First of all, let me quote from Gichin Funakoshi the founder of Shotokan karate:
"...The origin of karate remains impenetrably hidden behind the mists
of legends, but this much we know: it has taken root and is widely
practiced throughout East Asia to the U.S.A. Karate must be nearly as old
as man, who early found himself obliged to battle, weaponless, the hostile
forces of nature, savage beasts and enemies among his fellow human beings.
He soon learned, puny creature that he is, that in his relationship with
natural forces accomodation was more sensible than struggle. However,
where he was more evenly matched, in the inevitable hostilies with his
fellow man, he was obliged to elvolve techniques that would enable him to
defend himself and, hopefully, to conquer his enemy. To do so, he learned
that he had to have a strong and healthy body. Thus, the techniques that
he began developing - the techniques that finally became incorporated into
Karate-do - are a ferocious fighting art but are also elements of the
all-important art of self-defense now.
What does Karate mean? Laity like to say karate all the time they
see any kind of Far-East, Asian fighting sports or martial artists - it
may related to the movies' influences - however - thus the purpose of them
is one - they are very different in their forms and styles. Karate itself
also can be divided into several schools. Shotokan Karate which is one of
the most traditional art is a member of these styles.
The word karate can be divided into two parts. "Te" is easy enough;
it means "hand(s)". But there are two different characters that are both
pronounced "kara"; one means "empty" and the other is the Chinese
character referring to the T'ang dynasty and may be translated "Chinese".
It is impossible now to find out which is more correct to use. I like the
character means "empty" to write karate. For one thing, it symbolizes the
obvious fact that this art of self-defense makes use of no weapons, only
bare feet and empty hands. Further, students of Karate-do aim not only
toward perfecting their chosen art but also toward emtying heart and mind
of all earthly desire and vanity. Reading Buddhist scriptures, we come
across such statements as "Shiki-soku-ze-ku" and "Ku-soku-zeshiki", which
literally mean, "matter is void" and "all is vanity". The character "ku",
which appears in both admonitions and may also be pronounced "kara", is in
itself truth. True, in Okinawa they used the word "karate", but more often
they called the art merely "te" or "bushi no te", "warrior's
In the VIII. century the karate was much different than we practice
today. The sumo of that time included not only the techniques found in
present-day sumo but also those of judo and karate. In the seventh and
eight centuries, Japanese Buddhists had journeyed to the Sui and T'ang
courts, where they gained insight into the Chinese version of the art and
brought back to Japan some of refinements. For many years, here in Japan,
karate remained cloistered behind thick temple walls, in particular those
of Zen Buddhism; it was not, apparently, practiced by other people until
samurai began to train within temple compounds and so came to learn of the
existence ot the art.
Shotokan Karate was founded by Master Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957).
As he wrote in his book, he was rather a sickly baby and a frail child;
accordingly, it was suggested when he was still quite young that to
overcome these handicaps he ought to begin the study of karate. One of his
classmate's father, Yasutsune Azato began to teach him first, who was one
of Okinawa's greatest experts in the art of karate, and also in Japanese
fencing. Master Itosu who had the same firstname was also his instructor.
After his health began to improve noticeably, his interest in karate began
to grow. He had been a frail, irresolute, introverted child; by the time
he reached manhood, he became strong, vigorous and outgoing. He founded
his first school under the name "Soto" (he signed his poems under this
Later he wrote many books about his experience: "Karate-do: My Way
of Life","Karate-do Kyohan", (you can find 18 katas descriptions) and
"Karate-do Nyumon" published by Kodansha International, where you can find
everything in this theme.
One of the most striking features of karate is that it may be
engaged in by anybody, young or old, strong or weak, male or female.
Further, one need not even have an opponent for practice purposes. Of
course, as one progresses in the art, an adversary will be essential in
order to practice sparring ("kumite") and free sparring ("jiyu kumite"),
but a real adversary is unnecessary in the begining. Nor is there any need
for a specially made uniform and "dojo". Of course, anyone truly
determined to master the various kata must do so at a proper dojo, but
someone who desire is merely to stay healthy and to train his mind and
spirit may do so by practicing karate by himself. But the best - if it is
possible to reach - is to sign up to the nearest karate club. It is more
stimulating to practice as a member of a bigger community, on predetermined
days and times regulary.
First hand, it is very important to choose a good Master.
You have to be careful with it - in my opinion, the best if you watch some
training lessons first, before you make your decision - and also do not adjudicate
a style as a bad one because of that club's bad master (it is possible when you
go to an other dojo with the same style, it is going to be so different, as comparing
the Earth and the sky...). On the second hand, we have to decide, what we expect from karate. Do as
a sport, go championships or we just want to develop, clear our soul and body, and
choose it as a way of life. Many clubs have different opinion about its
It is good to choose a style that fits your body.
It is possible that Shotokan-karate might not be the best for you, but everyone
can find their own way. Shotokan stances are very low, hard for the knees.
It might be easier for short people. The hip has a special, central function when
practicing karate techniques. Trainings are hard - I also got sick, overexhausted and
had to sit down for a while on the first lessons - but later, like in
other sports, by developing the body and stamina, these difficulties will
disappear and you will feel more power, and more control on your body.
Do not go trainings because you expect to get nice colorful
belts. In Japan there are no color belts, but white until black comes
at Dan level. That is not the true meaning of Karate. To achieve real knowledge, and
precise techniques, you must practice a lot.
karateka avoids dangerous conflicts but if he gets into trouble, nobody will ask the
colour of their belt...