Shotokan Karate: The Fine Martial Arts

What is Shotokan Karate? A Definition

Shotokan (松濤館) is a Japanese martial arts. It belongs to the fighting and self-defense system Karate (空手). Karate itself has been developed on the islands of Okinawa. According to the famous karate blogger, Jesse Enkamp, Shotokan is the “world´s most popular style” of Karate.

Shotokan Karate comprises a wide range of techniques like:

  • Keri-waza (kicks),
  • Uchi-waza (punches), and
  • Uke-waza (blocks).

Karateka execute all techniques from a variety of stances called tachi waza. Fighting on the ground and the application of an elaborated set of tosses and throws like in Judo or Wrestling is not part of the style. Shotokanka prefer to face opponents in a standing position.

What is karate? A life-long journey!

The tachi-waza distinguish Shotokan clearly from other karate styles. Shotokan applies deep stances in order to generate more power and being more dynamic. While it also offers a variety of short range strikes, kicks, and blocks its main focus lies on mid- and long-range techniques. Therefore, Shotokan seeks to keep opponents out of ones own critic perimeter. As a result, it offers smaller and weaker people an effective mean to defend themselves. Above all, many practitioners deem the long and strong techniques as very aesthetic.

Beside the physical dimension Shotokan consists of an elaborated set of ethical and moral concepts and rules. These become emphasized by adding the word Do to Shotokan Karate. Therefore, the art of Shotokan is often called Shotokan Karate Do. The term Do should not be confused as a suffix. Do means literally translated “way” (道). It expresses that Shotokan Karate is a way of life. Propositions and philosophical convictions like the refrain from physical violence and the seek for justice build its foundation. They are the guiding principles for practitioners in and outside of training.

Where does Shotokan Karate come from? A Brief History

Gichin Funakoshi: Founding Father of Shotokan Karate

Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957), an assistant teacher trained in Chinese and Japanese philosophy from Okinawa, and his son Yoshitaka (Gigo) Funakoshi (1906–1945) developed the style of Shotokan. The development took place from the 1920´s onward. Further generations added pieces and aspects to the art. However, Gichin and Yoshitaka Funakoshi laid the foundation of Shotokan.

In the 19th century, karate was already an established and diversified martial art in Okinawa. Gichin Funakoshi learnt different styles of the art from different Okinawa karate masters like Anko Asato and Anko Itosu. The exposure to different styles gave him an overview about the versatility of karate.

Further Development of Shotokan Karate on Mainland Japan

In 1922, Gichin Funakoshi migrated to mainland Japan. Although Okinawa had been occupied by Japan for some time, karate had not been introduced to the mainland. It was unknown back then. Other martial arts like Kendo, Aikido, and Judo already achieved a wide public recognition.

The Island of Okinawa is located in the western Pacific right in front of China.
The Island of Okinawa is located in the western Pacific right in front of China.

Together with other Okinawa masters he introduced the martial art to the Japanese population. At the beginning, however, was deemed as profane and provincial.

It was in Japan that he began to form his own style of Karate based on the teachings he received in Okinawa. Especially the 1930´s became a formative period for the art. Yoshitaka (Gigo) Funakoshi had an innovative influence on the style and introduced several techniques that still distinguish the style from the Okinawa versions. For instance: Mawashi Geri (roundhouse kick).

For Gichin Funakoshi Shotokan, however, consists of more than self-defense. While this had a high priority during the formation of the style. Philosophical aspects also became relevant. Thus, Funakoshi coined the style with Buddhist and East-Asian philosophy (see below). Above all, to make ones character perfect stands at the center of Shotokan teaching.

What does “Shotokan” mean?

In Japan, Gichin Funakoshi became a professional Karate teacher. He taught in his own dojo (trainings hall) and hold several appointments at Tokyo universities. He opened his dojo in spring 1935. Since then, he and Yoshitaka Funakoshi taught several classes per week and became the central location for the further development of the still.

Above all, the name Shotokan derives from Gichin Funakoshis pen name and the Japanese term kan which stance for hall or gym. As an author Funakoshi chose the name Shoto (松濤). That means: “waving pines”. According to the legend, his students put up a sign at his dojo that stated: Shoto-Kan.

Later, the students called the whole style after the dojo of Gichin Funakoshi.

