What is the history of Shotokan Karate

Karate Großhabersdorf

Where does karate come from and how did it develop?

What we know today as karate originated on Okinawa, a small island with a central position between Japan, China and Taiwan in the East China Sea. Native forms of combat, certain forms of dances, and the influence of Chinese martial arts experts have given rise to a variety of forms of exercise called kata over the centuries.

It has been proven that during the long occupation of Okinawa, not only the carrying of weapons but also the practice of martial arts was forbidden. The followers of martial arts "camouflaged" their exercises in dance forms. Such "fight dances" are also known from other cultures, e.g. Capoeira, the Brazilian fight dance or its origin, the African NíGolo (zebra dance). The Okinawean martial art was then called To-De (translated: China hand).

Towards the beginning of this century, when the ancient martial arts were experiencing a renaissance in Japan and becoming a national treasure and heritage, Hirohito awoke to Okinawa after a visit by the Japanese heir to the throne in 1921, the interest in the "exotic". Part of his visiting program was a karate demonstration given by Gichin Funakoshi was organized.

In 1922 Gichin Funakoshi traveled to Japan to present karate in Tokyo. The occasion was a demonstration of the ancient Japanese martial arts, to which Okinawa Prefecture was invited. Karate was now being noticed in front of a wider audience for the first time. Although Funakoshi had not intended it, he stayed in Tokyo to teach karate due to the keen interest in Tokyo.

At that time, there were strong nationalist tendencies in Japan. Therefore, terms were often deleted that suggested a Chinese origin. This also happened in the case of the term "karate". In the Japanese font "Kanji", karate consists of two characters, "kara" and "te". There are now two characters in the Kanji script (which comes directly from the Chinese script), both of which are pronounced in Japanese "kara", but have different meanings: "kara" (or "ku") for "emptiness" and " kara "for" Chinese "or" Tang Dynasty ". The spelling "chinese hand" was generally accepted up to that point. Now the characters were exchanged and the interpretation changed from "Chinese" to "Emptiness" without manipulating the pronunciation. However, this met with bitter criticism from traditionalists. A number of karate styles therefore still use the old spelling today.

"kara" stands for "emptiness", "te" stands for "hand". The common interpretation for "empty" today is also "unarmed". The second interpretation is the state of spiritual harmony with the universe, the stage of "emptiness" or "nirvana", which Zen Buddhism strives for. These are interpretations that Gichin Funakoshi introduced in the twenties after his arrival in Tokyo.

In addition, the language spoken in Okinawa differs greatly from Japanese and so the terminology had to be "Japaneseized" and, above all, standardized. An example of this is the name of a number of forms of exercise: Heian. The Kanji characters for Heian are written the same way in the Okinawan language as they are in Japanese. Only the pronunciation is different: in Japan: Heian, in Okinawa: Pinan.

This change in pronunciation is also due to Gichin Funakoshi. Hironori Ohtsuka, the founder of the karate style Wado-Ryu, studied for a long time under Funakoshi in Japan until he separated from him due to differences. In Wado-Ryu, the pronunciation pinan is still used today, as in most other karate styles. From this it can be concluded that Funakoshi only adapted the pronunciation to Japanese conditions over time.

(Note: The Japanese terms from karate with a German meaning can be found in the Karate Terms Lexicon, where they are largely supplemented in Japanese)

The Second World War claimed many victims among Funakoshi's students and in 1945 the Funakoshi dojo was destroyed by bombs. After the Second World War, various efforts were made to rebuild karate. Gichin Funakoshi's successor, his son Yoshitaka (Gigo) Funakoshi, died of tuberculosis in 1946. Shigeru Egami was his successor. However, these Shotokan pioneers had little influence on the post-war development of karate and Funakoshi became the trademark and figurehead of the JKA (Japan Karate Association), which was founded in 1948 by Masatoshi Nakayama and of which Funakoshi was chief instructor.

