Shotokan karate is a form of Budo – a Japanese martial art. Kendo, Aikido, and Judo are all forms of Budo (Pronounced boo – doe). Budo, translated literally, means military way, or martial way. Budo is composed of two characters – “Bu” meaning “martial”, and “Do” which means “way”. The word karate is constructed of two kanji characters as well ~ “kara”, meaning “empty”, and “te” which means “hand”. Many of the names of Budo forms also end with the “do” term, – hence, karate is often referred to as karate-do, the empty hand way, as Shotokan is a weaponless method of fighting. Referring to Shotokan as karatedo generally implies karate as a way of life, and following the philosophical aspect of karate.
Shotokan is one of several forms of traditional karate, including Wado-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, and Shito-Ryu. These five are the foremost styles referred to as “traditional karate” and practiced worldwide. While there are few facts concerning the common origin of many ancient martial art styles, it is known that traditional karate originated in Okinawa, a small island to the south of mainland Japan, during the 17th century. Forbidden from possessing weapons, peasants were forced to develop ways to protect themselves from bandits in secret.
In the early 1900’s was karate introduced to the Japanese public by Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi learned traditional karate on Okinawa, and word spread after he performed several demonstrations. Funakoshi soon found himself performing karate demos in Japan. In 1939, he founded the first public karate school in Japan, called the Shotokan. Shoto was Funakoshi’s pen name, so Shotokan stood for the hall of Shoto. For several years he taught and demonstrated karate, and its popularity grew. Funakoshi was friends with the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, who used white cotton uniforms with colored belts siginifying rank for his students. Funakoshi then intrudoced a similar system for his school. Students donned the uniform, called a Gi (Pronounced gee, with a hard ‘g’), and wore colored belts to represent their progress in the art.
In 1948, karate proponents established the Japan Karate Association (JKA). Through the efforts of the JKA, Shotokan quickly spread to other countries throughout the 1950’s, and karate was introduced to the world.