Detailed History of Butokukan

History Panel Origins Darumi Okinawa Kusanku Matsumura Itosu Japanese Shin-puren Nakachi Hill COlson Butokukan Canadian

The Origins of Karate

   Karate is one of the few oriental traditions that can be traced to western cultures for its roots.  In Egypt, tombs from 5000 years ago show murals depicting unarmed warriors. Later in Greece and Rome, more developed fighting methods (pankration) were used at the Parthenon and the Olympics, and by the Roman gladiators.

Karate today means "empty hand," (kara + te, "empty" and "hand"). Before it came to Japan from Okinawa, the writing and proper termonology was "Chinese hand," as the style had been strongly influenced by Chinese boxing, or Chinese fist. Chinese boxing had been thought to come from such sources as the Shaolin monastery in Honan ( Hunan ) province. Chinese fist, or Kempo, was brought to the Ryukyu islands (Okinawa) mainly through traders who came from, among other areas, Fukien province in southern China. Many traditionalists incorporate Zen in the practise of karate, and to them, the "empty" in "empty hand," refers to the emptiness, or no-mind, that one must incorporate to efficiently practise karate. The ancient Bushido warriors exercised the belief that one must remove the fear of dying by believing they would ultimately die when they withdrew their swords to go into battle. This left the mind free to fully concentrate on their skills, and led to the Bushido being feared as a dedicated warrior, not being afraid of death because they had totally accepting dying in the act of war, and were unable to be frightened from carrying through their duties as a soldier.

Darumi Taishi (Bodhidharma)

   Generally accepted theory is that Darumi Taishi played a great role in the development of "kempo" approximately 1400 years ago. Also known as Bodhidharma (Hindu philosopher), he crossed central Asia through Tibet, and to China's Kanan-sho province, to an area known as Suizan. He arrived at a Shorin-gi Buddhist temple (chinese, Shaolin), where he practised meditation, and became the founder of the first Zen Buddhist school. There he sat facing a wall, sitting in a lotus position, thinking and reflecting. After nine years he found his Satori (enlightenment). He then started to teach his disciples.

( In other histories, Bodhidarma arrived in Honan ( Hunan ) province at the Shaolin temple, only to find the monks practising meditation, but in very weak physical condition. He introduced exercises that were combined with the meditative aspects, to improve their condition. Sanchin breathing was said to have come from Bodhidarma.

The teachings consisted of both physical and spiritual development; etsukinkio and senzuikio (Kio = teaching, Etsukin = physical endurance, senzui = internal organization and cleansing of spirit).

From the book Kenkoshisu, a simplistic form of kempo did exist prior to Bodhidharma's arrival. Continuous tribal feuds and wars occurred, with the temple being repeatedly attacked, but thanks to an elderly monk and his fighting art, it was defended. In the temple murals, there are figures in many different fighting stances, practising various hand and foot positions.  Many are based on the movements of animals, such as the leopard, snake, crane, dragon, mantis, tiger, and monkey.  Imitating their movements, the monks utilize different advantages of each style; the quickness of the snake, the power of the tiger, the snap of the dragon, and the accuracy of the crane.

 For centuries after, the monks of Shaolin have practiced their forms in the temple, and the stone floors are worn deep by all of the monks who have practiced their forms there.

In the Shaolin monastery the monks perform extraordinary feats such as push-ups for an hour, holding horse stance with pottery vases of water balanced on their shoulders and thighs ( low horse stance ! ), and acts of balance by running along the top of walls.  Many of their demonstrations of "chi" can be seen on their "Wheel of Life" tour which came through North America in 2002.  Though they may seem unbelieveable, many of the acts rely on basic science principles.

The Shaolin temple is recognized by most martial artists as being the birthplace of gung-fu.  And Bodhidharma is sometimes called Tamo or Da Mo, and is credited with originating gung-fu and karate, as the fighting skills became famous, and spread to nearby Fukien province, through tradesmen and merchants, and eventually to Okinawa, ( where it merged with the Okinawan fighting style te ), to become kara-te.  Originally, the "kara" character represented the Tang dynasty in China, so the meaning was actually "China hand" ( To-te ).  After karate came to Japan, the Japanese decided to make it more their own, and through a meeting between different masters in 1936, changed the "To" character to another one, which was pronounced "kara", and was read as "empty".  Thus, karate today means empty hand.

Okinawan Karate

   Okinawa was known as the RyuKyu islands, situated southwest of the islands of Japan. Because of its strategic location between Japan and China, both nations vied for domination of the island. In the 14th century (1372) Okinawa became a Chinese satellite; during this time Ch'uan fa (fist law) was probably introduced. Chinese style fighting was greatly admired by the Okinawans, and though they already had a form of fighting native to them called te ( fist ), or bushi no te (warrior's hand). the Chinese fighting was considerably more versatile. "To-te," means "Chinese fist, " where "To" refers to the Chinese Tang dynasty, and those that practised it were considered privileged.