The Three Parts of Shotokan Karate: Kihon, Kata, Kumite

What is Kihon? The Basics And Foundation of Karate

The term kihon (基本) means “basics” or “fundamentals. Here karateka learn the basics and the right execution of techniques. It comprises blocks, punches, kicks, stances, and movements. Usually, students train kihon without a partner. Partner training belongs to kumite (see below). Therefore, kihon shares many aspects with shadow-boxing. However, while shadow-boxing focuses on a free execution of techniques and combinations kihon follows preset sequences.

Two Ways to Train Kihon: Kamae and Jiyu Kamae

Kihon can be conducted in two ways:

  • Kamae
  • Jiyu Kamae

The word kamae (構え) means “posture”. It refers to the fact that every technique in Shotokan can be executed in a formalized (kamae) or a free (jiyu kamae) posture.

The formalized kamae focuses on a static execution of techniques. Beginners start their techniques and combinations usually from this position. They conduct the whole kihon session in this posture. Because it offers more focus and control on the details of the techniques and emphasizes the critical stages during their execution. Therefore, it belongs to the 101 of Shotokan. Most of the time, instructors choose gedan barai (下段払い) as a first position. Gedan barai blocks a low front kick or punch.

Jiyu kamae (自由 構え), however, focuses on the free and dynamic execution of techniques and combinations. Advanced students and belt ranks start their techniques from this position and stay in this posture throughout the whole kihon session. Jiyu kamae requires a very good routine and execution of techniques. Therefore, only higher and advanced students apply it. It can also be understood as the fighting position. So, kumite, the fight against one or more opponents, also takes place in jiyu kamae.

How Does a Kihon session Takes Place?

It usually begins in shizentai (自然体): a natural upright position. A sensei (master) or senpai (higher student), who conducts a regular kihon session, gives the command to prepare for the next part of training. First, they show and explain techniques in front of the class. For this purpose the use technical Japanese Shotokan terminology. Beginners will learn it very fast. Then, the students are supposed to execute the techniques. The instructor gives commands, sets the pace, corrects the students, and controls the right execution of the techniques. He also decides how many times and which technique will be trained.

While beginners usually train one technique at a time and progress slowly towards simple combinations of techniques, advanced students focus on complex combinations. In kihon students, therefore, train already situation and sequences that become later relevant in fighting.

The repertoire of techniques, which become trained in kihon, is very rich. Shotokan consists of round about 25 keri-waza (kicks) and more than 60 ude-waza (arm techniques). Therefore, Shotokan offers a very versatile set of self-defense options. It is up to the instructor to combine and use this techniques in order to achieve maximum learning effects for their students.

Shihan Masao Kawasoe (8th dan) shows kihon practices begining in shizentai and then starting from gedan barai kamae.

What Are the Important Physical Aspects of Kihon?

  • Right execution of techniques: Shotokan Karate emphasize the right technical execution of movements. The reason for this emphasize results in the higher efficiency of well executed techniques. To make ones own technical execution perfect belongs to the major goals of kihon.
  • Kokyu (呼吸): The term means breathing in and out. Breathing supports or initiates every movement in Shotokan. Its importants results from the internal pneumatic pressure it generates. This pressure effects the activity of other muscle regions. It can lead to tension or relaxation. Rightfully applied it gives the provides the advantages between a good and a very good technique.
  • Speed and power: Gichin Funakoshi understood Shotokan also as physical education and workout. Thus, kihon improves health and stamina. However, it also leads to the physical foundation necessary to withstand physical conflicts.
  • Kime (決め): The term means decide, focus of power, or finish. It refers to the intentional sudden tension of body in the final moment of a technique. Kime aims on the transmission of ones own force to the opponents body trough a shockwave (see here for a more elaborated description).

What Are the Important Mental Aspects of Kihon?

  • Zanshi (残心): The state of mind, a Shotokan Karateka should cultivate during, kihon is zanshin which means: being aware and alert. That does not mean to be nervouse but to await changes and difficulties. Zanshin requires a mental presents in the situation and the momemt accompanied by a general openness to the surrounding circumstances.
  • Mushin (無心): On the other hand, students learn to stay calm under stress and pressure. This calmness is call mushin or inner silence. Like zanshin it focuses the attention of the karateka on the presents and opens the mind for changes in the situation. Once a Shotokanka reaches mushin his or her mind does not get distracted from own but unnecessary thoughts as well as unnecessary events in the environment.
  • Toshi (闘志): The termn means fighting spirit. Kihon cdevelops toshi in an excellent way. Because instructors bring students to their physical and mental limits and even push them trhough their boundaries. Toshi itself consists of self-confidence, persistence, determination, control, risk-taking, and competitiveness. All these aspects become important to withstand and to succeed in challenging situations.

