Sanbon Kumite (三本組み手) means 3-step kumite. Sanbon kumite slightly changes the approach of gohon kumite. Instead of using one attack and one block five times, both change with every step. The amount of steps will be reduced to three. For instance, a typical sanbon kumite sequence could consist the attacks:
Shomen (正面) is a Japanese term and literally means “front, frontage, facade, main”. Shomen is therefore the front of the Dojo. It’s the direction that students line up facing and they traditionally bow towards. Usually, Shomen is the Northern wall of the Dojo or the wall that is facing the Dojo entrance. It’s where the Shinto shrine, the Country flag, and/or the Dojo Kun are situated.
(松濤館) is a Japanese martial arts. It belongs to the fighting and
self-defense system Karate (空手). Karate itself has been developed on the
islands of Okinawa. According to the famous karate blogger, Jesse
Enkamp, Shotokan is the “world´s most popular style” of Karate.
Shotokan Karate comprises a wide range of techniques like:
Uchi-waza (punches), and
Karateka execute all techniques from a variety of stances called tachi waza. Fighting on the ground and the application of an elaborated set of tosses and throws like in Judo, Aikido, and Wrestling is not part of the style. The focus lies on kicking, punching, and blocking. However, Shotokan karate knows also a couple of throwing techniques. Especially in bunkai and self-defense they can become vital elements. Therefore, some dojos prefer to practice them more often than others. In general it can be said that most of the Shotokan karateka prefer to face opponents in a standing position and from a leg length distance.
tachi-waza distinguish Shotokan clearly from other karate styles.
Shotokan applies deep stances in order to generate more power and being
more dynamic. While it also offers a variety of short range strikes,
kicks, and blocks its main focus lies on mid- and long-range techniques.
Therefore, Shotokan seeks to keep opponents out of ones own critic
perimeter. As a result, it offers smaller and weaker people an effective
mean to defend themselves. Above all, many practitioners deem the long
and strong techniques as very aesthetic.
Beside the physical dimension Shotokan consists of an elaborated set
of ethical and moral concepts and rules. These become emphasized by
adding the word Do to Shotokan Karate. Therefore, the art of Shotokan is
often called Shotokan Karate Do. The term Do should not be confused as a
suffix. Do means literally translated “way” (道). Therefore, it
expresses that Shotokan Karate is a way of life. As a result,
propositions and philosophical convictions like the refrain from
physical violence and the seek for justice build its foundation. They
are the guiding principles for practitioners in and outside of training.
Where does Shotokan Karate come from? A Brief History
Gichin Funakoshi: Founding Father of Shotokan Karate
Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957), an assistant teacher trained in Chinese
and Japanese philosophy from Okinawa, and his son Yoshitaka (Gigo)
Funakoshi (1906–1945) developed the style of Shotokan. However, the
development took place from the 1920´s onward. Further generations added
pieces and aspects to the art. However, Gichin and Yoshitaka Funakoshi
laid the foundation of Shotokan.
the 19th century, karate was already an established and diversified
martial art in Okinawa. Gichin Funakoshi learnt different styles of the
art from different Okinawa karate masters like Anko Asato and Anko
Itosu. Thus, the exposure to different styles gave him an overview about
the versatility of karate.
Further Development of Shotokan Karate on Mainland Japan
In 1922, Gichin Funakoshi migrated to mainland Japan. Although
Okinawa had been occupied by Japan for some time, karate had not been
introduced to the mainland. As a result, it was unknown back then. Other
martial arts like Kendo, Aikido, and Judo already achieved a wide
Together with other Okinawa masters he introduced the martial art to
the Japanese population. At the beginning, however, was deemed as
profane and provincial.
It was in Japan that he began to form his own style of Karate based
on the teachings he received in Okinawa. Especially the 1930´sbecame
a formative period for the art. Yoshitaka (Gigo) Funakoshi had an
innovative influence on the style and introduced several techniques that
still distinguish the style from the Okinawa versions. For instance:
Mawashi Geri (roundhouse kick).
For Gichin Funakoshi Shotokan, however, consists of more than
self-defense. While this had a high priority during the formation of the
style. Philosophical aspects also became relevant. Thus, Funakoshi
coined the style with Buddhist and East-Asian philosophy (see below).
Above all, to make ones character perfect stands at the center of
What does “Shotokan”mean?
In Japan, Gichin Funakoshi became a professional Karate teacher. He
taught in his own dojo (trainings hall) and hold several appointments at
Tokyo universities. He opened his dojo in spring 1935. Since then, he
and Yoshitaka Funakoshi taught several classes per week and became the
central location for the further development of the still.
