Karate History

A Brief History

It is believed by most historians that in the sixth century Boddhidarma (called Daruma Tashi by the Japanese and Tamo by the Chinese), an Indian monk and first patriarch of Zen Buddhism, from Kamchipuram near Madras, travelled across the Himalayas on foot into China’s northern province of Hunanl

He settled at the Shorin Ji (Shaolin Temple) in the Songshan mountains and introduced eighteen exercises, which represented animals both mythical and real, developed into Shorin-ji Kempo (Shaolin Temple Fist).

Shorin-ji Kempo, also known as Ch’uan Fa (Kempo means “law” or “way of the fist” and is read “Ch’uan fa” in Mandarin), was then introduced into Okinawa through shipwrecked sailors, trading envoys, and cultural exchange between Okinawa and China. These influences became Okinawa-te (“te” meaning “hand”). The three main schools of Okinawa-te were located in Tomari, Naha and Shuri.

In 1875, Okinawa officially became part of Japan, but it wasn’t until 1903 that the first public karate demonstration took place. It was also around this period that the term Karate was first used, meaning “empty fist” or “empty hand”. Karate instructors started to teach in Japan in 1904, although karate officially entered Japan in 1915 with Gichin Funakoshi. 

Master Funakoshi

Gichin Funakoshi was born in 1868 in Shuri, Okinawa Prefecture. He studied Karate-do from childhood under Masters Azato and Itosu.

He founded the Shotokan association for the Spirit of Martial Arts. The word Shotokan is derived from "Shoto", which was Master Funakoshi's pen name, and means "Waving Pines", and "Kan", meaning "Hall".

His influence on Karate was so great that he is credited with changing the meaning of the Chinese characters for "Kara-te" from Chinese Hand to Empty Hand.

The Master died April 26th 1957 in Tokyo, but his karate has gone from strength to strength and is now practiced all over the world.

There has been a wealth of material written about Master Funakoshi, and this website does not attempt to plagiarise the hard work of others. We recommend you read "Karate-Do - My Way of Life", which is the Master's story in his own words.
master Funakoshi

Dojo Kun

Hitotsu! Jinkaku Kansei Ni Tsutomuru Koto!
(One! To Strive For The Perfection Of Character!)
Hitotsu! Makoto No Michi O Mamoru Koto!
(One! To Defend The Paths Of Truth!)
Hitotsu! Doryoku No Seishin O Yashinau Koto!
(One! To Foster The Spirit Of Effort!)
Hitotsu! Reigi O Omonzuru Koto!
(One! To Honour The Principles Of Etiquette!)
Hitotsu! Kekki No Yu O Imashimuru Koto!
(One! To Guard Against Impetuous Courage!)

Further Reading

Here is a list of excellent reference material, to do with Karate and the Martial Arts. Many of these books and videos were used in the construction of this Website.

'A Shotokan Karate Book of Facts Vol. I' Clive Leyton, Michael Randall, Michael Nursey
'A Shotokan Karate Book of Facts Vol. II' Clive Leyton, Michael Randall, Michael Nursey
'A Shotokan Karate Book of Facts Vol. III' Clive Leyton, Michael Randall, Michael Nursey
'The Kanazawa Years' Dr. Clive Leyton
'Dynamic Karate' Masatoshi Nakayama
'Moving Zen' C. W. Nicol
'Karate - The art of Empty Hand Fighting' Hidetaka Nishiyama & Richard C Brown

