Kara is the Japanese for empty while te means hand and do translates as the way, or path. So Karate-do is The Way of the Empty Hand. It is a martial art in which the ultimate purpose is not to seek to win, but to work towards perfection of character, self-control and self-discipline by the accumulation of experience through training. It is also a form of self-defence using all parts of the body which, by hard and systematic training, become effective and powerful weapons. Karate encompasses whole body movements which develop balance, flexibility, co-ordination, speed and power.This is achieved through the constant practice of the basic movements (Kihon) which, due to their variety and complexity, can be considered as a complete art form themselves.


 Oriental fighting arts can be traced back over 2,000 years. The Japanese island of Okinawa came in to contact with many of these combat systems, especially those of China. Some of their features were added to a native Okinawan fighting art.

 In the 1600’s the Japanese invaded Okinawa and banned the carrying of weapons, and so the warrior-class secretly trained themselves in unarmed self-defence, using and improving the ancient techniques.

 Thus modern Karate is the outcome of centuries of interchange between China, Okinawa and Japan. It only came to be taught openly to the public in the early 1900’s. The founder of modern Karate, Gichin Funakoshi from Okinawa, first demonstrated his powers to the Japanese public in 1922 in Tokyo. Funakoshi established his first Dojo in Japan in 1936.

 The Japan Karate Association (JKA) was created in 1955 with Funakoshi as the Chief Instructor. The name Shotokan is derived from Funakoshi’s pen-name, Shoto and the Japanese word for hall, kan.

 The Japanese first brought Karate to Europe in the late 1950’s. Kanazawa Sensei, 10th Dan, is generally recognised as the greatest Shotokan Karate instructor alive today. Shotokan Karate is the original and most popular style of Karate and differs from other styles by combining swift and dynamic techniques with controlled (non-contact) and powerful strikes.

Funakoshi sensei

  The history of Shotokan Karate allows us to approach the life of the person whose photograph decorates most of the European dojos, Gichin Funakoshi. Born in Shuri in 1869, young Funakoshi begins to practise Okinawa-Te at the age of 15 under the instruction of his school teacher. At that time, the martial art of Okinawa was not taught to the wider public.
 Later, when Master Azato taught Gichin Funakoshi, courses took place during the night. The technique which Gichin Funakoshi would later use for the creation of his own school is owing to Master Itosu. But the spirit of practice, the rigid aspect (repetition of the same kata) derives from Master Azato. In 1906 Gichin Funakoshi takes part in the first public demonstration of Okinawa-Te in Okinawa. Representatives of the Japanese Administration as well as officers of the Imperial Navy attend that demonstration.
 However, it is in May 1922 when Gichin Funakoshi carries out his famous demonstration in Tokyo, on the occasion of a great athletic event, organised by Butokukai. He was now 53 years old and that demonstration was going to change his life. Master Gichin Funakoshi had carried out a first demonstration of his art in Kyoto in 1916. In November 1922 Funakoshi publishes his first book, "Ryu Kyu Kenpo Karate", in which he mostly expresses his historical and philosophical thoughts. The clichés of this book were destroyed during the 1923 earthquake. This led the writer to publish a new, entirely modified edition, entitled "Rentan Goshin Karate Jitsu". In 1935 Funakoshi published "Karate Do Kyohan", an original work which among other things provides a description of all the kata in the way Funakoshi conceived and taught them. This book was republished in 1972 with the permission of Funakoshi family and under the supervision of Master Oshima.

The origins of instruction in Japan

 Gichin Funakoshi held until the end of his life a deep respect for Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. The two men were linked by mutual respect. At the time when Gichin Funakoshi began to develop his teaching, Kano, who already was a renowned master in Japan, invited him to demonstrate in Kano’s dojo, the famous Kodokan. On his arrival in Tokyo, Master Gichin Funakoshi led a humble life. At the beginning, he held the position of guardian of a dormitory for students at Suidabashi, where he taught his first courses. He also taught at the dojo of a great master of lai-Do, Sensei Nakayama. But it is mainly in universities that the Okinawan Master attracted public interest and left his mark. The first university karate group was established in Keio in 1924 and the second in Ichiko (Tokyo University) in 1926. In 1927 three new groups were added to the list – Waseda, Takushoku and Shodai. From then onwards the development of Funakoshi’s teaching grew rapidly. By 1930 Funakoshi supervised a dozen university dojos. His course, totally modern, seemed to be at odds with what he once did. It was not anymore the students who came to the Sensei’s dojo but the Sensei who established dojos almost everywhere. Funakoshi followed his friend’s Kano’s devices, especially with regard to hierarchy and progress, adopting the grades “Kyu” and “Dan”. Three of Funakoshi’s students, on their own initiative, exercised free attacks, using the protection they used for Kendo practice. Furious, the Master never set foot on that dojo again.

