What is Karate?

Legend has it, the evolution of Karate began over a thousand years ago, possibly as early as the fifth century B.C., when a Buddhist monk by the name of Bodhidharma arrived at the Shaolin temple in China, from India, where he taught Zen Buddhism. He also introduced a set of exercises designed to strengthen the mind and body, exercises that allegedly marked the beginning of the Shaolin style of temple boxing. Bodhidharma’s teachings later became the basis for the majority of Chinese martial arts. Little was known about the early development of Karate until it appeared in Okinawa.

Okinawa is a small island of the group that comprises modern day Japan. It is the main island in the chain of Ryuku Islands, which spans from Japan to Taiwan. Being at the cross road of major trading routes, its significance as a ‘resting spot’ was first discovered by the Japanese. It later developed as a trade centre for south East Asia, trading with Japan and China amongst others.

In it’s early stages, the martial art known as “KARATE” was an indigenous form of closed fist fighting which was developed in Okinawa called “Te”, or “hand”. Further refinement came with the influence of other martial arts brought by nobles and trade merchants to the island. Te continued to develop over the years, primarily in three Okinawan cities: Shuri, Naha and Tomari. Each of these towns was a centre to a different section of society: kings and nobles, merchants and business people, and farmers and anglers, respectively. For this reason, different forms developed within each city and subsequently became known as: Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te, collectively they were called “To-de” “Chinese Hand”. Gradually, two main groups were formed: Shorin-Ryu, which developed around Shuri and Tomari and Shorei-Ryu from the Naha area.

The Chinese character used to write To-de could also be pronounced ‘Kara’ thus Te with Kara-te Jutsu or ‘Chinese hand art’ by the Okinwan masters. This was later changed to Karate-do by the Japanese who adopted an alternative meaning for the Chinese character. From this point on the term, Karate came to mean ‘Empty Hand’. The ‘Do’ in Karate-Do means ‘way’ or ‘path’, and is indicative of the discipline and philosophy of Karate with its moral and spiritual connotations.

The first public demonstration of Karate in Japan was in 1917 by Gichin Funakoshi, who was also instrumental in changing the name to KARATE-DO.

Today there are four main styles of Karate-Do in Japan:

Shito-Ryu founded by Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952)
Goju-Ryu founded by Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953)
Shoto-Kan founded by Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957)
Wado-Ryu founded by Hironori Otsuka (1892-1982)

The art of karate develops and enhances physical abilities that would take a multitude of sports to develop. Students improve balance, coordination, muscle tone, cardio-vascular conditioning, timing, rhythm, hand-eye coordination, hand-foot coordination and flexibility…. All that, and self defence as well. You won’t learn most of this lifting weight or running on a treadmill at a gym!

It is a striking art using punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes, and open-handed techniques such as knife-hands. Grappling, locks, restraints, throws, and vital point strikes are taught in some styles. A karate practitioner is called a karateka. It wasn’t until 1922 when the Japanese Ministry of Education invited Gichin Funakoshi to Tokyo to give a karate demonstration. In 1924 Keio University established the first university karate club in Japan and by 1932, major Japanese universities had karate clubs. In this era of escalating Japanese militarism, the name was changed from 唐手 (“Chinese hand”) to 空手 (“empty hand”) – both of which are roughly pronounced “karate” – to indicate that the Japanese wished to develop the combat form in Japanese style. After the Second World War, Okinawa became an important United States military site and karate became popular among servicemen stationed there – these same servicemen led the widespread globalisation of the discipline and sport.

The martial arts movies of the 1960s and 1970s served to greatly increase its popularity and the word karate began to be used in a generic way to refer to all striking-based Oriental martial arts. Karate schools began appearing across the world, catering to those with casual interest as well as those seeking a deeper study of the art.

What is Shukokai Karate?

