Shōtō vs Shōtō?

Is Shōtōkan still Shōtōkan?


Are we still Shōtōkan-Ryu?

Questions that often get raised?

What is the resemblance to the original Ryūkyu (Okinawa) practices that gave birth to the styl that eventually became known as Shōtōkan?

Many would argue that the changes, in Karate, over the years, from the Okinawa Shorin to the ‘modern’ day’ Shōtōkan has become diluted.

Who holds the real Shōtō lineage?

Is it the ‘ShotoKai’?

‘The Shoto-Kan?’, or,

‘The ‘Shoto-Ryu’? There are marked differences between these methodologies; certainly the ‘Shōtō’ styles bear similarities but they are not the same.

The Shōtō-Kai of Egami Shigeru for example, uses longer and lower stances than the Shōtōkan of Tsutomu Oshima. Egami and Oshima’s styles are markedly different to other Shōtōkan, especially in teaching methodology, e.g. the Nakayama version and the offshoots from that venerable organisation known as ‘Kyokai’.

Oshima Tsutomu’s Shōtō-Kan still uses the Funakoshi Nage-Waza. The Gima Shōtō style, originally known as Shōtō-Ryu still retains the Nage -Waza, the Kobudo, the Ne-Waza, the Tori-te, the Kansetsu-Waza etc.

Co-incidentally the methodology of Kase Taiji, via Funakoshi Gigō, was more akin to that of Gima Makoto. The Karate was infused with ‘old school meaning’.

The old school Shōtōkan where the Makiwara was the Karate-ka’s best friend; Yudansha and Kodansha took years to gain; and only from relentless dojo Keiko, or with one-to-one practices (Okinawa style) with the Sensei seem to have disappeared with the event of commercialism. Particularly in relation to larger schools.

Some may argue that the Oshima and Gima styles are more akin to the original style as propagated by Funakoshi Gichin, because they are not solely entrenched in ‘pounding up and down the dojo floor in military lines’, but in asking the ‘Why’ (Bunkai) and not just the ‘How’.

Old school Karate, especially in Okinawa ask for meaning of techniques, as opposed to the main Japanese methodology of ‘execution’ (e.g. the obsession of bio mechanics). In other words – many Shōtō dojo in Japan obsess on the ‘How’ instead of the ‘Why’. This is not the ‘old way’.

Gima-Ha for example still insist that, at Dan grade, the ‘Bunkai’ is equally, if not more, important than the technical execution of the Kata. In other words if you do not know the reasons you are doing the move, you do not need to know how to do it. Function and form are equal. Kumite, as long as you get up and keep trying, you will succeed – if you ‘cave in’ you probably will not!

So, where has Shōtō gone?

To start at the beginning the original pioneers of ‘Japanese Karate-Do’ were Funakoshi Gichin and Gima Shinkin (Makoto). Both had a lineage in Shorin-Ryu Tode, and Funakoshi also had the lineage in Shorei-Ryu Tode.

Shorin-Ryu to Gima-Ha can be traced with a straight line from Sakugawa Kanga to Matsumura Sōkon, to Itosu Ankōh, to Yabū Kentsu, to Gima Shinkin (Makoto).

The Shorin line to Funakoshi is again via Itosu Ankōh, with the addition of his main master, Azato Ankōh. That line was from Sakugawa Kanga to Matsumura Sokon to Funakoshi.

All started with Sakugawa and then Matsumura, and village difference may have created the original ‘styles’ (usually referred to as Tomari Te, Shuri Te, and Naha Te).

Funakoshi’s Karate was in essence ‘a blend’, like a good Hibiki, a mixture of the two sensei, and a mixture of the two styles, and likely the other styles he learned from others amongst the villages of Okinawa.

Funakoshi was the first Okinawa proponent to introduce Tode (Karate) to mainland Japan, as far back as 1916 when he demonstrated at Kyoto’s Butokuden. The Butoku-Kai was the official organisation of all Japanese martial arts.

Moving forward a few years and again Funakoshi comes to the fore. On March 6, 1921, the Crown Prince Hirohito of Japan (later the Emperor) visited the island of Okinawa on his way to America. Funakoshi was again asked to demonstrate Tode (Karate). The Crown Prince was totally impressed.

In order to demonstrate Tode/Karate effectively Funakoshi required an assistant, particularly for the Kumite (meeting of hands that needed to be shown). Fortuitously at the Meishojyuku (Okinawa dormitory of Tokyo) a resident named Gima Shinkin (Makoto) was there. Gima was a student, in Okinawa, of both Yabū Kentsu and Itosu Ankōh. The lineage, very similar!

The Japanese affair with Karate had started. Both were educators, and were the perfect springboard. Both men had an intersecting point in their learning (Itosu) and Funakoshi was Itosu’s Shihan-Dai (along with Yabū Kentsu). A perfect match.

Funakoshi’s ‘nom de plume’ as a Shodo-Ka (Calligrapher) was (Shōtō). As Gima became Funakoshi’s student (he was the Kohai), they began propagating Karate as it was now called in the university systems. It caught on as the Japanese could relate the punches to the Boxing of the West.

But Karate was more than hands alone, it also had Kicks, Grappling, Joint Locks, Weaponry – more than many other Japanese Martial Arts.

Funakoshi and Gima, Mabuni and Motobu, were Okinawa bred martial artists, and the pioneers of the Japanese art … but was it the Karate that we know? Is ‘the new way’ a ‘watered down’ version?

Why was Funakoshi Gigō’s Karate different to his fathers? The stances and techniques became elongated, they looked stable and solid; they were different to that of the Goju-Ryu and Shito-Ryu, and in fact the ‘Shōtō-Kan’.

Did the Shōtō style, and possibly the other Okinawa styles being taught on the mainland, lose it’s ‘oomph’; its true self-defence combative system? Did the Okinawa Karate become ‘prearranged sets of mechanical movements, techniques, and forms’, to suit the Japanese methodology in learning Budo?

Why did a certain organisation purposely avoid the ‘Kobudo’ and the locks, throws, and other aspects of the style, to create a style and subsequent set of rules fit for competition? Why were some Kata dropped?


One has to admit that these are interesting questions!

Maybe we need more controversy?

Maybe we need to know why Karate has become so much a sport?

Or maybe we take Gima Sensei’s words:-

“A correct fist starts with a correct heart”. Originally, the purpose of karate is to train the mind and body. In other words, through karatedō one tries to achieve personality completion. In this sense, in the old days in Okinawa, karate masters were called Bushi. They were men of character, namely, true gentlemen.

Well, by improving his/her skills, one can reach a certain level, but in the mental aspect, there is no ending point in life. By training hard constantly, it resembles Zen practice hence the saying “Ken Zen Ichi” or the fist and Zen are one.

In addition, although one should train rigorously, the meaning of the Japanese kanji ‘Keiko’ is to observe ancient times; ‘Kei’ means to observe while ‘Ko’ means ancient times. Therefore, following the precept “Onko Chishin” – to develop new ideas based on study of the past, one should learn (to learn is to copy), and practice by repetition the kata that were devised with great pain and time by past grand masters. Based on this, one should develop naturally. And then, rather than being a three-day priest, one should make efforts over efforts, and continue for a lifetime as the proverb “Perseverance makes one stronger” says.

Old soldiers fade away. I write these words with the hope that young people who have a promising future will spring over seniors and go forward eagerly.

Food for thought!

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