In 1372 Okinawa's King Satto expressed allegiance to Ming, emperor of China. Okinawa became a Chinese satellite, with great economic benefits.  This was also the time when the true infusion of ch'uan fa into Okinawan culture occurred, and placed the seeds for karate.  The fighting styles already present in Okinawa were more formally intermixed with ch'uan fa beginning in 1393 when an imperial gift of Chinese artisans and merchants was given to Okinawa by the emperor.  These immigrants were referred to as the "Thirty-six Families".  These early forms of empty-handed martial arts were called "tode" or "tote", meaning "China hand", or more loosely, "Chinese boxing".

During the early 15th century the Ryu-Kyu islands were divided into three kingdoms; northern, central and southern (Nanzan, Chuzan and Hokuzan) which were at constant war.  In 1429, Okinawa became a unified kingdom under King Sho-hashi.  He learned economic lessons from China, which resulted in a booming economy for Okinawa as it became a center for trade in the region.  This promoted cultural intermingling from Arabs, Malays, Indonesians, Thais, and, of course, the Japanese and Chinese.  His successor, Sho-shin (1477 - 1526) outlawed possession of all weapons, even rusty swords, by the peasant class. Sho-shin encouraged people to focus on art and philosophy, so they might be dissuaded from te. However, the martial art continued in secrecy.  The presence of many bored and lonely seamen and bars resulted in fights and the exchange of fighting techniques, furthering the development of karate.

In 1609 the Ryukyu islands were invaded by the Japanese Satsuma clan, led by the daimyo of the clan, the Shimazu family .  This clan was the loser in a Japanese Civil war in 1600, and were sent to invade the Ryukyu islands to keep them occupied on something other than trying to overthrow the victorious clan, the Tokugawa clan, and also to punish Okinawa for refusing to supply Japan with materials needed for an planned attack on China in 1592.

The reigning king of the dynasty, found himself obliged to outfit an army for sake of repelling the invasion of the islands that had been launched by Shimazu, who had been exiled from Japan.   The newly armed Ryukyuan warriors fought with conspicuous bravery and galantry against the soldiers of the Satsuma clan, known and feared throughout the country for their fighting skill, but, after Ryukyuan success in a few pitched battles, a surprise landing by Shimazu's forces sealed the fate both of the islands and of their monarch, who was forced to surrender.   The Satsuma clan took control of the Ryukyu islands and ordered that all weapons, as well as empty-handed martial arts, were illegal in the islands. As a result, practitioners of ch'uan fa and tode practiced, and met, in secrecy.   Many of the practitioners from the two styles gathered together and created a new style from the two, referred to as "te", for "hand", or "fist", or perhaps, "boxing". ( Some students of Asian studies have referred to "te," which means "hand" or "fist", as the intermediate stage between Tote-ch'uan fa and modern karate, while others consider te to be a native Okinawan martial art, going back farther in their historyj; I'm of the opinion that te came first, then the Chinese influence, which caused a distinction ( To-te, or Chinese hand ); it seems logical that te came before To-te, by the very nature of the prefix "To" being tied onto "te" ).

Okinawan Ch'uan fa groups and To-de societies banded together to produce a solid front against the Japanese. Many Okinawans were secretly sent to China to learn fighting arts.  Okinawa for many centuries engaged in trade with the people of Fukien province in southern China, and it is probably from this source that Chinese kempo ("boxing") was introduced into the islands. As well as empty handed fighting, the use of the Bo, Sai, Tonfa, Nunchaku, and other farm and household items were secretly developed into effective ryu (system, methods).  This secrecy as well as the social and geographical isolation helped to create the different and distinct systems of combat that have come out of Okinawa; Naha-te (now known as Goju-ryu) and Shuri-te (now known as Shorin-ryu). Naha was a commercial centre in Okinawa, while Shuri was a political centre; according to some Okinawan Senseis this difference in social class between those Okinawans that practised Goju and those that practised Shorin played a major role in developing not only the difference in technique, but also in the philosophy and outlook of these two systems of Karate. ( there was also a Tomari-te, but it was absorbed into Shuri-te ).

Kusanku and Sakagawa
      During the 1700s, an officer called Sakugawa, who was in the Okinawan Palace Guard, learned Chinese fighting from a Chinese military officer, Kusanku, who arrived in Okinawa in 1761 (at this time of Japanese occupation, it was still permitted for some Chinese attaches to come and go in Okinawa, for envoy purposes. It was also allowed for the nobles or royal classes to practise To-te, and it was definitely a requirement for the Royal Guard ). Sakugawa travelled many times to China with Kusanku, and learned to combine chuan fa (called "Chinese fist," by the Chinese) with te to form Okinawan-te. In fact, Sakugawa's nick-name was "karate" or To-te" Sakugawa ( sometimes spelled ' Tode ' ), which literally meant, "Chinese fist Sakugawa." The name karate, in those days, meant, "Chinese hand". Later on in Japan, the character for "Chinese," was changed to one meaning "empty," so the new translation meant "empty hand." ( From Kusanku we have the name of two of our high level katas, Kusanku Sho and Kusanku Dai, which is interesting because Kusanku supposively did not teach kata! The katas may have been formed from the techniques )  NOTE: The picture on the left is actually of Sakugawa's son, who was said to have an uncanny resemblance to his father ( in case anyone is wondering how we were able to get a photograph of a guy who was teaching martial arts around the beginning of the 18th century! ).

