Precise History

Shotokan Karate: A Precise History
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Slide 3
Gichin Funakoshi's Karate.
Shotokan Karate: A Precise History.

The story of Shotokan Karate begins begins in Okinawa on November 10, 1868 with the birth of a son to Gisu Funakoshi and his wife. A small and rather frail child, Gichin had hoped to become a doctor, but settled for a career as a schoolteacher which, although a poorly paid position, brought him a certain amount of social status and respect. This decision would prove crucial when he introduced Okinawan karate into mainland Japan through famous universities such as Keio, Wasea, and Tokyo.

The first book on the subject that that is based not on myth, folklore and the work of previous writers, but rather, the rigorous research of-respected researchers and karate historians.
Shotokan Karate Cover 400
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Early days
Funakoshi's Training Begins

Taking up karate in order to improve his frequent health problems, Funakoshi (center in highschool tunic) became a student of both Ankoh Itoso and Ankoh Azato. Okinawans considered them paragons of the unarmed fighting arts or “ti,” and referred to them as “Bushi,” the Okinawan equivalent of Samurai. What he learned from these classical Shuri Ryu karate masters would become the foundation of both Shotokan as we know it today, and many modern derivatives.

Funakoshi was invited to start karate training by a schoolfriend who was the son of the noted karate master Ankoh Asato.
Funakoshi Child
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The shuri castle demonstration.
The Crown Prince Visits

Crown Prince Hirohito stopped in Okinawa at the beginning of his extended tour of Europe in 1921, perhaps because the captain of his ship, Kenwa Kanna, was a famous Okinawan. Gichin Funakoshi and a select group of karateka showed “Ryukyu Karate” before the Prince in front of the Seiden (Great Hall), of Shuri Castle (right) on March 6th of that year. Because of this, they invited Funakoshi to show karate in Tokyo where his exhibition before Jigoro Kano, the Founder of Judo, made him an instant celebrity. His success prompted him to stay and promote Okinawan Karate in Japan.

Shuri Castle was first built in 1495, and served as the home of the Ryukyu monarchy until Okinawa was annexed by Japan in 1879.
Shuri Castle 400
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The First Karate Dojo in Japan
The Meishojuku Dojo

Funakoshi’s success generated tremendous support from the most famous martial artists of the period including, Hakudo Nakayama, Yasuhiro Konishi, and Morihei Ueshiba. While living in a hostel for Okinawan students in Tokyo’s Koshikawa district, called the Meishojuku, he worked as the janitor, delivered mail and so forth to offset his rent, and this allowed him to open a small karate dojo in the hostel. His modest dojo was a landmark in the development of karate in Japan, and its students would become the pioneers of Shotokan throughout country, and later the world.

The Meishojuku, was old, shabby, and most importantly, cheap enough for Funakoshi Sensei to just support himself. It was severely damaged during the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
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The early 1920s
The First Dan Grades

One of the most energetic members of the Meishojuku was Yasuhiro Konishi, a graduate of the very prestigious Keio University and also its kendo teacher. With Konishi’s help, and that of his famous martial arts friends and acquaintances, the first university karate club in Tokyo was opened. The first dan grades were awarded to students of Gichin Funakoshi on April 12, 1924. Yasuhiro Konishi should be considered the Father of karate in Japan as he also supported and promoted, Choki Motobu Sensei other Okinawan teachers.

Funakoshi adopted the system of grades and colored belts that Jigoro Kano had systemized when he transformed JuJutsu into modern Judo. Perhaps Funakoshi hoped that, by association, his karate would become viewed as part of Japan rich martial tradition.
First Dan Grade Otsuka
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Karate becomes “Japanese.”
Karate Grows in Japan.

Konishi’s energy, to say nothing of his generosity, allowed other Okinawan karate teachers to establish themselves in mainland Japan. Soon many more of the most prestigious universities had organised karate clubs, and Choki Motobu, Kenwa Mabuni, Kanbun Uechi and other karate masters began actively promoting Okinawan karate in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and elsewhere.

Choki Motobu started the karate movement in Japan when this middle-karate man defeated a very young and large European boxer in a prize fight, knocking him out with a single blow. Motobu got the purse but Funakoshi got the publicity and credit for the victory in the mass-circulation, “Kingu” magazine.
Motobu 3
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The Americans are here
Strategic Air Command

The US Military Staff who occupied Japan after WWII soon realized the value of Japanese self-defence methods. They reasoned that, if Strategic Air Command aircrew were brought down over hostile territory, strong defensive skills would would give them a practical and psychological advantage over the enemy. Classes were quickly organised that brought together the top Japanese Judo, Aikido, police tactics, and karate instructors to train SAC instructors. Funakoshi, Obata, Nakayama and Nishiyama represented the JKA.

