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Shotokan karate traces its roots to the islands of Okinawa, which now form part of Japan. An indigenous fighting system know as Okinawa-te (Okinawa hand) would eventually become karate (Chinese hand) and, finally, karate-do (the way of the empty hand).

Historically, Okinawa was an independent kingdom, but it was strongly influenced by Chinese culture. Okinawa established a tributary relationship with China, which allowed Okinawan martial artists to study in China (and to train with Chinese martial artists visiting Okinawa).

There were originally three styles of Okinawa-te, named for the towns where they were located: Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te. Shotokan karate is a modern Japanese style, descended from these traditional Okinawan styles.

Unfortunately, the history of karate is somewhat incomplete and speculative. Until recently, karate was taught in secret and few records were maintained. During the period of secrecy, there would be no open discussion karate training, even within a family.

Gichin Funakoshi is widely regarded as the father of modern karate and is certainly the father of Japanese karate. He was an Okinawan schoolteacher and an enthusiastic karate-ka. He began karate training in his childhood, primarily with Yasutsune Azato (1827-1906) and Yasutsune Itosu (1830-1915).

Funakoshi was selected to give the first demonstrations of karate outside Okinawa. They occurred in 1916 (possibly 1917) and in 1922. His demonstrations were well received and there was much interest in the introduction of karate to Japan. Funakoshi remained in Japan after the second demonstration.

Initially, there were few students to support the only karate instructor in Japan. The 56 year old schoolteacher had to take odd jobs at the dormitory where he set up his temporary dojo. He worked as watchman, caretaker and gardener. To pay for his meals, he had to persuade the cook to take lessons.

Our style is called Shotokan as a tribute to Master Funakoshi, who used the pen-name Shoto on poetry and calligraphy. Shoto means waving pine. Funakoshi selected this name because he enjoyed hearing the sound of the wind through the pine trees as he took evening walks in Okinawa.
 

In 1936, Funakoshi built his first dojo in Tokyo. His students named it the Shotokan, meaning Shoto's club. Funakoshi did not actually name his style of karate, but the name of the dojo came to be associated with the style itself.
 

Master Funakoshi died on 26 April 1957. During his lifetime, he trained many famous students, including Shigeru Egami, Masatoshi Nakayama, Keinosuke Enoeda, Tsutomu Oshima, Hidetaka Nishiyama and Teruyuki Okazaki.

Our governing body, the Japan Karate Association (J.K.A.), was founded in 1948, in Tokyo, Japan. Funakoshi was the first Chief Instructor.

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