Although karate originated as an Okinawan martial art, it was eventually to become a Japanese one through the efforts of Gichin Funakoshi, born in Shuri in 1868, the year of the Meiji Restoration. He was of noble lineage from a family which, in former times, had been patrons of Ryukyu nobles. He began learning karate at an early age under two great masters, Yasutsune Azato and Anko Itosu. A schoolteacher by profession, Gichin Funakoshi organized the first public demonstration of karate in Japan in 1917 at the Butoku-den in Kyoto. In 1921, he was asked to arrange a demonstration for the Crown Prince Hirohito, during the prince's visit to Okinawa. The Crown Prince was very much impressed by the event. In 1922, Gichin Funakoshi returned to Japan at the request of the Ministry of Education to demonstrate at the first National Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo. This demonstration was so well received that many prominent people asked him to remain in Japan to teach karate. Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, invited Gichin Funakoshi to the Kodokan where he taught karate to Kano's advanced students and privately to Kano himself. It was through his dealings with Jigoro Kano that he adopted the belt system (created by Kano) as well as the use of the lightweight cotton gi (uniform).
       Gichin Funakoshi remained in Japan and by 1924, he was teaching karate in many universities. Funakoshi Sensei also started practicing Zen Buddhism. Eventually, he changed the name of karate-jutsu (Chinese hand technique) to karate-do (way of the empty hand). He even changed some of the Okinawan kata names, giving them new Japanese names instead; for example Pinan became Heian. He then listed the Nijukun, or "Twenty Precepts," presenting a philosophy of karate. And, in 1936, the first official Shotokan dojo was opened.

Gichin Funakoshi
"Father of Modern Karate"
       Masotoshi Nakayama, born in 1913, began his karate training in 1932 at Takushoku University. After a long stay in China, he returned to Japan and was instrumental in the establishment of the Japan Karate Association in 1949. Nakayama Sensei was responsible for developing the rules of tournament karate for both kata and kumite. He also helped establish the first two-year specialist instructor training program. In 1957, the JKA was approved as a legal entity by the Japan Ministry of Education. Gichin Funakoshi died only a couple of weeks later at the age of 89. Following Funakoshi Sensei's death, Masotoshi Nakayama officially became the Chief Instructor of the JKA. He is probably best known for his work in the 11-volume series entitled Best Karate, which many shotokan karateka still consider to be the "Bible of JKA karate." Ultimately, it was through Nakayama Sensei's efforts that JKA karate spread from Japan to the rest of the world.
Yoshitaka (Gigo) Funakoshi
       When Gichin Funakoshi's assistant, Takeshi Shimoda, died in 1934, Funakoshi's third son, Yoshitaka (Gigo), was asked to replace him. Gigo was given a major part of the teaching responsibilities and imparted many innovations. His stances were much lower, favoring fudo-dachi (immoveable stance), and he preferred the use of long attacks, like oi-zuki (lunge punch). He developed new ways of kicking, using higher knee lifts for higher level kicks. He developed the hanmi ("half body") position when blocking and punching, with emphasis on large hip rotation. Gigo is also largely responsible for the Taikyoku kata, Wankan, and Ten no Kata. It was Gigo who first created gohon-kumite (five-step sparring). By 1933, he had developed kihon-ippon-kumite (basic one-step sparring), quickly followed by jiyu-ippon-kumite (freestyle one-step sparring). In 1935, jiyu-kumite (free-sparring) was born. Unfortunately, in 1945, due to the terrible conditions during World War II, Gigo died at the young age of 39 of tuberculosis, a disease that had plagued him since his youth.
Itosu & Higaonna School
Kenwa Mabuni
High stances and fast hand techniques
Many kata and weapons forms
Hard-Soft School
Chojun Miyagi
Combines hard and soft movements
Focus on breathing and conditioning
Hall of Pine Waves
Gichin Funakoshi
Low stances & direct linear techniques
Non-contact, focus on kihon & kata
Way of Harmony School
Hironori Otsuka
Uses soft evasive movements
Many jujutsu locking techniques
Kanbun Uechi's School
Kanbun Uechi
Similar to Chinese styles
Based on the tiger, dragon, crane
Shorinji-ryu (Kenkokan)
Shaolin Temple School
Kaiso Hisataka
Focus on follow-through of technique
Use of heel kicks, weapons, koshiki combat
Way of a Thousand Years School
Tsuyoshi Chitose        
Similar to traditional Chinese arts
Full contact, protective gear
Ultimate Truth Group
Masutatsu Oyama (Korean)
Focus on combat effectiveness
Few kata, full contact (no protection)
One Heart/One Mind School
Tatsuo Shimabuku
High stances and snapping techniques
Focus on close fighting and weapons
       Although Gichin Funakoshi is considered to be the "Father of Modern Karate" due to his part in popularizing the art of karate in Japan, Shotokan certainly wasn't the only style that developed. Many other schools of karate proliferated at various stages of the mid-20th century. The following is a list of some of the more common styles that are still practiced today.
Masatoshi Nakayama
The first Shotokan dojo (1936)