Home Page | Shotokai Links

Shotokai Karate-do
Frequently Asked Questions

This FAQ was last modified on July 21st, 2000

This document is the Frequently Asked Questions file of Shotokai Karate-do Chile. I will try to maintain it updated and any comments and information you'd like to see added to this FAQ, please mail to infoshotokai@shotokai.com

Table of Contents

Shotokai Karate-do

Is a non competition oriented Karate "style". It is the linear derivative of Master Gichin Funakoshi's Karate, that was further developed by both Masters Yoshitaka (Gigo) Funakoshi and Shigeru Egami. Shotokai does not consider Karate-do a sport and doesn't in any way stress such an orientation. Shotokai stresses Karate-do as a Budo art and thus is interested in personal development through the study and practice of Karate as a Do, a Way of Life, a lifestyle or a basic life philosophy and the development of the internal energy, Ki.
Shotokai's movements follow the natural laws, they are full of vitality and energy, but always applying the principles of harmony and relaxation, avoiding all use of brute force. This contrasts notoriously with sports martial arts, where the young, strong and muscular ones seem to dominate. This is related with the fact that Shotokai avoids all type of competitive tournaments where physical strength is the most important factor and at the same time with it's training objectives: the search of the development of mind and body.
Each group of trainees in Shotokai, depending on their level, has his/her own way of attaining the mind-ki-body unity, where all can mix together and learn from each other. In a training atmosphere void of distinctions, communication grows and mutual respect arises unhindered. Out of the circular, interactive exchange between the young and the not so young, power grows out of the harmonious activity, this leads directly to a feeling of fitting in and etiquette is thus based on mutual respect.

What is Karate-Do?

What is Karate?

Karate-do is a martial art originated in Okinawa, modified and transformed into a way of life by Master Gichin Funakoshi. Until before these modifications, it was just a group of techniques that permitted self-defense without weapons other than your hands and feet. Though there was some Chinese influence, the development was Okinawan, and later mainland Japanese. Master Funakoshi, inspired by traditional martial arts from the main Japanese islands (kyudo, kendo, judo for example) modified Karate, that until that moment could have been called Karate-jutsu, a fighting art, and emphasized the philosophical aspects. This way all that was learnt could be extrapolated to the daily life of the student. This is why Karate is a way of life: Karate-do (do, means way or road). Gichin Funakoshi, thus, combined Karate techniques with traditional Budo (the martial way), inserting the essence of Budo in the heart of Karate.

What does the word Karate mean?

The word Karate is also formed by two characters, the first one kara (empty) and the other te (hand), the first one having many ways of defining it. The first definition is the least subtle and the most straightforward, through the practice of karate, self defense techniques are learnt, where no weapons are needed, other than hands, feet or other parts of the body. The second one, and in the words of Master Funakoshi: "Just as it is the clear mirror that reflects without distortion, or the quiet valley that echoes a sound, so must one who would study Karate-do purge himself of selfish and evil thoughts, for only with a clear mind and conscience can he [she] understand that which he [she] receives. This is another meaning of the element kara in Karate-do." Another meaning given by the Master is that of always striving to be inwardly humble and outwardly gentle, thus meaning an internal emptiness of egoism and acting gently and moderately. Finally he talks about the elemental form of the Universe, which is emptiness (kara, ku), "and thus, emptiness is form itself. The kara of Karate-do has this meaning." After what's been said, it is clear that Karate-do and Karate Budo are much, much more than mere self-defense techniques, actually, such a definition is a far shot from the real essence of Karate as a philosophy, which strives to develop the inner qualities of a human being and the search of perfection of your character, through strenuous training in the do and budo martial arts.

What does the word Budo mean?

The Budo word is formed by two Chinese characters, bu is formed by two symbols, one means to stop, inside another that represents two weapons, two crossed halberds, thus, bu, means to stop a conflict and do, a way or a life philosophy. In Master Funakoshi's own words: "Since Karate is a Budo, this meaning should be deeply considered, and the fists should not be used heedlessly". Shotokai Chile, has modified its name from Karate-do to Karate Budo, to emphasize its difference from so many other Karate-do's that have very little of the original basic principles, sort of what Master Funakoshi did when he modified the Kara character and added the do.