Above all, the name Shotokan derives from Gichin Funakoshis pen name
and the Japanese term kan which stance for hall or gym. As an author
Funakoshi chose the name Shoto (松濤). That means: “waving pines”.
According to the legend, his students put up a sign at his dojo that
Later, the students called the whole style after the dojo of Gichin Funakoshi.
The Three Parts of Shotokan Karate: Kihon, Kata, Kumite
What is Kihon? The Basics And Foundation of Karate
The term kihon (基本) means “basics” or “fundamentals. Here karateka
learn the basics and the right execution of techniques. It comprises
blocks, punches, kicks, stances, and movements. Usually, students train
kihon without a partner. Therefore, partner training belongs to kumite
(see below). Therefore, kihon shares many aspects with shadow-boxing.
However, while shadow-boxing focuses on a free execution of techniques
and combinations kihon follows preset sequences.
The word kamae (構え) means
“posture”. It refers to the fact that every technique in Shotokan can
be executed in a formalized (kamae) or a free (jiyu kamae) posture.
The formalized kamae focuses on a static execution of techniques.
Beginners start their techniques and combinations usually from this
position. They conduct the whole kihon session in this posture. Because
it offers more focus and control on the details of the techniques and
emphasizes the critical stages during their execution. Therefore, it
belongs to the 101 of Shotokan. Most of the time, instructors choose
gedan barai (下段払い) as a first position. Gedan barai blocks a low front
kick or punch.
Jiyu kamae (自由 構え), however, focuses on the free and dynamic
execution of techniques and combinations. Advanced students and belt
ranks start their techniques from this position and stay in this posture
throughout the whole kihon session. Jiyu kamae requires a very good
routine and execution of techniques. Therefore, only higher and advanced
students apply it. It can also be understood as the fighting position.
So, kumite, the fight against one or more opponents, also takes place in
How Does a Kihon session Takes Place?
It usually begins in shizentai (自然体): a natural upright position. A
sensei (master) or senpai (higher student), who conducts a regular kihon
session, gives the command to prepare for the next part of training.
First, they show and explain techniques in front of the class. For this
purpose the use technical Japanese Shotokan terminology. Beginners will
learn it very fast. Then, the students are supposed to execute the
techniques. The instructor gives commands, sets the pace, corrects the
students, and controls the right execution of the techniques. He also
decides how many times and which technique will be trained.
While beginners usually train one technique at a time and progress
slowly towards simple combinations of techniques, advanced students
focus on complex combinations. In kihon students, therefore, train
already situation and sequences that become later relevant in fighting.
The repertoire of techniques, which become trained in kihon, is very rich. Shotokan consists of round about 25 keri-waza (kicks) and more than 60 ude-waza (arm techniques). Therefore, Shotokan offers a very versatile set of self-defense options. It is up to the instructor to combine and use this techniques in order to achieve maximum learning effects for their students.
What Are the Important Physical Aspects of Kihon?
Right execution of techniques: Shotokan Karate
emphasize the right technical execution of movements. The reason for
this emphasize results in the higher efficiency of well executed
techniques. To make ones own technical execution perfect belongs to the
major goals of kihon.
The term means breathing in and out. Breathing supports or initiates
every movement in Shotokan. Its importants results from the internal
pneumatic pressure it generates. This pressure effects the activity of
other muscle regions. It can lead to tension or relaxation. Rightfully
applied it gives the provides the advantages between a good and a very
term means decide, focus of power, or finish. It refers to the
intentional sudden tension of body in the final moment of a technique. Kime aims on the transmission of ones own force to the opponents body trough a shockwave (see here for a more elaborated description).
What Are the Important Mental Aspects of Kihon?
The state of mind, a Shotokan Karateka should cultivate during, kihon
is zanshin which means: being aware and alert. That does not mean to be
nervouse but to await changes and difficulties. Zanshin
requires a mental presents in the situation and the momemt accompanied
by a general openness to the surrounding circumstances.
On the other hand, students learn to stay calm under stress and
pressure. This calmness is call mushin or inner silence. Like zanshin it
focuses the attention of the karateka on the presents and opens the
mind for changes in the situation. Once a Shotokanka reaches mushin his
or her mind does not get distracted from own but unnecessary thoughts as
well as unnecessary events in the environment.
The instructor has several tasks during kihon practice, which require a deep and profound education in Shotokan karate.
