Although the ancient origins of karate are hard to pin down, we do know that the techniques used in karate today were developed by many ancient martial artist. According to legend, Daruma (also known as Bodhidharma) was a Buddhist monk who travelled from India to China to teach Buddhism in the 5th or 6th century. His training methods were so demanding that his disciples dropped from exhaustion. In order to build up their strength and endurance, he developed a method of training the mind and body. His training was taught in the Shaolin Temple in China, where the techniques were refined and developed into fighting forms known as Shaolin Kung Fu.
In the 16th Century, Shaolin Kung Fu found its way to Okinawa from China. It combined with the native Okinawan martial arts techniques to develop into several Okinawan styles. During some periods of Okinawan history, the owning and carrying of weapons was banned. Each ban resulted in great advancements in the techniques of unarmed combat. Secret training flourished and the styles became more efficient and powerful.
Master Gichin Funakoshi was the founder of the modern art of karate. Born in 1868 (his real birth date was 1869, but in order to enter a medical school, he changed it to 1868), he began to study martial arts at the age of 11 and was a student of the two masters of the time (Azato and Itosu). He grew so proficient that he was initiated into all the major styles of karate in Okinawa at the time.
In 1922, Master Funakoshi, president of the Okinawa association of the Spirit of Martial Arts, was chosen to demonstrate karate at the first National Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo. This led to the introduction of the ancient martial art to the rest of Japan. At the urging of friends and officials, he remained in Tokyo to teach.
Tsutomu Ohshima was one of Master Funakoshi’s last direct pupils (1948 ~ 1953) studying under him while attending Waseda University inTokyo, Japan. In 1955, Ohshima Sensei came to the United States and was the first person to teach Karate in this country. In 1959 he organized the Southern California Karate Association, which has grown over the years to become a nationwide organization, Shotokan Karate of America.
A Short History of Shotokan Karate
Master Gichin Funakoshi is widely considered the “father” of modern day karate. He was born in the Shuri prefecture in Okinawa in 1868 and at the age of 11 began to study Karate under two of Okinawa’s top masters, Anko Itosu and Yasutsune Azato. In time, he became a master in his own right and in 1922 he was invited to demonstrate karate to the Japanese public for the very first time. The demonstration was such a success he was invited to stay in Japan and teach, which he did with great success.
For Sensei Funakoshi, the word ‘karate’ eventually took on a deeper meaning than just martial arts training, transforming into what is has become known as karate-do, the ‘way of the empty hand.’ He was to modify the Okinawan art by taking inspiration from traditional Japanese budo (kendo, judo, etc.) and integrated their philosophical aspects into his and his student’s training. This became a total discipline, which represented a synthesis of Okinawan and Japanese schools and in 1936 he established the ‘SHOTOKAN’ style of Japanese karate which was to be greatly influenced by his son Yoshitaka (Giko) and Masatoshi Nakayama, first headmaster of the Japan Karate Association.
Whereas his father was responsible for transforming karate from a mere fighting technique into a philosophical martial ‘do’ (way of life), Yoshitaka was put in charge of developing, helped by other important martial artists, a karate technique that definitively separated Japanese karate-do from the local Okinawan art, thus giving it a completely different and at the same time notoriously Japanese flavor.
It is upon these concepts that in 1948, the Japan Karate Association (JKA) was founded. The establishment of the JKA led the way to the spread of Shotokan karate throughout the world. Master Masatoshi Nakayama, one of Funakoshi’s greatest students, succeeded him as the headmaster of the JKA and during his time there he further developed Shotokan, based on his own research, into the style we know today.
It was through master Nakayama’s vision that Shotokan has spread throughout the world by enriching many people’s lives in many countries, while other senior instructors stayed in Japan at the Sohonbu to teach the next generation of Shotokan masters.
Other notable instructors who came out of Master Funakoshi’s dojo:
Hirokazu Kanazawa – Shotokan Karate International
Hidetaka Nishiyama – International Traditional Karate Federation
Tsutomu Ohshima – Shotokan Karate of America
Teruyuki Okazaki - International Shotokan Karate Federation
Tetsuhiko Asai – Japan Karate Association
Martial Arts Concepts
Many variables make up an effective martial art and, by extension, realistic self-defense techniques and mental attitude. Below is a partial list of terms that will serve to set the foundation to understand Shotokan karate principles.