"Bushi" Matsumura
      Matsumura was a karate teacher to some of the more noble clans in Okinawa. Stories of him recall him as a man of over 6 feet in height, very imposing, with a great fighting spirit. The one thing he was very famous for was his eyes, like those of an eagle. He was able to stop an opponent dead in his tracks by making them appear to be generating some great force or ki. In fact, there is a very famous story about him and an engraver who challenged him to a fight. Matsumura won the fight, without ever laying a finger on him. Twice he stopped him with his eyes, a third time with his kiai, and the opponent crumpled down on the ground, unable to attack him. Matsumura came from a line of Bushido warriors, which is how he got his nickname "Bushi." Matsumura trained Yatasune "Anko" Itosu, from where our style originated.

Yatasune "Anko" Itosu
      Yatasune "Anko" Itosu ( "Anko," means 'horse,' and referred to the horse stance at which Itosu was superb in demonstrating ) was an educator in Shuri, a south city in Okinawa. Itosu was born in 1830 into a shizoku, or noble family. He became an educator, but was also a learned master of karate. From Itosu came the Pinon katas, which are our first five Butokukan katas.  These katas were stated by one source as coming from the Kusanku kata, before it was broken down into Sho ( lesser ) and Dai ( greater ).  However, another source says that Itosu learned a form from a Chinese man, and the form was called "Chiang Nan" or ( Channan in Okinawan pronounciation ) from which he produced the Pinon katas.

Itosu taught anyone who wanted to learn, in contrast to some of the other masters, who would not permit a student to learn from more than one teacher. According to Gichin Funakoshi, student of Itosu and founder of Shotokan karate, Itosu was of average height, with a great round chest like a beer barrel. Despite his long moustache, he rather had the look of a well-behaved child. Itosu was so well trained that his entire body seemed to be invulnerable. Once, as he was about to enter a restaurant in Naha ( near Shuri), a sturdy young man attacked him from the rear, aiming a blow at his side. But Itosu, without even turning, hardened the muscles of his stomach so that the blow glanced off his body, and at the very same instant his right hand grasped the right wrist of his assailant. Still without turning his head, he calmly dragged the man inside the restaurant.

There, he ordered the frightened waitresses to bring food and wine. Still holding the man's wrist with his right hand, he took a sip of the wine from the cup that he held in his left hand, then pulled his assailant around in front of him and for the first time had a look at him. After a moment, he smiled and said, "I don't know what your grudge against me could be, but let's have a drink together!" The young man's astonishment at this behavior can easily be imagined.

Itosu had another famous encounter with a rash young man, this one the karate instructor of a certain Okinawan school. Belligerent by nature and full of pride at his strength, the youth had the rather unpleasant habit of lurking in dark lanes, and when a lonely walker happened to come strolling by, he would lash out at the poor soul. So self-confident did he finally become that he decided to take on Itosu himself, believing that, no matter how powerful the master was, he could be beaten if set upon unawares.

One night, he followed Itosu down the street and, after a stealthy approach, aimed his strongest punch at the master's back. Bewieldered by the quite evident fact that he had made no impression whatsoever, the young bully lost his balance and at that same instant felt his right wrist caught in a viselike grip. Now Itosu had very strong hands, able to crush a thick bamboo stem in his bare hand, as attested by Funakoshi himself. The youth now tried to free himself with his other hand, but of course he did not succeed. Itosu now walked on, hauling the other behind him without even bothering to look back. Realizing that he had failed completely, the young man begged the master's foregiveness. "But who are you?" Itosu asked softly.

"I'm Goro," replied the youth. Now Itosu looked at him for the first time. "Ah," he murmured, "you really shouldn't try to play such tricks on an old man like me," With that, he let go and strolled away.

Another time was from a well-known incident when Itosu was set upon by a group of young thugs, but before long the hoodlums were all lying unconscious in the street. An eyewitness, seeing that Itosu was in no danger, rushed off to tell Itosu's friend Azato what had transpired. Interrupting his account, Azato said, "And the ruffians, of course, were all lying unconscious, with their faces to the ground, were they not?" Much surprised, the witness admitted that that was true, but he wondered how Azato could have known. "Very simple," replied the master. "No karate adept would be so cowardly as to attack from the rear. And should someone unfamiliar with karate attack from the front, he would end up flat on his back. But I know Itosu; his punches would knock his assailants down on their faces. I would be quite astonished if any of them survive.

Here is an excerpt from a Shitokai website on Itosu:

Born in Shuri, Okinawa, Itosu trained under karate greats Sokon “Bushi”Matsumura and Kosaku Matsumora. His good friend Yasutsune Azato  recommended him to the position of secretary to the king of the Ryukyu Islands. He was famous for the superior strength of his arms, legs and hands. Itosu was said to have even walked in the horse stance (from which he received his nickname, Anko). Itosu supposedly was easily able to defeat Azato in arm wrestling. Itosu had very strong hands and could crush a thick stalk of bamboo with his vice-like grip. It is said that he walked past the imperial tombs everyday and would practice his punches against the stone walls that lined the road. Itosu believed that the body should be trained to withstand the hardest of blows.