What is the difference between Shotokai and Shotokan?

Shotokai and Shotokan are two names for the same thing. Shotokai is the name of the Organization established in 1935 to raise funds for the building of Master Funakoshi's Main Training Hall. Gichin Funakoshi sensei held only two positions during his lifetime: one as Head Instructor of the Shotokan Dojo and the other as director of the Shotokai school.

Shotokan is the name of the building that was the result of the work done by this organization's efforts: Shotokai's Main Dojo in Tokyo, Japan. The original Shotokan Dojo was finished in 1936. In time, people who trained Karate-do were not only known for practicing Karate but also began to be related to different "styles", even though Gichin Funakoshi was against this, his students began to be known as of the "Shotokan", the place where they trained, or "Shotokan-Ryu", the Shotokan Style.

After Master Gichin Funakoshi's death in 1957, Shotokai was heir of his symbol (O-sensei's Tiger), the Shotokan and Shotokai names and more importantly all his documents and writings, which is why Shotokai is in charge of editing and publishing his works. Shotokai's Headquarter in Japan is still the Shotokan Dojo, though it was reconstructed and is not the original one, which burned down during one of the II World War bombings. Anyone arriving in Japan asking to go to the Shotokan will arrive there, at the Headquarters. Considering how hard and useless it would be to impose Master Funakoshi's wishes abroad, the Shotokan name and O-sensei's symbol have been abused and misused by many groups with no respect for Master Funakoshi nor his families wishes. This is the reason for the confusion between Shotokai and Shotokan, and even more sadly, the fact that many uninformed people relate Gichin Funakoshi with sport karate, something he was strongly against.

What do Shotokai and Shotokan mean in English?

The word Shotokai is composed of three kanji characters in Japanese. The Sho character is taken from the word matsu which means pine tree. To is the character for waves. Pine Waves is the English translation, that tries to give an idea, of what the original idea the Japanese kanji give: the sound that is produced by the pine needles when the wind blows through them, a sort of wave sound (listen well the next time you are in a pine forest, with wind). The founder of Karate-do, Funakoshi Gichin, used Shoto as a pseudonym when he signed his poetry works. The word kai means Organization. Thus Shotokai means the Organization of Shoto, or the Organization of Master Gichin Funakoshi. In the case of Kan, the meaning is building or house, thus Shotokan is the house or building of Shoto, thus the Hombu (Main) Dojo (Training Hall) of Shotokai.

What is the purpose of Shotokai Karate training?

Should there be a purpose? We must be very careful in our materialistic culture to believe everything has a material purpose. There are many activities in life that at first sight may not have a reason to exist or be pursued, the truth may be that most things that really are worth something in life are exactly like that. But beyond sermons :-), the objective can be very different from person to person, some may begin with self-defense on their minds, and most surely they will learn a lot about that, even though the best self-defense is not to look for trouble and consciously avoid it. Some may begin looking for better physical condition, that they also will attain. Some may want to win cups and medals, Shotokai is not the best election for that :-). And some few will train to learn more about themselves or as a philosophy, Shotokai is in this respect a great election.
As a conclusion, no matter what your objectives are, as long as they are morally and ethically sound, Shotokai will help you attain them, you'll realize along the way that there are other more profound objectives too (if you need them) and you will decide if they too will become a part of your training and part of your objective in life.

Is learning Shotokai Karate difficult?

Shotokai Karate-do is in no hurry, there are no tournaments you have to go to, personal development is a lifetime goal, so basically Shotokai is normally a very methodic, step by step, training. The idea is that anyone, no matter what their backgrounds are, can begin and progress in their studies of Shotokai Karate. There is of course a certain degree of effort involved in your "progress", as with anything worthwhile in life. You will sweat, you will get tired, your muscles will ache, but only to the degree you wish, depending on how much you are willing to sacrifice on your Do. The rewards will be more than worth it. Along the way you'll feel more and more stimulated to press yourself harder, to go beyond your mental limits. This will be the beginning.

Will I get injured learning Shotokai Karate?

