In this blog, we’ll introduce you to four of the most prominent types of karate. Though they have waned in popularity in recent decades, these karate styles made an enormous contribution to the world of martial arts.
Most consider Shotokan to be the grandfather of karate styles – and many believe it to be the most significant influencer of early taekwondo. Shotokan was the first type of karate to be offered to anyone who wished to learn. Before the proliferation of Shotokan in Japan and Okinawa, karate training was something reserved only for a few painstakingly selected disciples.
That all changed with Shotokan karate’s founder, the legendary Gichin Funakoshi. He was born in 1868 in Okinawa, and was one of the privileged few to train with karate masters Itosu and Azato.
By profession, Funakoshi was a school teacher, and in a break with karate tradition, he decided to offer karate lessons in Okinawa’s public schools. In 1922 the Japanese Ministry of Education held a martial arts demonstration in Tokyo, and Funakoshi was invited to share his style of karate.
Funakoshi’s demonstration must have made an impression – because so many lined up to train with him, he decided to remain in Tokyo. He opened a dojo there, and to this day, Shotokan remains one of the most practiced styles of karate in the world.
Shotokan is a type of karate characterized by long, deep stances in its forms (kata) and a more dynamic sparring (Kumite) element. While the deep stances of the forms are intended to give students strong legs, balance and stability, the sparring training offers a more fluid style of applied fighting technique.
Kyokushin karate is one of the best-known modern types of karate. It was founded in 1964 by the Oyama Masutatsu, better known as “Mas Oyama.” Mas was born in Korea under Japanese rule. He would live in China, too, before gaining full Japanese citizenship later in life.
Mas had a foundation in Chinese martial arts and other karate styles – including two years with the founder of Shotokan karate, Gichin Funakoshi. It can be assumed that Mas chose the very best techniques from his previous training to create the curriculum for his Kyokushin style.
Perhaps that is why many regard Kyokushin as the most effective karate style for self-defense and application in MMA. George St. Pierre, whom many believe to be the greatest MMA fighter of all time, is a lifelong student of Kyokushin karate.
Kyokushin karate emphasizes sparring at full-contact, though with limited allowable techniques. There is no grappling, punches to the head, low kicks, or clinch fighting in Kyokushin karate.
Gojo-Ryu is one of the earliest karate styles. It was founded by Chojun Miyagi, who may now be better known for inspiring the character of Mr. Miyagi in Karate Kid. The ‘real’ Miyagi, like many Okinawan karate practitioners, was heavily influenced by Chinese martial arts.
In particular, Miyagi seems to have drawn heavily from the Shaolin monks and the Fujian White Crane style.
This Chinese influence is evident in both the physical skills of Gojo-Ryu and its guiding philosophy. The name “Goju” tells us a lot about this style of karate. “Go” means hard and resilient, while “Ju” means soft and yielding.
Goju-Ryu karate techniques are characterized by a yielding defense followed by a hard and unrelenting offense. Classes emphasize breathing techniques and the use of circular blocks that return as devastating strikes.
Wado-Ryu Karate is also one of the most popular styles of karate. Hironori Otsuka founded it. Otsuka was originally jujutsu (a Japanese grappling martial art) student who would also study under Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi. By all accounts, Otsuka was an avid student of all karate styles and made the rounds training with many of the great masters of his day.
Otsuka would draw on this extensive knowledge when he founded his karate style, Wado-Ryu, in 1938. The name Wadō-ryū has three parts: Wa, dō, and ryū. Wa means “harmony,” do means “way,” and ryū means “school” or “style”
Wado-Ryu karate remains the type of karate most heavily influenced by jujutsu and emphasizes joint locks and throwing techniques along with its more traditional karate striking.
Karate Classes in Northville, Novi, and Plymouth, MI
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