History of Shotokan Karate

Origins of Karate

Karate is a martial art with origins on the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa in the East China Sea.  The indigenous fighting arts of Okinawa were combined with martial arts of the surrounding countries, drawing especially on the White Crane style from Fujian, China.  The Okinawan martial art began to take form in the early 1800s and was known as Toudi (Tang Hand, China Hand) or simply Te (Hand).  The earliest practitioners in Okinawa were members of the royal court in service to the Ryukyu king.  These pioneers of karate were responsible for keeping the peace and protecting the royal family, which regularly tested their technique.  The training of karate during this period was difficult due to a Japanese occupation of the Ryukyu kingdom, where the Japanese banned the possession of weapons and the practice of martial techniques.  As a result, karate practice during this time was often conducted in secret, at night, and in secluded areas.  Many of the kata we practice today were developed or refined during this time.

Japanese Karate

In 1868, the Meiji restoration overthrew the Shogun in Japan as well as the feudal system of government and many traditional aspects of the Japanese class system.  In addition, the practice of karate was allowed openly and in public, and the art began to spread.  The founder of Shotokan karate, Gichin Funakoshi, was born at this time and began karate training at a young age.  Master Funakoshi’s primary teachers were Anko Asato and Anko Itosu, both members of high society in Okinawa and both formidable karate practitioners.  Anko Itosu became one of the most influential karate-ka in history by the impact of his numerous students on spreading and developing the art.  Master Funakoshi became a school teacher in Okinawa, and in 1922 traveled to Japan in an effort to spread the art of Karate to a broader audience.

Funakoshi was tireless in his efforts, giving demonstrations for the Emperor, starting the first karate clubs at Japanese universities, and becoming a full time resident on the Japanese mainland to oversee karate’s development.  The Japanese students took to calling their dojo the Shotokan (Shoto’s Hall), after Master Funakoshi’s pen name, Shoto.  The Master’s son Gigo Funakoshi had a strong influence on the development of karate during the 1930s, struggling for karate to gain acceptance alongside Kendo, Judo, and Aikido – Karate was still seen as a foreign art in some respects, and both Master and son worked hard to gain recognition of their Okinawan art.

Karate Introduced to the World

World War II raged from 1939-1945, wreaking devastation on the entire world and on the karate world in particular.  Priceless records of the history and heritage of karate were lost during the invasion of Okinawa, countless Japanese karate-ka lost their lives trying to protect their country, and the devastation across Japan scattered the remaining karate students on the mainland.  After the dust settled in 1945, one of Master Funakoshi’s top students, Masatoshi Nakayama, began to re-organize the remaining students, recover lost training methods and kata, and formed the Japan Karate Association (JKA) to further Master Funakoshi’s efforts.  The JKA began developing rules for karate contests involving competitive displays of kata and kumite in a sporting environment.  These competitions brought karate closer in line with other indigenous Japanese martial arts such as kendo and judo.

Then, in 1957, Master Funakoshi passed away at age 88.  At this time, a dispute between the JKA and Funakoshi’s older students resulted in the first of many political splits in the line of Shotokan karate.  The JKA soon began its famous instructor training program, and began to produce some of the most talented, skilled, and fearsome karate practitioners in the world.  Master Nakayama used the instructor course to send highly trained karate teachers to all corners of the globe, spreading the humble Okinawan art to the global scale.  Notable instructors from the JKA training course include Masters Hidetaka Nishiyama, Teruyuki Okazaki, Yutaka Yaguchi, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Keinosuke Enoeda, Takayuki Mikami, Tetsuhiko Asai, and many others.  These fantastic instructors shaped the world of karate practice during the height of its popularity in the 1960s and 1970s.

The International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF)

Master Okazaki was chosen by the JKA to spread Shotokan karate in the USA along with Hidetaka Nishiyama in 1961.  Master Okazaki established the ISKF in 1977, and his dojo in Philadelphia, PA was designated as the worldwide headquarters.  The ISKF continuously grew and flourished as a member organization of the JKA for many years, establishing an Instructor Training Institute in the USA to mirror the JKA training program.  When Master Nakayama passed away in 1987, the JKA experienced turmoil and change over the next two decades.  In 2007, the ISKF split from the JKA organization, establishing an independent Shotokan karate organization under Master Okazaki.  The ISKF continues to uphold the traditions and standards of excellence of Master Funakoshi, Master Nakayama, and the original JKA.
Learn more about the history of the ISKF

Nittany Shotokan Karate-do

The instructors at Nittany Shotokan both got their start in karate in the early 2000s while training under Sensei J.D. Swanson at the Penn State Shotokan Karate-do club.  The Penn State club is a member of the ISKF, and the Nittany instructors spent training time with many senior ISKF instructors, local ISKF clubs, and with the ISKF Masters: Sensei Okazaki, Sensei Yaguchi, and formerly of the ISKF, Sensei Mikami, Sensei Takashina, and Sensei Koyama.  In 2005, the Penn State Shotokan Karate Club was passed on to Sensei Kim Baran upon the departure of Sensei Swanson.  Sensei Kim Baran kept the Penn State Club strong and vibrant until 2011, when irreconcilable differences with the Penn State Club Sports Program caused the Penn State instructors to form the Nittany Shotokan Karate-do Club in downtown State College.  The instructors of Nittany Shotokan Karate-do strive to maintain the strong tradition of Shotokan training that has been passed on by their instructors and karate ancestors.
Learn more about the instructors at Nittany Shotokan