The 7 most popular karate styles

Karate is a martial art developed in the Ryukyu Islands from indigenous fighting methods te ( literally: “hand” ) and “Kara” (with stress accent on “K”) means “Empty” or (with stress accent on “R”) means “Open” … so Karate means Empty Hand or Open Hand . Karate is characterised as a striking art using punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes and open-handed techniques such as knife-hands (karate chops). Grappling, locks, restraints, throws, and vital point strikes are also taught in some styles.

Here are the most popular 7 styles of karate and their founders (not necessarily in the order of popularity)   :

1) Shotokan karate – founder Gichin Funakoshi

Shotokan was the name of the first official dojo built by Funakoshi. Shoto , meaning “pine-waves” (the movement of pine needles when the wind blows through them), was Funakoshi’s pen-name, which he used in his poetic and philosophical writings and messages to his students. The Japanese kan means “house” or “hall”. In honour of their sensei, Funakoshi’s students created a sign reading shōtō-kan which was placed above the entrance of the hall where Funakoshi taught.

Funakoshi laid out the Twenty precepts of karate (NiJu Kun) which form the foundations of the art. Within these twenty principles, based heavily on Bushido and Zen, lies the philosophy of Shotokan. The principles allude to notions of humility, respect, compassion, patience, and both an inward and outward calmness. It was Funakoshi’s belief that through karate practice and observation of these 20 principles, the karateka would improve their person.

Techniques in shotokan are characterized by deep, long stances that provide stability, enable powerful movements, and strengthen the legs. Shotokan is often regarded as a ‘hard” and ‘external’ martial art because it is taught that way to beginners and coloured belts to develop strong basic techniques and stances. Initially strength and power are demonstrated instead of slower, more flowing motions. However, after reaching a certain level, the style becomes much more fluid and  incorporates grappling and some aikido-like techniques, which can be found in the black belt katas.

2) Kyokushinkay -founder Masutatsu Oyama (Mas Oyama)

The founder of Kyokushin, Masutatsu Oyama, was born Choi Yong-ion  in Il-Loong, Korea, during the long period of Japanese occupation.Later he moved to Japan were he took his japanese name, Masutatsu Oyama, the name he would use for the rest of his life . He got his fame mostly because of his public bare hands demonstrations , as seen here fighting a bull.
The Kyokushin system is based on traditional karate like Shotokan and Goju-ryu, but incorporates many elements of combat sports like boxing and kickboxing in kumite. Many techniques are not found in other styles of karate. Today, some Kyokushin fighters (like Francisco Filho and Glaube Feitosa) appear in kickboxing events like K-1.

Technically, Kyokushin is a circular style. This is in opposition to Shotokan karate, which is considered a linear style, and closer to Goju-ryu, another mostly circular style. Shotokan and Goju-ryu were the two styles of karate that Oyama learned before creating his own style. However, Oyama studied Shotokan for only a couple of years before he switched to Goju-ryu where he got his advanced training. This is reflected in Kyokushin where the early training closely resembles Shotokan but gradually becomes closer to the circular techniques and strategies of Goju-ryu the higher you advance in the system.

Ryu and Ken from Capcom’s “Street fighter (series) ” move set are based on Kyokushin. And Ryu is said to be based apon Yoshiji Soeno a student of Mas Oyama. Jin Kazama from Namco‘s Tekken series uses the art of Kyokushin Karate from Tekken 4 to the latest series.

3) Goju-ryu – founder Chojun Miyagi (remember Karate kid? Mr. Myagi? The kata that Daniel did in the series looks alot like Seiunchin 🙂 )

Chojun Miyagi was born on April 24, 1888 in NAHA, the capitol of Okinawa. He started training karate at the age of 14. He trained in the small city of Naha under the great master Kannryo Higaonna. Higaonna’s system was extremely hard and, although many students joined, Miyagi was the only one who remained as a student until Higaonna’s death October 1915.

Miyagi traveled to China and studied soft forms of Kung Fu. He combined the hard forms of Karate with the soft forms of Kung Fu and founded Goju Ryu. He was responsible for taking Naha-te and formulating it into a system.

Goju-ryu, (Japanese for “hard-soft style”) is one of the main traditional Okinawan styles of karate, featuring a combination of hard and soft techniques. Go which means hard, refers to closed hand techniques or straight linear attacks; Ju which means soft, refers to open hand techniques and circular movements.

Major emphasis is given to breathing correctly. Gōjū-ryū practices methods that include body strengthening and conditioning, its basic approach to fighting (distance, stickiness, power generation, etc.), and partner drills. Gōjū-ryū incorporates both circular and linear movements into its curriculum. Gōjū-ryū combines hard striking attacks such as kicks and close hand punches with softer open hand circular techniques for attacking, blocking, and controlling the opponent, including locks, grappling, takedowns and throws.

