Main Karate Styles

There are four major styles of Karate today:-

Shotokan-ryu,  which was founded by Gichin Funakoshi in Tokyo in 1938.  Funakoshi is considered to be the founder of modern karate.  Born in Okinawa,  he began to study karate with Yasutsune Azato,  one of Okinawa's greatest experts in the art.   In 1921 Funakoshi first introduced Karate to Tokyo.  In 1936,  at nearly 70 years of age,  he opened his own training hall.  The dojo was called Shotokan after the pen name used by Funakoshi to sign poems written in his youth. Shotokan Karate was influenced  directly by Shuri-te (Shorin-ryu),  and is characterized by powerful linear techniques and deep strong stances.  This style was one of the first styles to be introduced to Japan in the 1920's.  Powerful kata such as Bassai (Shuri-te) are typical of this style.       

Goju-ryu,  which was founded by Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953).  Its popularity due to the success of Kanryo Higashionna (1853-1915).  Higashionna opened a dojo in Naha using eight forms brought from China.  His student,  Chojun Miyagi  founded Goju-ryu, 'hard soft way' in 1930.  In Goju-ryu much emphasis is placed on combining soft circular blocking techniques with quick strong counter attacks delivered in rapid succession.  It came from Shorei-ryu (from Naha-te and Tomari-te),  which utilize up and down stances and internal breathing power (known as "hard and soft" techniques).  Kata such as Sanchin (Naha-te) and Rohai (Tomari-te) demonstrate this techniques well.

Shito-ryu,  was founded by Kenwa Mabuni.(1887-1952) in 1928.   It was influenced directly by both Naha-te and Shuri-te  (Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu).  The name Shito is constructively derived from the combination of the Japanese characters of Mabuni's teachers' names - Yasutsune "Anko" Itosu and Kanryo Higashionna.  Shito-ryu is fast,  but is still powerful and artistic.  Shito-ryu schools use a large number of kata, about fifty, and is characterized by an emphasis on power in the execution of techniques.  Its kata include the same kata as Shotokan-ryu and Goju-ryu,  as well as some artistic Chinese white crane kata such as Nipaipo.  Shito-ryu also practices with Kobudo (weapon arts) and sometimes Iaido (sword arts) as part of the style,  which makes Shito-ryu fairly unique among the modern Karate styles. 

Wado-ryu,  "way of peace and harmony",  founded by  by  Hironori Ohtsuka, a student of Gichin Funakoshi,  in 1939. This style of karate combines basic movements of jujitsu with techniques of evasion,  putting a strong emphasis on softness and the way of harmony or spiritual discipline. Wado kai or ryu is one of the four major styles of karate in Japan. Trained in classical bujutsu (the techniques of the samurai),  Sensei Ohtsuka applied this outlook and experience to his teachings. Some of the harsher resistive or hard contact elements of sparring technique,  typical of many karate styles,  are not present in Wado.  Sensei Ohtsuka rejected hardening certain parts of the body, such as hand conditioning,  as useless preparation. The current head of Wado Kai karate for North America is one of Ohtsuka Sensei's senior students, Sensei Masaru Shintani. 

        The aim of Wado karate is not merely perfection of the physical techniques of self-defence,  but, the development of a mind that is tranquil yet alive,  able to react intuitively to any situation.  In Wado,  as skill and knowledge are acquired through training and concentrated effort,  the student is expected to develop inner strength and calmness of character,  as well as the virtues of self-control,  respect for others,  and true humility.  Karate-do for Sensei Ohtsuka is primarily a spiritual discipline. 

        Basic techniques - punching,  kicking,  blocking,  striking with open hand,  joint twisting,  and trapping techniques - kata  and prearranged and free style sparring comprise the training foundation of this style.  Equally fundamental to Wado is taisabaki, body shifting to avoid the full brunt of an attack,  a technique derived from Japanese swordsmanship.  Kumite (sparring) is usually judged on a point system; one referee and four corner judges determine which techniques are given a point. In free sparring, there is no contact allowed to the head, below the waist except for foot sweeps, or to the spine; only light to medium contact is allowed to the torso.  Attacks to the head and torso can all score points in a tournament, therefore,  Wado karate-ka tend to fight with explosive,  close movements with an emphasis on well-controlled techniques.

click here for the "Founding Fathers".


It may be noted that Yasutsune "Anko" Itosu and Kanryu Higashionna are the two most important name in the history of modern Karate-do.  The four major style of Modern Japanese Karate:- Shito-ryuShotokan-ryuGoju-ryu,  and Wado-ryu,  can be traced to them .

Kenwa Mabuni (1887-1952),  the Shito-ryu  founder,  was a student of both Yasutsune "Anko" Itosu & Kanryu Higashionna.

Gichin Funakoshi (1886-1957),  the Shotokan  founder,  was a student of Yasutsune "Anko" Itosu (also of Azato).

Chojun Miagi (1888-1953),  the Goju-ryu  founder,  was a student of Kanryu Higashionna.

Hironori Ohtsuka (1892-1982),  the Wado-ryu  founder, was a student of Gichin Funakoshi, shotokan..

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Updated: Friday, 10 September 2010