The History of Shotokan Karate

Karate is the art of the empty (kara) hand (te) and modern karate has its origin in Okinawa.

Gichin Funakoshi, "the father of modern karate-do" was born in Shuri, Okinawa in 1868. At the age of 11 Gichin Funakoshi befriended the son of Yasutsune Azato who was a great scholar and karate master. Gichin had not been in the best of health and as he played at karate with his new friend his health started to improve. As Gichin's doctor saw the boy's health improve he encouraged his grandfather to request that Azato take Gichin on as his student. Azato accepted and the future of karate was forever changed.

Funakoshi trained with Azato under the cover of darkness since the Okinawans had their weapons banned and were forced to train in secrecy. Later in life Gichin also trained with Yasutsune Itosu. After 1898, karate was determined to be no threat to the government and was allowed to be demonstrated and practiced in public.

Itosu is credited with teaching the first group class at the Shurijijo Elementary School in Okinawa. In 1902, Funakoshi gave his first public demonstration of karate for Shintaro Ogawa, Commissioner of Schools for Kagoshima Prefecture. Ogawa was so impressed with the demonstration that he recommended to the Ministry of Education that Funakoshi's karate be implemented on a formal basis in the school system. By 1917, karate was deeply ingrained in the Okinawan school system and the Ministry of Education requested that Funakoshi demonstrate his karate in Japan. Although it was well received, karate did not immediately gain acceptance by the Japanese.

In 1921 that all changed, the Crown Prince of Japan visited Okinawa on the way to Europe. The Ministry of Education requested that Funakoshi put on a demonstration for the Crown Prince. The Crown Prince was so impressed that Funakoshi was invited to bring karate to Japan. Gichin Funakoshi formally introduced karate to the Japanese people on April 1, 1922 at the Women's Higher Normal School in Tokyo. The demonstration was so successful that Funakoshi was requested to stay several weeks to perform additional demonstrations. As karate's popularity grew with Japan's upper class, Funakoshi decided to stay in Japan to teach karate.

In 1939, Gichin Funakoshi, at the age of 71, entered the first karate dojo. As a tribute to Funakoshi his students hung a plaque inscribed with the characters that read Shoto-kan (the hall of Shoto). His students has used the pen name that Funakoshi signed his poetry to honor their teacher.

During World War II the dojo was destroyed and the growth of karate was halted. After the war Funakoshi's student's regrouped and in 1949 they formed the Japan Karate Association (JKA) with Funakoshi as the Supreme Master. In 1956, Funakoshi wrote that his next great goal was for true karate-do to become internationalized. On April 10, 1957 the Ministry of Education officially recognized the JKA. 16 days later Funakoshi died at the age of 89. Beginning in 1958, the JKA would carry on Funakoshi's goal to spread karate-do throughout the world by sending some of its instructors to America, Europe and the Middle East to establish dojos.