History of Shotokan Karate and Knebworth Karate Club

Karate started in Japan – at least, that is the perception most people have. The origins of Karate probably date back more than a thousand years. Some say as far back as the Ancient Greeks. What is known is that Dharma, a monk from India, was staying at a Shao Lin monastery in China where he taught his students a physical training discipline in order to build strength, endurance and self-defence. This was required to carry out the rigid discipline that was part of their religion and also to protect them from the bandits that lived in their locality. Over the years, this physical training was adapted and became what is known as Shao Lin fighting. This martial art was ‘imported’ into Okinawa and was blended with the local fighting techniques of the islands. During the Tsatsuma reign of Okinawa, the overlords banned the use of weapons and the art of empty hand fighting techniques was secretly evolved.

As these fighting methods were passed on, in secret, from generation to generation, each new master added or refined certain techniques to achieve the ultimate unarmed self-defence method. This became known as Okinawan-Te (Okinawan hand). The Okinawan symbol for kara (Chinese) was used to identify it. Hence it eventually became known as kara-te – meaning Chinese Hand.

Renowned as the “Father of modern day Karate” Funakoshi Gichin, (born 1869, died 1957 aged 88) was taught Chinese-hand by Masters Itosu and Azatso. He took the Chinese character (kara) that was used to signify Chinese and adapted it to mean, empty (Kara). He chose the symbol to signify the Zen Buddhist philosophy meaning to render oneself empty.  To Funakoshi, karate was not only a martial art, but also a means of building character.  He wrote “the student of karate must render his mind empty of selfishness and wickedness in an effort to react appropriately toward anything he might encounter.”  This is the meaning of Kara or empty and te meaning hand, therefore the Art became known as Karate – empty hand.

As a Martial Art, Karate was first introduced to the Japanese public in 1917.  In 1922, Funakoshi (then a professor at the Okinawa Teachers College) was invited to lecture and demonstrate at an exhibition of traditional martial arts sponsored by the Ministry of Education. The demonstration was so successful that he stayed on in Tokyo to teach Karate at various universities and also in the Kodokan – the Mecca of Judo  In 1936, he was able to establish the Shotokan Dojo, from which the name of the style originated. The Japan Karate Association was established in May 1949 with Funakoshi appointed as the honorary chief instructor.

The Art flourished, and Masatoshi Nakayama, (born 1913, died 1987), began training in Karate under the great master Funakoshi Gichin in 1931.  After graduating from Takushoku University in 1937, he went to Peking to study Chinese, whilst there he also studied various styles of Chinese fighting.  He became chief instructor of the JKA in 1955.

Eventually, Karate began to spread World Wide. One of the most famous instructors in the JKA, Kanazawa Sensei, (3 times JKA champion) was invited to England in April 1965 to do Karate exhibitions.  A year later the first British Shotokan Association, the K.U.G.B., was formed.  Several years later in 1974, Kanazawa Sensei started Shotokan Karate International with the headquarters based in Japan. He has now reached the pinnacle of Karate, by being only one of a few, to achieve 10th Dan. As Kanazawa rarely came to Britain, the senior instructors of E.S.K.A, having trained and graded with Kanazawa Sensei in the late 60’s and through the 70’s formed the English Shotokan Karate Association in 1979.  ESKA is one of the oldest Karate Associations in the country, with Sensei Michael Nursey (9th Dan) its Chief Instructor.

Sensei Owen Ramsden (6th  Dan) having trained for over 25 years with ESKA and run other karate clubs, teamed up with Sensei Tony Stones (5th Dan) and started Knebworth Karate club in 2003.

Our club has been very successful and to-date has trained over 30 students to black belt and above, they have all been independently graded by the senior dan grade examiners at ESKA and awarded their black belts by Sensei Mike Nursey.

All the current instructors at Knebworth Karate Club continue with their training at the ESKA Hombu.