SAC chose the most highly regarded martial arts teachers they could find to train their military personnel. This typical group includes Back row: Kobayashi, Ishikawa, Kotani, Unknown, Tomiki, Bruno. Front row: Nishiyama, Obata, Kamata.
Sac Instructors
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The Death of Gichin Funakoshi.
The End of the Beginning

After WWII, Karate training started again around 1947. However, although the various Shotokan groups could not get on, Funakoshi taught them all. After his death in 1957, his funeral ceremony was marred by a loud dispute who his legitimate heirs were, the students who had trained with him since the 1920s, or the younger ones who had trained with him for only a short period, or not at all. The former wanted to preserve karate as the “art of virtuous men,” while the latter had sporting aspirations. The Shotokai, JKA, and other groups would have little contact from that point onwards.

This stone was erected to the memory of Gichin Funakoshi at Engakuji Buddhist Temple, in Kamakura. Inscribed upon its face is the maxim: “Karate Ni Sente Nashi,” there is no first attack in karate.
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The New karate of the jka
Japan Karate Association

The Japan Karate Association grew out of the Takushoku University Karate Club. Its strong reputation was developed by the young instructors it sent overseas to promote what was in the early days, an offshoot of Funakoshi’s teachings.. Kanazawa, Enoeda, Okazaki, Shirai and others taught a more sport orientated style of karate that was dynamic and appealed to young men. Their efforts created the largest single style karate organization in the world based at the JKA Honbu Dojo in Tokyo.

Naka Sensei (left) and Shimizu Sensei teaching a CFA Seminar at the JKA Headquarters in Tokyo. Photo courtesy of Dragon Associates Inc.
Naka Shimizu

This book should be included in the library of every serious martial artist, not just Shotokan practitioners, for understanding the whole picture is the best way to gain insight into one’s own style and thereby further personal development

Shotokan Tiger

Morio Higaonna 10th Dan
Living Intagible Cultural Assett of Karate


This is not merely a dry organizational History. Numerous stories concerning the more famous karate-ka and extensive quotations illustrate and give vibrant life to the historical narrative.

Shotokan Tiger

Robert Dohrenwend Ph.D. Asian Journal of Martial Arts

“Shotokan Karate,” is a valuable addition to my personal library and a great resource for anyone who wants an accurate and documented account of traditional karate do, from hitherto mysterious beginnings to the here and now!

Shotokan Tiger

George Donahue
Exec. Edit. Charles E Tuttle.

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Gichin Funakoshi

“In the last few years, a small number of extremely good books have been published on the Japanese/Okinawan martial arts, books which have made important contributions to our understanding of these martial arts. Shotokan Karate: A Precise History is the most recent addition to this select list. This book is one of the two or three finest historical treatments given to any martial art, and it is not merely a first class reference work, it is also a grand read. For once, the cliche is true. It does belong on the shelf of every serious karateka and martial artist.” Journal of Asian Martial Arts.

Technical Information for Serious Book Collectors
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Printed on 100 GSM Pavarotti Silk coated European paper by a famous English Press that was founded in 1746 and has been in business continuously ever since.

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Gathered into 16 page signatures then French sewn, the linen covered hard cover with top and tail bands is blocked in gold characters before being “pulled on.”

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Printed endpapers of a complete kata sequence performed by Choshin Chibana Sensei and the addition of a laminated full color cover show this volume's European pedigree

This volume was designed and produced by Dragon Associates Inc. in California, assisted by a team of recognized expert historians and karate scholars in Europe, the Americas and the Far East. The layout was completed with Affinity software on Macintosh computers. Photography was carried out with equipment from Leica, Rodenstock, Haselblad, Wisner, Zeiss and Nikon.

Thirty years before the American Declaration of Independence was published in 1776 the printing company of Page Bros Ltd was already hard at work printing quality books in the town of Norwich in England, where it is still located. Every book we have published since 1980 has been produced for us by this company except one which was commissioned by a Japanese Prefectural Government that required it to be printed domestically.

Our books are “heirloom volumes” designed to last for many generations while remaining intact and free of fading and discolorations given minimal basic care. The paper for this title, Pavarotti Silk 100 GSM, was produced as a special batch for our company. It is an archival paper that exhibits little to no “show through,” and has a beautiful coated surface texture that reproduces text and images beautifully without distortion or smudging.