What Is the Role of an Instructor During Kihon?

The instructor has several tasks during kihon practice, which require a deep and profound education in Shotokan karate.

  1. Setting learning goals for Shotokan students
  2. Translating these goals into a practical curriculum
  3. Turning the curriculum into sub-sets of kihon tasks for students
  4. Delivering the full range of technical versatility of Shotokan karate
  5. Presenting (and explaining) the techniques and combinations to the students
  6. Knowing the right execution and the purpose of techniques
  7. Motivating the students to reach and lead them to their performance limits
  8. Considering physical and mental health during every step in training
  9. Enforcing the rules (dojo kun) and etiquette of Shotokan karate
  10. Being a role model

What is Kata? The Fight Against Imaginary Opponents

Kata () is the most essential part of Karate in general and Shotokan Karate in particular. The term means “form”. Kata simulates a fighting situation against several imaginary opponents. The fight, however, is stylized. That means:

  • All techniques applied are formalized and not executed in a jiyu-kamae (free) fashion
  • They follow a dramaturgy with a preset sequence of motions and a rhythms
  • The fighting situations and the application of the techniques are abstract
  • As a result, the real-life application, called bunkai (see below), depends on the interpretation of the karateka.
Shihan Osaka, who holds the nickname “the textbook” of Shotokan, shows the performs the kata kanku sho. Kanku shi beongs to the advanced katas of Shotokan.

Why are Kata Stylized?

Kata serve several purposes within Shotokan karate. To combine all these purposes in one routine the techniques and their execution had to be adjusted an harmonized. The aspects are:

  • Self-defense
  • learning of basic techniques
  • Physical education
  • Body control
  • Mental control: Zanshin, mushin, toshi

A legend also says that karate training was prohibited back in Okinawa. Therefore, karate masters had to find a way to teach their techniques secretly. One way to do this was to disguise the actually training as some sort of physical routine or dance.

Embusen: The Fingeprint of A Kata

Every Shotokan kata has a unique flow of techniques and sequences. They also have unique lines of movement. Like a fingeprint every kata can be recognized in this regard. In Japanese they use the therm embusen (演武線) in order to descrip this route or line of movement. An embusen can be depicted as a diagram. While their a very simple embusen, others can have a high degree of complexity.

Embusen of the Shotokan karate kata heian shodan.
Embusen for the kata heian shodan.

The embusen defines from which starting point the karateka has to begin to execute a certain kata. In addition, the starting point defines also the ending point in every kata – they are similar. Therefore, the karateka can immidiatly check whether he or she executed the kata in a right way. If so he or she must arrived at the same spot where they departed.

Embusen of the Shotokan Karate kata Kanku dai.
The embusen of the kata kanku dai – of the longest katas.

What Kata Shotokan Karate consists of?

In sum, Shotokan comprises 26 katas with different approaches and aims. Within the 26 katas their exist six families of katas: Heian, Tekki, Bassai, Kanku, Gojushiho, and the Ji-family with Jion, Jitte, and Jiin.

Most Shotokan katas have a predecessor from Okinawa Karate. Tekki Shodan, for instance, also exists in the Karate system from the peninsula. In Okinawa they call it Naihanchi. Similarly, Jion has a Okinawa equivalent. However, both kata slightly differ as you can see in the following video with Tatsuya Naka.

Tatsuya Naka compares the Shotokan Jion with the Shito-Ryu Jion.

The following list shows all Shotokan kata and their family.

Heian Katas

Name Jap. Kanji Steps/Moves Engl. Name
Shodan平安初段 21 Peaceful Mind One
Nidan 平安二段 26Peaceful Mind Two
Sandan平安三段 20 Peaceful Mind Three
Yondan 平安四段 27 Peaceful Mind Four
Godan 平安五段 23 Peaceful Mind Five

Tekki Katas

NameJap. KanjiSteps/MovesEngl. Name
Shodan鉄騎初段23Iron Horse One
Nidan鉄騎弐段24Iron Horse Two
Sandan鉄騎参段 26Iron Horse Three

