General Club Info

Rank Examinations

Rank tests in Shotokan Karate are given only by official International Shotokan Karate Federation examiners.  Examinations are given on a monthly basis at the ISKF headquarters in Philadelphia, and on a quarterly basis at the Chester County Shotokan Karate Club in Thorndale, PA.  An examiner comes out to the West Chester YMCA approximately four times per year to administer examinations.  Eligible students can take examinations either at the Y or in Philadelphia or Thorndale; however, those taking an exam in Philadelphia or Thorndale must provide their own transportation. 

In order for a student to be eligible to take a rank examination she must have the permission of her Sensei.  She also will have trained a minimum of four months during which time she must have attended at least 30 classes (Younger students usually need more attendances to achieve the same level of eligibility). 

There is an annual ISKF membership fee (separate from fees paid to the Y) of $25.00, and a per exam fee of $30.00.  These examination and ISKF membership fees are paid just prior to taking any rank examination (The ISKF membership fee is paid only once each year). 


What Is Karate-Do?

Karate is a scientific and philosophical art of fighting that developed in the Orient over a period of many centuries.  The literal translation of the Japanese characters “kara” and “te” is “empty hand”.  Karate is an unarmed martial art, but the concept of empty hand includes also the philosophical meaning of rendering oneself empty of selfishness, wickedness, and worldly attachments.  The Japanese word “do” means “way” or “path” and implies the practice of a lifestyle aimed at spiritual development. 

As a fighting art, karate makes use of every part of the body for self-defense.  Attacks are evaded or blocked and countered by punching, striking, kicking, joint twisting, or throwing the opponent in such a way as to neutralize the attack.  Karate techniques, applied with full power by an expert, can cause fracture, internal hemorrhage, unconsciousness, or death. 

Modern karate has three basic aspects.  For some, it is a martial art of self-defense, for others it is a form of physical exercise, and for still others, it is a sport. 

As an art of self-defense, karate has a long and established history as an effective means of unarmed combat, incorporating techniques for defense against single, multiple, armed and unarmed opponents.  These centuries-old techniques have in recent years been analyzed scientifically and refined for maximum efficiency.  Diligent training in these traditional techniques will prepare the modern student of karate both physically and psychologically to defend against any antagonist.  As a martial art, karate also trains the mind and spirit of its participants to develop the qualities of character needed to deal with adversity and conflict of any kind. 

The use of karate techniques for aggressive or offensive ends is strictly prohibited and philosophically condemned.  Karate’s defensive techniques are highly developed, and can involve every part of the body.  Though most of these techniques are performed with the hands or arms, the feet and legs are also frequently used, and at more advanced levels blocking may be executed with other parts of the body as well. 

Karate is an excellent form of physical exercise and discipline.  Karate training works all the major muscle groups and contributes to all aspects of physical fitness.  Strength, endurance, flexibility, coordination, balance, and agility are all enhanced by regular training.  Mental and physical self-control and alertness are also developed.

Sport Karate is a relatively new phenomenon.  Because of the danger of the fully applied Karate techniques, students could not test their prowess against each other without inflicting physical damage.  Strength of properly executed techniques was tested by breaking boards and tiles, or in combat itself.  In recent decades, training techniques were developed to enable students to practice safely with each other.  Contest rules were established to provide karate players with the opportunity to compete against others and test their skills in both sparring (kumite) and forms (kata).  Fighting in these competitions is often restricted to advanced students who can perform karate techniques with the skill and self-control needed to avoid harming their opponents. 

While Karate can be a satisfying and very exciting sport, as a martial art it aims to develop not only physical prowess, but also the character of its participants.  Karate training emphasizes discipline, self-control, respect for others, sincerity, effort, and etiquette.  A student who has undertaken dedicated training with a qualified instructor will progress both physically and mentally.  By exerting this positive influence on the lives of its participants, Karate can make a significant contribution to society as well. 

A striking feature of Karate is the opportunity it provides for all people to participate.  There are no restrictions as to age, gender, or level of fitness.  Karate programs have been established for the mentally and physically handicapped as well. 

One need not even have a partner to practice.  In the old days, Karate training was limited to kata—formal exercises that consist of a series of prearranged defensive and offensive techniques, performed in a set sequence against multiple imaginary opponents.  Kata training is still a major aspect of Karate.  These kata can be practices alone, as can all basic Karate techniques.  For sparring, a partner becomes necessary in order to develop timing and distancing, but in the beginning no partner is needed. 

If one wishes to practice only to stay fit and train the mind and body, self-training can suffice.  A student who seriously wishes to master Karate as a martial art must do so at a proper dojo (training hall), however, with a qualified instructor. 

