Shotokan based Karate in Canterbury, Melbourne
So what is “SHOTOKAN”?
Shotokan is symbolised by the Shotokan Tiger!
       Few Karate practitioners know the origins of this famous symbol, but most instantly recognise it as the Shotokan Tiger. It is actually called “Tora no Maki” (The Tiger Roll).

       The markings behind the tail of the tiger are the
artists’ signature, the signature belongs to Hoan Kusugi who was a student of Funakoshi, Kusugi later started his own style of Karate.
       It is said that he was instrumental in influencing Funakoshi to write a book instructing Karate, and promised him that if he did, he would design the cover art. If you own a copy of Karate-Do Kyohan (The Master Text), remove the paper cover and you will see “Tora no Maki” embossed onto the hard cover.
So why is there a tiger?

Why is it in a circle?

Why is it called Tiger Roll?
       Below are photos from the books ‘Retan Goshin Toudi-jitsu’ (featuring Funakoshi) and ‘Karate-Do Kyohan’ second edition. The evolution of ‘Ryukyu Kempo Toude’ to ‘Shotokan Karate’ can be seen clearly. The notable differences of “Ryukyu Kempo Todue” are that the stances are shorter and more grasping movements are present.
Tiger Spirit is an independent school teaching Shotokan based Karate.
Funakoshi 1945
       “Shoto” (松濤, Shōtō) meaning "pine-waves" (the movement of pine needles when the wind blows through them) was Funakoshi's pen-name, which he used to sign his philosophical writings. “Kan” means hall.
Funakoshi 1955
Tiger Spirit
Karate Academy
Funakoshi 1925
A Brief History of Shotokan
       Despite his concerns, his legacy is millions of people around the world, doing a martial art that has changed their life’s for the better. People who have found confidence, endurance, life values, and friendships.
       Initially Shotokan Karate didn’t have a defining name. When Funakoshi’s students were asked what style of karate they practiced, they replied by saying they learn at the “Shoto Kan”. Through common usage this became one word and the name for the style.
        Although Shotokan Karate is a Japanese martial art, Funakoshi was not born in main land Japan. He came from Okinawa, an island group to the south governed by the Japanese. Many of today’s Karate styles originated from Okinawa. Although governed by Japan, Okinawa is just as close to Fozhou (a city in China) as it is to Tokyo. It is believed that martial arts came to Okinawa via Fozhou by travelers and traders.
       At the time Funakoshi learned martial arts, training in Japan was banned and taught in secret. The earliest forms of what would later become known as Karate were introduced to the public in 1902, as part of the physical education program in Okinawan Prefecture public high schools.
       At this point in time it was not called Karate and instead had various names and descriptors. Karate also didn’t have defining or organised styles, as it was in the domain of the individual teachers.
       In 1914 or 1915, a group of instructors, including Funakoshi, toured Okinawa and gave the first public displays of what can be considered today as Karate.
       In 1922 Funakoshi left Okinawa to do a display in Tokyo for the Department of Education. He was urged to stay in Tokyo, and spread his teaching of this martial art through Japan. He believed it to be in the best interest of expanding the art and agreed to do so.
       “Tora no Maki” (Tiger Roll), is a Japanese phrase that describes an official document, established as a reference on a system.
      Traditional Japanese texts in the 1800’s and very early 1900’s were not written in books, they were written on rolls of paper. These rolls of paper were then put into canisters with circular caps over the ends. The caps would have the name of the text, or art work depicting the nature of its contents. The Shotokan Tiger was drawn in honour of this tradition.
       Karate-Do Kyohan (The Master Text) is regarded by many as the bible of Shotokan, but it was not the first book published by Funakoshi instructing Karate.
       There are many styles of Karate, Shotokan is a name that defines one particular style.
     Shotokan Karate was devised by Gichin Funakoshi. Apart from being a Karate instructor he was also a poet and school teacher. Shotokan was the name of the first official hall used by Funakoshi in 1936, located in Toshima Ward, Japan.
       The first book was "Ryukyu Kempo Toudi" with a limited publication in 1922. “Ryu Kyu” are a set of Japanese Islands incorporating Okinawa, “Kempo” is the name of a Chinese martial art, but was used as a generic description of martial arts at this time. “Toudi (To-de)” translates as ‘Chinese hand'. At this stage the term KARATE was not in use.
       In March 1925 Funakoshi published a second book with slight revisions “Retan Goshin Toudi-jitsu” after the plates for the first book were destroyed by fire as a result of the Kanto Earthquake in September of 1923.