Bassai Katas

NameJap. KanjiSteps/MovesEngl. Name
Dai 拔塞大 42Penetrating the Fortress-Big
Sho 拔塞小 27Penetrating the Fortress – Small

Kanku Katas

NameJap. KanjiSteps/MovesEngl. Name
Dai 観空大 65 To look at the Sky – Big
Sho 観空大 48 To look at the Sky – Small

Gojushiho Katas

NameJap. KanjiSteps/MovesEngl. Name
Dai五十四歩大6754 Steps – Big
Sho五十四歩小6554 Steps – Small

Ji-Katas

NameJap. KanjiSteps/MovesEngl. Names
Jion慈恩47Love (and) Goodness
Jiin慈陰38Mercy (and) Shadow
Jitte十手24Ten Hands

Katas Without A Direct Relationship

NameJap. KanjiSteps/MovesEngl. Name
Enpi燕飛37Flying Swallow
Gankaku岩鶴42Crane on the Rock
Hangetsu半月41Half Moon
Chinte珍手 32Incredible Hands
Sochin 壯鎭41Preserve Peace
Meikyo明鏡33Mirror of the soul
Nijushiho二十四步2424 Steps
Wankan 王冠24Crown of a king
Unsu雲手 48Cloud Hands

Bunkai

Due to the abstract natur of all katas, their application must be interpreted. In Japanese they use the term bunkai (分解) in order to describe this process. Bunkai literally means “analysis” and “disassembly”. Especially advanced students are encouraged to analyze the potential self-defense options katas offer. While karateka need some degree of creativity to apply kata to a real-life conflict. Applicability and efficiency is the paramount aim in bunkai. Therefore, every good bunkai follows has a economic rule: Efficiency and effectiveness first, creativity second.

Shihan Osaka shows the bunkai of kanku sho, the kata from the video above.

What is Kumite? The Fight Against Real Opponents

Kumite (組手) means “grappling hands”. In Kumite, students learn to fight against one or more attackers. Kumite becomes increasingly complex as experienced the students be. The most simple form is gohon kumite (5 Step kumite). This form of kumite applies defined sequences of movements like attacks and blocks. Students learn to interact with an opponent. Like in kihon the practice of kumite can also distinguished in a standardized and pre-arranged form and a free form.

The first formalized form is called yakusoku kumite (約束組み手). It consists of:

  • gohon kumite (五本組み手),
  • sanbon kumite (三本組み手),
  • kihon ippon kumite (基本一本組み手),
  • jiyu ippon kumite (自由一本組み手), and
  • happo kumite (八方組み手) .

The second form, which focuses on a free application of Shotokan techniques, comprises:

  • randori (乱取り)
  • jiyu kumite (自由 組み手), and
  • goshin-jutsu (護身術).

While gohon kumite possess the lowest degree of freedom, jiyu kumite, on the other has the free. This is because jiyu kumite takes place as a free fighting situation. However, we must distinguish between a jissen (実戦), an actual fight like a street fight, and kyogi (競技), a sportive tournament. While first happens completly without rules, in the second the athlete is limited by the tournament regulations. For instance, certain dangerous strickes are prohited from application on tournaments.

Following we also distinguish jissen jiyu kumite from goshin-jutsu. Although, both become applied in real-life conflict situations, the follow different strategies and Shotokanka apply different techniques.

Sensei Dormenko shows an advanced kumite combination of Shotokan karate.

A Brief History of Shotokan Kumite

The Okinawa karate masters conceptualized karate as a self-defense systems. Real-life fighting situations served them as references. Karate should give its practicioner the skills and power to withstand an attack by an offender. Choki Motobu (1870-1944), one of the most famouse Okinawa karate masters stated:

Nothing is more harmful to the world than a martial art that is not effective in actual self-defense.

Choki Motobu

Therefore, the founding fathers designed karate according principles of competitive efficitivity and efficiency.

The Importance of Yoshitaka Funakoshi For Kumite

Gichin Funakoshi, however, had a very pacifistic attitude. For him karate and especially Shotokan served the purpose of physical, mental, and ethical education. His son Yoshitaka developed Shotokan into the direction of a comprehensive self-defense system. Yoshitaka also introduced gohon, sanbon, kihon and jiyu ippon kumite as well as jiyu kumite. Yoshitaka himself was very much inspired by kendo techniques and the fighting strategy of kendo. Therefore, he also changed the way to move in kumite and its general strategical approach. While Okinawa karate prefers high stances and close-range situations, Yoshitaka pushed the style towards lower stances and longer techniques. As a result, Shotokan shares more similarities with fencing. Okinawa karate, on the other hand, comes closer to boxing.

