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Shotokan (????, Shotokan-ryu?) is a style of karate, developed from various martial arts by Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957) and his son Gigo (Yoshitaka) Funakoshi (1906–1945). Gichin was one of several Okinawan masters (including Kenwa Mabuni and Choki Motobu) who brought karate to mainland Japan during the 1910s and 1920s, but Funakoshi is widely credited with having popularized karate through a series of public demonstrations, and by promoting the development of university karate clubs, including those at Keio, Waseda, Hitotsubashi (Shodai), Takushoku, Chuo, Gakushuin, and Hosei.
Funakoshi had many students at the university clubs and outside dojos, who continued to teach karate after his death in 1957. However, internal disagreements led to the creation of different organizations—including an initial split between the Japan Karate Association (headed by Masatoshi Nakayama) and the Shotokai (headed by Shigeru Egami), followed by many others—so that today there is no single “Shotokan school”, although they all bear Funakoshi’s influence.
Shotokan was the name of the first official dojo built by Funakoshi, in 1936 at Mejiro, and destroyed in 1945 as a result of allied bombing. Shoto (??, Shoto?), meaning “pine-waves” (the movement of pine needles when the wind blows through them), was Funakoshi’s pen-name, which he used in his poetic and philosophical writings and messages to his students. The Japanese kan (?, kan?) means “house” or “hall”. In honour of their sensei, Funakoshi’s students created a sign reading shoto-kan which was placed above the entrance of the hall where Funakoshi taught. Gichin Funakoshi never gave his style a name, just calling it “karate”.
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 which 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 progress to being more flexible with greater experience. .
Gichin Funakoshi laid out the Twenty Precepts of Karate, (or Niju kun) which form the foundations of the art, before his students established the 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.
The Dojo kun lists 5 philosphical rules for training in the dojo, such as “seek perfection of character” and “respect others”. The Dojo kun is usually posted on a wall in the dojo, and some shotokan clubs recite the Dojo kun at the 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.”
Many terms used in karate stem from Japanese culture. While many are names (e.g. Yame, Gankaku), others are exclusive to martial arts (e.g. kata, kumite). Many terms are seldom used in daily life, such as zenkutsu dachi, while others appear routinely, such as rei. The Japanese form is often retained in schools outside of Japan to preserve the Okinawan culture and Funakoshi’s philosophies.
However, many schools of JKA (Japan Karate Association) affiliated Shotokan Karate used the full terminology on a daily basis, providing translations also. For example the KUI (Karate Union of Ireland), utilises the full and proper japanese name for each move and kata in training, grading and competition.
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 coloured belts to indicate rank. Most Shotokan schools use the kyu/dan system but have added other belt colors. The order of colors varies widely from school to school, but kyu belts are denoted with colours that become darker as a student approaches shodan. Dan level belts are invariably black, with some schools using strips to denote various ranks of black belt.