History

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Okinawa Island

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"Te"

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Gichin Funakoshi

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Shotokan

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The Master

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History of Martial Arts

Daruma Boddhidharma was the 28th patriarch of Buddhism and the founder of Zen Buddhism.
Born into a warrior caste as the 3rd son of a king in South India somewhere around 560 AD - he made the arduous trip over the Himalayas across to China where he settled in Shaolin (Shorin in Japanese). He was a skilled martial artist and believed the way to reach true enlightenment required the body to be in perfect health. The body must be rigorously trained and exercised to achieve the physical stamina needed for perfect harmony with the mind.

Most accounts of this monk are peppered with legend and lore. He is known as the wall gazing monk as he is purported to have meditated for 9 years in front of a wall in the Shaolin temple. This legend becomes lore - when accounts discuss his attempts to avoid sleep by removing his eye lids and casting them to the ground - where a tea tree took root.

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Okinawa Island

Okinawa Island

Okinawa Island is the largest island located in the Ryukyu islands. It is almost in the complete centre of Japan, Taiwan, China, Korea and the Philippines. Okinawa has a fascinating history and was independent from Japan until 1879 where it became a prefect (province) of Japan.

By the mid - 1300's Okinawa entered into a trade relationship with China. This allowed the people of this island introduction to many Chinese traditions - including Chinese boxing which originated from the Shaolin Temple of Monks. In the late 1300 - 36 families immigrated to Okinawa Island and brought with them a knowledge of martial arts.

Through repeated fighting and reconciliation, local warlords, or aji were gradually reduced in number as power was consolidated by a few. Finally in 1429, Sho Hashi defeated the major ajis to establish a unified nation. This is the beginning of the period known as "The Kingdom of the Ryukyus" and the "Sho Dynasty".

In the years following, the Ryukyus evolved themselves into a people with trade and diplomatic ties to all the surrounding areas including China, Japan, Korea, and Southeast Asia. Shurijo Castle was the political, economical, and cultural hub for this ocean faring country.

In 1469, about 40 years after the Sho Dynasty began, a local farmer from the Izena Island named Kanamaru staged a coup to overthrow the ruling Sho. This began a new Dynasty, but because of the relationship with the Ming Emperor and respect for traditions, Kanamaru assumed the title of King Sho En. This marks the division between the 2 Sho Periods.

This new Dynasty feared being overthrown and in turn banned all arms on the island shortly after 1470. This contributed, in large part, to the rapid development of martial arts.

The second Sho Dynasty lasted for 400 years from its first king, Sho En, to its 19th king, Sho Tai. In 1609, the Satsuma Clan of Japan invaded the Ryukyus using 3,000 men to seize the capital - Shuri. Over the next 270 years the Kingdom of Ryukyus continued a tributary relationship with China , while being controlled by the Satsuma Clan of Japan, who was backed by the Tokugawa Shogunate. In 1879, the new Japanese government established with the Meiji Restoration dispatched troops to oust King Sho Tai from Shurijo Castle, declaring the official establishment of Okinawa Prefecture.

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"Te"

During the upheaval years, when arms were banned and villagers had no means of defense a secret indigenous weaponless martial art (called Te, "Hands") that experienced strong Chinese influences was spread and developed through out 3 villages:

  • Shuri
    - Ancient capital where Shurijo Castle now stands and is enveloped by the current city Naha

  • Tomari
    - Considered a port village 2 miles north of Naha port and which is now located in the City of Naha

  • Naha
    - the current capital today but at that time was considered the "Chinese Village" as it was the main port for trade with China

These 3 styles were named after the village of origin

  • Shuri-te

  • Tomari-te

  • Naha-te

The arts from Shuri and Tomari became known as:
Shorin ryu (Shaolin Temple Style) - which was well suited to stout and strong individuals because of the use of solid, rooted stances, and slower power based hand and foot strikes.

The arts from Naha became known as:
Shorei ryu (Enlighten Spirit style) - which was well suited to individuals with a slight build, because of the use of lighter and faster stances and footwork techniques.