But Yoshitaka´s influence on the way, how Shotokanka fight, goes even further. He also took inspiration from judo. Yoshitaka also introduced sweeping techniques like de ashi barai (出足払), a technique widely unknon in Okinawa karate. How importance of kumite for Yoshitaka becomes clear if one considers that he also colaborated with the Imperial Japanese Army in the 1930´s in order to educate soliders in Shotokan. Thus, he had to develop Shotokan into an effective fighting system that was easy to learn and to apply.

The Japanese Army still learns Shotokan karate as self-defence system.

Masatoshi Nakayama Developed Tournament Kumite

Tournament kumite, however, developed rather late in the 1950´s. Especially, Masatoshi Nakayama pushed for the establishment of a tournament kumite discipline. From a present standpoint, it sounds very odd that tournament kumite had to be developed. However, Shotokanka practices randori (free sparring) and goshin-jutsu. Rules and a modus needed to be invented. Masatoshi Nakayama came up with the shobu ippon kumite system. It focuses on one point the contenders have to make (see below). The judges only give the point for a truly devastating but controlled techniques. Neither of the opponents should be seriously injured.

Holly Rye has a won several international competitions in Shotokan karate.
Holly Rye is attacked with a de ashi barai during a tournament. However, her quicke reaction make her avoid the attack.

The 1st JKA All Japan Karate Championship took place in Tokyo in October 1957. Since then, other associations have adoped the shobu ippon kumite. However, the World Karate Federation has introduced another style of tournament kumite. Karateka have to fight in an 8-point-system with a full protection gear.

Unfortunatly, the rise of tournament kumite has pushed out aspects of self-defense. Goshin-jutsu has become a seldomly teach part of Shotokan karate. It depends highly on the instructor whether students learn it. In most associations the testings do not require goshin-jutsu.

Following we are going to briefly present the different kumite forms.

Gohon Kumite

Gohon kumite is the most simple form of kumite. The roles of the defender and the attacker are set as well as the techniques used by both roles. Gohon refers to 5 steps the attacker and the defender do. Both step in the same direction. The attacker goes forward the defender backward. With every step the attacker attacks the defender, who uses ab pre-defined block to defend. The technique during the attack as well as the block stay the same during the whole cycle. In the next round both can be changed. At the last step, the defender counters with a gyaku zuki. Then they switch the roles.

Sanbon Kumite

Sanbon kumite slightly changes the approach of gohon kumite. Instead of using one attack and one block five times, beth change every time. The amount of steps will be reduced to three.

Nobuaki Kanazawa and Shinji Tanaka demonstrate sanbon kumite of Shotokan karate.

Kihon Ippon Kumite

Kihon ippon kumite creates a more dynamic and realistic fighting situation. While in gohon and sanbon kumite a sequence of forward and backward steps become executed, kihon ippon kumite consits of one attack and one block an counterattack at the time. For instance, an attacker attacks with a punch to the head (jodan oi-zuki). The defender steps back, blocks the punch and immediatly counterattacks. The attacks and counter-reactions are still pre-set. But the compexity increases. Because the defender has for every attack a reportraite of response he or she can apply.

Jiyu Ippon Kumite

The next step on the complexity ladder is jiyu ippon kumite. While it works the same way like kihon ippon kumite when it comes to the roles and the variety of attacks and reactions it slightly increases the complexity of the situation. Because both opponents can move freely. In contrast, kihon ippon kumite happens stationary. The partners do not move except the defined motions. In jiyu ippon kumite the behavior like in a real-fight. However, the roles and the attached techniques stay the same.

Happo Kumite

Happo kumite increases complexity on a differnet dimension. It adds more opponents. They can surround a defender. The setting can thereby be kihon or jiyu ippon kumite. However, the attackers attack one after the other.

Happo kumite executed by Eugen Landgraf.

Randori

In randori also means in Japanese “chaos taking” or “grasping freedom”. Randori is the free application of Shotokan techniques during classes. Like sparring it has the purpose to school the eyes, the understanding of fighting dynamics, and the power structures within a fight. Neither points nor winning are relevant. To learn how a fight proceesed, what works and what does not stand in the center of randori. The rules depend on the instructor. But mostly the only rule is to not hurt or injur the opponent.

