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Origins of Shotokan Karate

Funakoshi Gichin

Gichin Funakoshi (船越 義珍 Funakoshi Gichin?, November 10, 1868 – April 26, 1957) was the founder of Shotokan karate, perhaps the most widely known style of karate, and is attributed as being the "father of modern karate". Following the teachings of Anko Itosu, he was one of the Okinawan karate masters who introduced karate to the Japanese mainland in 1922. He taught karate at various Japanese universities and became honorary head of the Japan Karate Association upon its establishment in 1949. Funakoshi had trained in both of the popular styles of Okinawan karate of the time: Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū. Shotokan is named after Funakoshi's pen name, Shoto, which means "waving pines ". In addition to being a karate master, Funakoshi was an avid poet and philosopher who would reportedly go for long walks in the forest where he would meditate and write his poetry. Kan means training hall, or house, thus Shotokan referred to the "house of Shoto". This name was coined by Funakoshi's students when they posted a sign above the entrance of the hall at which Funakoshi taught reading "Shoto kan". By the late 1910s, Funakoshi had many students, of which a few were deemed capable of passing on their master's teachings. Continuing his effort to garner widespread interest in Okinawan karate, Funakoshi ventured to mainland Japan in 1922.

In 1930, Funakoshi established an association named Dai-Nihon Karate-do Kenkyukai to promote communication and information exchange among people who study karate-do. In 1936, Dai-Nippon Karate-do Kenkyukai changed its name to Dai-Nippon Karate-do Shoto-kai.The association is known today as Shotokai, and is the official keeper of Funakoshi's karate heritage.

In 1939, Funakoshi built the first Shōtōkan dojo (training hall) in Tokyo. He changed the name of karate to mean "empty hand" instead of "China hand" (as referred to in Okinawa); the two words sound the same in Japanese, but are written differently. It was his belief that using the term for "Chinese" would mislead people into thinking karate originated with Chinese boxing. Karate had borrowed many aspects from Chinese boxing which the original creators say as being positive, as they had done with other martial arts. In addition, Funakoshi argued in his autobiography that a philosophical evaluation of the use of "empty" seemed to fit as it implied a way which was not tethered to any other physical object. Funakoshi's interpretation of the word kara to mean "empty" was reported to have caused some recoil in Okinawa, prompting Funakoshi to remain in Tokyo indefinitely.

Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa

Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa (10 Dan) and SKIF

Soke [Origina of House] Kanazawa took up karate whilst at University under the late headmaster of JKA shotokan, sensei Matsatoshi Nakayama. Soke Kanazawa is also one of the few remaining karateka privileged to have studied under Master Gichin Funakoshi above. In 1961, the JKA sent Kanazawa to Hawaii to establish karate schools there. He was ranked 5th dan at the time. He established a dojo (training hall) and served as the inaugural President of the Hawaii Karate Congress. In 1963, he left Hawaii to teach in Europe and Japan. In 1966, Soke Kanazawa became Chief Instructor of the Karate Union of Great Britain, and the JKA promoted him to the rank of 6th dan that year. In 1973, the All Japan Karate Federation promoted him to 7th dan. In 1977, Soke Kanazawa left the JKA and founded the Shotokan Karate-Do International Federation (SKIF). Since then, he was taught and promoted karate through the SKIF, including the organisation of several karate world championship competitions. SKIF is now the worlds largest Shotokan Karate Association under his name, having several million members in over 134 countries. [NB- at the time of 2013] In 2013, Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa has formally given his Kancho [Head master] status to his first son Sensei Nobuaki Kanazawa and Chief Technical Advisor to Sensei Manabu Murakami.



The word Shotokan is comprised of three Kanji characters in Japanese - Sho To Kan. The literal translation is Pine Waves Hall, and is synonymous with the tiger symbol and Shotokan Karate today. Master Funakoshi's pen name was Shoto, and signs his works of calligraphy with his pen name. He would explain that the cool breezes, which blew among the pine trees where he lived, made a sound like waves breaking the shore. When viewing the Pine trees blowing at distance, it looked like a tiger’s tail. The tiger, which is commonly used as the symbol of Shotokan implies that the tiger never sleeps, therefore, is the keen alertness of the wakeful tiger.

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