Worldwide accepted logo of Shotokan School

Shotokan (松濤館) is a style of karate, developed from various martial arts by Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957)and his son Gigo (Yoshitaka) Funakoshi (1906–1945). Gichin was born in Okinawa and is widely credited with popularizing “karate do” through a series of public demonstrations, and by promoting the development of university karate clubs, including those at Keio, Waseda, Hitotsubashi (Shodai), Takushoku, Chuo, Gakushuin, and Hosei.

Funakoshi had many students at the university clubs and outside dojos, who continued to teach karate after his death in 1957. However, internal disagreements (in particular the notion that competition is contrary to the essence of karate) led to the creation of different organisations—including an initial split between the Japan Karate Association (headed by Masatoshi Nakayama) and the Shotokai (headed by Motonobu Hironishi and Shigeru Egami), followed by many others—so that today there is no single “Shotokan school”, although they all bear Funakoshi’s influence.

As the most widely practised style, Shotokan is considered a traditional and influential form of karate-do.

Shotokan-ryu (松濤館流)


Shotokan was the name of the first official dojo built by Gichin Funakoshi, in 1936 at Mejiro, and destroyed in 1945 as a result of an allied bombing. 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 in his poetic and philosophical writings and messages to his students. The Japanese kan ( kan) means “house” or “hall”. In honour of their sensei, Funakoshi’s students created a sign reading shōtō-kan, which they placed above the entrance of the hall where Funakoshi taught. Gichin Funakoshi never gave his system a name, just calling it karate.


Shotokan training is usually divided into three parts: kihon (basics), kata (forms or patterns of moves), and kumite (sparring). Techniques in kihon and kata are characterised by deep, long stances that provide stability, enable powerful movements, and strengthen the legs. Shotokan is regarded as a dynamic martial art as it develops anaerobic, powerful techniques as well as developing speed. Initially, strength and power are demonstrated instead of slower, more flowing motions. Those who progress to brown and black belt level develop a much more fluid style that incorporates grappling, throwing and some standing joint locking ju-jutsu-like techniques, which can be found even in basic kata. Kumite (fighting) techniques are practised in the kihon and kata and developed from basic to advanced levels with an opponent.


Gichin Funakoshi laid out the Twenty Precepts of Karate (or Niju kun[8]), which form the foundations of the art, before some of his students established the Japan Karate Association (JKA). Within these twenty principles, based heavily on bushido and Zen, lies the philosophy of Shotokan. The principles allude to notions of humility, respect, compassion, patience, and both an inward and outward calmness. It was Funakoshi’s belief that through karate practice and observation of these 20 principles, the karateka would improve their person.

Shoto nijukun – the twenty precepts – by sensei Gichin Funakoshi

The dōjō kun lists five philosophical rules for training in the dojo: seek perfection of character, be faithful, endeavour to excel, respect others, and refrain from violent behaviour. These rules are called the Five Maxims of Karate. The dōjō kun is usually posted on a wall in the dojo, and some shotokan clubs recite the dōjō kun at the beginning and/or end of each class to provide motivation and a context for further training.

Funakoshi also wrote: “The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of the participant.”

  1. Karate begins with a bow and finishes with a bow
    Karate-do wa rei ni hajimari rei ni owaru koto a wasaru na
  2. In karate, never attack first
    Karate ni sente nashi
  3. One who practices karate must follow the way of justice
    Karate wa gi no tasuke
  4. Know yourself first, then you can know others
    Mazu jiko o shire, shikohite tao wa
  5. Spirit and mind is more important than technique
    Gijutsu yoi shinjutsu
  6. Be ready to release your mind
    Kokoro wa hanatan koko o yosu
  7. Misfortune comes out of idleness
    Wazawai wa getai ni shozu
  8. Don’t think that what you learn from karate can’t be used outside the dojo
    Dojo nomino karate to omou na
  9. It will take youentire life to learn karate
    Karate no shutyo wa issho de aru
  10. Put karate into your everyday living; that is how you will see its true beauty
    Arai yuru mono o karate wa seyo, soko ni myo mi ari
  11. Karate is just like hot water; if you do not give it continuous heat, it will become cold
    Karate wa yu no gotoshi taezu netsudo o ataezaraba moto no mizu kaeru
  12. Do not think that you have to win; think, rather, that you do not have to lose
    Katsu kantae wa motsu namakenu kagae wa hitsuyo
  13. Move according to your opponent
    Tekki no yotte tenka seyo
  14. In conflictyou must discern the vulnerable from invulnerable points
    Tattakai wa kyo jitsu no soju ikan ni ari
  15. Consider youopponent’s legs and arms as you would lethal swords
    Hito no teashi o ken to omou
  16. Be aware at all times that you have millions of potential opponents
    Danshi mon o izureba hyakuman no tekki ari
  17. For full awareness in natural stance, you must practice ready position as a beginner
    Kamae wa shoshishaha ni ato wa shizentai
  18. Practicingkata is one thing; engaging in a real fight is another
    Kata wa tadashiku jissen wa bezu mono
  19. Do not forget: (1) strength and weakness of power; (2) contraction and expansion of body; and (3) slowness and speed of techniques
    Chikara no kyojaku karada no shinshiku waza no kankyo o wasaruna
  20. Always create and devise
    Tsune ni shinen kufu syo


Many terms used in karate stem from Japanese culture. While many are names (e.g. Heian, Gankaku), others are exclusive to martial arts (e.g. kata, kumite). Many terms are seldom used in daily life, such as zenkutsu dachi, while others appear routinely, such as rei. The Japanese form is often retained in schools outside of Japan to preserve the Okinawan culture and Funakoshi’s philosophies.

However, many schools of JKA (Japan Karate Association) affiliated Shotokan Karate used the full terminology on a daily basis, providing translations also. For example, the KUI (Karate Union of Ireland), utilises the full and proper Japanese name for each move and kata in training, grading and competition.


Rank is used in karate to indicate experience, expertise, and to a lesser degree, seniority. As with many martial arts, Shotokan uses a system of coloured belts to indicate rank. Most Shotokan schools use the kyū / dan system but have added other belt colours. The order of colours varies widely from school to school, but kyu belts are denoted with colours that in some schools become darker as a student approaches shodan. Dan level belts are invariably black, with some schools using stripes to denote various ranks of black belt. Gichin Funakoshi himself never awarded a rank higher than Godan (5th dan black belt).