This depends on what you call injuries. The truth is it's more common to find Karatekas injured by other physical activities they pursue, than through Shotokai Karate. Injuries depend also very much on your training, if you are looking for a fast advance you'll train more and you will be more exposed to injuries: blisters, bruises, small cuts, bigger cuts, sprains, etc. But as I say, these are very uncommon in Shotokai Karate. You must consider that we are in no hurry if you are not in a hurry. Special trainings are another story, though.

How long do classes last?

They can last from one hour (15 min. warm-up; 45 min. Karate) to three hours. You are not required to stay all the training hours, as long as you state this before the training starts. The best amount to begin with is three to six hours a week. As your physical and mental conditioning get better, you can begin increasing the hours you train a week. Have in mind the true fact that too many hours increase your exposure to injuries, mainly due to fatigue and lack of recovery time both for your muscles and for your body as a whole.

How often do I have to practice to become an expert?

All your life and maybe more. No, truly, I really believe that asking this question will prove to be useless and ridiculous as you advance in your training. Begin your training and you will see.

Will weight lifting or running help me get in shape?

This also depends on what you are looking for. In Shotokai, due to it's objectives, bodies tend to become long and thin, as a general rule, never bulky and full of puffed up muscles. If you are to train weight lifting, you need to be guided by a physical trainer more in the direction of long distance runners or any person involved in exercises that require movement for a long period of time. In general, I have noticed that Shotokai training tends to generate long strong muscles and flexible bodies.

What are the white clothes Karate people wear?

Karate before it was introduced to the Japanese Mainland was practiced in Hakama (long wide-legged pants), once on the mainland, and inspired by Judo, a white uniform, made of two pieces, a jacket and a pair of pants, was introduced. In Japanese this is called a Karate-gi. The traditional and accepted Karate-gi is of white color, and at most with a school patch.

What is a black belt, and how can I get one?

It's a black piece of cloth in the form of a long belt. They can be bought in any martial arts store for no more that 5 - 10 dollars.
The right question, could be something like "What does a Black Belt represent?", this requires a longer explanation. When Master Funakoshi arrived to the Japanese mainland, there were no belts, it was not before 1932 when he standardized the different levels in Karate, based on the Judo system. At that point he gave all his older students a black belt. The black belt represents the moment when you have learnt the technique well enough to be able to begin your true Karate training. So once you get one, after years of practice, you are ready to begin.
In Shotokai there are 5 dan degrees, as Master Funakoshi originally established it.
There are previous gradings before attaining a shodan (first degree black belt) these are called kyu, in Shotokai Karate-do, these are:
8th, 7th, 6th kyu: white
5th, 4th kyu: purple
3rd, 2nd and 1st kyu: brown
The differences between the kyu are marked with small white stripes, or lengthwise stripes in yellow, red and green in the first three kyu (8, 7, 6th kyu).

How long does it take to get a black belt?

The time it takes you to get to the store and pay the bucks....

I once read a story where the moral was "if you have one eye placed on your goal, you have only one eye left to watch where you are stepping". I believe this is very much so for Karate-do, you must learn without a material objective, with no specific interest other than learning as much as you can about yourself. Along this way, in this process you'll advance toward a goal that is not your goal but is unavoidable if you are well guided and if you sincerely confront yourself in every training session.

What is the highest rank in Shotokai Karate?

Fifth dan as a grade and as a title: Shihan. As it was originally established and maintained by Master Gichin Funakoshi.

Is Godan (fifth dan) the end of the road then? Is there nothing more to learn after attaining godan?

No, it's just the beginning. But it's only possible to grade people with respect to their technique, the technical aspects. There is no way to grade with respect to a person's advance in the do. This is the reason why Shotokai only grades until Godan.

Why do Karate people break boards?

That is an old tradition. It is no longer practiced in Shotokai on a regular basis. It can be used from time to time as a specific test, but is largely avoided and sometimes sneered at. Unfortunately most people have ended thinking that's Karate, remember to read Master Funakoshi's words in Karate-do Nyumon (Kodansha International) on this subject: "Karate-do is a noble martial art, and the reader can rest assured that those who take pride in breaking boards or smashing tiles, or who boast of being able to perform outlandish feats, like stripping flesh or plucking out ribs, really know nothing about karate. They are playing around in the leaves and branches of a great tree, without the slightest concept of the trunk".