Setting learning goals for Shotokan students
Translating these goals into a practical curriculum
Turning the curriculum into sub-sets of kihon tasks for students
Delivering the full range of technical versatility of Shotokan karate
Presenting (and explaining) the techniques and combinations to the students
Knowing the right execution and the purpose of techniques
Motivating the students to reach and lead them to their performance limits
Considering physical and mental health during every step in training
Enforcing the rules (dojo kun) and etiquette of Shotokan karate
Being a role model
What is Kata? The Fight Against Imaginary Opponents
is the most essential part of Karate in general and Shotokan Karate in
particular. The term means “form”. Kata simulates a fighting situation
against several imaginary opponents. The fight, however, is stylized.
All techniques applied are formalized and not executed in a jiyu-kamae (free) fashion
They follow a dramaturgy with a preset sequence of motions and a rhythms
The fighting situations and the application of the techniques are abstract
As a result, the real-life application, called bunkai (see below), depends on the interpretation of the karateka.
Why are Kata Stylized?
Kata serve several purposes within Shotokan karate. To combine all
these purposes in one routine the techniques and their execution had to
be adjusted an harmonized. The aspects are:
legend also says that karate training was prohibited back in Okinawa.
Therefore, karate masters had to find a way to teach their techniques
secretly. One way to do this was to disguise the actually training as
some sort of physical routine or dance.
Embusen: The Fingerprint of A Kata
Every Shotokan kata has a unique flow of techniques and sequences.
They also have unique lines of movement. Like a fingeprint every kata
can be recognized in this regard. In Japanese they use the therm embusen
(演武線) in order to descrip this route or line of movement. An embusen
can be depicted as a diagram. While their a very simple embusen, others
can have a high degree of complexity.
The embusen defines from which starting point the karateka has to
begin to execute a certain kata. In addition, the starting point defines
also the ending point in every kata – they are similar. Therefore, the
karateka can immidiatly check whether he or she executed the kata in a
right way. If so he or she must arrived at the same spot where they
What Kata Shotokan Karate consists of?
In sum, Shotokan comprises 26 katas with different approaches and
aims. Within the 26 katas their exist six families of katas: Heian,
Tekki, Bassai, Kanku, Gojushiho, and the Ji-family with Jion, Jitte, and
Due to the abstract natur of all katas, their application must be interpreted. In Japanese they use the term bunkai (分解) in order to describe this process. Bunkai literally means “analysis” and “disassembly”. Especially advanced students are encouraged to analyze the potential self-defense options katas offer. While karateka need some degree of creativity to apply kata to a real-life conflict. Applicability and efficiency is the paramount aim in bunkai. Therefore, every good bunkai follows has a economic rule: Efficiency and effectiveness first, creativity second.
What is Kumite? The Fight Against Real Opponents
(組手) means “grappling hands”. In Kumite, students learn to fight
against one or more attackers. Kumite becomes increasingly complex as
experienced the students be. The most simple form is gohon kumite (5
Step kumite). This form of kumite applies defined sequences of movements
like attacks and blocks. Students learn to interact with an opponent.
Like in kihon the practice of kumite can also distinguished in a
standardized and pre-arranged form and a free form.
The first formalized form is called yakusoku kumite (約束組み手). It consists of:
gohon kumite possess the lowest degree of freedom, jiyu kumite, on the
other has the free. This is because jiyu kumite takes place as a free
fighting situation. However, we must distinguish between a jissen (実戦),
an actual fight like a street fight, and kyogi (競技), a sportive
tournament. While first happens completly without rules, in the second
the athlete is limited by the tournament regulations. For instance,
certain dangerous strickes are prohited from application on tournaments.
Following we also distinguish jissen jiyu kumite from goshin-jutsu. Although, both become applied in real-life conflict situations, the follow different strategies and Shotokanka apply different techniques.
A Brief History of Shotokan Kumite
The Okinawa karate masters conceptualized karate as a self-defense
systems. Real-life fighting situations served them as references. Karate
should give its practicioner the skills and power to withstand an
attack by an offender. Choki Motobu (1870-1944), one of the most famouse
Okinawa karate masters stated:
Nothing is more harmful to the world than a martial art that is not effective in actual self-defense.
Therefore, the founding fathers designed karate according principles of competitive efficitivity and efficiency.
The Importance of Yoshitaka Funakoshi For Kumite
Gichin Funakoshi, however, had a very pacifistic attitude. For him karate and especially Shotokan served the purpose of physical, mental, and ethical education.
His son Yoshitaka developed Shotokan into the direction of a
comprehensive self-defense system. Yoshitaka also introduced gohon,
sanbon, kihon and jiyu ippon kumite as well as jiyu kumite. Yoshitaka
himself was very much inspired by kendo techniques and the fighting
strategy of kendo. Therefore, he also changed the way to move in kumite
and its general strategical approach. While Okinawa karate prefers high
stances and close-range situations, Yoshitaka pushed the style towards
lower stances and longer techniques. As a result, Shotokan shares more
similarities with fencing. Okinawa karate, on the other hand, comes
closer to boxing.