Describing the art in his own words: "Karate means not only to develop one's physical strength but to learn how to defend oneself. Be helpful to all people and never fight against one person. Never try to strike if possible. even when taken unawares, as perhaps meeting a robber or a deranged person. Never face others with fists and feet. As you practice karate, try to open your eyes brightly and keep your shoulders down, stiffen your body as if you are on the battleground. Imagine that you are facing the enemy when you practice the punching or blocking techniques. Soon you will find your own striking performance. Always concentrate attention around you. A man of character will avoid any quarrels and loves peace. Thus the more a karateka practices the more modest he should be with others. This is the true karateka."

Below is a letter written by Itosu Sensei in October of 1908. This letter preceded the introduction of karate to Okinawan schools and eventually to the Japanese mainland.


Tode did not develop from the way of Buddhism or Confucianism. In the recent past Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu were brought over from China. They both have similar strong points, so, before there are too many changes, I should like to write these down.

1. Tode is primarily for the benefit of health. In order to protect one's parents or one's master, it is proper to attack a foe regardless of one's own life. Never attack a lone adversary. If one meets a villain or a ruffian one should not use tode but simply parry and step aside.

2. The purpose of tode is to make the body hard like stones and iron; hands and feet should be used like the points of arrows, hearts should be strong and brave. If children were to practice tode from their elementary-school days, they would be well prepared for military service. When Wellington and Napoleon met they discussed the point that tomorrow's victory will come from today's playground'.

3. Tode cannot be learned quickly. Like a slow moving bull, that eventually walks a thousand miles, if one studies seriously every day, in three or four years one will understand what tode is about. The very shape of one's bones will change.

Those who study as follows will discover the essence of tode:

4. In tode the hands and feet are important so they should be trained thoroughly on the makiwara. In so doing drop your shoulders, open your lungs, take hold of your strength, grip the floor with your feet and sink your intrinsic energy to your lower abdomen. Practice with each arm one or two hundred times.

5. When practicing tode stances make sure your back is straight, drop your shoulders, take your strength and put it in your legs, stand firmly and put the intrinsic energy in your lower abdomen, the top and bottom of which must be held together tightly.

6. The external techniques of tode should be practiced, one by one, many times. Because these techniques are passed on by word of mouth, take the trouble to learn the explanations and decide when and in what context it would be possible to use them. Go in, counter, release; is the rule of torite.

7. You must decide whether tode is for cultivating a healthy body or for enhancing your duty.

8. During practice you should imagine you are on the battle field. When blocking and striking make the eyes glare, drop the shoulders and harden the body. Now block the enemy's punch and strike! Always practice with this spirit so that, when on the real battlefield, you will naturally be prepared.

9. Do not overexert yourself during practice because the intrinsic energy will rise up, your face and eyes will turn red and your body will be harmed. Be careful.

10. In the past many of those who have mastered tode have lived to an old age. This is because tode aids the development of the bones and sinews, it helps the digestive organs and is good for the circulation of the blood. Therefore, from now on, tode should become the foundation of all sports lessons from elementary schools onward. If this is put into practice there will, I think, be many men who can win against ten aggressors.

The reason for stating all this is that it is my opinion that all students at the Okinawa Prefectural Teachers' Training College should practice tode, so that when they graduate from here they can teach the children in the schools exactly as I have taught them. Within ten years tode will spread all over Okinawa and to the Japanese mainland. This will be a great asset to our militaristic society. I hope you will carefully study the words I have written here.

Japanese Karate
      The Japanese had always been aware of karate in Okinawa, or "Okinawa-te," as it was known there. In fact, the Japanese banned the practise of it because of the power that its practioners ( "karatemen", as they called them ), wielded. After Okinawa had been granted autonomy ( but still under the dominion of Japan ), there was a keen interest in the style, in hopes of adding it to the other Japanese martial arts, such as judo, jujitsu, and kendo. In the early 1900s, there was a demonstration of karate skills at Shuri castle in Shuri, Okinawa, in which the Japanese officials were greatly impressed.  They invited the Okinawan masters to come to Tokyo to demonstrate their talents, and to stay on to teach the Japanese initiates. At the beginning of the Taiso era ( 1920 ), many masters travelled to large Japanese cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto,as well as others, to plant the seeds for Japanese Karate. In Kyoto, Japan, many of the masters and their prize pupils came to the Dai Nippon Butokukai ( Greater Japan Martial Virtues School ).

At the Butokukai, there were many other different martial arts, among them some dealing with the sword and bo.

Kenwa Mabuni
      Here, one of Itosu's students, Kenwa Mabuni, would go on to create Shito-ryu, which was a combination of Itosu's teaching and Higaonna, another master, who influenced him deeply.

