandan (平安三段)

Heian yondan (平安四段)

Heian godan (平安五段)

Bassai dai (披塞大)

Jion (慈恩)

Empi (燕飛)

Kanku dai (観空大)

Hangetsu (半月)

Jitte (十手)

Gankaku (岩鶴)

Tekki shodan (鉄騎初段)

Tekki nidan (鉄騎二段)

Tekki sandan (鉄騎三段)

Nijūshiho (二十四步)

Chinte (珍手)

Sōchin (壯鎭)

Meikyō (明鏡)

Unsu (雲手)

Bassai shō (披塞小)

Kankū shō (観空小)

Wankan (王冠)

Gojūshiho shō (五十四歩小)

Gojūshiho dai (五十四歩大)

Ji'in (慈陰)

NB - Taikyoku Shodan, was developed by Yoshitaka Funakoshi, the son of Gichin Funakoshi, as a basic introduction to karate kata, but has been discontinued in most of today’s Shotokan Dojos, however, in Kosmo SKC,  we do practice this kata as the beginner kata for white belts.

Kumite

Kumite, or sparring (lit. Meeting of hands), is the practical application of kata to real opponents. While the techniques used in sparring are only slightly different than kihon, the formalities of kumite in Shotokan karate were first instituted by Masatoshi Nakayama wherein basic, intermediate, and advanced sparring techniques and rules were formalised.

Shotokan practitioners first learn how to apply the techniques taught in kata to hypothetical opponents by way of kata bunkai. Kata bunkai then matures into controlled kumite.

Kumite is the third part of the Shotokan triumvirate of kihon, kata and kumite. Kumite is taught in ever increasing complexity from beginner through low grade blackbelt (1st - 2nd) to intermediate (3rd - 4th) and advanced (5th onwards) level practitioners.

Beginners first learn kumite through basic drills, of one, three or five attacks to the head (jodan) or body (chudan) with the defender stepping backwards whilst blocking and only countering on the last defence. These drills use basic (kihon) techniques and develop a sense of timing and distance in defence against a known attack.

At around purple belt level karateka learn one-step sparring (ippon kumite). Though there is only one step involved, rather than three or five, this exercise is more advanced because it involves a greater variety of attacks and blocks usually the defenders own choice. It also requires the defender to execute a counter-attack faster than in the earlier types of sparring. Counter-attacks may be almost anything, including strikes, grapples, and take-down manoeuvres.

The next level of kumite is freestyle one-step sparring (jiyu ippon kumite). This is similar to one-step sparring but requires the karateka to be in motion. Practicing one-step sparring improves free sparring (jiyu kumite) skills, and also provides an opportunity for practicing major counter-attacks.

Free sparring (jiyu kumite) is the last element of sparring learned. In this exercise, two training partners are free to use any karate technique or combination of attacks, and the defender at any given moment is free to avoid, block, counter, or attack with any karate technique. Training partners are encouraged to make controlled and focused contact with their opponent, but to withdraw their attack as soon as surface contact has been made.This allows attacking a full range of target areas (including punches and kicks to the face, head, throat, and body) with no padding or protective gloves, but maintains a degree of safety for the participants.

Kaishu ippon kumite is an additional sparring exercise that is usually introduced for higher grades. This starts in a similar manner to freestyle one-step sparring; the attacker names the attack he/she will execute, attacks with that technique, and the defender blocks and counters the attack. Unlike freestyle one-step sparring, however, the attacker may then be required to block the defender's counter-attack and strike back. This exercise is often considered more difficult than either freestyle one-step sparring or free sparring, as the defender typically cannot escape to a safe distance in time to avoid the counter to the counter-attack.