History and Philosophy of Shotokan Karate

Gichin Funakoshi was the creator of Shotokan karate and is attributed as being the “Father of Modern Karate”. He was born on November 10, 1868 on the island of Okinawa. He was a school teacher and the son of a samurai. In May 1922, he relocated to Tokyo and became a professional teacher of karate-do. He devoted his entire life to the development of karate-do. He lived out his eighty-eight years of life and left this world on April 26, 1957. Shotokan is named after Funakoshi’s pen name, Shōtō (松濤), which means “waving pines”. Kan means training hall or house, thus Shōtōkan (松濤館) referred to the “house of Shōtō”. This name was coined by Funakoshi’s students when they posted a sign above the entrance of the hall at which Funakoshi taught.

Master Funakoshi’s 20 Precepts

Gichin Funakoshi defined the following twenty precepts of Karate (also called Niju kun). These which form the foundations and philosophy of Shotokan Karate. The precepts emphasize humility, respect, compassion, and patience, among other things. The karateka shall observe these precepts in all areas of life to seek perfection of character.

  1. Karate is not only dojo training.
  2. Don’t forget that karate begins and ends with a bow.
  3. In Karate, never first attack.
  4. One who practices karate must follow the way of justice.
  5. First you must know yourself, then you can know others.
  6. Spiritual development is paramount; technical skills are merely a means to an end.
  7. You must release your mind.
  8. Misfortune comes out of laziness.
  9. Karate is lifelong training.
  10. Put karate into everything you do.
  11. Karate is like hot water. If you do not give heat constantly it will become cold.
  12. Do not think you have to win. Think that you do not have to lose.
  13. Victory depends on your ability to tell the vulnerable points from the invulnerable points.
  14. Move according to your opponent.
  15. Consider your opponent’s hands and legs as you would sharp swords.
  16. When you leave home, think that millions of opponents are waiting for you.
  17. Ready position for beginners and natural position for advanced students.
  18. Kata is one thing, engaging in a real fight is another.
  19. Do not forget (1) strength and weakness of power, (2) expansion and contraction of the body, (3) slowness and speed of techniques.
  20. Devise at all times.

Dojo Kun

The Dojo Kun is a series of principles that are repeated at the end of each class by all students and instructors. The Dojo Kun is not just a set of rules to be followed in the Dojo, but are intended to remind the students why they train and that the principles must be applied to everyday life outside the Dojo.

Seek Perfection of CharacterJinkaku kansei ni tsutomuru koto

Be FaithfulMakoto no michi o mamoru koto

EndeavorDoryoku no seishin o yashinau koto

Respect OthersReigi o omonzuru koto

Refrain From Violent BehaviorKeki no yu o imashimuru koto

Training Methods

The basic training methods used in the dojo are generally grouped into three areas:

Kihon (Basics)

Kihon means “basics” or “fundamentals”. Kihon includes the techniques such as stances, punches, kicks, blocks and strikes that form the foundation of Karate. The practice and mastery of kihon is essential to all advanced training. Practicing the basics will develop the students focus, concentration and discipline along with strengthening the body. Once the student’s body is stronger and healthier, confidence is inevitable.

Kata (Forms)

Kata is a Japanese word describing detailed choreographed patterns of movements that are intended to simulate defending yourself against many imaginary opponents. The karateka (karate practitioner) visualizes the opponents’ attacks and his or her responses. Generally, each time a karateka advances to the next rank a new kata is learned. However, there is always more that can be learned from early katas and even the highest ranking karateka will continue practicing the early katas. Kata can also be used as a form of meditation.

Kumite (Sparring)

Kumite means sparring, and is is the part of karate in which you train against an adversary, using the techniques learned from the kihon and kata. Kumite is practiced in several formats depending on the rank of the student. The karateka will be introduced to the following types of kumite as they progress:

Sanbon Kumite (Three step sparring)
Three attacks followed by one counter attack. The techniques are announced ahead of time, are counted out, and proceed in a straight line. This is the first type of kumite practiced. Each participant knows which attack to expect and when. At this stage the goal is to develop effective techniques while in motion and in coordination with proper breathing.

Ippon Kumite (One step sparring)
One attack followed by one counter attack. The techniques are announced ahead of time but not counted. This is the second type of kumite. At this stage the goal is to develop effective timing, distancing, and counter attacks.

Jiyu-Ippon Kumite (Semi free sparring)
In semi-free sparring the techniques are still announced but the attacker decides when to begin. In addition, the opponents are allowed to move around at will. The goal at this stage is to develop the ability to catch your opponent in one move, and to recognize and take advantage of openings.

Jiyu Kumite (Free Sparring)
This is the most advanced form of sparring. At this stage the opponents do not announce the techniques and are free to move around at will. The goals is to develop the ability to lead your opponent, to create openings, and to practice using continuously varying techniques.

Kumite does not only teach us about self-defense. It also teaches us a lot about ourselves. Practicing Kumite teaches about the timing, distancing and openings of life.

Belt Rankings

Belt rankings are used to indicate the level of experience of a karateka. In the IKD the belts are awarded in the following order:

White (beginner)

Yellow (8 Kyu)

Orange (7 Kyu)

Green (6 Kyu)

Blue (5 Kyu)

Purple (4 Kyu)

Brown (3 Kyu)

Brown (2 Kyu)

Brown (1 Kyu)

Black (Shodan)

Black (Nidan)

Black (Sandan)

Black (Yondan)

Black (Godan)

Black (Rokudan)

Black (Shichidan)

Black (Hachidan)

The Mental Aspects of Martial Arts

True martial arts have an important mental or spiritual component. The training in the dojo is not just for learning self defense but also for learning about ourselves. Joe Hyam explained this wonderfully in Zen in the Martial Arts:

“A dojo is miniature cosmos where we make contact with ourselves — our fears, anxieties, reactions, and habits. It is an arena of confined conflict where we confront an opponent who is not an opponent but rather a partner engaged in helping us understand ourselves more fully. It is a place where we can learn a great deal in a short time about who we are and how we react in the world. The conflicts that take place inside the dojo help us handle conflicts that take place outside. The total concentration and discipline required to study martial arts carries over to daily life. The activity in the dojo calls on us to constantly attempt new things, so it is also a source of learning — in Zen terminology, a source of self-enlightenment.”
"A student well versed in even one technique will naturally see corresponding points in other techniques. A upper level punch, a lower punch, a front punch and a reverse punch are all essentially the same. Looking over thirty-odd kata, he should be able to see that they are essentially variations on just a handful.”
Gichin Funakoshi