       “Karate-Do Kyohan” (TRANSLATION: Karate: Empty Hand, Do: Path or Way Kyohan: Instructors Manual or Master Text)  was a subsequent revision published 10 years later in 1935, and set the foundation for what is Shotokan Karate. Now simply called Karate-Do this style of Karate was still not defined by the name “Shotokan”. It was in the following year that Funakoshi would begin teaching in the hall that would be the styles namesake.
       The following decade would see Japan enter World War 2. During March of 1945 the Toshima Ward of Japan was heavily bombed, and the Shoto Kan was destroyed. The manuscripts and the printing plates for his books were also destroyed in the conflict!
       10 years on, and close to 90 years of age, Funakoshi decided to republish a second edition of the Master Text. Funakoshi states in the preface to the second edition: “For several years, I have thought about the necessity of republishing this book. Recently, in an attempt to locate a copy of the first edition in the large number of second-hand book stores in the Kanda district of Tokyo, I was surprised at its scarcity and high price” October 13, 1956.
       On April 26, 1957, with the manuscript almost complete, Gichin Funakoshi died. Exactly one year later to the day, the finished manuscript was placed on his altar with the burning of incense, and was offered to his soul.
       Despite the fact that the photos in the bottom row are nearly 70 years old, they are still instantly recongnisable as Shotokan.
       Several higher ranks under Funakoshi's teachings had differences of opinion, and went off to start their own styles of Karate. Many of these styles still exist today, and are still going strong. In fact, any style of karate that has a Taikyoku Kata leads back to Funakoshi, as he was the author these.
        But it was in the late 1940's that the Shotokan style had a major split and began to splinter.
       By many accounts of those who left, this was primarily due to fighting exercises being limited to step fighting routines under Funakoshi's teaching. Freestyle fighting, and competition fighting was not permitted by Funakoshi as he was worried about this corrupting Karate. Many felt this limited the growth and application of Karate.
       Furthermore (and with no disrespect intended to the great master) Funakoshi's age had left him not as mentally sharp as he once was. Many students found his training methods old and boring. These issues frustrated the bulk of his students who left the ShotoKai (School of Shoto) and started their own association.
       It is at this point that the history of Shotokan became one of politics, the truth greatly depended on which club you were in, particularly as information was not freely available as it is today.
       During the later half of the 1900's many international associations claimed to have had Funakoshi as their first president. While not a lie, one must understand the Japanese concept of loss of face. Funakoshi was given honorary presidencies to these schools. It is open to much speculation as to whether he happily accepted, or took the honorary titles to keep face.
       In fact, loss of face was such a big deal in 1950’s Japanese’s culture, that one association claiming to have him as their president, boycotted his funeral when they were not given the right to administer it!
       For these reasons Shotokan history from the 1950’s onwards is largely shadowed in half-truths and myth, with different associations claiming to be the true owners of Shotokan.
       Only in recent decades, with the internet giving voice to many, and the changing of generations, has ‘Shotokan’ started to become inclusive of each other’s differences. Most branches of Shotokan see each other branches of Shotokan as brothers, despite their different histories. In fact, it is more about points of interest with the current generation of karate practitioners, as opposed to it being about points of difference with the previous generations.
       The argument as to who is truly Shotokan is mute, due to the fact that Karate is still evolving. The fact is, no school, not even the school founded by Funakoshi teaches Karate as he taught it.
        Many people have a romantic view of Funakoshi's life, but his life had much sadness. His dedication to spreading Karate separated him from his wife for much of his life. He saw his son Gigo Funakoshi (also a Karate Master teaching with him in the Shoto Kan) die from tuberculosis. He saw the fear in many of his students before they went off to war, and in the last months of the war was witness to the forced conscription of all his male students aged 15 and older from his training hall. In his final year he writes of his concerns over the direction Karate was taking, and his inability to influence that.
Contact Sensei Andrew on 0412 248 157 or