Japanese Karate Terms

Here is a list of phrases, common and uncommon, and their meanings. Some of the phrase translations may not be strictly accurate, word for word - but they do reflect the normal usage (Gedan, and Gedan Barai, for example).
A B C D E F G H I J K M N O R S T U W Y Z Numbers
Japanese English
Age Uke Upper Rising Block
Age Zuki Upper Rising Punch
Aka Red
Ashi Barai Leg Sweep
Ashikubi Ankle
Ate Strike
Awase Combined
Azato (1827/8 - 1906) Master Yasutsune Azato was one the two most important teachers of Master Funakoshi. Note Master Azato shares his forename with Master Itosu.
Japanese English
Bassai-dai (Kata) To Storm a Fortress
Bo Staff
Budo Martial Way
Bunkai Application
Japanese English
Chinte (Kata) Chinese Hands
Choku Zuki Straight Punch
Chudan Chudan
Japanese English
Dachi Stance
Dai (as in Bassai-dai) Major
Dan Level (or Man)
Do Way
Doji Simultaneous
Dojo Place of the Way; Training Place
Japanese English
Embusen Line(s) of movement (in Kata)
Empi Elbow
Empi Uchi/Uke Elbow Strike/Block
Engetsu Uke Circle Foot Block
Enoy Spirit of getting ready
Enpi (Kata) Flying Swallow
Japanese English
Fudo Dachi Rooted Stance
Fumikomi Stamping Kick
Funakoshi ((November?) 1868 - April 26th, 1957) Gichin Funakoshi - the master, and founder of modern Karate-do
Japanese English
Gamae Withdrawing
Gankaku (Kata) Crane on a Rock
Gedan Lower Level
Gedan Barai Downward Block
Gedan Zuki Lower Level Punch
Geri Kick
Gi Training Clothes
Gojushiho (-sho, -dai) (Kata) Fifty-four Steps
Gohon Kumite Five Attack Sparring
Gyaku Reverse
Gyaku Zuki Reverse Punch
Japanese English
Hachiji Dachi Naural Stance
Hai Yes
Haishu Back-hand
Haishu Uke Back-hand Block
Hajime Begin
Haisoku Instep of Foot
Haito Ridge Hand
Haito Uchi Ridge Hand Strike
Haiwan Back-arm
Hangetsu (Kata) Half Moon
Hangetsu Dachi Half Moon (or Wide Hour Glass) Stance
Hanmi Half Front (45 degrees, facing opponent)
Hara Belly
Heian Peaceful
Heian Kata's (Shodan, Nidan, Sandan, Yondan, Godan) The Five Heian Kata's, derived from Kanku-dai
Heisoku Dachi Informal Attention Stance
Hidari Left
Hikite Both Hands Retracting
Hiraken Fore-knuckle fist (striking with second joint of fingers)
Hiza Knee
Hiza Geri Knee Kick
Hombu Main Dojo
Hyosh Timing
Japanese English
Iee Iie No
Ippon One
Ippon Ken One-knuckle Fist
Ippon Nukite One Finger Spear Hand
Itosu (1830/32 - 1916) Master Yasutsune Itosu was one the two most important teachers of Master Funakoshi. Note Master Itosu shares his forename with Master Azato.
Japanese English
Ji'in (Kata) Temple Grounds, or Gardens
Jion (Kata) From the Temple of Jion
Jitte (Kata) Ten Hands
Jiyu Dachi Free Stance
Jiyu Ippon Kumite Semi-free One-attack Sparring
Jiyu Kumite Free Sparring
Jodan Upper Level
Juji Uki Juji Uki
Japanese English
Ka Student
Kage Uki Hook Block
Kage Zuki Hook Punch
Kaisho Open Hand (palm)
Kaiten Rotating
Kakato Heel
Kakiwake Uke Wedge Block
Kamaete Get Ready
Kan Hall
Kanazawa (1931 - ) Hirokazu Kanazawa, successor to Master Funakoshi
Kanku (-sho, -dai) (Kata) Look to the Sky
Kara Empty
Karate Empty Hand
Kata Form, or Formal Exercise
Keagi Snap
Keito Uke Chicken-head Wrist-block
Kekomi Thrust
Ken Fist
Kensei Technique carried out with silent Kiai
Kesa Geri Diagonal Kick
Ki Inner Strength
Kiai Shout
Kiba Dachi Horse riding Stance
Kihon Basics
Kihon Ippon Kumite Basic One Attack Sparring