4) Shito-ryu – founder Kenwa Mabuni

Kenwa Mabuni was born in Shuri, a district of Naha,  Okinawa in 1889 . He was a close friend of Chojun Miyagi. (the founder of Goju-ryu remember? )

Shitō-ryū is a combination style, which attempts to unite the diverse roots of karate. On one hand, Shitō-ryū has the physical strength and long powerful stances of  Shuri-te derived styles, such as Shorin-ryū and Shotokan, on the other hand Shitō-ryū has circular and eight-directional movements, breathing power, hard and soft characteristics of Naha-te and Tomari-te styles, such as Goju-ryu. Shitō-ryū is extremely fast, but still can be artistic and powerful. In addition, Shitō-ryū formalizes and emphasizes the five rules of defense, developed by Kenwa Mabuni, and known as Uke no go gensoku , Uke no go genri  or Uke no go ho :

1 ) (rakka, “falling petals”). The art of blocking with such force and precision as to completely destroy the opponent’s attacking motion. Examples of rakka are the most well-known blocks, such as gedan-barai or soto-uke

2) (ryūsui, “running water”). The art of flowing around the attacker’s motion, and through it, soft blocking. Examples are nagashi-uke and osae-uke .

3) (kusshin, “elasticity”). This is the art of bouncing back, storing energy while recoiling from the opponent’s attack, changing or lowering stance only to immediately unwind and counterattack. Classic examples are stance transitions zenkutsu to kōkutsu and moto-dachi to nekoashi-dachi

4) (ten’i, “transposition”). Ten’i is the utilization of all eight directions of movement, most importantly stepping away from the line of attack.

5) (hangeki, “counterattack”). A hangeki defense is an attack which at the same time deflects the opponent’s attack before it can reach the defender. Examples of this are various kinds of tsuki-uke , including yama-tsuki .

Modern Shitō-ryū styles also place a strong emphasis on sparring. Shitō-ryū stresses speed, and fighting is generally initiated from a higher, more upright stance than Shotokan employs.

5) Wado-ryu – founder Hironori Otsuka

Hironori Otsuka, was born on 1 June 1892 in Shimodate, Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan. In 1898, Otsuka began practicing jujutsu under Chojiro Ebashi.  In 1922, he met Gichin Funakoshi and began to train under him. In 1924, Otsuka became one of the first students promoted to black belt in karate by Funakoshi. To broaden his knowledge of Karate, Otsuka also studied with other prominent masters such as Kenwa Mabuni of  Shito-ryu and Motobu.

The name Wado-ryu has three parts: Wa, , and ryū. Wa means “harmony,” means “way,” and ryū means “style.” Harmony should not be interpreted as pacifism; it is simply the acknowledgment that yielding is sometimes more effective than brute strength.

From one point of view, Wado-ryu might be considered a style of jujutsu rather than karate.To the untrained observer, Wado-ryu  might look similar to other styles of  karate , such as shotokan. Most of the underlying principles, however, were derived from Shindō Yōshin-ryū. A block in Wado may look much like a block in Shotokan, but they are executed from different perspectives.

A key principle in Wado-ryu is that of tai-sabaki (often incorrectly referred to as ‘evasion’). The Japanese term can be translated as “body-management,” and refers to body manipulation so as to move the defender as well as the attacker out of harm’s way. The way to achieve this is to ‘move along’ rather than to ‘move against’—or harmony rather than physical strenght. Modern karate competition tends to transform Wadō-ryū away from its roots towards a new generic karate that appeals more to the demands of both spectators and competitors.

6) Shorin-ryu – founder Matsumura Sokon

Matsumura Sokon was a renowned warrior of his time; bodyguard to three kings of Okinawa, he has been called the  Miyamoto Musashi of Okinawa and was dubbed bushi, or warrior, by his king.

Shorin-Ryu is generally characterized by natural breathing, natural (narrow, high) stances, and direct, rather than circular movements (with the exception of Shorin-Ryu Kyudokan, which makes extensive use of circular movements). Shorin-Ryu practitioners will say that correct motion matters, being able to move quickly to evade violence by having fluid movements and flexible positions is quite important, and that a solid structure is very important for powerful moves, but stances that are too deep, will most likely make body movement very difficult.

Along with being a style on its own, Shorin-ryu is also perhaps the most influential single ancestor of modern Japanese karate. The first one folks.  One of Matsumura’s best-known students, Anko (or “Ankoh”) Itosu became a great practitioner and teacher of Okinawan karate and developed the five Pinan (Heian) katas, which are now taught not only in Shorin-Ryu, but also in a wide variety of Okinawan, Japanese and derived martial arts. It is also believed by some that the first three Pinan kata were actually developed by Matsumura and the last two by Itosu. In addition, Itosu and another student of Matsumura’s named Anko Azato were among the primary influences on a fellow Okinawan named Gichin Funakoshi . Funakoshi introduced his Okinawan martial arts to mainland Japan in 1922, and in subsequent decades was instrumental in developing what he termed simply karate  into a popular Japanese martial art. The style Funakoshi taught on mainland Japan is now called shotokan karate.

Basically  Shorin-ryu is the father of modern karate.

7) Uechi-ryu – founder Kanbun Uechi

Kanbun Uechi is an Okinawan who went to Fuzhou in Fukien Province,  China to study China when he was 20 years old.  Uechi-ryu means “Style of Uechi” or “School of Uechi.”

In contrast to the more linear styles of karate based on Okinawan Shuri-Te or Tomari-Te Uechi Ryu’s connection with Chinese Nanpa Shorin-ken means the former shares a similar foundation with Naha-Te (and thus with Goju-Ryu) despite their separate development. Thus, Uechi Ryu is also heavily influenced by the circular motions which belong to the kung-fu from Fujian’s province. Uechi Ryu is principally based on the movements of 3 animals: the Tiger, the Dragon, and the Crane.

Which style suits you best?


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