Since Antiquity, man has been faced with the necessity of defending himself. Methods of hand-to-hand combat developed naturally as a means of physical survival. Hand-to-hand combat became intimately associated with philosophy and meditation when Buddhism spread from India to China more than 2,000 years ago. The Buddhists supported a holistic philosophy of discipline, which led to the development of Chuan-fa (Kung Fu), a form of fighting requiring both physical and mental discipline. In time, Chuan-fa spread to neighboring Okinawa. There, the native form of fighting was combined with Chuan-fa to develop Okinawa-te or Karate. It underwent tremendous development in Okinawa 500 years ago as a necessity when weapons were taken away from peasants and they were left vulnerable to abuse by the ruling class.
Until the 20th century, Karate had been taught as a secret fighting method that could be used in place of weapons. In 1922, Master Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957), then the President of the Okinawa Martial Arts Committee, introduced Karate from Okinawa to mainland Japan. Gichin Funakoshi is considered the father of modern karate and the originator of a new karate style which we practice, called Shotokan. Traditional Karate has since been spread throughout the world by the many direct and indirect students of Master Funakoshi.
In Japan, Funakoshi analyzed, polished, and transformed Karate from its roots as a brutal fighting system into both an art and a sport that could be practiced by large numbers of students with modern training methods. Emphasis was placed upon Karate’s spiritual aspects in order to achieve control of one’s physical and emotional abilities, discipline, and self-evaluation. Seeking the perfection of one’s character through vigorous and serious training became the primary goal.
In 1949 the Japan Karate Association (JKA) was formed to further the study of Karate throughout Japan and worldwide. The JKA would later grow to become the pre-eminent worldwide karate organization until its splintering in the 1980’s. It’s influence was such that the style of Shotokan promoted by the organization is now sometimes referred to as simply “JKA-Style”
Karate arrived in the US in the 1950’s – primarily via returning GI’s exposed to Karate while stationed in US Bases in Okinawa and Japan after World War II. JKA master instructors soon began to emigrate worldwide spreading the art.
Martial arts and karate is very popular today. According to Wikipedia, hundreds of millions of people worldwide practice some form of martial art. Shotokan is the largest style of karate practiced in the world. Today is estimated that Shotokan Karate has around 6 million practitioners in over 190 countries worldwide, on each continent, and is the karate style most practiced internationally.
As the popularity of Karate has grown in the 20th century, the requirements of long and repeated careful study have often become overridden by today’s demand for rapid results and quick development. Many new sports emerged using the name of Karate. In many cases, modern dojos began the practice of awarding rank to students with very limited skill requirements. Hence, the rise of the phenomenon of the “McDojo” meaning schools where one can obtain a black belt by simply paying the testing fees on time and in full, regardless of skill. Training emphasis became entirely on winning competitions.
Famous Shotokan practitioners include former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida, who holds a 3rd dan black belt in Shotokan karate, while his brother Shinzo holds a 4th dan and their father Yoshizo Machida holds a 7th dan and was head of the JKA of Brazil. Jean-Claude Van Damme holds a black belt in Shotokan and used the style when he competed in full contact karate competitions in the 1970s and 1980s. Wesley Snipes also has a 5th dan black belt in Shotokan Karate. Elvis Presley trained under a number of Shotokan Senseis in Germany when he was stationed there in the Army. Chuck Norris also trained with JKA co-founder Hidetaka Nishiyama in California early in his career.
What is more important than which popular celebrities practice karate are the substantive benefits and character development it provides to you as an individual practitioner.