Why do people do Karate barefoot?

It is a tradition. I do believe there is a justification on a more subtle level with respect to the direct contact with the surface and the transmission of ki, but I do not feel, in the least, qualified to speak on this subject, I will include qualified opinions in the future.
The most down to earth explanation could be the Japanese tradition of taking your shoes off before going in to a home.
Another could be to strengthen your feet, thicken the skin and minimize the striking area while striking with the feet.

Do I have to learn Japanese to learn Karate?

It would be best, but it's not an initial requirement. You'll end up learning to count, the basic technique names, the Kata names, and some more, but it will only be basic things. It is possible that to truely grasp many of the more subtle aspects of Karate-do your best bet would be to take courses in Japanese, but then again that's a personal decision in the end and not an obligation.

How old do I have to be to do Karate?

There is actually no age limit. It really depends on the instructor, specially when you consider young children. They are very hard to control and teach, unless there is a special vocational quality in the instructor (I do not have it...). It is also important that the instructor has special knowledge with respect to characteristics that make children vulnerable, their undeveloped bones, and equivalents require a special type of training, to avoid injuries.

How young should I be to start learning Karate?

There is really no age limit. It will require a little more time to relax and attain a certain level of flexibility, but there is no need to worry. Training will be modified with respect to your age.

Training Karate

Karate training includes three areas that are: Kihon, Kata and Kumite. After the usual warm-up exercises you will start with kihon, progressing through kata and later kumite, if there is time enough and if it is necessary.

What is Kihon?

Kihon is the name given to all the basic techniques. Thus blocking, kicking, punching and striking
with different parts of your body, advancing and backing up, there are progressively more complicated combinations as you continue your training.

What is Kata?

In Shotokai, it's founder and Chief Instructor, Master Gichin Funakoshi, reduced more than a hundred traditional Kata, combat forms, called kata, into 19 fundamental kata. These are pre-established imaginary confrontations with adversaries from a number of directions, thus they include combinations of techniques in progressively more and more complicated ways. Master Funakoshi and most serious instructors consider Kata the base and essence of Karate-do, and lay very strong weight on them.

What is kumite?

Another part of your Karate training will involve working with an opponent, this is called Kumite, sparring training. Kumite is done with an opponent, there are progressive step along the way to free combat (jyu kumite). It begins with Ten No Kata Omote and Ten No Kata Ura, a kata involving simple defenses with counter-attacks and simple opponent attacks, continues with progressively more and more demanding sparring techniques, which eventually end up with free sparring.

How much of a lesson is dedicated to kihon, kata, and kumite?

This is variable. I can tell you how it has been in my training in Chile and a bit in other places. About 40% Kihon, 40% Kata and 20% kumite. But there are classes entirely dedicated to kata or to kihon.

When can I stop practicing kihon and kata and just do kumite?

Why would you want to do that? If only doing combat is your idea of Karate training, Shotokai is not for you. All Karate-do elements are interrelated, kihon training, high repetitions, will affect your Kata and Kumite positively, so will the other affect the rest too. There is no way to bypass any part of the training, without degrading some part of the rest. All are part of a complete training, there is no bypass, no easy way. I truely hope your not looking for one either.

Will I learn weapons?

You will once you are advanced enough in your Karate training not to become dependent upon a weapon, something that would contradict one of the essential aspects of Karate.

Conduct in a Karate Dojo

Why do Karate people bow?

Karate is a Japanese traditional Martial Art. Traditional means we are following many teachings that have been given down from different Japanese masters. In Japan it's a custom to bow, when you greet someone, just as shaking hands is a custom in Occident. All Kata begin and end with a bow so even though it may be tempting for some to eliminate the bow, it's like trying to change the essence of Karate, so this has not been done in traditional karate groups.

Do I have to bow?

Yes, if you are planning to train Shotokai Karate.
But this question is a bit irrelevant once you consider the question, it's like asking "Will I have to shake hands if I choose to live in New York (Paris, London, Santiago, etc)? Of course, it would be very rude to do otherwise. Do not forget it's a greeting, a "hand shake", with no religious significance what-so-ever, so don't be shy.

What is a Sensei?

