Shotokan History

Our Karate Roots

Master Gichin Funakoshi

Today Karate is practiced in every country on earth by millions of Karate-ka (students), from children to senior citizens. It is practiced for fitness, health and personal interest. It is still practiced for self-defense, but for its original practitioners, Karate was not a leisurely pursuit: it was a means of survival.

Karate comes to us from Japan, more specifically, Okinawa. It came to Okinawa from China where it is rooted in the earliest forms of martial art. Okinawan Karate grew out of necessity. Under the last Okinawan king it was illegal for peasants to own weapons of any kind. Under this rule excess was common–people were often used to ‘test’ the weaponry of the privileged classes.

During their occupation of Okinawa the Japanese ruling class — the Samurai — maintained the ban on weapons, and the brutal policies towards the common people. Karate provided the means for the unarmed peasants to defend themselves against the deadly weapons and skill of the Samurai. Its practise was, of course, banned: anyone caught training or teaching it could be executed without a trial. Yet the will to survive proved stronger than the fear of death, and Karate flourished in Okinawa.

Maejin Gichin Funakoshi, born in 1868 to a Samurai heritage, began karate training in his childhood with Yasutsune Azato (1827-1906) and Yasutsune Itosu (1830-1915). His capabilities were highly advanced at an early age, and he ultimately rose to chair the Okinawan Martial Arts Society.

Funakoshi first demonstrated karate to the Japan Ministry of Education in 1922: the reaction was overwhelming. The demand for karate enabled him to remain in Japan and begin teaching. He published the book “Ryukyu Kempo Karate” and the style continued to grow in popularity across Japan. Funakoshi worked with the Japanese Education Ministry to introduce Karate in schools.

Over the next few years Funakoshi worked methodically to secure a permanent place for Karate in Japan. He introduced the Dan certification system, articulated all of the techniques and theory, and completely translated the symbolism and language from its Chinese and Okinawan roots into Japanese.

In 1939, with Karate’s popularity growing across Japan, Funakoshi opened the country’s first Karate dojo, the Shotokan–a reference to his own pen name–in Tokyo.

During WWII the original dojo was destroyed by bombs, and organized Karate was stalled throughout the country. Following the war martial arts were banned under U.S. occupation. When the ban was lifted there was a resurgence, especially in schools , and in 1949 the Japan Karate Association (JKA) was formed with Funakoshi as its first Supreme Master.

Funakoshi died in 1957, sixteen days after the JKA was offically recognized by the Japan Education Ministry. He was honoured with monuments all over Japan, including at the Enkakuji Temple in Kamakura, which draws an annual pilgrimage of JKA members in honour of Master Funakoshi.

Clearly his legacy is the global community of Karate practitioners who strive to learn and advance the martial art that he brought into the world. Most traditional styles of Japanese Karate can trace their roots directly to Funakoshi or his early students. Funakoshi successfully transformed the traditional Okinawan and Chinese forms into a style that would survive the turbulence of the times and trancend global boundaries to become one of the most widely studied martial arts in the world. Deservedly, he is widely regarded as the father of modern Karate.

Master Masatoshi Nakayama

Nakayama, Funakoshi’s student, succeeded the master as head of the JKA after the founder’s his death.  Master Nakayama had a vision to bring Karate to the world. In the 1960s his legendary instructor training program was instrumental in developing some of the most talented and influential karateka in history, including our most familiar modern masters, Okazaki, Yaguchi, Woon-A-Tai, Enoeda, Tanaka (there are more). The history and rich culture of Karate was embedded in their training and, when Nakayama sent them to the corners of the globe, the future of the art was entrusted to their care.

Today we are honored to enjoy the guidance of Sensei Yutaka Yaguchi (9th Dan) who oversees the progression of our students, and provides leadership to our club. Sensei Yaguchi’s story is told in a new biography, Mind, Body, Like Bullet. Our training and the ritual that surrounds it are directly descended from Funakoshi’s Karate, and Nakayama’s vision for bringing it to the world.

International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF)

A Global Community of Karate

Japan wasn’t completely ready for Karate when Gichin Funakoshi opened his first dojo. Sumo was the national sport, but Judo was the national passion. Many Japanese did not initially welcome the strange new martial art, and its first students were the subject of ridicule and scorn. Still it grew, through the persistent practice of its early students, and through public demonstrations–some widely reported by news media. Karate eventually earned the respect of the Japanese, and has been growing in popularity ever since.

Today the International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF) preserves the links to the past while continuing to evolve the form of Shotokan. In dojos all over the world the style is practiced in essentially the same way, and ISKF students traveling or at home can enjoy a global community of traditional Karate.

  • Teruyuki Okazaki, 10th Dan, Chairman and Chief Instructor
  • Yutaka Yaguchi, 9th Dan, Vice Chairman
  • James Field, 8th Dan, Vice Chair, Technical Director

ISKF web site