Shukokai is a style of karate based upon Shito-ryu, one of the original forms of karate with roots the date back over three hundred years to Okinawa. Shukokai inherits the characteristics of both the Naha-te and Shuri-te styles of Okinawan Karate. Kenwa Mabuni merged the techniques and principles of the styles he learned from his teachers Kanryu Higaonna, and Anko Itosu to form his Shito-Ryu style of Karate and officially founded in 1931 by Kenwa Mabuni. Soke Chojiro Tani (1921-1998) took the Shito-ryu form and enhanced it over many years, finally forming what we now know as Shukokai in his first dojo in Kobe, Japan in 1946.

As such, Shukokai combines the circular breathing techniques from Naha-te and the quick linear movements of the Shuri-te styles. This is apparent in the katas performed within Shukokai. Katas like Sanchin, Tensho, and Suparunpei are handed down from the Naha-te traditions, while katas like Annanko, Matsukaze, and Bassai-Dai are handed down from the Shuri-te traditions. Upon close examination, one can see the similarities between Tensho, Sanchin, and Suparunpei, and the similarities between Bassai-Dai, Annanko, and Matsukaze, and what makes the Naha-te katas different from the Shuri-te katas.

Also notable is the relatively high number of katas within Shukokai. This is a direct result of Master Mabuni’s experience with both the Naha-te and Shuri -te styles, and the reason why he was renowned throughout Japan as the foremost expert on kata. Another attribute that distinguishes Shukokai Karate from other styles is the execution of techniques.

While Shukokai shares many of the same punches, kicks, and blocks found in other popular styles of Karate, it is in how these are executed that sets Shukokai apart. Sensei Tani made the greatest contributions to the style by continually refining each technique to the highest degree, essentially re-defining the basics that had been practiced for centuries. He made the study of body mechanics his primary focus with the end result being the delivery of the greatest impact with the least amount of effort. Shukokai was designed around the study of body mechanics, and is famed for its ‘double hip twist’ to maximise the force of its strikes. Due to this, Shukokai is known as one of the hardest-hitting Karate styles. Tani redesigned the Shito-ryu kicking and punching methods to maximise the benefit from plyometric (elastic property) contraction of the muscles. The style is very fast using a relatively high stance to aid mobility. Another defining characteristic is that each technique must be combat effective.

Sensei Tani believed that a technique, no matter how powerful, was useless if it could not be delivered under combat situations. His philosophy was that the outcome of a confrontation should be decided in a single technique, “one hit one kill”, as per the way of the samurais of old.

After the death of Tani Sensei, his son Mr. Hiroshi Tani, and many Senseis and instructors from other countries announced themselves as top of their respective Shukokai groups.

Over the years there have been many different meaning for the name Shukokai. Depending on the context each symbol that goes to form the name, has a slightly different meaning. In a martial arts contact the most appropriate meaning is

SHU – The study of martial arts
KO – People with a common cause, coming together
KAI – Association

Essentially Shukokai means “an association where people come together to study Martial Arts

Can anybody train?

Generally, a student taking up karate can start from the age of six years and upwards. Younger children will find the technical aspects of karate extremely difficult to cope with. A child of four or five does not normally have the required concentration to last an hour’s class. (Be wary of clubs that teach four years of age up and upwards – money is generally the only motive)!

Generally, karate is suited to men and women of all ages and physique. We would recommend however, that a person over the age of sixty years have a general health check by their doctor before enrolling on a course. Fitness is not an issue – this is normally gained through training and patience is the key! Anyone with particular health concerns should consult the instructors about their approach to training

It aims to develop character, humility, confidence, self-esteem, self control, determination and patience. No other physical discipline offers so much.

What should I expect in my first lesson?

Complete beginners who have little knowledge of Karate can naturally be apprehensive about taking the first step and going to their first lesson. Everyone in the class has been through this experience and knows what it feels like – so expect to feel welcomed – every student will try their best to help you feel at ease.

It is understandable that you might not be sure about this step, so uniquely the first THREE lessons are FREE to a new student which ensures you get a full insight into what to expect at future lessons and can make up your mind as to whether Karate at Ilkley Karate Club is for you.

