Named after the first official Dojo that was built in 1963 at Mejiro by Gichin Funakoshi, Shotokan is an epic karate style that is based on sound philosophical principles of ensuring absolute perfection of the character of participants. The style is a blend of various martial arts techniques that were developed by Gichin Funakoshi and his son Gigo, and popularized through demonstrations in university karate clubs (such as at Chuo, Hosei, Takushoku and Waseda) and in a series of public displays and outside dojos. After the death of Funakoshi in 1957, his students continued to teach his brand of karate. Nonetheless, differences emerged on the essence and principles of karate, resulting into splits into various schools.
The Development of the Shotokan
Gichin himself had trained in the Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū styles of the Okinawan karate before creating his simpler system. He also changed the names of some Okinawan kata names in order to make them trouble-free to pronounce. In 1924, he adopted the uniform (keikogi) and the Kyū/Dan rank system, allowing him to use colored belts (obi) as rank indicators. Hence, he came up with white belt (8th rising to 4th Kyū), brown (3rd rising to 1st Kyū), and black (1st and higher Dan).
The style’s training is divided into three sections: basics (Kihon), patterns of moves (kata), and sparring (Kumite). The Kihon and Kata techniques include deep and long stances that help to boost stability, strengthen legs and enhance powerful movements. There is also massive emphasis on anaerobic strength, greater speed and powerful techniques. Individuals who graduate to the brown and black belt ranks demonstrate more fluid throwing, grappling and aikido-like techniques. Fighting (kumite) techniques are learned in the kata and Kihon as the trainees advance and become experts.
Kihon (the basics) was developed by Yoshitaka Funakoshi, the son of Gichin Funakoshi. Called Kihon Kata, it consists of successive restatements that introduce individuals to karate kata. After the basics, the individual learns kata, which is a set of moves that are organized to allow individuals to fight against imaginary opponents. The kata consists of strikes, kicks, sweeps, blocks and punches; twisting, turning, stepping, jumping, and dropping to the ground. Every technique can potentially cause a killing blow, but when the individual gets old, the kata emphasizes on fitness promotion and health benefits.
Kumite is the practical application of kata techniques to real opponents and situations. The sparring techniques are classified into the low-grade blackbelt (1st-2nd) for beginners, intermediate (3rd-4th), and advanced kumite (5th onwards). The beginners learn distance and timing through the basic drills of 1, 3 or 5 attacks to the head or body, and with the defender making backward steps while blocking and only waiting to counter the last defense. The purple belt level allows the individual (karateka) to learn one-step sparring (ippon kumite) under a greater variety of blocks and attacks, and faster counter-attacks of grapples, strikes and take-down maneuvers.
Individuals can also learn the Kase-ha Shotokan-ryū, which uses 8-step, 3-directional attacking and blocking pattern that grows from the yellow-belt level to advanced levels. The next kumite level is freestyle one-step fighting (jiyu ippon kumite) which requires karatekas to be in motion and to make major counter-attacks. Lastly, there is the Kaishu ippon kumite, which is a more advanced level of one-step sparring.
The Shotokan style uses many terms derived from Japanese culture. Some of the terms (such as Gankaku and Heian) are names while others (such as kumite and kata) are exclusively originated from martial arts. Some terms such as zenkutsu dachi are rarely used in daily life while others such as rei appear routinely. Equally, some schools such as the JKA (Japan Karate Association) have retained the full terminology while some utilize translations.
Gichin Funakoshi outlined his Twenty Precepts of Karate (Niju Kun) as the basis of his style. In addition, some of his students came up with others. The Twenty principles were primarily derived from Zen and Bushido, and allude to the notions of respect, humility, patience, compassion, and outward and inward calmness. According to Dojo Kun, the core principles of Shotokan include perfection of character, respect for others, and endeavor to excellence, faithfulness, and refrain from violent behaviors. Gichin Funakoshi believed that through the practice of the 20 principles of Karate, the karateka can improve as a person.