introduction to karate
sensei gichin funakoshi
where does one start with an introduction to karate? from the things we all know, such as that karate comes from japan? unfortunately, of course, it doesn't really come from japan, and lots of the ideas that we have about karate turn out to be untrue. karate is about hitting people? sorry, wrong again.
the history of karate is interesting as a story, and the relation of karate to other martial arts is not only fascinating but also absolutely fundamental. if karate came to japan from okinawa, and to okinawa from china, then where is the distinction between kung-fu and karate to be drawn? or, to throw the cat among the pigeons, is it really necessary to separate them? one could easily choose, as many do, choose the founding of the JKA in the 1940s as the 'birth' of karate, or instead one could choose the teaching of sakukawa in the early 1800s; the gradual evolution and formalisation of modern 'karate' as a distinct martial art makes it difficult to say when it began as such, and since the splintering of the JKA and the export of karate around the world what is meant by 'karate' is still changing today. some people oppose this change, and some welcome it, and there is no shortage of debate on the subject. and while there are many accounts of the origins of karate to be found on karate websites, most of them are drastically summarised for the sake of space and maintaining visitor interest. for the attentive reader, the wikipedia article is well-linked and provides an excellent starting point.
the name shotokan, as a style of karate (of which there are many), refers to the pen-name of the founder, gichin funakoshi (pictured above; funakoshi's portrait often hangs in dojos), who is generally credited with bringing karate to the main islands of japan. shoto-kan can be translated as "shoto's place", thus dartmouth shotokan could be described as "funakoshi's place at dartmouth". a portrait of sensei funakoshi is hung at shomen in the dartmouth dojo.
the best introduction to karate, of course, would be the experience of studying karate for oneself; all good clubs will be more than happy to have you along to watch what they do, and to join in if you choose. karate is practiced by ordinary people, and there is no mystery or magic to it. to fully describe karate, as with learning everything within the art, would take a lifetime. much better to get involved and draw your own conclusions.