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The fighting arts date back almost a thousand years. It is widely believed that the first martial arts were practised by the monks of the Shaolin temple in China, having been introduced to them by an Indian monk called Bodhidharma, as a system of movements for strengthening themselves in order to cope with the rigid discipline that was part of their religion. This physical training was developed into what became known as the Shaolin art of fighting or Chuan Fa.

This art of fighting inevitably spread throughout China and in turn to the Ryukyu islands, a string of islands lying between Japan and China. Trade routes were well established between the Asian continent and these Ryukyu Islands and along with cultural influences, came many of the weapon-less fighting techniques found in China. In 1372 Chinese - Okinawan relations became official and the practice of Chuan Fa dramatically increased. Okinawa, the main Ryukyu island had its own system of combat known as 'Tode', and this combined with the imported techniques to form Karate, written in characters to literally mean ' Chinese hand'. The practice of karate underwent tremendous development when the lord of ancient Okinawa banned the use of weapons. The art continued to develop over the centuries being practiced mainly in secret, very often teachers only passing their knowledge down to family and close friends. In 1903 Karate became more or less standardised into various styles or Ryu.

The man most responsible for the systemisation of karate as it is known today was an Okinawan called Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi was born in 1879 in Shuri, Okinawa. Considered a weak child, he began to train in karate to try and build up his strength and under the tutelage of the masters Azato and Itosu he eventually became an expert in his own right.


He introduced the art of karate to Japan in 1922 after being invited to demonstrate the art in front of the Japanese emperor, who was so impressed he invoked the Ministry of Education to sponsor more exhibitions throughout Japan. The art soon caught on in Japan and Funakoshi travelled the country giving demonstrations and lectures.

Funakoshi changed the characters of karate in Japanese to mean 'empty hand'. The obvious meaning for this is that karate is a weapon-less system, but Funakoshi chose it for its' Zen Buddhist philosophy: 'rendering oneself empty'. To the master, karate was a martial art but it was also a means for building ones character. He wrote "As a mirrors surface reflects whatever stands before it and a quiet valley carries even the smallest sounds, so must the student of karate render his mind empty of selfishness and wickedness in an effort to react appropriately to anything he might encounter. This is the meaning of kara or empty in karate."

Funakoshi was also a scholar, and his 'pen' name was Shoto, meaning pines, named after the trees near his home. He opened his school of karate in 1936 and named it Shotokan - 'the house of shoto'. In 1955 the Japan Karate Association was formed with Funakoshi as the chief instructor.

Left and centre - Gichin Funakoshi, right - Masatoshi Nakayama


Funakoshi passed away in 1957, and one of his students, Masatoshi Nakayama became the chief instructor and continued the progress of systemising karate as started by Funakoshi, into the 3 aspects which make up the modern karate of today, ie, as a physical art, as self defence and as a sport.

Master Nakayama was key in encouraging the phenomenal growth of shotokan karate and with great foresight he organised a tour, taking his best students, such as Shirai, Kanazawa, Enoeda, Kase and Mori to travel overseas to spread the knowledge of karate worldwide.

As Master Funakoshi had done back in 1922 when he took karate to Japan, so Master Nakayama did so again, this time on a global scale.

One of Master Nakayama's students, Keinosuke Enoeda was already making a name for himself around the world as an outstanding sensei. After becoming the All Japan Champion in 1963, sensei Enoeda travelled to the four corners of the globe with Master Nakayama, spreading the word about shotokan karate. He personally trained the president of Indonesia, then moved on to USA, Hawaii, South Africa and Europe. After an initial visit to England in 1965, Sensei Enoeda decided to move there permanently in 1968. Sensei Enoeda remained in England, teaching multitudes of keen karateka from all over the country.

Left - Keinosuke Enoeda, Right - Sensei Ohta

In 1982, Master Enoeda was joined by Sensei Yoshinobu Ohta, fresh from the JKA's instructors' classes, to help with the teaching of karate in the UK. Sensei Ohta remained in that role for twenty years, and has become famous throughout Europe for his challenging footwork and technical expertise. Sensei Ohta is now chief instructor to Japan Karate Association England and continues to be one the most popular instructors in Europe.


What is karate-do

To describe Karate-do (literally 'the way of empty hand') on very basic terms, it is a complete system of fighting and self defence, using all parts of the body to perform blocks, strikes, kicks, punches, locks and throws in order to overcome an attacking enemy without the use of any weapons, other than those developed through by the Karate-ka own hands and feet. However, Karate is much more than that. Karate-do is a martial art for the development of character through training, so that the karateka can overcome any obstacle, tangible or in-tangible.

The essence of karate techniques is kime (kee-may loosely translated as focus). By using kime, a karate move becomes an explosive attack to the target using the appropriate technique and maximum power in the shortest time possible. Kime can be accomplished by striking, kicking or blocking. A technique lacking kime can never be regarded as true karate.

Ongoing karate training transforms the various parts of the body into weapons but also trains one in self control. To become a victor, one must first overcome his own self.