In 1936 the translation of "empty hand" for karate was brought in, replacing the Kanji character for "Chinese hand." This was thought to reflect the idea that Japanese karate was now indeed Japanese, an entity in its own. Gichin Funakoshi, a student of Itosu's, is considered to be the father of Japanese karate, although it has many fathers.

Early video of Gichin Funakoshi and students doing kata in dojos and on beachs in 1924 ( 27 minutes long )

In 1945, the military government under General Douglas McArthur outlawed all Japanese martial arts. This was thought to also lessen the militaristic attitudes of the warrior class.  As in Okinawa, karate was practised in secret, until 1948, when the ban was lifted ( there was a source in one book stating that since karate was a relatively new discipline, it wasn't included in the banned Japanese martial arts, and that it actually had been allowed during the post-war period ).

The Japanese added the color system of belt ranks, as well as renaming some of the katas, to reflect a more Japanese flavour.  The color system was based on swimming team ribbons, indicating the level of the swimmer.  Now some people believe that the color system didn't come into effect until after karate found it's way to North America, so it's possible the Japanese adapted the system to help out Westerners not used to the discipline of having to work out for 3 to 5 years before going from white belt to black belt.  Now there is a belief that the white belt was supposed to turn dark from repeated workouts, eventually getting to the point that it looked black.  But some people in the martial art community believe this to be a fallacy.

There are now hundreds of different schools, some very similiar to each other. When we hear the word karate, we think Japanese. In reality, it is actually derived from Chinese Gung Fu and Okinawa-te. But today, it has evolved into a totally different style, most revolving around linear punches and blocks, centering on hip action. Many styles have actually incorporated some of the older Chinese techniques, to add fluidity and smoothness to the art. Butokukan has done this by incorporating some of these in their style.

     The name Shinpu-ren had thought to be associated with an assasination group back during the war years, but this is now thought to be incorrect.  The meaning goes back further in history, about 700 years ago.

      In the 1260's the armies of Kublai Khan, the great Mongol conquerer, had overrun all of central Asia and were at the gates of Moscow and Vienna.  In 1268 the Khan sent envoys to Japan ordering "the king of your little country" to submit to Mongol suzerainty or face invasion.  The Shogun of the day finally decided not to reply at all.  The Khan soon ordered preparations for an invasion.  It took more than six years to construct the ships and arrange for the provision.  In 1274 approximately 15,000 Mongol and 8,000 Korean vassal troops sailed for southern Japan.  The Japanese samurai, who were used to fighting against Japanese, sought to fight with some warrior with whom they could prove worthy.  Needless to say, the Mongols with their bows and arrows ( their primary weapon ), mowed them down in droves.  The small islands of Tsushima and Iki were captured first, but only after a terrible struggle in which the Japanese defenders died to the last man.

      The fleet then landed at Kikata on the island of Kyushu.  The coastal garrisons fought valiantly while waiting for the reinforcements dispatched from central Kyushu.   Before the reinforcements arrived, a severe storm hit.  The Korean ship captains urged withdrawal and the Mongol generals agreed.   Of the 23,000 troops who embarked, 13,000 had been killed.

     In 1275 and 1279, the Khan dispatched ambassadors to seek Japanese concessions.  The Shogun responded by beheading the ambassadors.  Wars in southern China preoccupied the Khan for the next several years but he resolved to settle accounts with the Japanese.

      In 1281, the Khan commandeered all the junks of Canton and Korea.   An army of 140,000 troops ( 40,000 of them Mongol ) was prepared.  They faced an alert and determined enemy.  In the preceding years, the Shogun had been busy constructing an armada of 'firefly boats' ( boats with about 15 warriors in each, who would come out to the ships of the Mongols, then lower their masts and climb aboard, thus allowing them to use their primary weapon, the samurai sword ) with which to harass the invasion force, and an immense stone wall more than one hundred miles long in an effort to help contain the most probable beachheads.   "Every man, woman and child contributed money or labour towards the national armoury."

     In June, the Mongol fleet set sail.  The attempt to seize Tsushima failed.  The fleet sailed on and made landings all along the coast of Kyushu; primarily where the wall had been located.  Fifty three days of desperate hand-to-hand combat ensued, especially at both ends of the wall.  At this point, the divine wind came.

      On the 15th and 16th of August, 1281, a massive storm ravaged the Mongol fleet for 48 hours.  The invaders, cut off from their ships and supplies, were slaughtered.  Less than half of the 140,000 troops who had set out returned to the mainland.  From that time on, the Emperor and his court, who had prayed for deliverance from the Mongol fleet, spoke of the divine wind which had saved Japan.  Needless to say, the superb conditioning of the Japanese soldiers was also a decisive factor.  This was the inception of Bushido ("The way of the warrior").  The defeat of the Mongol armies convinced the Japanese, up to their defeat in 1945, that their intense martial spirit was superior to that of all other peoples.  In 1281, Japan's militaristic feudalism was less than a century old ( as a footnote, the Japanese celebrate September 1st as the first day of typhoons that arrive on the coast, and this is supposively the date of the storm, so there seems to be a minor conflict on the date of when the Mongols were ravaged by the weather ).