Kime Focus (Tension and Relaxation)
Kin Geri Groin Kick
Kizami Zuki Jabbing Punch
Kohai Junior (to oneself)
Kokutsu Dachi Back Stance
Kosa Crossing
Kosa Uke Crossing Block
Koshi Ball of the Foot
Kumade Bear Hand
Kumite Sparring
Kun Oath
Kyu Grade (or Boy)
Japanese English
Ma-ai Distance
Mae Front
Mae Geri Front Kick
Makiwara Striking Post
Mawashi Geri Roundhouse Kick
Mawate Turn
Meikyo (Kata) Bright Mirror
Migi Right (opposite to Left)
Mika Zuki Geri Crescent Kick
Mokuso Meditation
Morote Augmented
Morote Uke Augmented Block
Morote Zuki Augmented Punch
Moto Dachi Original Stance
Japanese English
Nagashi Uke Sweeping Block
Nakadaka Ippon Ken Middle Finger One Knuckle Fist
Nami Ashi Inside Leg Block
Neko Ashi Dachi Cat Stance
Nidan Geri Double Kick
Nihon Nukite Two-finger Spear Hand
Nijushiho (Kata) Twenty-four Steps
Nukite Spear Hand
Japanese English
Obi Sash, or Belt
Oi Zuki Stepping Punch
Okinawa Influential home of Japanese Karate
Osae Pressing
Osae Uke Pressing Block
Oss General term, predominately meaning "Yes, I understand", but is also used for "Thank-you", or "Hello"
Japanese English
Rei Bow
Ren Zuki Combination Punching
Ryo Both
Ryoken Both Fists
Ryowan Both Arms
Ryu School
Japanese English
Sanbon Kumite Three Attack Sparring
Sanchin Datchi (Narrow) Hour Glass Stance
Sashi Ashi Stepping Over
Seiken Fore Fist
Seiryuto Uke Ox-jaw Block
Seiza Kneeling Position
Sempai Senior
Sensei Teacher (One who has gone before)
Shihan Master
Shiro White
Sho (as in Bassai-sho) Minor
Shoto Pine Waves (Master Funakoshi's pen-name)
Shotokan Hall of Shoto
Shushin Referee
Shizentai Natural, Relaxed Stance
Shobu Competition
Shuto Knife Hand
Shuto Uchi Knife Hand Strike
Shobu Competition
Sochin (kata) Immovable Stance
Sochin Dachi Immovable, Straddle-leg Stance (from Sochin Kata)
Soete Open Hand
Sokumen Side
Sokuto Side of Foot
Soto Ude Uke Outside Forearm Block
Sukui Scooping
Japanese English
Taikyoku Shodan (Kata) First Cause
Tai Sabiki Test by Breaking
Tameshiwara Stepping Over
Tate Shuto Vertical Knife Hand
Te Hand
Teiji Dachi T-Stance
Teisho Palm Heel
Tekki Iron Horse, or Iron Knight
Tekki Shodan, Nidan, Sandan (Katas) Tekki Katas of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd levels
Tekubi Wrist
Tettsui Bottom Fist
Tettsui Uchi Bottom Fist Strike
Te Wazza Hand Techniques
Tobi Jumping
Tokui Favourite
Tora Tiger
Tsukami Grasping
Tsumasaki Tips (of Fingers or Toes)
Tsuru Ashi Dachi Crane Leg Stance
Japanese English
Uchi Strike
Uchi Ude Uke Inside Forearm Block
Ude Forearm
Uke Block
Unsu (Kata) Hands Like a Cloud
Ura Zuki Close-quarter Punch
Uraken Back Fist
Ushiro Geri Back Kick
Japanese English
Wa Harmony
Wan Arm
Wankan (Kata) Kings Crown
Waza Technique
Japanese English
Yama Zuki Wide U-Punch
Yame Stop
Yoi Ready
Yoko Side
Yoko Empi Side Elbow (Strike)
Yoko Geri Side Kick
Japanese English
Zanchin Awareness
Zenkutsu Dachi Front Stance
Zuki (or Tsuki) Punch
Numeral 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Japanese Ichi Ni San Shi Go Roku Sichi Hachi Ku Jyu
Numeral 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20
Japanese Jyu Ichi Jyu Ni Jyu San Jyu Shi Jyu Go Jyu Roku Jyu Shichi Jyu Hachi Jyu Ku NiJyu
This list of terms is under constant review. Please let us know of any errors or omissions by e-mail.

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