For centuries books have sat on library shelves without shedding pages because they were “French Sewn” into signatures, usually of 16 pages. To this “block,” boards covered in durable linen would be applied by means of glued end papers. In this way a cover that had been frequently handled would be restored by replacing the “boards” leaving the “block” undamaged and ready for a few more centuries. It also meant that the book would lie flat and not need to be forced open. We maintain this practice to this day, and in addition we gold blocked the linen book with English and Japanese characters, and finished the volume with a full color, laminated dust jacket for a final layer of protection.

About Shotokan Karate: A Precise History

This book mets an important need. In the past, much that was published on Shotokan was written from the heart rather than the head. Authors of popular material  did little research, and almost everything that appeared in print was derivative: new generations of authors repeating and embellishing the tales woven by their predecessors. Until now, factual material was rare and reliable sources rarer. Wild claims were made, absurd statements published, and ludicrous positions adopted by otherwise rational individuals. 

For some Shotokan became a cult with Gichin Funakoshi as its principal deity He was, we were told, the true and only source of knowledge, the greatest karate master who ever lived, the originator of a style so perfect it would never change, yet we continue to find clear evidence in Funakoshi sensei’s own words to refute this. 

Within the 500 plus (A4 paper size 12” x 8” shipping weight 5 lb.) pages of this enormous, heirloom quality volume, you will find a story more fascinating that anything dreamed up by folklorists and storytellers of the past. The true roots of Shotokan, the achievements of its founders, and the accomplishments of its pioneers, are greater and perhaps nobler than we were told by its greatest advocates. This is all supported by the most active and respected karate historians in the world.

This book does not simply debunk the many myths but makes the reader aware of the strength of the movement started by this diminutive retired schoolteacher from the prefecture of Okinawa.

Some of the topics covered in this landmark volume.