You will need to wear loose fitting clothes like tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt. Once you have taken a few lessons you will need to formally join, by filling in the application form and paying the membership fee. Your first karate uniform, known as a Gi, is included with the membership fee. Once you have joined, all your uniforms and equipment can be purchased from this site – virtually always for cheaper than you’ll be able to source yourself.

Is it Dangerous?

Of course the sport is very physical, but injuries are rare due to the controlled way in which it is practised. There is always a trained first-aider present during all training sessions and competitions – just in case.

Is my child safe?

SSKU instructors must have a thorough knowledge of not only teaching Karate techniques but have training in emergency first aid procedures and are CRB vetted.

What are the benefits of Karate training?

The physical training required to reach a high level of skill in Karate promotes overall good health, fitness and well-being. The concentration, commitment and dedication required, help build a strong, confident and determined character. There is a ‘Dojo Kun’, or training code, which not only ensures a disciplined training environment, but serves as a tool for improving behaviour, so that a true Karate-ka will only use their fighting skills as a last resort.

How often do I have to train?

As often or as little as you want! Naturally the more you put in the more you get out, and practise does make perfect – but it is fully understood that we all have busy life schedules that can make it difficult. You will make progress as long as you can commit yourself to at least a couple of lessons a month, but should aim for one a week.

When do I get my first belt?

You will get your first belt (white) when you formally join the club and receive your first Gi. Naturally everyone progresses at different rates, but typically after about 2-3 months of training you will be ready to take your first Grading to Red belt.

What is the significance of the coloured belts?

Karate coloured belts were first copied by Sensei Gichin Funakoshi from a similar mechanism in Judo. A typical urban myth is that your belt gets darker the hard you work and hence the progression from white to black. There is no evidence this was ever the case.

Shukokai Karate adopts a 10 grade (known as Kyu) belt system before reaching black belt.
• White – 9th Kyu
• Yellow – 8th Kyu
• Orange – 7th Kyu
• Green – 6th Kyu
• Blue – 5th Kyu
• Purple – 4th Kyu
• Brown – 3rd, 2nd and 1st Kyu
• Black – Dan

How long will it take to achieve my black belt?

For every student that trains the answer to this question is always different. On average a student can, by passing every grading, and by training regularly, attain black belt in four years. However, it is more likely to attain this high level within five years.

Many people place a lot of emphasis on “getting to black belt” but it is not as important as developing a strong character and a good, strong physical condition. A black belt is representative of the skills learnt over years of practice and to the strength of character a student has developed in this time. Virtually all people who have achieved a dan grade will tell you that it categorically is a journey not a race and that you start learning all over again when you reached 1st Dan!

What about competitions?

Karate is an exciting and challenging sport. Club members are actively encouraged to compete if they wish to do so. We participate in many competitions throughout the year at various levels. There are club and Regional events for all ages and grades, with opportunities for selection to the Welsh Squads. There are separate championships for children and students in full-time education at Colleges and Universities.

How do I “Grade”?

Every three months of training a student at Ilkley Karate Club can, if they wish, attempt their next level of grade (up to brown belts). In the grading they will have to demonstrate their technical skills and ability to use those skills against an opponent. ‘Gradings’ are useful to guide a student up through various stages towards black belt and beyond and are useful for students who like to set “goals” with which to advance further. There are nine grades to attain before black belt (see What is the significance of the coloured belts?)

No student is ever pushed into taking a grading and only if a student is ready is a grading assessment considered.

Please bring SSKU Karate Licence (or receipt if not received in time) and grading fee otherwise you will not be able to grade.

There is a small additional charge for each grading – circa £18-20

What is common Dojo etiquette?

