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What is Shotokan Karate?

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 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 and in Japanese 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 jiu-jitsu-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.

Ranks

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).

Kihon

Kihon basics is the practice of basic techniques in Shotokan Karate. Kihon Kata, or Taikyoku Shodan, was developed by Yoshitaka Funakoshi, the son of Gichin Funakoshi, as a basic introduction to Karate kata. (Yoshitaka also developed Taikyoku Nidan and Sandan.) The kata consists of successive restatements of the theme of gedan barai—oi tsuki.

Kata

Kata is often describe as a set sequence of Karate moves organized into a pre-arranged fight against imaginary opponents. The kata consists of kicks, punches, sweeps, strikes and blocks. Body movement in various kata includes stepping, twisting, turning, dropping to the ground, and jumping. In Shotokan, kata is a performance or a demonstration, with every technique potentially a killing blow (ikken hisatsu)—while paying particular attention to form and timing (rhythm). As the Karateka grows older, more emphasis is placed on the health benefits of practicing kata, promoting fitness while keeping the body soft, supple, and agile.

Several Shotokan groups have introduced "kata" (form) from other styles into their training. The original Shotokan kata syllabus is introduced in Funakoshi's book Karate-do Kyohan, which is the Master Text of Shotokan Karate. Dai Nihon Karate-do Shotokai is the official representative of Shotokan Karate.

Kumite

Kumite, or sparring (Meeting of hands), is the practical application of kihon and kata to real opponents. The formalities of kumite in Shotokan Karate were first instituted by Masatoshi Nakayama wherein basic, intermediate, and advanced sparring techniques and rules were formalised. Shotokan practitioners first learn how to apply the techniques taught in kata to hypothetical opponents by way of kata bunkai. Kata bunkai then matures into controlled kumite. Kumite is the third part of the Shotokan triumvirate of kihon, kata and kumite. Kumite is taught in ever increasing complexity from beginner through low grade blackbelt (1st - 2nd) to intermediate (3rd - 4th) and advanced (5th onwards) level practitioners. Beginners first learn kumite through basic drills, of one, three or five attacks to the head (jodan) or body (chudan) with the defender stepping backwards whilst blocking and only countering on the last defence. These drills use basic (kihon) techniques and develop a sense of timing and distance in defence against a known attack. At around purple belt level Karateka learn one-step sparring (ippon kumite). Though there is only one step involved, rather than three or five, this exercise is more advanced because it involves a greater variety of attacks and blocks usually the defenders own choice.[15] It also requires the defender to execute a counter-attack faster than in the earlier types of sparring. Counter-attacks may be almost anything, including strikes, grapples, and take-down manoeuvres. Free sparring (or free style) (jiyu kumite) is the last element of sparring learned. In this exercise, two training partners are free to use any Karate technique or combination of attacks, and the defender at any given moment is free to avoid, block, counter, or attack with any Karate technique. Training partners are encouraged to make controlled and focused contact with their opponent, but to withdraw their attack as soon as surface contact has been made. This allows attacking a full range of target areas (including punches and kicks to the face, head, throat, and body) with no padding or protective gloves, but maintains a degree of safety for the participants. Throwing one's partner and performing takedowns are permitted in free sparring, but it is unusual for competition matches to involve extended grappling or ground-wrestling, as Shotokan Karateka are encouraged to end an encounter with a single attack (ippon), avoiding extended periods of conflict, or unnecessary contact in situations where there may be more than one attacker.