Sen means "before", Sei means "life, birth, living or lived". Thus a Sensei is someone who has experienced something before you. He has walked the path you are planning to follow before you, he can tell you what to do. In more general terms, it's a teacher, normally the head instructor of the Dojo you are attending and nobody else there.

How should I act toward the Sensei?

With the respect you would show to anybody that has a vast experience in any subject of your interest. Any real Sensei will of course not be expecting any special treatment and will surely be a very approachable person. But if you are training it's recommendable to act courteously.

Who is the Sempai?

The person in charge of the groups training other than the Sensei could be considered the Sempai, but in Japanese culture Sempai is a mentor.

Who is the Kohai?

The kohai is the junior man in the sempai/kohai relationship.

Is Karate a religion?

Good question. I have no clear-cut answer. Some will say no, others yes, some others maybe, check out with the Dojo teacher and find out his opinion.

The Dojo

What is a Dojo?

Literally: the place of enlightenment, place of the way. Is the physical location where you train. It can be a building for that purpose only, or a Gymnasium used for other activities too.

What is the Shomen?

Shomen is the main wall of the Dojo, the wall you face. It normally bears the Kamidana, a Shinto mini-Shrine, and the photographs of the schools masters, in the case of Shotokai, Master Gichin Funakoshi and Shigeru Egami. Sho means true and men means face.

What is a makiwara?

It's a striking post. You normally encounter it in most Dojos. It is used as a way to train your strikes, not only tsuki but also elbow and even leg strikes. It consists of a wooden post and a cushion, both elements can be built from a variety of materials. The original Makiwara were built of bamboo stalks and a tight bundle of woven rice straw (Maki, wrap; wara, rice straw)

What are tetsugeta?

Iron sandals or clogs. Traditionally used to train and strengthen Karateka's legs and hips. They weigh about 4 to five kilograms each.

What is a kiai?

Kiai is a yell or shout, that has the purpose of focusing all the energy into a given movement. Even though it sometimes may not be audible at times, one must try to maintain the sensation of the Kiai in the crucial movements (Ki, energy/spirit, actually a very hard word to translate to English; ai, meet, match.)

How is a kiai related to breathing?

Executing a Kiai during your techniques helps you relax and avoid holding your breath, something that is to be avoided, both from the health point of view and the fact that this induces muscle tension and tires the body very fast.

Do I have to kiai?

Yes.


S.K.B. Technical Characteristics

The basic and fundamental concept in Shotokai is that the body must be relaxed, the movements must be soft and project the energy further than oneself. The mind must be clear, clean and receptive. The techniques will be done in a natural way, avoiding rigidity and tension.

One must be careful not to confuse softness with slowness, the movement must be soft when it begins and maintain itself that way during all the trajectory, without roughness. This type of movement is done, either slowly or very rapidly.

One of the objectives to strive for is attaining maximum speed in the movements even though the practice can also search for softness in slow movements. Softness and fluidity can be united; this consists in not blocking the techniques, uniting them in a continuous manner with the next technique. When executing the techniques, the arm movements begin and end together with the rest of the body. Attack and defense techniques are not stopped when they supposedly have reached the objective, rather the movement prolongs itself to the limit of their possibilities.

In Kata, these characteristics are applied to attain a fluid execution. Movements follow each other in a continuous way, accommodating them to the logical rhythm of the Kata. It is also a common practice, as a method of enhancing the fluidity, to avoid the use of kiai during the Kata.

In Kumite as the blows are not stopped, all the training is oriented towards the art of evasion and avoiding the partners attacks. In Shotokai the is no sports combat nor sports oriented practice. All the emphasis is placed on the practice of Yakuzoku Ippon Kumite and Ju Ippon Kumite


Kata

What is Kata?

Summary: In Shotokai, it's founder and Chief Instructor, Master Gichin Funakoshi, reduced more than a hundred traditional Kata, combat forms, called kata, into 19 fundamental kata. These are pre-established imaginary confrontations with adversaries from a number of directions, thus they include combinations of techniques in progressively more and more complicated ways. Master Funakoshi and most serious instructors consider Kata the base and essence of Karate-do, and lay very strong weight on them.

