Borko D. Jovanović, Ph.D., 2nd Dan
December 10, 1997

The Origin of Karate

It is generally believed that Karate developed centuries ago in China. According to some sources its origins date back at least to Bodhidharma (7th century A.D.), the first Patriarch of Chinese Buddhism. Bodhidharma most likely developed the martial art to strengthen the spiritual practice of monks and nuns and to enhance their self-defense skills. In those days spiritual training was harsh and roads were unsafe.

From China, Karate spread to Okinawa, where it remained a secret art for many centuries. The first known public demonstration of Karate in modern times took place in Okinawa in 1918. Gichin Funakoshi, a native of Okinawa, brought Karate to Japan in the early 1920s. Shortly thereafter, public and private schools in Japan introduced Karate into their curricula, and after World War II, it gained great popularity throughout the world. Master Funakoshi is considered the founding father of modern Karate.

What is Shoto-Kaï?

Shoto-Kaï is a Japanese style of Karate that emphasizes physical flexibility and the spiritual aspects of the art. Shigeru Egami, the principal student and successor of Master Funakoshi, developed this style. Shoto-Kaï places great emphasis on efficiency through the practice of natural and fluid movement, strong spiritual connection with one’s opponent, and meditation. It revives those aspects of the art which were neglected during the “boom years” of Karate in the West (1950s-1970s). Master Egami felt that many modern Karate practitioners became too focused on competition and on the physical-fitness aspects of the practice. For a detailed discussion of the past forty years of development of Karate, see the excellent book by Master Egami “The Heart of Karate-Do”.

Shoto-Kaï and Shoto-Kan

The Karate taught by Master Funakoshi became known as Shoto-Kan. (Shoto was a pen name under which he published poetry; Shoto-Kan was the name of the dojo in Tokyo). The “fluid” style of Master Egami was known as Shoto-Kaï. Shoto-Kaï evolved from Shoto-Kan, with the basic philosophy outlined above.

Shoto-Kaï Today

Shoto-Kaï arrived in Europe with Tetsuji Murakami, who studied under Master Egami in the mid 1960s. Master Murakami established many clubs in France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Yugoslavia, and Switzerland, with the main center in Paris, France.

Sensei Borko Jovanović studied under Master Murakami from 1971 until the Master’s death in 1987. Four black belts in the United States studied under Sensei Borko: Mark Bannon, John Shaw, Daniel Leonard, and William Baxter.

Your Practice

The essence of martial arts is in the mind. We all come into the world with different physical capabilities. Sports and physical education classes will help you develop a strong and healthy body. However, martial arts entail much more than physical strength. This simple fact is easy to forget.

Without developing your mind properly, you cannot succeed in life. A job interview, a business deal, an exam, a love affair, or a family problem; these often resemble a battle in which there is much to lose and sometimes something to gain. An uneven mind full of fear, hatred, or ignorance, invites repeated failure.

During practice you should try to develop an open, even awareness of what is going on, leaving the judgments and questions for later. Outside of practice this same attitude will help you live better, achieve more, and understand what is “really” going on. Through practice, one can avoid the harmful extremes of fear, anger, insecurity, and excessive self confidence.

Students often ask the question “Can I learn in this class how to defend myself?” This is a good question, but also a funny one. If your 15-year-old friend or relative asked you “Can I learn to drive a car in two weeks?” what would you answer? The answer is, of course, “It depends.” If you wish to race with professionals, you may need a lifetime to learn how. If you live in a small town and drive 2 miles to work, then you can learn to drive a car well enough for that purpose in a week or two. Similarly, the skills you acquire through your 16-week experience in this class will depend on who you are, who your friends and enemies are, and above all on how hard you practice.

Your Teachers

William Baxter is an entrepreneur living and working in New York City. He received a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1991. He began practicing Karate in 1987, and received the shodan (first degree black belt) from Borko Jovanović in 1998. He taught Karate at UIC from 1996 to 2000, and now teaches in New York.

Borko Jovanović is an Associate Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL. He received an M.S. in Applied Mathematics from Northeastern University, Boston, and a Ph.D. in Biostatistics from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He was an Assistant Professor of Biostatistics in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois, Chicago from 1989 through 1998. His Karate practice began in 1969, and he studied under Master Murakami from 1971 to~1987, receiving a 1st-degree black belt in~1976 and a 2nd-degree black belt in~1981. He taught Karate at the University of Massachusetts (1981-1989), and at UIC (1991-1998), and now appears as a guest instructor.

Some References

  1. Egami, Shigeru. The Heart of Karate-Do. London: Ward Lock (1976). (Previously published as The Way of Karate: Beyond Technique).
  2. Funakoshi, Gichin. Karato-Do Kyohan. Tokyo: Kodansha International (1973).
  3. Funakoshi, Gichin. Karato-Do: My Way of Life. Tokyo: Kodansha International (1975).
  4. Funakoshi, Gichin. Karato-Do Nyomon. Tokyo: Kodansha International (1988).
  5. Herrigel, Eugen. Zen in the Art of Archery. New York: Vintage Books (1971).
  6. Suzuki, D.T. An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. New York: Grove Press (1964).