Shotokan Karate

Shotokan Karate: A Precise History. Overview
Shotokan Karate A Precise History

This superb book meets an important need. In the past much that was published on Shotokan was written from the heart rather than the head. Little original research was done and almost everything that appeared in magazines and books was derivative: new generations of authors repeating and embellishing the tales woven by their predecessors. Factual material was rare, reliable sources rarer prompting stories of Okinawan peasants removing armored samurai from their horses with flying kicks, (have you ever seen how high a man on horseback actually is) and karate instructors as big (and bad) as Big Foot. 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 and his primary

disciples  its high priests. To suggest he was simply a retired school teacher with a keen interest in karate was to invite derision, scorn and ridicule. He was, we were told, the true and only source of knowledge, the greatest karate master whoi ever lived, the originator of a style so perfect it would never change. Shotokan was inviolate, a sacred creed, the very epitome of all that was good, fine, and noble.
Yet there was, is, and we continue to find clear evidence in Funakoshi Sensei’s images and words to refute this. We know also that many base, shallow, and ignoble things have been done in the name of Shotokan, and that many of the most senior adherents were far from the humble, courteous, and scholarly “Confucian Gentlemen” the Founder suggested they should strive to be. Perhaps they were just human beings after all!

Morio Higaonna

“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.”

—Morio Higaonna, Goju Ryu 10th Dan Hanshi, Living Intangible Cultural Treasure.


“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.”

Robert Dohrenwend, Ph.D. Journal of Asian Martial Arts.


“In addition to being a fine history of Shotokan karate, this book provides one of the clearest pictures available of Shotokan’s Okinawan ancestry and the spirit of the times that gave birth to modern karate do. “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 up to the here and now. The historical photographs, most of which I’d never seen anywhere else, are alone worth the price of the volume.

George Donahue Executive Ed. Charles E. Tuttle Publishers.



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 and respected for the quality of its scholarship. 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, Chotoku Kyan, Choki Motobu  and many other famous Okinawan and Japanese karate pioneers.

Chapter 3 Gichin Funakoshi’s 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.
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.

Sample Photos From This Fine Volume


“A privately published limited edition, printed at the press of Page Brothers Ltd. a company founded in 1746 (and still located) in Norwich, England. It is folded in 22 signatures of 16 pages and printed on “Pavarotti Silk,” one of the best coated papers available. Its binding is sewn for glued permanence then fitted with linen covered boards, gold blocked in Japanese and English to produce the highest quality casebound (hardcover) book. 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.

This volume is finished with a Full color glossy dust jacket. Shotokan Karate A Precise History has 352 pages in the large format European A4 size (approx. 8.5″ x 12″). It contains over 150,000 words, more than150 photos, and weighs over four pounds.

I spoke at length to the production staff at Page Brothers, and all were very impressed with this volume. They print millions of high- quality books each year so their opinion has value. One veteran staff member told me: “…it has the bulk, size, and appearance of a fine Bible” prophetic words (forgive the pun) for a book that is already being referred to as the “Shotokan Bible.”

Writing a brief conclusion to a review such as this is difficult. To reduce so much material to a few trite words, the work of decades to a sentence or two doesn’t seem right somehow so I looked elsewhere for inspiration. Dr. Robert Dohrenwend said in his review of this book for the Journal of Asian Martial Arts (Spring 2001) : ‘This book is one of the two or three finest historical treatments given to any martial art.’

I would go farther. It is in my opinion, the best book of its type, certainly the best book on Shotokan, probably the best karate book ever published in the English language. For the time, being at least!”

Editor: Classical Fighting Arts magazine. ,,