But Yoshitaka´s influence on the way, how Shotokanka fight, goes even further. He also took inspiration from judo. Yoshitaka also introduced sweeping techniques like de ashi barai (出足払), a technique widely unknown in Okinawa karate. How importance of kumite for Yoshitaka becomes clear if one considers that he also collaborated with the Imperial Japanese Army in the 1930´s in order to educate soldiers in Shotokan. Thus, he had to develop Shotokan into an effective fighting system that was easy to learn and to apply.
Masatoshi Nakayama Developed Tournament Kumite
Tournament kumite, however, developed rather late in the 1950´s. Especially, Masatoshi Nakayama pushed for the establishment of a tournament kumite discipline. From a present standpoint, it sounds very odd that tournament kumite had to be developed. However, Shotokan karateka practices randori (free sparring) and goshin-jutsu. Rules and a modus needed to be invented. Masatoshi Nakayama came up with the shobu ippon kumite system. It focuses on one point the contenders have to make (see below). The judges only give the point for a truly devastating but controlled techniques. Neither of the opponents should be seriously injured.
1st JKA All Japan Karate Championship took place in Tokyo in October
1957. Since then, other associations have adoped the shobu ippon kumite.
However, the World Karate Federation has introduced another style of
tournament kumite. Karateka have to fight in an 8-point-system with a
full protection gear.
Unfortunately, the rise of tournament kumite has pushed out aspects of self-defense. Goshin-jutsu
has become a seldomly teach part of Shotokan karate. It depends highly
on the instructor whether students learn it. In most associations the
testings do not require goshin-jutsu.
Shotokan Karate as Budo
“Spirit first, technique second.”
Gichin Funakoshi, 20 Precepts of Karate Do
The style of Shotokan Karate is also a philosophical paradigm with the two major concepts of spirit and Budo at its center. This is indicated by the suffix Do. Thus, many practitioners call it also Shotokan Karate Do.
Budo and Do
Shotokan Karate Do seeks to be more than a system
of self-defense. It is a moral philosophy that comprises ethical
propositions and guiding principles for a specific way of life. So.
with this conceptualization Shotokan Karate relates to the Japanese term
Budo which stance for “martial way” and is indicated by the ending Do. While Budo can easily misinterpreted as a philosophy of violence and war (martial) it aims on the complete opposite.
At the center of the Budo stance the control over one´s body and
mind as well as the cultivation and civilization of one´s convictions
and behavior. This foundation leads to the execution of good and just
All that should take place in the light of fighting spirit
or “spirit of effort”. This spirit is characterized by endurance,
perseverance, persistence, self-confidence, determination, risk-taking,
competitiveness. Thus, to not give up or to give in is constitutive for
the attitude of Shotokan Karate. Spirit makes the difference between
winning or losing in many cases. Hence, Gichin Funakoshi, the founder
of the Shotokan style, favored spirit over technique.
The Landscape of Shotokan Karate Associations
Today, people all over the global practice the style of Shotokan
karate all over the globe. This can be attributed to the efforts of
Gichin Funakoshi´s students. Many of them founded dojos, associations,
and went abroad in order to spread the style. Especially Masatoshi
Nakayama became an important figure in institutionalizing the art. He
was driving force and later chief instructor of the Japan Karate Association (JKA), which is the biggest Shotokan association in the world.
The Stratification of Shotokan Associations
Other students like Hidetaka Nishiyama, Hirokazu Kanazawa and many more established with the International Traditional Karate Federation (ITKF) and the Shotokan Karate International Federation
own organizations on a global scale. As a result, a myriad of
associations and independent Dojos offer and practice Karate Do
worldwide today. But for the most of them the aspect of Do is the
defining feature of the art. Others, on the other hand, find more
satisfaction in a sports-oriented version of the art. In addition,
different masters have also caused to changes and different
interpretations of the original techniques and teachings in the past.
Therefore, the global field of Shotokan is heterogeneous and constantly
The Present Field of Shotokan Associations
Currently, there are several Shotokan Karate associations. Important
orgainzations like the SKIF and ITKF were already found in the 1970´s.
However, a political power struggle broke out among high-ranking
Shotokan instructors in the 1990´s. Some are still at odds with each
other. Even lawsuits were filed. The trouble emerged after the death of
Masatoshi Nakayama. He did not sufficiently declare a successor. On the
other hand, the JKA had no mechanism in place to elect one among his
Shihankai members. Different peope claimed the position. But the power
struggle led to a fragmentation of the JKA and several other
organizations emerged from there.