Jiyu Kumite

Jiyu kumite usually focuses on gaining points for attacks. While this is not always the case. The vast majority of karateka practice it this way. Thus, jiyu kumite does not utilize the full variety of Shotokan techniques. It mainly focuses on those techniques which gain points like long punches and kicks. Jiyu kumite, therefore, comes close to a duell situation where two opponents, who are trained within the same fighting system fight against each other. Knee or elbow strikes as well as hokes and hites with the edge of the hand are off limits.

In shobu ippon kumite the major strategy is called ikken hissatsu (一拳必殺) which means killing with one punch. Thus, to gain a point an attacker has to land a punch or kick which must have a devastating effect in the person hit. However, the attacker also have to have control over his action. Because the person hit shall not be seriously become injured eventually.

The 8-point-system of the World Karate Federation focuses on other features. Competitors have a stronger focus on athletics because fight take longer. Killing with one punch belongs not to the strategy but dexterity and cleverness to outmanouver one´s opponent. Some relate this system more to a “game” than as a serious fight.

Goshin-Jutsu

Unlike point fighting goshin-jutsu applies the whole variety of Shotokan techniques. It focuses on real-life situations and how to master them. Therefore, it also applies knee and elbow strikes, poking with the fingertips, trhows, leverages, and hits with the edge of the hand. While jiyu kumite only takes a limited amount of techniques goshin-jutsu uses ever option, which is availaible in the 26 Shotokan katas.

Hiroshi Shirai taught goshin-jutsu extensively.

Shotokan Karate as Budo

“Spirit first, technique second.”

Gichin Funakoshi, 20 Precepts of Karate Do

The style of Shotokan Karate is also a philosophical paradigm with the two major concepts of spirit and Budo at its center. This is indicated by the suffix Do. Thus, many practitioners call it also Shotokan Karate Do.

Budo and Do

Shotokan Karate Do seeks to be more than a system of self-defense. It is a moral philosophy that comprises ethical propositions and guiding principles for a specific way of life. With this conceptualization Shotokan Karate relates to the Japanese term Budo which stance for “martial way” and is indicated by the ending Do. While Budo can easily misinterpreted as a philosophy of violence and war (martial) it aims on the complete opposite.

French Aikido master Guillaume Erard recently described Budo as

“a path of personal development through the study of traditions and techniques originating in the arts of war of the samurai (侍).”

Guillaume Erard, Real Fighting is Not The Primary Purpose of Budo, April 2018

At the center of the Budo stance the control over one´s body and mind as well as the cultivation and civilization of one´s convictions and behavior. This foundation leads to the execution of good and just actions.

Spirit

All that should take place in the light of fighting spirit or “spirit of effort”. This spirit is characterized by endurance, perseverance, persistence, self-confidence, determination, risk-taking, competitiveness. To not give up or to give in is constitutive for the attitude of Shotokan Karate. Spirit makes the difference between winning or losing in many cases. Hence, Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of the Shotokan style, favored spirit over technique.

Guiding Principles of Shotokan

Dojo Kun

Training session usually end with the recitation of the Dojo Kun, the training hall rules, in many Dojos. The Dojo Kun comprises five rules that should guide the behavior of the Karateka inside and outside of the Dojo. These are:

  1. Each person must strive for the completion and perfection of one’s character = hitotsu, jinkaku kansei ni tsutomeru koto
  2. Every person must be faithful and protect the way of truth = hitotsu, makoto no michi wo mamoru koto
  3. Each person must endeavor (fostering the spirit of effort) = hitotsu, doryoku no seishin wo yashinau koto
  4. Everybody must respect others and the rules of etiquette = hitotsu, reigi wo omonzuru koto
  5. Each person must refrain from hot blooded behavior (guard against impetuous courage) = hitotsu, kekki no yū wo imashimuru koto

The Dojo Kun fosters the development of a strong, honest, and civilized character. Karateka are called to constantly trainer their and improve their character.

The Dojo Kun are the guidelines for the right behavior of Shotokan Karateka inside and outside of the Dojo.
The Dojo Kun are the guidelines for the right behavior of Shotokan Karateka inside and outside of the Dojo.