The karate style practiced in our department is called Shotokan Karate. But what does Shotokan mean? Shotokan was the name of the first karate practice site (dojo) built in Tokyo in the spring of 1936, with SHÔTÔ-KAN above the door. "Sho-to" refers to Gichin Funakoshi, who used this pseudonym to sign Chinese poems that he wrote during his youth. "Kan" stands for house or hall. Simply interpreted, one could say: Hall of the Sho-to. Funakoshi vehemently opposed the designation of Shotokan as a karate style, because he was of the opinion that karate should not have any style limits; he wrote the phrase "There is only one karate-do". However, history allowed Shotokan to be a common style name today.

The Japan Karate Association was founded in 1948. The merit of the founders, above all Masatoshi Nakayama and Hidetaka Nishiyama, is the worldwide spread of karate. It was through them that the competition was introduced into karate. Karate had gone from an old form of self-defense to a contemporary sport. The instructors of the JKA, known for their competitive success and excellent technique, were sent out into the world to spread JKA karate or Shotokan karate. The competition itself had created a measure of quality against which other styles first had to be measured. There is little doubt about the dominance of the JKA, which lasted for decades. Since 1987, when Masatoshi Nakayama died unexpectedly, the JKA has broken up into several splinter groups, each claiming the legitimate successor to Nakayama. On the basis of a court ruling that guarantees the Asai group the rights to the central dojo, this group should, from a purely legal point of view, come closest to the succession claim. Other groups are e.g. the Tanaka group and the Sugiura group.

Karate in Germany
When you talk about karate in Germany, you have to mean Jürgen Seydel. Jürgen Seydel has been practicing judo since 1939 and thus came into contact with karate for the first time in 1957 when he sent two of his students to a karate course in southern France. It would take another four years until the DKB (German Karate Association) was founded in 1961. He headed the DKB technically and administratively until 1968, until Hirokazu Kanazawa was sent to Germany by the JKA as the first full-time national trainer in 1968.

In 1970, Hideo Ochi succeeded Kanazawa and has been shaping the image of karate in Germany since then.

In 1976 the DKV (German Karate Association) was founded with the aim of being integrated into the German Sports Association and thus becoming part of organized sport in Germany. The founding fathers were the aforementioned DKB, DJKV (German-Japanese Karate Association) and GKD (Goju-Kai Germany). After the DKU (German Karate Union), the Karate section of the German Judo Federation and the WKD (Wado-Kai Germany) were integrated into the DKV, recognition as the leading association for the sport of karate was given in 1977. The regional associations of the DKV, in the case of our department the BKB (Bayerischer Karate Bund), are members of the respective regional sports associations (e.g. BLSV Bayerischer Landessportverband).

The goal of practicing karate in Germany under the umbrella of one organization seemed to have been achieved until the DJKB (Deutscher JKA-Karate Bund) split off from the DKV in 1993. Hideo Ochi, who, as mentioned above, has directed the technical fortunes as national coach since 1970, is the head of this new organization, which is committed to the tradition of the JKA. The Shotokan division management at DKV makes a similar claim. From the members' point of view, the situation is extremely deplorable. It is to be hoped that the excellent technical potential, which one side withheld from the other for political reasons and which is of course present on both sides, will be reunited in the interests of the karateka of both camps or, alternatively, both associations will open up positively to each other.

After 1993 Günther Mohr, Toni Dietl and Efthimios Karamitsos became national trainers of the DKV. The Karate Grosshabersdorf department of the Großhabersdorf sports club (www.sv-grosshabersdorf.de) is a member of this association.

Final remark

The content of this page is the result of collecting a lot of information, some of which is subjectively colored. Comments and suggestions are taken seriously. You can reach us at contact.

The basis for this information was first put together in 1997 by Roland Müller and the current version was supplemented and revised several times by Johannes Klinger.
© Roland Müller, 1997, © Johannes Klinger, 1998 - 2020