     The word Shinpuren can be divided up into three Kanji charactors, Chinese pictographs which have found their way into the Japanese language.  "Shin" is also called "kame". It means "Divine," or "God."  "Pu" or "Fu", or as it is sometimes called on its own in the Kanji texts, is also called "kaze," which means "wind."  "Ren," means "train or exercise, drill, practice, refine."

Shihan Yoichi Nakachi
Grandmaster of Butokukan
( deceased 1998 )
      In 1944, Yoichi Nakachi at the age of 12, started studying karate under Yon Pon Gun. In 1948, when the ban on martial arts was lifted, the open practice of Shinpu-ren resumed. By this time, at the age of 16, Nakachi had his 2nd degree black belt . Because of business, Gun often visited the small fishing village of Kushimoto, Nakachi's home town. This was during the ban on Japanese budo (martial arts), enacted by the American military government under General MacArthur (1945 - 1948). In spite of this ban, Nakachi and his schoolmates continued to study martial arts in secret under the instruction of Yon Pon Gun and several other Koreans in the Kushimoto area. Due to the economic hardships of the post-war period, the practice of the martial arts took place outdoors, either in the surrounding mountains, in open fields, or on the beaches near the Kushimoto area, since a "dojo" was a luxury that people could not afford. This meant that training was often interrupted by rain or darkness. The small group of students with which Nakachi trained, and in 1950 came to lead, was made up of a small group of high school students. These seven or eight students would get together after school to practice what Yon Pon Gun had shown them on his last visit to Kushimoto. The outdoor classes were usually done in their school uniforms and consisted of kumite and kicking drills, as well as some weapons training. In 1950, Yon Pon Gun and the other Koreans stopped going to Kushimoto, and since Yon Pon Gun had left for Korea, Nakachi took over the group,as he was "sempai" (senior student).

In 1959, Sensei Nakachi came to the United States (age 27), to study at the University of Washington, under a college scholership in philosophy, supported by the Tenri-ko religion. He started to teach karate in the University District, when he found there was more of a desire to learn it than judo ( which he also knew ).

In 1961, Nakachi switched studies to Olympic College in Bremerton, and started to teach at the "Y" in downtown Seattle (5 nights a week). He taught at a health club in the downtown area as well. Olympic College asked him to teach classes for 4 days a week. Master Nakachi studied during the day, taught at Olympic College 4 times a week, and taught at night at the YMCA 5 times a week. Master Nakachi quit school and did this whole routine for 2 years, before teaching at night only. It was during this time Master Nakachi met Bruce Lee (1962), and they shared and exchanged many ideas about the martial arts. It was Master Nakachi that suggested to Lee that he try the nunchaku, since it was less cumbersome than the three-sectional staff.

In 1963, Shihan Yoichi Nakachi changed the name, crest and katas from Shinpu-ren to Butokukan.  The new crest shows the white fist coming head-on, with the red master ring around it.  For more information on the crest, Click Here.  The older Shinpu-ren crest originally showed an upright fist, similiar to a Goju-ryu crest.

From 1963-64, the school was still small. In April of 1965, Shihan Nakachi staged the first open Butokukan tornament, which also encompassed Armstrong's Isshin-ryu, and Bill Ruter's Goju-Ryu.

In May of 1965, Shihan Nakachi had to leave to return to Japan. Before he left, he made Sensei Robert Hill Nidan ( 2nd degree Black Belt ), and gave over the reins for Butokukan in North America. In 1967, Shihan Hill re-established the classes at Olympic college, and they are still being taught there by his students.

Shihan Nakachi , on his return to Japan in 1965 found that his Shinpu-ren black belts from before he left Japan had dispersed and were inactive. He began to teach and ascended some students to shodan, but after he moved to Tokyo, they too, went inactive. Master Nakachi was working six days a week, eight hours a day teaching swimming , and was working on adapting karate techniques to accommodate older people.

Shihan Nakachi passed away in 1998, almost a year after his dear beloved wife died from an prolonged illness.  It was well known by Shihan Hill and other high ranking Butokukan blackbelts that he would not venture over to North America to visit the fruits of Butokukan, simply because he needed to go each day to the Japanese cemetary where his wife's grave lay, to visit her.  This was just a reflection of the dedication that our master had, and had exhibited in the study of karate.

A Canadian Butokukan Student's Visit to Kushimoto, Japan ( Christmas, 2002 )

Soke Robert Hill
Grandmaster of Butokukan
      Soke Robert Hill started taking karate from Master Nakachi in September 1961, after two years of learning some Tae Kwon Do from his brother who was in the army.  He also learned from books. He started 2 days a week, but quickly changed to 4, with lots of outdoor practice. He worked out with the Seattle class every other week. Master Hill has learned much from reading and doing, and as Soke ( Grand Master ) he still today encourages his students and senseis to "learn by doing."  This is the second "motto" besides "Confidence Through Knowledge".

