Origins of Karate

Karate is a martial art developed in Japan from a system used on the island of Okinawa. Okinawa is the Principle Island of the Ryukyu Archipelago, laying three hundred miles to the south of Japan and three miles east of main land China. Although the roots of Martial Arts can be traced back thousands of years to India, the evolution of karate as we know it today began in the seventeenth century.

Legend has it that an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma, the originator of Zen Buddhism, brought Chuan-Fa to the Shaolin temple in China during the Sung Dynasty. Some historians claim this to be false, yet it remains a popular view. Until records of the practice of Chuan-Fa in Okinawa in 1372, very little is known from that period, when King Satto declared allegiance to China's Ming Emperor.

In the centuries to follow, Chuan-Fa gained a strong foothold in Okinawa and was practised along side an indigenous, unarmed fighting system known as Tode. In 1609, the Japanese Satsuma Clan marched on the Ryukyu Islands, ending their independence and banning all weaponry. This brought a bond between the Chuan-Fa and Tode, leading to the development of a fighting method designed to strengthen the physical and spiritual body in a bid to survive. The union came to be known as 'Te' (hand).

Te was practised in secret in three main centres around the towns of Shuri, Naha and Tomari. These local variations were later known as Shuri-Te, Naha-Te and Tomari-Te. Between 1784 and 1903, karate replaced the word Te to describe the fighting system. In 1875, the Satsuma occupation of the Ryukyu Islands ended and they officially became part of the Japanese Empire. By 1903 karate was practiced openly in schools.

Master Gichin Funakoshi (1868 - 1957)

Karate was officially introduced to Japan in 1917, when Gichin Funakoshi demonstrated the art at the Butokuden in Kyoto. By now, karate was a combination of hand and foot techniques and by 1921 its popularity had grown. Prince Hirohito was so impressed by a demonstration, he included it in his official report to the Japanese Ministry of Education, recommending it be taught in Universities. Prominent Karate masters, Funakoshi, Mijagi and Mabuni were instrumental in developing the three main styles: Shotokan, Shito Ryu and Goju Ryu, from which all others originate. Yoshitaka Funakoshi, son of Gichin Funakoshi, brought later changes, thereby forming Shotokan Karate into what is recognisable today.

Gichin Funakoshi was also a poet and wrote under the pen name "Shoto", meaning "whispering pines". The Shotokan was the "place of Shoto", where Gichin Funakoshi set up a dojo (training hall). Sensei Taiji Kase, the founder of the WKSA and now SRKHIA, trained at the Shotokan with Yoshitaka Funakoshi. Sensei Steve Cattle, who founded the ESA, in turn, was a student of Sensei Kase.

Yoshitaka Funakoshi (1906 - 1945)

The development of modern-day Shotokan, can be, for the most part, accredited to Gichin Funakoshi's third son, Yoshitaka. It is Yoshitaka's influence that has resulted in the karate that Shotokan exponents practice today. Yoshitaka is known to have developed longer, deeper stances to create more strength. His kicks were more dynamic and the attacking techniques were developed even further.

Around 1930, Yoshitaka took over the running of his father's main dojo in Japan. Yoshitaka was instrumental in introducing many more katas to the Shotokan system, which he had learned from Sensei Azato. Yoshitaka was ill, however, and, when a boy, was diagnosed with tuberculosis and told that he would not live beyond his twenties. However, through hard training,  he lived into his forties.

Yoshitaka taught at the Shotokan dojo until 1944/45, but by 1945 he was seriously ill and much of the teaching was carried out by Genshin Hironishi. Without a doubt, from 1932/33 until 1945, Yoshitaka had an enormous influence on the way Shotokan karate developed. However, when he died, his father, Gichin Funakoshi, had to come out of "retirement" to oversee the training at the Shotokan, taking over from where his son had left off.