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Shotokan Karate

A Japanese Style of Karate Whose Founder Was Gichin Funakoshi

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My Journey With A Martial Art for Both The Mind and Body

  • Dec 22, 2009

Back in 1977 I noticed on my college campus that there was a Shotokan Karate club that met regularly.  I had no clue as to the differences between the martial arts and certainly why Shotokan was any different than any other Karate.  Being a big gym rat I thought that this might be something I could add to my workout.  Additionally, still being a teen I was still being harassed by bullies.  I thought that if they knew I was studying this that they would leave me alone.

With no second thought I paid some money and joined a class.  I remember the instructor was a real scarry dude and he taught the class like a marine sergeant.  The class was super hard and I had muscles hurting that I didn't realize I had.  I specifically remember him having us stand in these low stances and stay that way for several minutes.  He screamed at anyone that try to get up and my leg muscles felt like they were heating up so much that I could fry an egg on them.

Having paid the money up front I was determined to tough it out and continue no matter how hard it was.  About that time I remember seeing a Chuck Norris film where he talked about imagining that you had a third eye and you would be able to block out pain.  I decided to give this a try and I found that when my leg muscles were screaming at me trying to hold a stance, I was able to actually block out the physical pain.  As the classes progressed my legs got strong fast and quickly I was able to hold a stance for upwards of five minutes or more.

I found that the mental toughness I was developing was helping me in other parts of my life.  I started to retain more when I was studying and I started developing more confidence in myself.  I stopped worrying about those "bullies" and actually thought they were just trivial annoyances rather than significant problems.

About a year later I found an instructor that was tough but not scarry.  He spent a lot more time in teaching the meaning to everything that we did.  This made Karate a lot more interesting and I found myself able to progress through the ranks a lot quicker.  I started training 5-7 days a week.   On days I didn't train I still took time to practice moves from my Kata (the Japanese term for forms). 

Eventually, I progressed to my black belt and later became an instructor myself.  Becoming an instructor helped my leadership skills and also helped me to perfect my technique more rapidly because I needed to be as perfect as possible when demonstrating.  

 I find that Shotokan is an excellent workout.  The amount of energy expended per move is about the greatest of any martial art.  I know about 25 Katas and a good hour and a half workout could have me just practicing each Kata about 3-4 times.  Shotokan helped me perfect my punching skill that when I started learning boxing I was able to perfect the punching technique for boxing almost immediately.

Shotokan draws power from the hips and this thought can help you in other sports or doing physical labor, thus saving your back and making lifting heavy objects easier.  What I learned from Karate has helped me be a better public speaker.  Shotokan is an art that makes you project your power out in front of you and this is very useful to project out to your audience when you are giving a presentation.

Karate is ingrained in my life and has helped me develop myself beyond what I could have imagined both physically and mentally.  Karate is not easy and takes a lot of self-discipline and perserverance to get good.  Most people quit after a few lessons and I would estimate that only one in one hundred students ever advances to black belt.  However, if you are willing to make the effort, the journey is worth it!