Clean white Karate suit (Gi) must be worn; not more than one badge may be worn on the front of the jacket and no markings of any kind on the back of the jacket or trousers.
No watches, rings, earrings, chains, necklaces, bracelets may be worn.
Fingers and toe nails must be kept short and clean at all times; hands and feet must always be kept clean.
Before entering and leaving the Dojo (training hall), bow from the waist.
Address any teaching instructor as “Sensei” whilst in the Dojo and any senior grade as “Sempai”.
“Oss” is a sign of respect and is used generally in karate, especially in the following situations:
upon receiving any advice or command from the instructor
when bowing at the start and finish of class
when bowing to your partner in kumite (sparring)
The KARATE-KA must always respect an opponent, never losing his temper no matter how an opponent may have behaved; Karate-Ka of inferior grade to oneself must be treated with consideration.
Turn off mobile phones and pagers whilst in the Dojo
Visitors are always welcome, subject to their observing the above rules, where applicable.



  • How did you find out about the club? Were you approached by someone (canvasser, school visit) or did you see an advertisement in the local paper or leaflet through the post? Most reputable clubs will either put an ad in the paper or a leaflet through the post, but nothing that involves high pressure

  • Is the club/organisation reputable? How much do you know about the club and its Instructors? There are many martial art instructors in the UK (even locally), who are not what they claim to be: they may wear black belts or a black belt with a white stripe through it, but they may not be qualified at all. These so called instructors might only be the equivalent of yellow, orange, green or blue belts and have a limited amount of experience if any at all.

  • Are the Instructors bona fide? All reputable Karate Instructors throughout the UK should be registered with a recognised Governing Body via there Association e.g. Karate England is the only Governing Body for Karate that is recognised by the Sport England (formerly the Sports Council).

  • Why do you need to belong to a Governing Body? A Governing Body is required to oversee that all martial art Instructors are fully qualified and insured. You can check all other governing bodies for all sports via e.g. the Governing Body for Tae Kwon Do is The British Tae Kwon Do Council. If they club isn’t afflicted to the respective Governing Body then you should ask why as it could have much wider implications.

  • Is the Association a non-profit organisation? Unfortunately a majority are NOT. The Shito-Ryu Shukokai Karate Union which the Ilkley club is part of is one of a select few that are.

  • Does the Instructor hold a First Aid qualification? If not, why not? All bona fide Instructors MUST hold the basic first aid qualification and have the usual refresher courses.

  • Is the Instructor or Instructors insured? All Instructors/coaches must hold the current Professional Indemnity Insurance as well a personal indemnity insurance, which must be produced on request and is usually displayed with all of the above on a notice board. If an Instructor does not have the above insurance then you could be putting either yourself or your child at risk.

  • Has the Secretary of the Hall or Centre done the relevant checks? Most places have a martial arts policy i.e. they assess all of the above factors before allowing a martial arts club to use the premises.

  • Do you feel you are paying a lot of money? If you feel you are paying a lot for fees and equipment then shop round as the club could be linked to a marketing company and you could be paying large sums of money for very little in return.

  • Have you shopped around? Check out other clubs in the area and compare? Does the Instructor grade the students or are they graded by a high-ranking karate instructor with plenty of experience?

  • Are my grades including black belt recognised at National level? Before taking up any martial art you should check this out if the black belt is your main goal. You could end up with belts that aren’t recognised beyond club level including black belts. This in turn would make the belts taken worthless and a waste of time.

  • Does the club compete or allow its students to compete? Most martial arts clubs offer the option to compete, however if they don’t they could have something to hide.

  • If you like to compete could you be selected for the National Team? If the club were a one-man band outfit or a style that has been made up then this would be very unlikely. If a student has potential then they should be given every opportunity to progress to National and International level.

  • How long has the Karate Instructor been doing karate? Most instructors usually have over 10 years experience. Ask to see their karate licence which will confirm the length of time. All Instructors and students should hold an up to date karate licence to prove their grade, this also covers their own personal insurance.


    Make sure you ask all the right questions, as there are unfortunately many Martial Arts Instructors in the UK who are NOT what they claim to be.