The "Shotokan" dojo.

 The construction of the Shotokan dojo (as a physical structure) began in 1953 and finished in 1954. The dojo was found in Meijuroko area in Tokyo. Money was raised from all over the country. In the beginning, ‘Shotokan’ referred to the building, not the style. “Kan” means place, the dojo, and “Shoto” was the pseudonym Funakoshi used for writing his poems (literally, “Shoto” means ‘pine-trees undulating in the wind’ or wind streaming through the pine-needles’). In his first demonstration in 1922 Funakoshi did not only show the techniques. He also explained them and commented on them, to his audience’s great satisfaction. The majority of today’s most famous Japanese specialists had visited Shotokan at some point. Shotokan was destroyed during the American bombing in 1944-1945 but was rebuilt after the war thanks to a huge solidarity chain created by Funakoshi’s students.
Most of the great Japanese masters of the post-war era went through Shotokan before they created their own styles.

Dojo kun lists five philosophical rules for training in the dojo:

  • Strive to perfect character

  • Defend the paths of truth

  • Guard against rash courage

  • Foster the spirit of effort

  • Honour the rules of etiquette

The philosophy

 KARATE-DO is more than a martial art that develops the body. It is based on philosophy and as such it also develops the mind and spirit. This is exactly where the magic of KARATE-DO lies.Proper training will lead over time to technique, technique to art and art to philosophy, to a way of life. Overall, it is a philosophy which leads to self-knowing through self-discipline.

Niju Kun

 Gichin Funakoshi laid out the Twenty Precepts of Karate,(or Niju kun) which form the foundations of the art. The principles allude to notions of humility, respect, compassion, patience, and both an inward and outward calmness. It was Funakoshi's belief that through karate practice and observation of these 20 principles, the karateka would improve their person. Funakoshi also wrote: "The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of the participant."

What Karate-Do offers

 The value and utility of Karate in our time is multi-dimensional. First of all, it is a most effective method of SELF-DEFENCE, which can be practiced by men and women of all ages, including children.

 As a PHYSICAL EXERCISE it constitutes a thorough, wide-ranging method of training of the human body. The dynamic way of executing a series of scientifically studied techniques makes a large number of muscles exercise in harmony. It effectively contributes to the isometric development of the body, to the improvement of the respiratory and circulatory systems as well as to the development of flexibility and quick-mindedness.

 The harmonious development and co-operation of body and MIND constitute a fundamental goal of the trainees.The incessant personal effort and persistence, and the self-discipline, principles which the trainees ought to accept if they wish to achieve far-reaching results, can well provide a PHILOSOPHICAL system which may in turn be used as a model for all other aspects of life.

 Η μέθοδος της συνεχούς ατομικής προσπάθειας και επιμονής, η αυτοπειθαρχία, αρχές στις οποίες οι ενασκούμενοι θα πρέπει να ενδώσουν, αν θέλουν να έχουν σημαντικά αποτελέσματα, μπορούν να αποτελέσουν ένα ΦΙΛΟΣΟΦΙΚΟ σύστημα, το οποίο μπορεί να χρησιμοποιηθεί ως υπόδειγμα και για την υπόλοιπη ζωή τους.

Greek Karate

 In Greece, Karate began to be taught in early 1970s. It has seen a rapid growth since then. The Greek national team participated in many Mediterranean, European and World championships, winning several international awards, a fact which attests to the high level of Karate in our country.
 In 1989 the Hellenic Federation of Amateur Karate was officially recognised by the General Secretariat of Sports as the only sports fan federation in the field. Today it has been renamed to Hellenic Karate Federation (H.K.F.).

Nowdays Karate as a sport

 The successful organisation of the first karate games and the remarkable spectacle that these offered opened the way for the world-wide expansion of karate as sport. The global popularity of sport-karate led the International Olympic Committee to recognise it officially in 1985. It comprises an official sport of the Mediterranean Games.