Abe, Keigo • Agyo • Aikido • All American Karate Federation • American Federation of Independent Shotokan Karate-Do • American JKA Karate Association • Aniya, Seisho • Aoki, Hiroyuki • Aragaki, Ankichi • Asai, Tetsuhiko • Asano, Shiro • Ason • Aun • Azato, Yasutsune • Bassai dai • Bassai sho • Bell, Vernon • bo • bogu kumite • breathing • British Karate Federation • Budo • Bugis • Buke Sho Hatto • bunkai • Butokukai • Cattle, Steve • Chi no kata • Chibana, Choshin • China Hand, • Chinen, Masami • Chinese kempo, • Chinte • Chinto • Chuo University • Chuzan • Confucian Classics • Confucius • Dai Nippon Karate-do Ten no Kata • Dalke, Ray • Dojo Kun • Draeger, Donn • Du Pin, Louis • Dynamic Karate, • Egami, Shigeru • Empi • Empty Hand [karate] • Engaku-ji temple, • French Boxing • Fukien • Fukien White Crane • Funakoshi, Gichin • Funakoshi, Gisu • Funakoshi, Yoshihide • Funakoshi, Yoshitaka • Fusaro, Robert • Gangaku • Geiko, Kokan • Gima, Shinkin • Gojushiho dai • Gojushiho sho • Gorin no Sho • Gusukuma, Shimpan • Hall, Basil • han-katsu • Hanashiro, Chomo • Hangetsu • Harada, Mitsusuke • Hazard, Dave • Heian godan • Heian nidan • Heian sandan • Heian shodan • Heian yondan • Hi, Choi Hong • Higa, Matsu • Higaonna, Kanjun • Higaonna, Kanryo • Hirohito • Hironishi, Motonobu • Ho, Chou Tze • Hokuzan • Hooper, Dave • Ikeda, Yasuo • Inoue, Yoichiro • Instructors class • Instructors course • International Amateur Karate Federation • International Shotokan Karate Federation • International Traditional Karate Federation • Ishimine • Ito, Kimio • Itosu, Yasutsune • Iwah • Jackson, Richard • Japan Karate Association • Japan Karate-Do Federation • Jiin • Jion • Jitte • ju-jutsu • judo • Kamata, Toshio • Kamikaze • Kanazawa, Hirokazu • Kanku dai • Kanku sho • Kano, Jigoro • Karate Nyumon • Karate the Art of Empty Hand Fighting • Karate Union of Great Britain • Kase, Taiji • Kasuya, Hitoshi • kata • Kato, Sadashige • Kawazoe, Masao • Enoeda, Keinosuke • Keio University • Kempo Gaisetsu • kenshusei • Ki, Go Ken • ki [vital energy] • kick, side • kimochi • Kingu [King] Magazine • Kongo Rikishi • Konishi, Yasuhiro • Kume-mura • Kumite • Kushanku • Kyan, Chotoku • Karate Do Kyohan, • Leiman, Darryl • Loo choo • Mabuni, Kenwa • Makiwara • Manchuria • Matayoshi, Shinpo • Matsukaze • Matsumura, Sokon • Meikyo • Meisei Juku • Mencius • Mikami, Takayuki • Miki, Nisaburo • Miyagi, Chojun • Miyata, Minoru • Miyazaki, Satoshi • Mochizuki, Hiroo • Moden, Yabiku • Motobu, Choki • Moving Zen • Murakami, Tetsuji • Musashi, Miyamoto • mushin • Nagai, Akio • Nagamine, Shoshin • Nage no kata • Nago Oyakata, the Sage of Nago • Naha • Naha-te • Naihanchi • Nakano School • Nakasone, Genwa • Nakayama, Hakudo • Nakayama, Masatoshi • Nanzen • Nicol, C.W. • Nijushiho • Nishiyama, Hidetaka • Noguchi, Hiroshi • Nowak, Frank • nunchaku • O’Neill, Terry • Obata, Isao • Ochayagoten • Ohshima, Tsutomu • Ohtsuka, Hironori • Okazaki, Teruyuki • Okinawa • Okinawan kobu-jutsu • Okuyama, Tadao • Omoto-kyo • Omoto-kyo sect • Oshima Hikki • Oyama, Masutatsu Ozawa, Osamu • Perry, Matthew • Plee, Henri • Powell, Michael • Rakutenkai • Rentan Goshin Karate Jutsu • roundhouse kick •Goju Ryu • Shito Ryu, • Ryukyu Kempo Karate • Ryukyus • sai • Saigo, Kichinosuke • Sakugawa • Sakugawa, Tode • samurai • Satow, Ernest • Satsuma • Satto • Schmidt, Stan • Seipai • Seiyunchin • sempai • Shaolin temple • Sherry, Andy • Shihan Gakko • Shimabuku, Taro • Shimoda, Takeshi • Shimpan, Gusukuma • Shingon • Shintaido • Shintaido Sogo Budo • Shinwa Taido • Shirai, Hiroshi • Shiriaku, Chuzankoku • Sho dynasty • Shoji, Hiroshi • Shorei • Shorin Ryu • Shoto • Shotokai • Shotokan • Shotokan dojo • Shotokan Karate International • Shugendo • Shunten • Shuri • Shuri-te • Shusai • So, Nei-chu • Sochin • sparring methods • sport • Strategic Air Command • Sueyoshi • Sumo • Suparimpei • T’ai Chi Ch’uan • Taekwondo • Taikyoku • Taikyoku nidan, • Taikyoku sandan, • Taikyoku shodan • Taira, Shinken • Takagi, Fusajiro • Takagi, Masatomo • Takahashi, Gene • Takahashi, George • Takahashi, Shunsuke • Takaura, Eiji • Takushoku University • Tanaka,Masahiko • Tang Soo Do • Taoism • Tekki • Tekki nidan • Tekki sandan • Tekki shodan • Ten no kata • Tendai • Tenryu • Tensho • Thai boxing • throwing techniques • To, Tai Ki • Tokyo University • Tomari-te • tonfa • tournaments • Trimble, Aidan • Uechi, Kanbun • Ungyo • Unsu • Valera, Dominique • Wado Ryu • Waseda University • Whitcher, Ed. • World Karate-do Shotokan Academy • World Shotokan Karate Association • World Shotokan Karate-Do Federation • World Union of Karate Organizations • Yabu, Kentsu • Yagyu-ryu • Yahara, Mikio • yakunin • yamabushi • Yamada, Tatsuo • Yang • Yano, Kenji • Yin • Yoseikan • Zan, Wai Shin • zanshin • Zatsuwa, Nanto • Zen

How much Shotokan history do you know?
Ten no Kata WS
Dai Nippon Ten No Kata
Giko Sepia 3 e1661403989765
Giko Funakoshi
Kneeling in Courtyard
M. Nakayama with the JKA

Never heard of Shotokan’s Dai Nippon Ten No Kata? Gichin Funakoshi published his booklet describing this kata on September 20th 1941.