Budo - The way of the warrior, or the way of martial arts. Term originally applied to the Japanese class known as Samurai. These men and women lived a life full of the constant threat of mortal combat. When one speaks of the way of the warrior in modern times, we refer to dedicating oneself to a code of honor, readiness, respect, humility, and an intense appreciation of life. A samurai’s most important priority in life was honor, and he would commit suicide if he felt he had dishonored himself.
We don’t expect martial artists to go to those lengths today, but we do place importance on budo basic virtues. Budo applies to everything we do, including our work, home life, social interactions, even driving. At work, for example, budo means that we do everything to the best of our ability and maintain the highest ethical standards. Therefore, work is not something into which we put just enough effort to get by and receive a paycheck. Even the most monotonous and lowly work must be done with pride and care. Training in the martial arts also requires that we strive to put in maximum effort and dedication at all times.
Choushi - Rhythm, especially related to performing techniques during katas or attacks against an opponent. Kata’s are groups of self-defense techniques which follow predetermined patterns. When executed properly, katas are dynamic and interesting. When a kata is performed without proper rhythm, it is like playing music without meter.
Do - The “way” of ... for example, Ken-do, Ju-do, Karate-do, Aiki-do, Bu-do. This term generally means to live one’s life according to the principles and morals of a martial arts warrior. That is to say: treating people with respect, behaving in an honorable manner, practicing the martial arts diligently, seeking justice and truth, and being honest and pure of intention. Therefore, “Do” does not merely apply to the way one trains in karate but to the way we behave in every aspect of our lives. In other words, “Do” does not begin and end at the dojo entrance; it permeates every aspect of our lives.
Fudoshin - Immovable mind, imperturbability of mind in times of emergency, strong will. Some people have innate Fudoshin, while others must develop it over time, if at all. Most martial arts help to develop Fudoshin through discipline, commitment and training. Another way of looking at this is as the will to overcome any obstacle or adversity.
Go No Sen - Block, shift or retreat when an opponent attacks, then counter-attack. This mode of defense is the most common reaction to an attack because our natural instinct is to avoid being hit.
Hara - Concept of the “center”; the center of existence, the abdominal region, etc. Kime (“power,” “intent,” “commitment,” “decisiveness,” in Japanese) is said to originate from just below the navel when using proper karate techniques and having a proper attitude. When executing techniques, the hara is what unites the actions of the body and mind in order to achieve maximum impact. A strong hara also helps make the person more resistant to blows against the body.
Hyoshi - Timing. This term is similar to Choushi or rhythm but relates mainly to kumite (“sparring” in Japanese). As with rhythm, correct timing is important and can be the difference between winning and losing a battle. Timing is connected to accuracy because executing a good technique requires that it land in the right place at the right time.
Karate Ni Sente Nashi - “There is no first strike (nor offensive) in Karate.” This is the first precept of karate-do. A martial artist should never be the one to start a conflict or throw the first punch. That is why it is said that most karate katas begin with a defensive technique.
Sensei Gichin Funakoshi also said “Karate begins and ends with respect.” Having this attitude reduces the chance of getting into conflicts and needing to use violence. This precept is sometimes hard to follow, especially if someone attacks you.
There is a contradictory but equally valid rule which states that “If someone is going to attack you, hit them first and hit them hard.” One can imagine that, after reaching a very high level in martial arts, one will almost never be in a situation that can’t be settled peacefully so violence is averted altogether. Or, if someone does attack, we have already sensed a threat and kept enough distance to enable evasion or self-defense maneuvers.
Kiai - From “ki” and “ai” which is a contraction of the Japanese verb “awasu,” i.e. “to unite,” or, literally “spirit meeting,” used in Bujutsu to coordinate and mobilize energy, used at the point of impact when executing a technique. Shouting the kiai increases power by uniting technique, strength, will power, spirit and focus at the moment of impact.
The kiai is itself considered a unique technique that must be developed and perfected. The kiai also helps clear the mind and eliminate fear during actual combat. It is said that an old master in Japan could knock birds off tree branches with his kiai alone. In fact, a strong and sharp kiai can end a fight because the attacker may think you are crazy or sense your power and decide that you are not someone he should mess with.
Kiai must be executed at the exact moment of impact in order for it to have maximum effectiveness. One additional benefit to kiai is that it forces air out of the lungs, which is correct for most offensive and defensive techniques. The act of expelling air, kime, proper technique, and kiai working together make karate very powerful indeed and an effective form of self-defense.