In June 1963, Sensei Robert Hill received his Shodan (1st degree Black Belt) from Master Nakachi.  Master Hill then went back east with a brown belt (Ed Mehus)to Boston, Massachussets.  Upon returning after a period of 9 months, Master Hill found that Shihan Nakachi had changed the katas, changed the crest, and changed the name of the Okinawan-style Shinpu-ren to Butokukan, reflecting the softer, faster style of Kenpo karate.  In 1965 Shihan Nakachi had to return back to Japan, leaving the reins of the style in the hands of Sensei Hill (at this time a Nidan, 2nd degree black belt).  After Shihan Nakachi had left, other schools in the area, like Goju-ryu and others, tried to take over the school.  Master Hill had a meeting with the other schools, and told them who we are, and that we would not be leaving or changing our school. From that point on, the other schools respected his wish.  Master Hill has continued teaching, and has also supplemented the basic karate core of techniques he has learned with some Wing Chun Kung Fu, Aikido, and other styles, to enrich the abilities of Butokukan.

Master Hill, at the beginning of 1997, was elevated to Kyudan, or 9th degree black belt.  In June of 2003, Shihan Hill was elevated to 10th dan or Soke, and has also been given the title of Grandmaster of Butokukan, the only one of Butokukan now that Master Nakachi has passed on. Being a master of a style doesn't mean you're above any other people; it only means you have studied the style sufficiently to be able to master the style.

Soke Hill currently resides in Gig Harbour, Washington State.

Butokukan Karate
      As mentioned before in Shihan Hill's history, Butokukan started officially in 1963 when Shihan Nakachi changed the style from Shinpu-ren to Butokukan, to reflect the more fluid moves of Kempo.  We now had a new crest ( our present one ) and new katas to go along with it.  Butokukan, by it's name, means training hall of the virtue of the martial arts, and this means that we take the good parts of other styles and add them to our own, so we are always a changing style, being flexible enough to see that there are good things in other styles, and that we should take advantage of them.  Butokukan has at it's core karate, but we also add such things as Wing Chung gung fu, Tae Kwon Do, Jui-Jitsu, Judo, and various other influences.  In this way, we try to go by Shihan Hill's creed, to "learn by doing".  

Canadian Butokukan Karate
   In 1964 Butokukan Karate was introduced into Canada by Don Williams. Williams trained and received his black belt under Master Yoichi Nakachi during the time that master Nakachi was in the United States.

Williams originally taught at the YMCA in Vancouver. At this time he was travelling from Seattle twice a week to teach classes. The only Canadian student to receive Shodan under Williams was Sensei Dennis Clive. Clive obtained his black belt in 1967 and began teaching at the Burnaby YMCA and eventually opened a dojo at the United Church on Parker St. in Burnaby.

Some of the people who received black belts under Sensei Clive were: Dave Annal, Bob Grant and Ed Muir. A brown belt student, Gordon Briggs, under Sensei Dennis Clive went to Japan and was promoted to first degree black belt by Master Nakachi. Moreover, Master Nakachi promoted Sensei Dennis Clive to nidan (second degree black belt ) solely on the basis of the performance of his student, Gordon Briggs.

Sensei Clive's Canadian History Addendum
This is some info that was gathered between Sensei Dennis Clive and Sensei Mike Clancy, and was published in the blackbelt newsletter sometime back in the winter of 1997.

Butokukan karate was among the first styles of karate to be introduced into British Columbia's Lower Mainland.  At that time, in 1964, there were only two karate blackbelts in the area; one Shotokan and the other Kyokoshin.  Don Williams, student and Shodan under Master Nakachi,was the first Butokukan blackbelt to work out in the area.  He traveled up often to Vancouver and would attend the Shotokan classes which were being held on Cambie Street in Vancouver.  Eventually, the instructor of the Cambie Street club left, and Williams took over and began teaching Butokukan.  One of the students in that club was Dennis Clive.  Clive had been a Shotokan practitioner for about six months but began practising Butokukan when Williams took over.  Dennis Clive would go on to become the first Canadian to receive a Shodan rank.

In 1965, Williams stopped teaching on Cambie St. and opened a dojo on Beatty Street, where Dennis Clive trained and received his brown belt.  When Clive reached Ikkyu, Williams stopped coming up to Canada and Clive was left to teach on his own.

A Butokukan picnic in the Seattle area in 1967 was a land mark day for Clive when Shihan Hill, a Nidan at the time, showed early leadership by insisting that Williams test Clive for Shodan.  The test was held in a park, and Master Hill still has old footage of it.  From that point on, Sensei Clive went on to become the biggest influence in early Canadian history.  Shortly after his test, Clive opened a dojo at Simon Fraser University and another at Hastings Street Dance Studio.

Several students received Shodan under Clive, including Ed Muir, Bob Grant and Dave Annal.  Another student, Gordon Briggs, went to Japan in 1969 to train with Master Nakachi.  He tested for Shodan under Nakachi and learned many new sparring concepts which he brought back.  Nakachi also upgraded Clive to Nidan and Williams to Sandan based on the performance of Briggs.