Because one can train without a special training place, equipment, or a partner, Karate offers great flexibility to its participants.  Those who are very weak or have special limitations can develop at their own pace.  Physical and mental development may be accomplished in a gradual and natural way; the student may even be unaware of the great progress being made.

Great strides in development are made possible through Karate training, but growth takes time.  If one practices for six months or a year in any martial art, some physical and spiritual development will occur, but to gain insight into the martial art, mastery of its techniques, and the refinement of the virtues of courage, integrity, humility, and self-control takes ten to twenty years, and frequently a lifetime.

The Japanese word for martial art is “budo”.  The character “bu” is written with the character for “stop” inside a character signifying conflict.  Thus, “budo” is the way of stopping conflict, both within oneself, and between oneself and others.  Karate is a martial art, or budo.  The meaning of this should be carefully considered, and the fists should never be used heedlessly.  “To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill.  To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.”

The History of Karate

Oriental martial arts are of ancient origin.  As far back as 3000 BC. There existed in India a warrior class that was taught unarmed combat.  Buddhist texts tell of at least three different systems. 

The founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism, Daruma Taishi (Bodhidharma), was born into the warrior class in India at the end of the 5th century BC.  As a boy, he was taught unarmed combat, but decided as a young man to become a Buddhist monk.  After several years of study, Daruma decided to travel and spread the teachings of the Buddha.  Eventually his travels led him to China, where he took up residence at the Shaolin monastery about 500 BC.

According to legend, when Daruma began to teach the monks at Shaolin, he found they were unable to absorb his teaching or to perform the difficult ascetic practices that were intended to lead to “satori” or enlightenment.  The monks’ very poor physical condition was their biggest impediment to progress.  Daruma began to teach them the system of exercises that he had learned as a boy, and a set of physical and mental disciplines known as the “I Ching Sutra”.  With this training, the monks eventually became the most formidable fighters in China.  The art they practiced became known in Chinese as Shaolin-szu kempo and in Japanese as Shorin-ji kempo.

The roots of modern Karate are found in Okinawa, the largest island of the Ryukyu chain.  Okinawa lies three hundred seventy miles from Taiwan, and five hundred miles from Foochow, China.

The Ryukyu Islands were divided into three kingdoms from the first to the 15th century, ruled over by chieftains who placed a high value on military skills.  Wars among the chieftains and their kingdoms were frequent, especially in the seventh and eighth centuries.  In the tenth century, many Japanese sought refuge in Okinawa from the Great War between the Taira and Minamoto clans in Japan.  Many of these refugees were warriors, and their fighting arts and skill were highly respected by the Okinawans, who at the time had no martial art systems as such.

Okinawa’s location in the East China Sea allowed social and commercial contact with China, Korea, Japan, Java, Sumatra, Siam, Arabia, and Malacca.  It is probable that seamen and traders from these regions introduced some of their own fighting arts to the Okinawans.

Shohashi, King of Chuzan, accomplished the unification of the three kingdoms around 1429.  In about 1470, Shohashi banned the possession of weapons by the people of the Fukyus, in order to protect his position as king.  This edict served to encourage the development of unarmed fighting methods and the use of peasant and fishing tools as weapons.  These arts were forbidden, and practiced only in secrecy.  Usually a master would teach one student at a time, training him at night so as not to be discovered. 

The Japanese clan of Shimazu conquered Okinawa in 1609.  In the process of colonizing, the Shimazu imposed a ban on weapons.  Even farming implements were under government control, being stored in special warehouses and checked in and out daily.  The Shimazu invasion and subsequent oppression unified the Okinawans against the Japanese.  Many of the individual “schools” of Okinawa-te, or do-de, as Karate was then known, united to form more systematic styles.  The major Okinawan styles by the middle of the nineteenth century were Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te (named after the locations in which they were developed and practiced as well as for the kinds of techniques that each emphasized). 

Three of the greatest Okinawan Karate masters at the end of the nineteenth century were Azato (Shuri-te), Itosu (Shuri-te), and Higaonna, (Naha-te).  The “father of modern karate”, Gichin Funakoshi, studied with all three of these masters, though primarily with Azato and Itosu.

Funakoshi was born in Shuri, Okinawa in 1868.  He began his study of Karate at the age of 11.  It was during his youth and young adulthood that Karate practice became publicly acknowledged.  As a teacher in the Okinawan schools, Funakoshi had the opportunity to help his master Itosu establish Karate as a physical education program in the public schools, as well as to participate in many demonstrations of Karate techniques.  While Karate was becoming popular in Okinawa, it was still virtually unknown in Japan. 

