Shotokan Karate: A Brief History

Martial Arts Karate Man

Martial arts are notorious for their attention to discipline, self-control, and the development of self as a physical being and in a psychological manner. The fitness of body and mind that are achieved through the practising of all martial arts can only be beneficial to the practitioner which is why millions across the world adhere to the disciplines and traditions of the martial art that they have chosen to adhere to. Karate is obviously one of the most widely-practised and well-known of all of the martial arts, but it is the Shotokan tradition of karate which is arguably the most rigorous and adherent to traditional values that were developed many years ago.

Invention and Propagation

The invention of Shotokan karate, its propagation, and indeed the popularisation of karate as a martial arts style in general should primarily be credited to a man named Gichin Funakoshi. This man was born in Okinawa and eventually came to train under Anko Asato and later Anko Itosu, a Shorin-Ryu master. The development of Shotokan karate essentially comes from Funakoshi's combination of the two styles he learnt from both Itosu and Asato, though Funakoshi never actually gave the name “Shotokan” to his style of karate: it was his students that erected a sign above the door of his 1936 Dojo, joining together Funakoshi's term “shoto” (this means pine waves) with the term “kan” (which means house). This is the origin of the name of this style of karate and also a brief explanation of the inspiration behind the style.

Familial Refinement

Not only was Gichin responsible for the invention of a new style of karate, he also helped the proliferation of karate in general throughout the world via public demonstrations, acting as an ambassador for karate itself. In his time as a virtual ambassador for the martial art, Gichin worked on bringing karate to various institutions such as universities and various karate clubs. It should also be remembered that Gichin isn't solely responsible for the Shotokan karate we know and practise today; his son, Yoshitaka Funakoshi was responsible for the refinement of his father's style led to the differentiating of Shotokan from other traditional Okinawan styles of karate (various steps were taken such as the introduction of more high kicks and the lowering of some stances). It is the combination of a father's invention and his son's refinement that gives us the Shotokan karate style that we know of today.


Shotokan is distinguished from other styles of karate through several of its features. The style uses the principles of kihon, kata, and kumite (meaning basics, form, and sparring respectively) much like other branches but the emphasis is on hard striking that is made possible through rigorous training and a tough training approach. If one is to take only a few characteristics of the style away from this article they should be that Shotokan karate involves powerful striking movements, elongated stances, and what is often described as ‘in-out' techniques that facilitate the ending of a fight quickly in order to minimise the danger from the opponent.


The basic principles of Shotokan karate involve Gichin's Twenty Precepts of Karate or Niku Kun. There are various aims but the sentiment appears to be personal development, and thinking of not winning a battle but simply “not losing”. The aim of the style appears to be the striking of your opponent before any injury can come to you. The power of the attack should be enough to end the battle quickly, therefore minimising the risk of injury to yourself. This idea of a quick finish to a battle is evident in the powerful strikes and other techniques of Shotokan karate mentioned above. Striking the opponent before they even know they are about to be hit is the ultimate advantage in a one-on-one battle. Following the link in the first sentence of this paragraph will also furnish you with more information on Gichin's Twenty Precepts, though they are listed on our Twenty Precepts of Karate page for your convenience.