Kihon - basic karate techniques and stances.
Kime - focus and intensity when executing a technique. Martial arts without kime is merely posing or dancing. Every technique we execute must have an appropriate level of kime for effective application. Even gentle or slow moves have kime that is appropriate to that move. Kime is the coming together of intent, focus, technique, and spirit in order to achieve maximum power at the moment of impact.
Kime is said to originate from the hara, the center of the human body and crucible of courage and will. Spirit, in the context of martial arts, is not the same as religious or supernatural spirit. Spirit, in the context of kime can be described as an intense enthusiasm and will to achieve a task. In practical terms, the martial artist develops kime through practice and proper principles when executing techniques. One important element in developing good kime is to perform all moves with the tail bone tucked in and keeping the back straight. This proper posture aligns the body and maximizes balance, both of which are critical to proper execution of karate moves.
Ma Ai - The ability to accurately judge the distance between two competitors in kumite. Understanding distance, as well as timing and rhythm, is important in martial arts. By mastering all three, we increase the chance of being victorious in combat. Ma ai is more of a feeling or intuition than an actual conscious calculation and is developed over time with proper training. Ma ai can be thought of as similar to a basketball player trying to make a shot without needing to use a measuring tape to figure out how far he needs to shoot the ball. Over time, the practitioner gets a feel for distance without even thinking about it.
Mushin - Absence of mind; acting subconsciously; reacting without the use of conscious thought. This refers to the ability to react to an attack without thought or delay. Mushin is analogous to a child learning how to walk and eventually being able to do it without giving it any thought. Another way to look at this is as developing muscle memory. The body simply reacts properly because that is how years of training have conditioned it. This kind of thing happens in its own time and can’t be forced or hurried; only proper training and dedication can bring it about.
Sen No Sen - Confidence in fighting can often lead to beating an opponent to the punch, even though he initiated his attack first. This form of dealing with an attack is very advanced. It also takes a lot of courage because one must focus more on landing one’s counter strike than on the threat of the opponent’s strike, which one knows was launched before ours. When it works, the defender is at a great disadvantage initially but still is victorious because of his courage, impeccable technique, and perfect timing.
Sensei - Teacher. The senior instructor of the dojo (“training hall” in Japanese), typically 4th dan (black belt level or degree) or higher. The sensei is more than just an instructor; he is also a mentor and a reservoir of years of experience and knowledge. Students must appreciate the years of dedication and effort that a person has invested to reach the level of sensei.
At the same time, the sensei is not super human or perfect. In fact, the sensei is a student as well because every time he steps on the dojo floor to teach he must be open to learning more about the things he teaches. A sensei can be thought of as the most senior student in the class. A sensei deserves respect and his instructions must be followed with dedication and focus.
Very few people will have the dedication and skill to reach the level of sensei. But it should be the goal of every serious student to reach that level and someday impart their knowledge to a new generation of students. As sensei’s, we sincerely hope that our students will reach greater levels of skill and dedication than we have.
Zanshin - Readiness during combat or training. Refers to being ready to defend or attack at any point in time during combat. In Kumite, Zanshin refers to having your guard up at every instant while engaging the opponent. Zanshin is not only having the body in a ready position, it is also an attitude of always being ready to defend or attack. Some people have natural ability in the martial arts and Zanshin comes easy for them. But for most of us it takes time, dedication and practice to develop this state of awareness and focus.
Understanding and practicing the above concepts is essential to advanced martial arts training and self-defense applications.
