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A History and Style Guide of Shotokan Karate


A History and Style Guide of Shotokan Karate
Ruth Hartnup/Fickr/CC BY 2.0
The history of the martial arts style of Shotokan karate begins with Gichin Funakoshi, a man that is given great credit not only for its birth but also for helping to popularize karate in general. However, in recent years a UFC fighter by the name of Lyoto Machida has done quite a bit to bring the art of Shotokan to the forefront as well. Let's put it this way, Machida knows how to strike with devastating force before anyone even realizes he's considering it.

In a nutshell, that's what Shotokan karate looks like in battle.

Early History of Shotokan:

Gichin Funakoshi was born around 1868 in Shuri, Okinawa. While in elementary school, he became friends with Anko Asato's son and eventually began to train under Asato in Okinawan karate. Later, Funakoshi would also train under Shorin-ryu master Anko Itosu.

Interestingly, Funakoshi never actually named the fighting style that he refined from Itosu and Asato's teachings, just preferring to call it karate. But when he started a dojo in 1936, his pen name of shoto (meaning pine waves) was used along with the term kan (house) by his students to erect a sign above the entrance to the establishemnt that said Shotokan.

The Legacy of Gichin Funakoshi and Yoshitaka Funakoshi:

Beyond building the foundation of Shotokan, Gichin served as an ambassador of karate, eventually helping to popularize it through public demonstrations and by working to bring it to karate clubs and universities. However, his development of the philosophical points or foundations tied to the style called the Twenty Precepts of Karate or Niju kun is perhaps what he's best known for.

Gishin's third son Yoshitaka later refined the art tremendously. By changing several aspects (such as lowering stances and adding more high kicks) Yoshitaka helped to separate Shotokan from the other Okinawan styles.

Goals of Shotokan Karate:

In essence, many of the goals of Shotokan can be found in the Twenty Precepts of Karate. That said, one of these (#12) seems to say a lot: "Do not think of winning. Think, rather, of not losing." In fact, it's something that one could imagine another martial arts master, Helio Gracie, saying. In "Karate-do: My Way of Life", Gichin Funakoshi also noted that, "The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of the participant."

In combat, Shotokan is a striking style that emphasizes stopping an opponent with powerful kicks and/or punches quickly and without injury.

Characteristics of Shotokan:

As was previously mentioned, Shotokan is a striking style of martial arts that teaches practitioners through a series of kihon (basics), kata (forms) and kumite (sparring) how to defend oneself. Shotokan is a hard martial arts style that emphasizes powerful strikes, long stances, and a lot of in and out techniques in sparring designed to avoid damage and end a fight quickly. Higher belts also learn some grappling and jiu-jitsu style techniques.

Famous Shotokan Practitioners:

  • Gichin Funakoshi: Funakoshi was the founder of the Shotokan karate style.
  • Yoshitaka Funakoshi: The third son of Gichin Funakoshi, Yoshitaka took his father's art and refined it to make it more unique. Higher kicks and lower stances were just some of the things he brought to the table.
  • Lyoto Machida: The son of Yoshizo Machida, Lyoto has done a lot to show the world just how effective Shotokan can be via his success in the UFC. Machida is known for his ability to strike before anyone realizes that he is coming. He is a highly technical stand up fighter.
  • Yoshizo Machida: A Shotokan karate master and the father of UFC fighter Lyoto Machida.
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