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Grading Syllabus

A Brief History of Shotokan Karate

Where the original martial art originated from may remain a mystery forever but what is recorded is the fact that about fourteen hundred years ago the founder of Zen Buddhism left India and travelled alone to China to present lectures on Buddhism. A trip of several thousand miles in times where bandits where plentiful, forests were wild, the terrain was rough, and the people needed protection from the wildlife instead of the other way around.

Daruma (Bodhidharma) eventually ended up at a Shao-lin Temple in Hunan Province lecturing on Buddhism. It's said that "a great multitude of followers fell from exhaustion from the harshness of his training." Daruma set forth a method by which the priests were able to develop their strength both physical and spiritual so that they could finish their training. This method came to be called Shorin-Ji Kempo. This system eventually found it's way to the Ryukya Islands 300 miles south of China, 300 nautical miles North of Taiwan, and 400 nautical miles east of China, and developed into Okinawa-te and this developed into Karate.

About five hundred years ago a national policy came about under which possession of any and all weapons by the people of Okinawa were forbidden. Then about two hundred years later weapons on the Ryukyu Islands had been confiscated by the government when the islands came under the scrutiny of the Satsuma Clan of Japan. Since the people weren't allowed traditional weapons with which to defend themselves they had to use improvised weapons made from common farm implements, refine the art of unarmed combat, and train in secret.

In those bygone days when bandits roamed the countryside armed with sword and staff, and the nobility had the right to maim and kill at their slightest whim Karate was not a sport were the loser went home. It was life or death with no time or room for hesitation or doubt. The movements had to be automatic, precise, and lethal.

Kata is one of the training tools that the Karataka used to condition there sub concise for instant response to attacks. Kata contains in them stances, blocks, strikes and combinations of techniques that must be used with out the slightest hesitation in order to insure your survival.

In today's time kata serves all of these purpose and more. Kata helps us to maintain a sense of origins of our art. Kata helps us to focus our minds, and relieve stress. Kata strengthens our bodies and minds into a single unit able to accomplish more together than apart. This synergy is the secret that most non-karate practitioners can never hope to understand or defeat.

Karate is more than a fighting style, more than an art, it's a way of life and kata allows us a chance to understand what the original masters of our art meant and were trying to convey to us their descendants.

The Okinawan island chain is situated roughly midway between southern Japan and the Chinese mainland and was an important trading post during the middle ages. Sailors from Thailand, the Philippines, Korea, China and Japan met in Okinawa to trade, and bought with them their own customs and knowledge. The Chinese in particular bought many things to Okinawa including the domestic pig - now a staple of Okinawan cuisine - and formalised fighting systems, what we now now as martial arts.

There are few surviving records from Okinawa during the middle ages but it is believed that all weapons were banned from the islands (by one of the Okinawan rulers) in around 1470. What is for certain is that in 1609 the Satsuma domain of Japan invaded and captured the islands and that all surviving weapons were confiscated. It is generally accepted that martial arts systems rapidly gained popularity in Okinawa at this time as a response to these prohibitions.

Martial arts were trained in secrecy under Japanese rule and therefore little is certain about the origins of what we now call karate. However the most plausible theory is that the Okinawan fighting systems were largely based on the martial arts of southern China.

Funakoshi SenseiGichin Funakoshi was born in Shuri, Okinawa in the year of the Meiji Restoration around 1868. Funakoshi first met Master Asato when he was a schoolmate of Asato's son. He called Asato "one of Okinawa's greatest experts in the art of karate." According to Funakoshi, Asato's family belonged to the Tonochi class (hereditary town and village chiefs), and held authority in the village of Asato, halfway between Shuri and Naha, and he was not only a master of karate, but also skilled at riding horses, Jigen-ryu kendo (swordsmanship), archery, and an exceptional scholar. According to Gichin Funakoshi's own recollections he started studying karate under Master Asato in 1879, at the age of eleven. He travelled at night to the Asato household to avoid detection, as the practise of martial arts was still prohibited in Okinawa.

In 1902 the ban on martial arts was lifted when Shintaro Ogawa, the Commissioner of Education recommended that martial arts should be included in school physical education classes. Fortunately Gichin Funakoshi was a teacher by this time and by 1903 he had introduced karate into the public school system at the Men's Normal School and the Daiichi Middle School.

In 1917, Gichin Funakoshi was invited to Japan to demonstrate his karate at the Butokuden in Kyoto. After the demonstration he stayed in Japan and continued to give exhibitions. In 1922 he was invited to give a demonstration of Karate at the First National Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo, which was organised by the Ministry of Education. This proved to be a decisive moment in the history of karate. After the demonstration, Gichin was approached by Jigaro Kano, the founder of judo. He asked Funakoshi to stay longer in Japan and show him some basic techniques.

In 1928, he was asked to give a demonstration for the royal family of Japan. It is difficult for us to understand how much of an honour this must have been to Gichin Funakoshi - the royal family were revered as living God's - but it was made all the greater because the demonstration was to take place on the palace grounds!

Karate's popularity continued to grow. Karate clubs had been and continued to spring up at colleges, universities and businesses throughout Japan. All this time, Funakoshi kept a dojo at the Meisei Juku. However, time and an 1923 earthquake eventually created the need for a new place to train. Funakoshi was offered to use space at the kendo hall of Hiromichi Nakayama. Eventually, Funakoshi Sensei was given another great honour. Nationwide, karate practitioners chipped in to pay for the construction of a dojo dedicated to the instruction of Funakoshi's karate.

Shotokan is named after Funakoshi's pen name, Shoto, which means "pine waves" or "wind in the pines". In addition to being a karate master, Gichin Funakoshi was an avid poet and philosopher who would reportedly go for long walks in the forest where he would meditate and write his poetry. Kan means training hall, or house, thus Shotokan referred to the "house of Shoto". This name was coined by Funakoshi's students when they posted a sign above the entrance of the hall at which Funakoshi taught reading "Shoto kan". Shoto-kan karate was born!

In 1948 Funakoshi established the Japan Karate Association and he remained the head of the JKA until his death in 1957.

Nakayama SenseiMasatoshi Nakayama began studying Shotokan under Funakoshi Sensei at Takushoku University in 1932. By the time of Funakoshi Sensei's death Nakayama was a senior student of the JKA and took over the role of head of the Association.

Nakayama Sensei's influence had a profound effect on the way Shotokan Karate then developed. He refined karate teaching methods using sports science methodologies, and introduced innovations such as an instructor programme and karate's first ever competition system.

Nakayama Sensei also masterminded a plan to popularise karate outside of Japan. The highly trained graduates of his instructor program were encouraged to go out into the wider world to found new shotokan dojos. It is largely thanks to Nakayama Sensei's vision that many of us have had the awesome experience of being taught karate by some of Shotokan karate's legends.

Nakayama Sensei passed away in 1987, at the age of 74.

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