Over the next couple of years, several significant events resulted in many changes in the identity of Butokukan in Canada.  One of them was the first Canadian Butokukan tournament held by Sensei Clive.  The event was televised by a local station and helped signify Butokukan as an established style in the Lower Mainland.  The tournament was held at the Pacific National Exhibition and included a nunchaku demonstration by Sensei Williams.  Shortly after, however, Sensei Williams had his membership revoked for behavior unbecoming a Butokukan black belt.  The decision was made by Master Hill after discussions with many students and instructors in the style for a variety of reasons, one being a lack of high ranking blackbelts in the area.  There was a desire amongst Canadian blackbelts to receive futher instruction.  This prevailing sentiment resulted in a total migration of Canadian blackbelts into Shito-ryu.  Junky Chung, a Shito-ryu blackbelt, agreed to take the Butokukan blackbelts and their students at their present ranks.  Many of the students switched over and many quit altogether.  One notable student was Dennis Clive's own brother who, citing disenchantment with the lack of loyalty, refused to make the switch and instead quit karate.  This series of events left about a half dozen students to continue Butokukan in the region.

Among those students were Harry and Joe Charalambous and Martin Erdman, all of whom were green belts and would periodically travel to Washington to receive instruction.  All three reached Shodan between 1974-1977.  From this point on, the style began to grow and prosper, with dojos opening in Vancouver, New Westminster, Surrey, Coquitlam, and other locations.  As well, Harry established a strong reputation by holding tournaments throughout the 80s and 90s and though he no longer holds open tournaments, there has been a focus of late on internal tournaments.

There have been more than fifty people who have attained Shodan in the area and a student base of more than 200.

Sensei Lloyd Philip

Sensei Lloyd began his studies of Butokukan Karate in 1979 under Sensei Joe Charalambous. He began assisting with teaching in 1982 when he received his green belt, and in 1983 after attaining his brown belt and began to teach classes once a week.

March 23, 1986 Sensei Lloyd tested for and received his Shodan. He then started teaching twice a week, once in Maple Ridge and once a week in Port Coquitlam.

In August 1989 Sensei Lloyd travelled to Bremerton and tested for his Nidan under Soke Hill. In 1990 he took over instructing the Port Coquitlam class full time.

After receiving Sandan in August 1994, Sensei Lloyd started making regular trips to Silverdale WA to workout with Sensei Hunt and later on with Shihan Olson. These workout sessions continued until Sensei Lloyd moved from BC to Tobago.

From 1996 to 1999 Sensei Lloyd held brown and black belt classes every other Saturday in order to pass on what he had gathered from his trips down south and to promote some form of unity among the groups in the area.

From 1996 to 2004, Sensei Lloyd held annual Butokukan tournaments in Port Coquitlam in order to assist students in their development.

Sensei Lloyd has also taught special classes in women's self defense and children's self defense for the Port Coquitlam recreation department.

Sensei Lloyd was promoted to Yondan in March 2000 and to Godan in Sept 2004.

In 2005 Sensei Lloyd moved and opened a new dojo in the city of Hope on the Caribbean island of Tobago. In February 2010 Sensei Lloyd tested and promoted one of his students in Tobago to Shodan. Sensei Lloyd now splits his time between the Hope and Port Coquitlam dojos.

In May of 2009 Sensei Lloyd created a Butokukan Manual including every aspect of a karateka's training from white belt up to black belt. This manual is now used by many students of all ranks including black belts.

Soke Robert Hill promoted Sensei Lloyd to Rokudan (6th Degree) on April 18, 2011.

Sensei Lloyd Philip's story is truly a great demonstration of the kind of commitment one needs to have to be successful at a style like Butokukan.

Sensei Harry Charalambous
  In 1970, Sensei Harry Charalambous began his study of karate under Sensei Dave Annal and Sensei Robert Long, from the States.

In 1971, there was growing discontent among the black belts in Canada. They felt that there was insufficient instruction and leadership, due to a lack of high ranking black belts in the immediate area. At this time some of the Butokukan members wanted to join a style called Shito-ryu. Sensei Junky Chung of Shito-ryu was invited to come from Seattle, to review the Butokukan Members and he agreed to accept the students at their present ranks. All of the black belts including Sensei Clive switched over, along with many of their students, among these was Sensei Jules Hospedales, who later, in 1976, returned to Butokukan and later received his shodan from Master Hill.

During the time of this break up, Harry Charalambous, Jules Hospedales, and Martin Erdman were all green belts. Harry and Martin decided to stay with Butokukan. Through travelling down to Washington State, they were able to work on techniques with other students. At this time they were working out in their parent's garage. They also kept in touch with Sensei Hill.

In 1972, a dojo was opened up on Hastings Street in Burnaby. From there they eventually moved to the church on Parker St. in Burnaby in 1977.

Sensei Harry received his Shodan from Master Hill on August 11, 1977, and opened up his first dojo in New Westminster in 1978. Then he opened a dojo in Kerrisdale and later one in Riley Park. Through other students from Sensei Joe's dojos, other dojos were opened in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, and Surrey.  These ones are now headed as independent dojos under Senseis Mike Clancy, Lloyd Philip, and James Sullivan, respectively.

( Any other information on separate dojos can be added to this current history - just leave an E-Mail message at the bottom of the Home Page )

Some History Links