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January 28, 2010
Back in the early 70s I had my daughter in Kenpo. She stated when she was 5 which was unusual back then. She lost interest after a couple of years which was a good thing because her sensei was promoting her much to rapidly. She was very good and he really wanted to have her as his first junior and her first female black belt. When she hit her teens she regretted quitting but he had closed up shop and gone to law school, so she took up Tae Kwan Do for a bit. I probably would have put her in TKD to begin with but all the schools wanted you to sign long term contracts and the Kenpo school didn't. In college she messed around with Tai Chi a bit. Now her twins are in TKD at what Bally's laughing calls a school, but the boys are doing well anyhow. Man, they've got about 30 belt ranks so that they can keep raking in the money every time you test. And EVERYBODY always passes. Benji is a high red belt and Alex (who started later) is a high brown. My daughter even went back recently and she just passed her blue belt. Watching the "deputy" belts test is very painful. (They're just below black) One little girl tried for over 10 minutes to break a kiddie board with a front snap kick, the first kick they learn! My daughter also learned that night of a wushu school not far away that only charges $120 a month. We've been hoping to find something like this for the boys because Benji would freak out at the chance to eventually learn weapons and Alex is a natural with real talent.
January 28, 2010
Sometimes the most difficult thing about Martial Arts is locating a school that is "right" for you, teaching an art that is "right" for you in a way that is "right" for you. With many different styles and so many places offering lessons it is virtually impossible for a layperson to figure out a good school for them. As you learned these places can also be expensive with contracts and such. As far as kids go, I was told that in Japan kids would be put in Judo classes until at least 13 before any school would train them in one of the striking arts. Here in the US kids are being exploited in a lot of these schools and it is too difficult for parents to understand unless they are martial artists themselves.
January 28, 2010
The TKD teachers at Bally's are also ranked in Hapkido so they also offer that as well. I would have liked to have seen the boys get into that because initially it's a lot like judo with the throws and locks and all. It's a very handy thing to know and it doesn't require as much agressiveness. Benji just isn't very agressive--unless you give him a gun.
January 28, 2010
Hapkido is a Korean off-shoot that combines Karate (striking) with Aikido (grappling). All of these arts are good but not all arts suit all individuals. And the way the instructor teaches could turn you off to it or make it the best learning experience. Practicing martial arts tends to reduce a person's agression as one progresses in both the spiritual as well as technical aspects. The whole philosophy behind the arts is for "defense."
January 28, 2010
Benji is a very competitive little kid and at the last tournament he had a bad experience sparring. He was matched up against a Latino kid whose mother was a nutcase who stood at the edge of the ring screaming for her son to "get in there and kill him" and since Benji isn't an agressive fighter and this boy was, he didn't do at all well and he was very upset about it for weeks afterwards. They should see to it that parents behave themselves when children are competing.
January 28, 2010
That is what turns me off about martial arts. Remember it is the philosophy and the technique. People try to make a sport out of it but that is like saying that going to a batting cage is the same as playing baseball.
January 28, 2010
You're so right. The other problem is that (in America especially) it becomes all about getting the belt. There should be only the white belt and the black belt. Or as in wushu, no belts at all.
January 28, 2010
Belts are important for helping a student set goals to achieve. It is an incentive for keeping them practicing and obtaining the approval of their teacher (ego booster) when they increase in rank. The idea of the belt was originated by Gichin Funakoshi. Generally students had a rope for a belt and the longer time they practiced their belts would gradually darken from sweat and washing. That is why the highest belt was considered black.
January 28, 2010
That's why it was black alright. And that's why it should be the goal. We need too much ego boosting. I can see maybe 2 or 3 intermediate ranks but come on! White, yellow, orange, blue, green, brown, high brown, red, high red, deputy( black&red) with 5 levels, and then black? And passing everyone who takes the test? It has no meaning anymore.
January 28, 2010
You are right Queenb. When I trained we had 4 colors (white, green brown, black). And you didn't always pass. I had to take the first black belt test three times before I passed. Later when I got into teaching all the dojos had added stripes and more colors (yellow, orange, blue and purple). Well at least I didn't have to keep buying a belt after each of my tests so I guess I saved some money.
January 28, 2010
When my daughter was little it went orange, green, and 3 levels of brown at her school. But you stayed in those levels for some time.
May 06, 2010
You should join the new community Everything Martial Arts http://www.lunch.com/EverythingMartialArt-380-Join.html
May 08, 2010
Another new community!
December 22, 2009
Great write up, Michael! Now you have inspired me maybe to make my own about this technique. Thank you for talking about your experiences with the art, I studied the art in Asia and I think they had a different teaching method than the ones in the U.S. I loved your closing paragraphs! Thanks for sharing!
December 22, 2009
I would love to read a write up of your own experiences.
December 22, 2009
I will work on it for you, probably after the holidays. I am sooo cramming on my holiday shopping. In case I don't talk to you before the 25th, Happy Holidays!
May 06, 2010
You should join the new community Everything Martial Arts http://www.lunch.com/EverythingMartialArt-380-Join.html
May 06, 2010
Sure. I actually have a community too that deals with Asian movies (martial arts in some ways) called AsianFlixFix--http://www.lunch.com/reelasian--But I can still contribute in yours by discussing Wing Chun and Kenpo and martial arts films from other countries... Thanks for the invite!
May 06, 2010
Great to have you and I will try yours too!
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I first got on this blog to discuss my first passion which is books. Since I have gotten on I find that books are only a piece of this blog and I can discuss just about anything that comes to mind. It … more
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Shotokan (松濤館流, Shōtōkan-ryū?) 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 [1] and is widely credited with popularizing karate 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.[2]

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

Famous practitioners of Shotokan:

UFC Light Heavyweight champion Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida is a 3rd-dan Shotokan black belt, while his brother Shinzo is a 4th-dan and their father Yoshizo is a 7th-dan and head of the Japan Karate Association's Brazilian branch.

Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Vitor Belfort recently earned his Blue Belt in Shotokan.

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