In 1917, Funakoshi was invited to Japan to lecture and demonstrate the Okinawan art of karate at a symposium sponsored by the ministry of Education (physical education in Japan at that time consisted largely of Judo, Kendo, and other martial arts training).  Funakoshi’s demonstration was very well received and he was invited to teach his art in Japan.  In 1922, Funakoshi returned to Japan to do so, and remained there for most of the rest of his life.  Jogoro Kano, the founder of Judo and a very influential figure in the Japanese martial arts, gave Funakoshi his support and invited him to teach at the famous Judo headquarters, the Kodokan. 

Karate became very popular in Japan, and Funakoshi traveled throughout the country lecturing and demonstrating his art.  Karate clubs were established at all the major universities.  Thousands of Japanese from many walks of life began to study the style of Karate taught by Funakoshi, which came to be known as Shotokan.  In 1955 Funakoshi and his senior Shotokan students formed the Japan Karate Association, with Funakoshi as Chief Instructor.  The Association was approved by the Ministry of Education as an educational corporation in 1958.  This made it possible for leading Shotokan Karate-ka (those who practice Karate) to share knowledge, research, and technical skills, and to establish systematic training methods and instructor’s programs.  Shotokan Karate, through the Japan Karate Association, has grown phenomenally since that time, and is now practiced in almost every country of the world.  In 1957, Gichin Funakoshi, the father of modern Karate, passed away at the age of eighty-nine.  Funakoshi was the Karate-ka primarily responsible for taking a little known Okinawan peasant fighting art and introducing it first to the people of Japan, and then to the world.  Thousands of karate-ka began their training under him, and many of the most accomplished Japanese Karate instructors were his students.  In Japan and elsewhere, Karate is widely studied by people of all ages and walks of life.  Karate is taught in private clubs, in the armed forces and to police, in colleges, in factories, and in corporate physical fitness centers.  From its humble beginnings Karate has become a world art.  

Principles of Karate

The essence of Karate is the merging of the physical, the mental and the spiritual. 

The physical principle of Karate is to deliver the greatest possible force, concentrated at the point of impact, with maximum speed. 

Karate does not require the same type of muscular strength that is used to lift a heavy weight.  The force of a Karate blow is generated by several muscles brought into play in a proper sequence.  For instance, the abdominal and pelvic muscles are powerful, but slow, while the muscles of the extremities are fast, but weaker.  To gather maximum force, the muscles of the hip and abdomen are activated first; this power is then transferred through the extremities to the point of impact. 

The time required to pass this power through the body becomes shorter through constant training.  Eventually, the process seems merely a blur.

Speed is of great importance, as is the concentration of power.  Even a great amount of strength will accomplish little if it is diffuse.  A small amount of strength, properly concentrated on a small area, can be incredibly powerful.  In Karate, this concentration is called “focus”.  The muscles of the body are tensed, but only at the instant of impact, and power is directed toward the point of contact. 

Another important principle of Karate is the use of reaction-force.  In physics we learn that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  In Karate, we punch or strike with one hand and withdraw the other simultaneously, adding the power of reaction-force to the technique being employed.  The rotation of the hips is also employed to add this force to techniques. 

Mental attitude is of great importance in Karate practice.  The Karate masters applied two phrases to describe the proper attitude: “mizu no kokoru” (a mind like water), and “tsuki no kokoro” (a mind like the moon).  To respond to an opponent, the mind has to be as calm as an undisturbed pond, maintaining the properties of clear flowing water.  And, just as moonlight shines equally on everything within its range, we must be calmly aware of our environment to be prepared for any possible move by an opponent. 

In most of Karate’s defensive techniques, the attacker’s hand, foot, or other weapon is struck, deflected, or in some way thwarted so as to render the attack harmless.  A special characteristic of Karate techniques is that they are performed with “focus.”  This means that the entire power of the body is concentrated for a very brief time at the point of contact of the technique, and then withdrawn. 

Another special characteristic of Karate is that even attacking techniques can be used directly for blocking.  The intention of offensive techniques in Karate is to render the attacker either unwilling or unable to continue his aggression.  Offensive techniques are never to be used against an opponent whose attacks pose no threat. 

As a sport, Karate is divided into two aspects: kata (forms) and kumite (sparring).  Kata are formal exercises that consist of a series of prearranged defensive and offensive techniques, performed in a set sequence against multiple imaginary opponents.  The kata include all the various techniques used in Karate for punching, striking, blocking, kicking, and body shifting.  The proper execution of a kata involves the use of appropriate timing, rhythm, speed, focus, awareness, and spirit, as well as the performance of correct techniques in proper sequence. 

Kumite may be prearranged or free-style.  In prearranged sparring, the attacker announces the target and the technique to be used, and the defender endeavors to block the attack and counter it.  One, three, or five attacks may be made, depending on the type of sparring being practiced.  All attacks in both prearranged and free-style kumite are stopped approximately one centimeter—or about one half inch from the target.

