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A Brief History of Karate

Kenkojuku Hombu
circa 1961

Master Funakoshi

Yoshitaka Funakoshi

Master Okano

Egan-Sensei Kenjutsu

Karate is just one of many different kinds of martial arts: Judo, Kendo, Aikido, Kung Fu and Tae Kwon Do are a few examples. Japanese karate originated in Okinawa, a small island between Japan and China. Although the Chinese probably influenced the techniques of karate, the unique history of Okinawa was largely responsible for its development. Twice, weapons were banned there, first about 500 years ago and again, 300 years later. As a result, Okinawans were forced to develop methods of self-defense that did not include weapons, thus “the way of the open hand” became the art of karate.

Master Gichin Funakoshi first introduced karate into Japan when he was invited to demonstrate it by the Ministry of Education in 1922. Funakoshi was so well received by the Japanese that he stayed on, further developing the art of karate. Funakoshi’s dojo (training hall) in Japan was called the Shotokan, after “Shoto,” his poetry pen name. The style of karate that he developed also became known as Shotokan, and later adopted the tiger logo from the cover of his master text. The development of karate was greatly influenced in Japan by existing martial arts and the Budo (way of the warrior). Because of this influence and its tremendous effect on the art, Shotokan is now considered a Japanese style of karate.

John Egan's sensei (teacher), Master Okano, trained under Yoshitaka Funakoshi, the son of Gichin Funakoshi (considered the father of modern day Karate). Okano established his own Karate Dojo (school) and named it “Kenkojuku.” While retaining the basic Shotokan style, Master Okano also incorporated his own insights acquired over years of training. The logo of the Kenkojuku Karate-Do is the ideogram “Kenko” surrounded by two pairs of evergreen pine needles.

This emblem symbolizes the spirit and intention of Karate training that Funakoshi emphasized. Although “Kenko” does mean “health” in Japanese, the characters have a deeper, more esoteric meaning than one’s physical health, and encompass the mind and spirit. “Ken” means Humility, to humble oneself, i.e., to become a “good person;” “Ko” is to associate with or mingle; and “Juku” means tutoring/class. “Kenkojuku” is therefore “a place in which to learn to be humble - to help one another strive for the perfection of character “ through the study of Karate. The crossed pine needles represent working in pairs and their “ever green” quality, which means to be forever young, flexible, always learning.

To advanced martial artists, fighting technique per se is less important than seeking the “Tao.” In the philosophy of the ancients, the word “Tao” is another name for “Truth,” although with a somewhat richer and deeper sense than ordinarily understood. “Tao” can be understood as the effort to seek truth.

Seeking truth and producing happiness for humankind are the essence of all science and culture. The transformation of martial arts from its primitive purposes to the attainment of these philosophical teachings has assured that martial arts are no longer merely fighting techniques or physical culture, but rather a psycho-physical activity in which classical Eastern philosophy, science, culture, and arts are combined into one. To this end, the true Japanese warrior practiced Budo, derived from two Chinese ideograms, “Bu” meaning “to deflect the spear,” and “Do” meaning “Way or Path.” True martial arts, while including physical, mental, and combative competence, far transcends these domains. Budo, the way of the warrior, offers a much greater scope to its training, including spiritual, moral, and ethical concerns. Budo’s emphasis is on the control of oneself, as opposed to the control of others.

However, without fighting techniques, martial arts would no longer be martial arts; the technical and theoretical aspects of empty handed combat are still based on bio-mechanics, psychology, medical science, and dynamics. As distinct from other exercise systems, Karate emphasizes mutual interaction between inside (mind or spirit) and the outside (body or form), the union of form and spirit. This means that inner and outer exercises are practiced simultaneously.