Shotokai Kata and their names in Kanji

There are 19 kata in the core training of Shotokai, many others are standardized and practiced but the essential ones are the following:

Master Shigeru Egami says:

" If one has the time, he might practice other ancient kata - but to do so to brag about knowing a great number of kata would be pointless. It is said that in former days a single kata was practiced for a minimum of three years. Try to imagine what this means."

"A kata may be regarded as an integration of offensive and defensive techniques, but it is more than that. One should try to understand the spirit of the master karateka who created the kata, for it has a life of its own and requires five or six years to be mastered."

Due to changes that have taken place in the technique and the underlying spirit, the kata, even though their general layout has not changed considerably, the technical, rhythm and speed have been modified.

A Shotokai kata should be done fluidly from the initial position in hachiji-dachi to the same final position. As Master Egami said: "it should be beautiful, rhythmic, and the performer, full of vitality radiating power. Body and spirit must be one entity, and the power must be concentrated. Breathing must coninue without interruption. In former practice there used to be a pause between one movement and the next; now movement continues rhythmically, without pausing and is fluid and flexible." Every movement and every defensive or offensive technique has its meaning, and a serious trainee must take this into consideration and practice accordingly, trying to understand the meanings and when they will actually be effective.

The movements within a kata must take into consideration the three pairs of opposites established by Master Gichin Funakoshi:


Kumite

Summary: What is kumite? Another part of your Karate training will involve working with an opponent, this is called Kumite, sparring training. Kumite is done with an opponent, there are progressive step along the way to free combat (jyu kumite). It begins with Ten No Kata Omote and Ten No Kata Ura, a kata involving simple defenses with counter-attacks and simple opponent attacks, continues with progressively more and more demanding sparring techniques, which eventually end up with free sparring.

What are the different kinds of sparring training in Shotokai Karate?

There are:

Gohon Kumite: five step sparring.
Sanbon Kumite: three step sparring.
Ippon Kumite: one step sparring.
Jyu Ippon Kumite: one step free sparring.
Jyu Kumite: Free sparring.

How often do people get injured in Karate kumite?

Very often you will become a bit bruised, but this will become less and less a problem due to two factors, first your arms will grow stronger and more resistant to being hit and secondly because you and your opponents will become more dexterous in blocking, learning to guide the strikes rather than striking them to deviate them. Other common injuries are blisters from fast movements on hard surfaces. Another problem is sore fingers due to accidentally hitting elbows, or other hard areas with the fist not well done.

What kind of protective equipment will I need?

Shotokai uses no type of protective equipment, other than absorbing material if actual striking is to be practiced on a person.

Why don't beginners and intermediate students get to free spar?

In Shotokai you will not free spar until you have had at least a years training (intensive). The reason behind this is the fact that techniques are very dangerous in the hands of uncontrolled beginners. There is a higher possibility of injuries, mostly auto-inflicted, in beginners doing techniques they do not master yet. Master Egami did not permit any free sparring until you were a sandan black belt!


Shotokai Karate-do Grading

When Master Funakoshi arrived to the Japanese mainland, there were no belts, it was not before 1932 when he standardized the different levels in Karate, based on the Judo system. At that point he gave all his older students a black belt. The black belt represents the moment when you have learnt the technique well enough to be able to begin your true Karate training. So once you get one, after years of practice, you are ready to begin.

In Shotokai there are 5 dan degrees, as Master Funakoshi originally established it.

There are previous gradings before attaining a shodan (first degree black belt) these are called kyu, in Shotokai Karate-do, these are:

8th, 7th, 6th kyu: white
5th, 4th kyu: purple
3rd, 2nd and 1st kyu: brown

The differences between the kyu are marked with small white stripes, or lengthwise stripes in yellow, red and green in the first three kyu (8, 7, 6th kyu).


A Brief Shotokai History

It is actually a very long, fascinating and complex history, but we will try to give a short concise summary in the following section:


Copyright © 1997-2006

Karate Do Shotokai Enyclopedia on Karate-do and Japanese Martial Arts
http://www.shotokai.com
© 1997-2006. All rights reserved unless otherwise stated.
For reproduction permission contact: infoshotokai@shotokai.com
Concepción Chile.