Free-style sparring, or Jiyu-kumite, resembles boxing in its action, though with a much greater variety of techniques involving both hands and feet.  Attacks are stopped short of contact, for obvious reasons.  A fully focused Karate technique could permanently injure, cripple or kill an opponent.  The ability to focus a strong technique just short of contact is a test of proficiency for the Karate athlete.

More highly regarded than technical skill in Karate is the development of character, sincerity, discipline, respect for others, and self-control.  Students show respect for their instructor and each other by bowing.  Students bow upon entering or leaving the dojo, to the teacher at the beginning and end of class, and to each other whenever two students practice together or spar.  

Since the beginnings of Karate, the development of virtue has been emphasized.  Gichin Funakoshi, the father of modern Karate, said “a true student of Karate is one who will practice daily throughout his lifetime and never find the necessity to use his knowledge in anger against another.  The ultimate aim of the art of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”  


Children's Tournaments

When Karate students compete against one another it provides a way for them to compare their abilities and progress with students of approximately the same age and ability level.  The International Shotokan Karate Association holds both adult and children’s tournaments several times a year.  The West Chester YMCA Shotokan Karate Club also invites children from other clubs out to compete with us in mini-tournaments (called shiai) from time to time. 

There is usually a formal ISKF children’s tournament held each Fall, and another each Spring.  Children of all ranks are usually eligible to participate and are encouraged to do so.  There is no contact allowed in Shotokan Karate Tournaments and in children’s tournaments this rule is strictly enforced. 

Over the past sixteen years, our club has participated in several children’s tournaments.  The tournaments not only give the children an opportunity to showcase their Karate skills, but they also give them an opportunity to meet other children who train Shotokan Karate, and to travel to other states and cities.  So far we have traveled to places like New York City, Philadelphia, Columbus, Ohio, Washington, D.C., Hampton Roads, Virginia, and Newport News, Virginia, and even Los Angeles, California with our Karate teams.  Our club has an excellent record in competitions, always receiving trophies in one age group or another, and often bringing home first place trophies for either sparring or kata — and sometimes for both. 

Once children reach the rank of brown and black belt, they are eligible to compete in national and international competitions.  Although the competition is keen to make either the regional team (for national competition) or the national team (for international competition), many of our up and coming students have a great shot at making it all the way to the top.

Adult Tournaments

The ISKF also holds several adult tournaments each year, but unlike children’s tournaments, in ISKF adult tournaments, only brown belts and black belts are eligible to participate.  Adult competitions consist of individual sparring and kata competitions as well as team sparring and kata competitions.  Tournaments are held on the collegiate level, regional level, and national and international levels.  Every two years the International Shotokan Karate Federation holds the ISKF World Cup which features competitors from all over the world.  Both children and adults compete in the World Cup, but to qualify a participant must be one of the best Shotokan Karate-ka in his or her country. 

Participation in tournaments enhances the Karate student’s Karate experience because it provides a way (other than rank testing) to measure progress, and because tournament training requires a heightened level of effort on the student’s part.  For those competing in any of the team events, developing or enhancing one’s ability to work well with others is also a must. 

Although competition is encouraged, it is not the ultimate goal in Karate.  For those who compete in tournaments it is always important to remember that “to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill.  To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.” 


Karate Club Activities

The West Chester YMCA Shotokan Karate Club is not just a Karate Club.  As part of the West Chester Area YMCA, the club is part of an organization dedicated to enhancing the lives of everyone in the West Chester Area community.  Part of the  mission of the West Chester Area YMCA is to improve the quality of life in our community by presenting programs which promote strong families, good health, youth development, and the acceptance of equality of all persons.  The guiding principles of ISKF Shotokan Karate, which emphasize the development of a participant’s character, effort, etiquette, self-control and sincerity, are in harmony with the goals of the YMCA. 

Over the years, the club has evolved into more than just a place to train Karate.  Each year we offer our students several activities designed to help them get to know each other better.  One year the club organized a bowling party, a pool & pizza party, trips to tournaments, a Halloween party, and a march through West Chester in the Old Fashioned Christmas Parade.  Frequently we invite guest instructors out to help us better understand Karate. 

This year we will bring back all of our old favorite activities and we’ll add some new ones.  Many students have been asking for a club camping trip.  Others would like to go with the club to an amusement park.  There has even been talk of organizing a softball, soccer, or football game (maybe we’ll do all three!).  We are also hoping to get everyone together for a picnic or cookout this Summer.  All in all we have a busy (and fun) year planned, the point of which is to make your Karate experience a pleasant and memorable one.