Do you believe that Gichin Funakoshi developed Shotokan? Many serious scholars believe that actually his son Giko (above) was responsible. 

Does the JKA represent Shotokan karate in Japan? Yes, but it it only one of many groups that can trace their roots back to Gichin Funakoshi.

Contents: Shotokan Karate A Precise History.

The Contents: It is evident that every word in this book has been carefully considered; not a word, a comma, or a period is superfluous. The mass of fascinating material it presents combined with the infectious enthusiasm of the author’s writing style, also makes it immensely readable. This is not a book you will need to slog through. Pick it up, and you will not be able to put it down!.

“Shotokan Karate A Precise History” is divided into an introduction, eight chapters, four appendices and an index. It is very well organized, and although the amount and quality of information is a little overwhelming at first, one soon learns how to get the most from it. The first section of the book features a foreword by Morio Higaonna, 10th Dan Hanshi, and a “Living Intangible Cultural Treasure of Karate. Obviously this is a book to be taken seriously.

Chapter 1 Okinawa This deals with the historical background of the Ryukyu Islands and how a culture developed that would give birth to modern karate.

Chapter 2 Shorin Ryu The Roots of Shotokan The lives, times, and teachings of karate pioneers: Tode Sakugawa, Matsu Higa, Ason, Iwah, Wai Shin Zan, Bushi Matsumura, Ishimine, Yasutzune Azato, Ankoh Itosu, Kentsu Yabu, Shimpan Gusukuma, Chomo Hanashiro, Choshin Chibana, and Chotoku Kyan.

Chapter 3 Gichin Funakoshi His birth in 1868, early karate instructors, a career as a school teacher, relocation to Tokyo, his friendships with Jigoro Kano, Kenwa Mabuni, Hakudo Nakayama, Taira Shinken and others, early writings, Keio and Tokyo universities, Yoshitaka Funakoshi.

Chapter 4 Japan Goes to War. Manchuria, militarism, Shotokan karate in Korea the birth of Taekwondo, Egami Hironishi and Nakayama, Takushoku University, the first Shotokan Dojo, Tode becames Karate, Yasuhiro Konishi, the Butokukai, karate during the war, Ten no Kata, Mitsusuke Harada, Hidetaka Nishiyama, Taiji Kase, Yoshitaka Funakoshi.

Chapter 5 The Rebirth of Shotokan The war’s end, Teruyuki Okazaki, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Takayuki Mikami, Keinosuke Enoeda, Judo & Karate, the Japan Karate Association, Waseda University, the Shotokai, the Yotsuya dojo, Isao Obata, Strategic Air Command, Americans at the Kodokan, 1953 JKA instructors tour the United States, tournament karate, the funeral of Gichin Funakoshi.

Chapter 6 The JKA & Its Derivatives Masatoshi Nakayama and the Japan Karate Association, the Suidobashi dojo in Tokyo, the instructors’ class, foreign students of the JKA, Mikio Yahara, Hitoshi Kasuya, Dr. David Hooper, Shiro Asano, Tetsuhiko Asai, Funakoshi’s memorial, Alistair Mitchell, the death of Nakayama and fragmentation of the JKA.

Chapter 7 The Shotokai Tadao Okuyama, the Shotokai, Shigeru Egami, Shintaido, Shotokai kata and kumite, the budo approach, breathing.

Chapter 8 Shotokan for the World Kanazawa in Hawaii, European pioneer Henri Plée, Hiroo Mochizuki, Tetsuji Murakami, Tsutomu Oshima, the British Karate Federation, the JKA in Britain, the Karate Union of Great Britain, Shotokan as a sport, Shotokan in America, the AAKF/ITKF etc., the future of Shotokan.

Appendix A When historical information is introduced in the main text a source is given in the form of a footnote. When the footnote exceeds more than a few lines (and they often do) the additional material is placed in the end notes (Section A). This prevents the flow of the book being interrupted while allowing the reader to go back at his or her leisure to read the minutiae. And what a pleasure this is. Some end notes run to several thousand words – essays that offer fascinating information not available elsewhere.

Appendix B This is a list of the Shotokan kata and their origins.

Appendix C A complete list of Shotokan books published in English.

Appendix D Master Funakoshis Twenty Precepts are listed in English and Japanese

Index The index is very well organized, comprehensive, and easy to use. Without it navigation through the myriad subjects and thousands of footnotes this book contains would be difficult. With it the book is a genuine pleasure to read and to study.

A Glimpse of Early Shotokan Through Contemporary Images and Film Footage