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Gichin Funakoshi

Gichin Funakoshi

Master Gichin Funakoshi (1868 - 1957) was born in Shuri, the capital at that time of the Island of Okinawa situated off the southern tip of Japan.

Upon starting primary school he was introduced to a classmate's father Yasutsune Azato, who took Master Funakoshi on as his only student, teaching him late at night because of laws which forbid the teaching or practicing of karate.

Azato then introduced Master Funakoshi to his close friend Yasutsune Itosu who also taught him. It is said that Azato is the reason that Master Funakoshi developed such a disciplined mind and karate technique. He was very strict in his teaching method, he would have Funakoshi repeating once and again the same kata, and from this the rule of three year per kata arose.

Master Funakoshi, was also taught by Sokon Matsumura , who was the principle teacher of his two masters, Yasutsune Azato and Yasutsune Itosu who were each considered masters of the 2 new styles of karate - Shorin ryu and Shorei ryu.

After years of intense study of both styles, Master Funakoshi developed his own understanding of martial arts, and a novel style was created, that combined the ideals of Shorei and Shorin.

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Shotokan Karate

Master Funakoshi followed both classifications of styles, Shorei and Shorin. He characterized them as follows. Funakoshi said that "Shorei-ryu is suitable for people of large build, whereas Shorin-ryu is suitable for those of smaller frames, less physically powerful or thin, like a willow. For basic posture, Shorei- ryu is good, but it lacks the speed necessary for a real confrontation. Shorin-ryu is quick, but if the practitioner is grabbed, they will be unable to move. Therefore, for those who aspire to practice karate, it is important to pick up the good points of each." (Funakoshi 1922, pp. 5-6)

As in all karate styles it is katas,(formal sequences of basic techniques) that form the backbone of the tradition. Traditional Japanese martial arts, Judo and Kendo, two of the seven traditional paths to enlightenment in Japanese classical culture, were heavily centered around combat (Kumite). Master Funakoshi instead, in the centuries old Okinawa tradition, sought a path to spiritual depth through individual technique. Thus, Shotokan initially developed as a formal style with little Kumite application, instead focusing on breathing, releasing energy and outstanding mind and body control.

In 1901, karate practice was legalized in Okinawa, and its study became mandatory in middle schools, thanks to Master Yasutsune (Ankoh) Itosukarate . Securing permission from his masters Azato and Itosu, Funakoshi announced that he would begin formally teaching karate. He was 33 years old.

Funakoshi became so skillful at karate that he was chosen to teach it to the reigning King of Okinawa. Before Funakoshi left the island, he had already risen to the position of chairman of Shobukai, the martial arts association of Okinawa.

In May 1922, the Japan Education Ministry organized the first All Japan Athletic Exhibition of Ochanomizu in Tokyo. Wanting the event to be as comprehensive as possible, the ministry decided to include karate. As the province's leading practitioner, Funakoshi was the obvious choice. The Japanese budomen, tremendously impressed by karate, immediately set out to persuade Funakoshi to stay and teach the dynamic martial art to Japanese youth. He accepted the project with vigor, because he harbored a secret desire to see karate proliferate as kendo and judo had.

The arrival of Gichin Funakoshi was inauspicious, to say the least, and no one seriously expected anything to come of his visit to Japan. At 51, the mild-mannered high school teacher from Naha was already well past his prime.

Funakoshi karate was well received by the Japanese, and judo founder Jigoro Kano asked for private lessons on basic karate kata (forms). Funakoshi taught Kano for several months and then arranged to return to Okinawa. Before he could leave, however, Hoan Kosugi, a popular artist of that time, asked Funakoshi to teach both him and his fellow artists karate, because there was no one else in the area who could. It was then Funakoshi realized that, if he were to spread karate throughout Japan, Tokyo was the place to do it.

Taking up residence at a dormitory for Okinawan students at Keio University, Funakoshi began teaching karate in the dorm's lecture hall.

