Karate Do

  1. Never forget: karate begins and ends with respect
  2. There is no first attack in karate
  3. Karate supports righteousness
  4. First understand yourself, then understand others
  5. The art of developing the mind is more important than the art of applying technique
  6. The mind needs to be freed
  7. Trouble is born of negligence / ignorance
  8. Do not think karate belongs only in the dojo
  9. Karate training requires a lifetime
  10. Transform everything into karate; therein lies its exquisiteness
  11. Karate is like hot water, if you do not give it heat constantly, it will again become cold water
  12. Do not think that you have to win, rather think you do not have to lose
  13. Transform yourself according to the opponent
  14. The outcome of the fight depends on one's control
  15. Imagine one's arms and legs as swords
  16. Once you leave the shelter of home, there are a million enemies
  17. Postures are for the beginner; later they are natural positions
  18. Perform the kata correctly; the real fight is a different matter
  19. Do not forget control of the dynamics of power, the elasticity of the body and the speed of the technique
  20. Apply the way of Karate to all things. Therein lies its beauty.

Source: Japan Karate Association, “The Twenty Precepts of Karate”

Like most martial arts, Shotokan karate has its roots in ancient China, from where it was brought to Okinawa, then to Japan, and then to the rest of the world. Our art is usually classified as “hard,” complementary to “soft” circular martial arts such as Aikido and Tai Chi Chuan. Shotokan is quite linear and is centered around the principle of harnessing the body’s internal energy and concentrating it all into the point of contact, so as to deliver a single, final blow. It is said that Okinawans routinely used their fists and hand edges to smash through the bamboo armor worn by invading Japanese. Shotokan karate can be devastating to an opponent and so must be practiced with appropriate control.

Around 520 A.D., Daruma (Bodhidharma), the founder of Zen Buddhism, was teaching at the Shaolin Temple (Shorin-ji) in the Hunan province of China. Seeing that many of his disciples lacked the endurance necessary to follow his strict program, he originated a method of physical training called Ch’uan Fa. This was introduced to many parts of China, and later came to be called Shorin-ji Kempo. Over the centuries, many different styles developed.

Shorin-ji Kempo, later known as Kung-fu, was imported to the island of Okinawa in the southern part of Japan during the T’ang dynasty (A.D. 618–906). Here it was combined with native martial arts and underwent tremendous development. For long periods in Okinawan history, common people were refused the right to carry weapons. Thus, they had to heavily depend for their defense on the art they now called karate, which they learned in secret and passed on from generation to generation.

Gichin Funakoshi

Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan, was born in Shuri, Okinawa in 1868. As a young boy, he trained in Shuri-te (with master Azato) and Naha-te (with master Itosu), both traditional Okinawan styles. A blend of these two arts was then brought by Sensei Funakoshi to Japan, when he was invited in 1917 to perform at a physical education exhibition sponsored by the Ministry of Education. He was asked back several times in the following years, including by Japan’s emperor in 1922, at which time Sensei Funakoshi decided to teach and promote his art in Japan. He eventually helped found the Japan Karate Association (JKA) and became the first Shihan of JKA in 1948. Sensei Funakoshi passed away in 1957, at the age of 88.

Initially, karate was written with two Chinese characters meaning Chinese hands, Kara being the major province of China, and Te meaning “hands.” Gichin Funakoshi changed the first character from Chinese to Empty, thus forming the modern term for Karate — empty hands. The word “empty” can be interpreted at two levels: one as meaning weaponless, and a deeper one signifying the fundamental teaching of Zen: empty yourself to achieve unity with the Whole. Funakoshi Sensei also coined the term Karate Do, meaning The Way of Karate. The life of this gentle, modest man was guided throughout by the principle that karate is a means of perfecting and strengthening the human character.

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