Used from the book ‘Tsuku Kihon 2nd Edition’ by Luis Bernardo Mercado
Dojo - Kun
|Feet-together Stance||Heisoku-dachi||hi-so-ku da-chee|
|Informal Stance||Musubi-dachi||mu-su-be da-chee|
|Horse Stance||Kiba-dachi||key-ba da-chee|
|Front Stance||Zenkutsu-dachi||zen-koot-su da-chee|
|Back Stance||Kokutsu-dachi||ko-koot-su da-chee|
|Rooted Stance||Sochin-dachi||so-chin da-chee|
|Square Stance||Shiko-dachi||she-ko da-chee|
|Cross leg Stance||Kosa-dachi||ko-sa da-chee|
|Half-moon Stance||Hangetsu-dachi||han-get-su da-chee|
|Hour glass Stance||Sanchin-dachi||san-chin da-chee|
|Cat Stance||Neko ashi dachi||neh-ko a-she da-chee|
|One legged Stance||Sagi ashi-dachi||sa-gee a-she da-chee|
|Straight Punch||Choko-zuki||cho-ko zoo-key|
|Vertical fist Punch||Tate-zuki||ta-tay zoo-key|
|Rising Punch||Age-zuki||a-gay zoo-key|
|Roundhouse Punch||Mawashi-zuki||muh-wa-she zoo-key|
|Hook Punch||Kage-zuki||ka-gay zoo-key|
|Close Punch||Ura-zuki||oo-ra zoo-key|
|Lunge Punch||Oi-zuki||oi zoo-key|
|Reverse Punch||Gyaku-zuki||Ga-ya-koo zoo-key|
|Two-handed punches||Morote-zuki||more-oh-tay zoo-key|
|Wide U Punch||Yama-zuki||yah-ma zoo-key|
|U Punch||Awase-zuki||ah-wa-say zoo-key|
|Parallel Punch||Heiko-zuki||hay-koh zoo-key|
|Scissors Punch||Hasami-zuki||ha-sa-me zoo-key|
|Knife hand Strike||Shuto-uchi||shoe-toe oo-chee|
|Ridge hand Strike||Haito-uchi||hi-toe oo-chee|
|Elbow Strike||Empi-uchi||em-pee oo-chee|
|Back-fist Strike||Uraken-uchi||oo-rah-ken oo-chee|
|Palm heel Strike||Taisho-uchi||tie-show oo-chee|
|Front Kick||Mae-geri||my gay-ree|
|Front Snap Kick||Mae-geri-keage||my gay-ree kay-ah-gay|
|Front Thrust Kick||Mae-geri-kekomi||my gay-ree kay-koh-mee|
|Side Kick||Yoko-geri||yoh-ko gay-ree|
|Side Snap Kick||Yoko-geri-keage||yoh-koh gay-ree kay-ah-gay|
|Side Thrust Kick||Yoko-geri-kekomi||yoh-koh geh-ree kay-koh-mee|
|Back Kick||Ushiro-geri||oo-shee-roh gay-ree|
|Back Snap Kick||Ushiro-geri-keage||oo-shee-roh gay-ree kay-ah-gay|
|Back Thrust Kick||Ushiro-geri-kekomi||oo-shee-roh gay-ree kay-koh-mee|
|Roundhouse Kick||Mawashi-geri||mah-wah-she gay-ree|
|Crescent Kick||Migazuki-geri||me-ka-zoo-kee gay-ree|
|Side Stomping Kick||Yoko-Fumikomi||yoh-koh foo-me-koh-me|
|Inside Snapping Kick||Namigaeshi||nah-me-guy-she|
|Knee Kick||Hiza-geri||he-zah geh-ree|
|Flying Side Kick||Yoko-tobi-geri||yoh-koh toe-be gay-ree|
|Front Instep Kick||Kin-geri||kin gay-ree|
|Downward Block||Gedan-barai||gay-don ba-rye|
|Forearm Block||Soto-ude-uke||so-toe oo-day oo-kay|
|Rising Block||Age-uke||ah-gay oo-kay|
|Dropping Block||Otoshi-uke||oh-toe-she oo-kay|
|Inward Block||Uchi-uke||oo-chee oo-kay|
|Knife hand Block||Shuto-uke||shoe-toh oo-kay|
|Scooping Block||Tsukui-uke||t-sue-kwee oo-kay|
|Ready||Yoi or (yame)||yoi (yah-may)|
|Eyes Open||Mokuso-yame||moh-kuh-so yah-may|
|Thank You (Formal)||Arigato Gozaimasuta||ah-ree-gah-toe go-zai-ma-shuh-tah|
|Grunt on Impact||Kiai||kee-eye|
|Deep Breathing||Shin Ko Kyu||shin-koh-key-you|
|Front two knuckles||Seiken||say-ken|
|Ball of the foot||Koshi||koh-she|
|Edge of foot||Sokuto||soh-kuh-toe|
|Heel of foot||Kokuto||koh-kuh-toe|
|Turn (180 degrees)||Mawate||mah-wah-tay|
|Turn (90 degrees)||Hontai||hohn-tai|