Funakoshi always believed kata was the secret to becoming skilled in karate. He made students practice the pinan and naihanchi forms for at least three years before he allowed them to progress to the more advanced kata. The repetitious training paid off, though, because his students developed the most precise, exact karate taught anywhere.

the written name

Funakoshi became a subject of some controversy only a few years after relocating to Tokyo. For centuries, karate had been written two different ways in Japanese. One way used the characters for "Chinese hands," and the other used the characters for "empty hands." Although both were pronounced "karate," they were written differently. Funakoshi agreed with the obvious historical allusion in the "Chinese hands" characters, but he felt that the use of "empty hands" not only emphasized the art of self-defense without weapons, but also characterized the sense of emptying one's heart and mind of earthly desires and vanity. When he wrote his first book, Ryukyu Kempo: Karate, in 1922, he used the "empty hands" characters exclusively. 
Funakoshi is credited with standardizing the writing of karate, a feat which, though angering several martial arts masters at the time, met with eventual universal approval of martial arts masters

shotokan

The House of Pine Waves

The word Shotokan is composed of three kanji characters in Japanese.  The sho character is taken from the word matsu which means pine tree. To is the character for waves. Pine Waves is supposed to mean "the sound that pine trees make when the wind blows through their needles." Some people also translate this to mean the waves that pine trees seem to make visually when bending in the wind. Master Funakoshi signed his works of poetry with the pen name Shoto. That is where the first part of the name of this type of karate came from. The word kan means building.  The name Shotokan comes from the world's first karate dojo, which was constructed in 1936 by Funakoshi's students. They placed a plaque over the door that said "Shotokan", or " The Hall of Pine Waves", in honor of Funakoshi.  This first dojo was completely destroyed in an American bombing raid on Japan in 1945.

shotokan tiger

This symbol with the tiger inside the circle is the Tora no Maki, or the Tiger Roll. It is common to see on many websites and documents of Shotokan Karate.  This drawing was originally created by a Japanese man named Hoan Kusugi who was a friend and student of Funakoshi Gichin.  He was the man who first convinced Funakoshi to write his knowledge of karate into a book, and promised him that if he would, he would design the book and make a painting for the cover. He drew it specifically in order to illustrate the cover of Funakoshi’s book Karate-do Kyohan. Kusugi is thought to be as important as Kano in convincing Funakoshi to stay in Japan to teach karate. The character up in the Northeast quadrant of the circle is part of the artist’s signature.

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The Master

Master Funakoshi

Funakoshi was a humble man. He preached and practiced an essential humility. He did not preach the humility of virtue, but a basic humility of a man who is rooted in the true perspective of things, full of life and awareness. He lived at peace with himself and with his fellow men.

Whenever the name of Gichin Funakoshi is mentioned, it brings to mind the parable of "A Man of Tao (Do) and a Little Man". As it is told, a student once asked, "What is the difference between a man of Tao and a little man?" The sensei replies, "It is simple. When the little man receives his first dan (degree or rank), he can hardly wait to run home and shout at the top of his voice to tell everyone that he made his first dan. Upon receiving his second dan, he will climb to the rooftops and shout to the people. Upon receiving his third dan, he will jump in his automobile and parade through town with its horn blowing, telling one and all about his third dan".

The sensei continues, "When the man of Tao receives his first dan, he will bow his head in gratitude. Upon receiving his second dan, he will bow his head and his shoulders. Upon receiving his third dan, he will bow at the waist and quietly walk alongside the wall so that people will not see him or notice him".

Funakoshi was a man of Tao. He placed no emphasis on competitions, record breaking or championships. He placed emphasis on individual self-perfection. He believed in the common decency and respect that one human being owed another. He was the master of masters.

He died in 1957 at age 89, after humbly making the largest contribution to the art of Karate-Do.

Funakoshi sincerely believed it would take a lifetime to master a handful of kata and that sixteen would be enough. He chose the kata which were best suited for physical stress and self-defense, stubbornly clinging to his belief that karate was an art rather than a sport. To him, kata was karate.

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