Niju Kun: The 20 Precepts of Karate

Besides the Dojo Kun, which is a rather thin but handy ethical codex, exist theniju kun, the 20 precepts (guiding principles) of Karate Do. Gichin Funakoshi wrote and published this moral manuell in 1938. In his text he developed a broader moral philosophical foundation for Shotokan Karate Do then in the dojo kun. The precepts, however, should not be understood as commandments. Like the Dojo Kun they are guiding principles that foster the perfection of one´s character. Karate Students are called to keep them in mind and execute them on a daily basis. The 20 precepts are:

The First 10 Precepts of Shotokan Karate

1. Karate begins and ends with courtesy = Karate-do wa rei ni hajimari, rei ni owaru koto wo wasuruna

2. There is no first attack in karate = Karate ni sente nashi

3. Karate is an assistance to justice = Karate wa gi no tasuke

4. Know yourself first, before you know others = Mazu jiko wo shire, shikoshite tao wo shire

5. Spirit before technique = Gijutsu yori shinjutsu

6. Be ready to free your mind = Kokoro wa hanatan koto wo yosu

7. Accidents come from laziness = Wazawai wa getai ni shozu

8. Karate training goes beyond the dojo = Dojo nomino karate to omou na

9. You will never stop learning in karate = Karate no shugyo wa issho de aru

10. Apply karate to everything. Therein lies it’s beauty = Arai-yuru mono wo karate-ka seyo, soko ni myo-mi ari

The Second 10 Precepts of Shotokan Karate

11. Karate is like boiling water. If not given heat, it will go cold = Karate wa yu no goto shi taezu natsudo wo ataezareba moto no mizu ni kaeru

12. Do not think of winning. Instead, think that you must never lose = Katsu kangae wa motsu na makenu kangae wa hitsuyo

13. Make adjustments according to your opponent = Tekki ni yotte tenka seyo

14. The outcome of a fight depends on how you handle weaknesses and strengths = Tattakai wa kyo-jitsu no soju ikan ni ari

15. Think of hands and feet as swords = Hito no te ashi wo ken to omoe

16. When you step outside your own gate, you face a million enemies = Danshi mon wo izureba hyakuman no tekki ari

17. Fixes positions are for beginners: later, one moves naturally = Kamae wa shoshinsha ni ato wa shizentai

18. Kata is practised perfectly, real fight is another thing = Kata wa tadashiku jissen wa betsu mono

19. Hard and soft, tension and relaxation, quick and slow, all connected in the technique = Chikara no kyojaku, karada no shinshuku, waza no kankyu wo wasaruna

20. Think of ways to apply these precepts every day = Tsune ni shinen kufu seyo

The 20 precepts written by Gichin Funakoshi comprise a set of ethical rules for Shotokan Karateka. Budo is and spirit are major elements of the precepts.
The 20 precepts written by Gichin Funakoshi comprise a set of ethical rules for Shotokan Karateka. Budo is and spirit are major elements of the precepts.

The Landscape of Shotokan Karate Associations

Today, people all over the global practice the style of Shotokan karate all over the globe. This can be attributed to the efforts of Gichin Funakoshi´s students. Many of them founded dojos, associations, and went abroad in order to spread the style. Especially Masatoshi Nakayama became an important figure in institutionalizing the art. He was driving force and later chief instructor of the Japan Karate Association (JKA), which is the biggest Shotokan association in the world.

The Stratification of Shotokan Associations

Other students like Hidetaka Nishiyama, Hirokazu Kanazawa and many more established with the International Traditional Karate Federation (ITKF) and the Shotokan Karate International Federation own organizations on a global scale. Today, a myriad of associations and independent Dojos offer and practice Karate Do worldwide. For the most of them the aspect of Do is the defining feature of the art. Others find more satisfaction in a more sports-oriented version of the art. In addition, different masters have also caused to changes and different interpretations of the original techniques and teachings in the past. Therefore, the global field of Shotokan is heterogeneous and constantly evolving.

The Present Field of Shotokan Associations

Currently, there are several Shotokan Karate associations. Important orgainzations like the SKIF and ITKF were already found in the 1970´s. However, a political power struggle broke out among high-ranking Shotokan instructors in the 1990´s. Some are still at odds with each other. Even lawsuits were filed. The trouble emerged after the death of Masatoshi Nakayama. He did not sufficiently declare a successor. On the other hand, the JKA had no mechanism in place to elect one among his Shihankai members. Different peope claimed the position. But the power struggle led to a fragmentation of the JKA and several other organizations emerged from there.