Although karate is considered to be a Japanese martial art it roots can be traced back over 2000 years to India.
It is believed that during the 6th century the Indian monk Bodhidharma travelled to China to teach Zen Buddhism and whilst there settled in a Shaolin temple. Whilst there he taught a series of exercises that was over time developed in to the fighting art of Kung Fu.
In the late 14th century a number of families moved from China to the island of Okinawa which lies between China and Japan. It is thought these families bought with them knowledge of Kung Fu which in conjunction with a ban on the use weapons lead to the development of an unarmed fighting system call “te” (hand) or “to-de” (chinese hand).
Eventually two main styles of te emerged. Naha-te was a based on strong powerful and heavy techniques whilst Shuri-te specialised in quick, light techniques. The names Shuri and Naha came from the names of the towns where the styles were most popular. In the late 19th and early 20th century Gichin Funakoshi who had tutors from both styles developed and taught a style that combined elements of Naha-te and Shuri-te in to one system.
Following a visit by the Crown Prince Hirohito in 1921 Gichin Funakoshi received invitations to demonstrate his style in Tokyo where he eventually settled and a number of clubs started amongst other places in Japan’s Universities . Although gaining in popularity, to be politically correct and accepted in main stream Japan a number of changes were required. The biggest of these changes was using different characters for the art’s name and thus became “kara-te” (empty hand) instead of “to-de” (Chinese hand).
Shotokan comes from Shoto which was Gichin Funakoshi’s pen name and kan which is generally accepted as meaning hall. The name comes from Funakoshi’s dojo in Tokyo (hall of Shoto).
After the Second World War the karate instructors in Japan formed the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in an effort to standardise teaching. Around this time Karate was gaining more international attention and JKA instructors began to tour and eventually set up headquarters in countries all the world.