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Widely known as a Japanese Martial Art, Karate actually has its roots in China.

We pride ourselves on having a direct lineage to the founders of Shotokan Karate.  An advanced rank at our dojo will have a direct line to the Founder of Shotokan Karate.

Traditional Shotokan Karate is an ancient art, continually improved by modern science, ever-evolving and changing.  We do our best to bring the most quality instruction to our karate students.  At the Missouri Karate Association, we only test under the most Senior Instructors of Sensei Nishiyama.  


Although the island of Okinawa is regarded as the birthplace of karate, it’s origins can be traced back further - to China.


In the sixth century, the legendary Indian monk Bodhidharma, is said to have travelled to China to spread the doctrine of Zen Buddhism. Having been refused an audience with the emperor, he settled in the Shaolin monastery. Here he found the monks too physically weak to follow his strict meditation regime.


To remedy this, be began to teach a series of physical exercises. At the time, monasteries were centers for learning and were frequented by political and military leaders who saw the possible martial applications of the exercises being taught. Over time the exercises developed into a fighting system that was to become known as kung fu.



Okinawa (now a Japanese prefecture) has always held a position of importance, being a stepping-stone between China and Japan. The island has historically had cultural, political and military exchanges with both countries. One of the more notable exchanges took place in 1392, when 36 families from China settled on Okinawa, most likely bringing with them knowledge of kung fu.


These fighting methods were adapted and further developed by the Okinawans and came to be known as te (meaning “hand”) or to-de (written to mean “Chinese hand” and pronounced kara-te in Japanese). One contributing factor to the development of te as an unarmed fighting art was a number of successive weapons’ bans imposed by domestic and invading rulers between the 15th and 17th centuries.



Over time different styles of te developed to suit practitioners with different physical attributes. Three key styles are Shuri-te, Tomari-te and Naha-te, named from villages in Okinawa where the styles were popular. The Shuri-te and Tomari-te styles specialized in light, fast techniques while the Naha-te style focused on strong, heavy techniques.


Master Sokon Matsumura (1797-1889) founded the Shorin-Ryu style of karate which combines elements of Shuri-te and Tomari-te. Two of his students of note were Ankoh Azato (1827-1906) and Ankoh Itosu (1832-1915) who practiced Shuti-te and Naha-te respectively. These two experts had a student in common named Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) who would become known as the father of Shotokan karate. He combined the principles of both styles in an attempt to create a well-balanced style that could be easily learned by all.





Gichin Funakoshi (his pen-name was “Shoto”, hence “Shoto-kan” meaning Shoto’s club) was a schoolteacher, and in conjunction with Itosu and others had karate introduced to the Okinawan school system. In 1921, he led a demonstration for the then Crown Prince Hirohito who was passing through Okinawa on his way to Europe.


As a result of the interest shown by the Crown Prince, Funakoshi received invitations from various groups in Tokyo to demonstrate his art. Invitations came from, among others, the Ministry of Education and the Kodokan (judo’s headquarters). These demonstrations lead to the establishment of many clubs, most notably in Japan’s universities.


During this period (1920’s-40’s) what was to become known as “Shotokan” continued to be developed by Funakoshi and his senior students, especially his son, Yoshitaka (1906-1945). In order for karate to be accepted as a Japanese art (and not an Okinawan import) certain changes were necessary. One of these was to change the characters used to spell karate so that the meaning became “empty hand” rather than “Chinese hand”. Other requirements were the adoption of a standardized grading system and a standardized training uniform.


As a result of the Second World War, many of the top karate experts were either killed or stopped training. As Japan gradually recovered after the war and formal training resumed, it became apparent that much knowledge had been lost. In 1948 a meeting was held between some of the remaining top karate practitioners in Japan to pool their knowledge and standardize what was being taught. This meeting resulted in the formation of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1949, with Funakoshi as chief instructor.


Founder of Shotokan


Master Gichin Funakoshi
( 1868-1957 )

Master Gichin Funakoshi was born in Shuri, Okinawa in 1868. As a boy, he was trained by two famous masters of that time. Each trained him in a different Okinawan martial art. From master Yasutsune Azato he learned Shuri-te. From master Yasutsune Itosu, he learned Naha-te. It would be the melding of these two styles that would one day become Shotokan karate.

Funakoshi Sensei is the man who introduced karate to Japan. In 1917 he was asked to perform his martial art at a physical education exhibition sponsored by the Ministry of Education. He was asked back again in 1922 for another exhibition. He was asked back a third time, but this was a special performance. He demonstrated his art for the emperor and the royal family!


After this, Funakoshi Sensei decided to remain in Japan and teach and promote his art.

Master Funakoshi passed away in 1957 at the age of 88. Aside from creating Shotokan Karate and introducing it to Japan and the world, he also wrote the very first book on the subject of karate, "Ryukyu Kempo: Karate-do". He also wrote "Karate-Do Kyohan" - The Master Text, the "handbook" of Shotokan and he wrote his autobiography, "Karate-Do: My Way of Life". These books and his art are a fitting legacy for this unassuming and gentle man.

Master Hidetaka Nishiyama

( 1928-2008 )


Master Nishiyama was considered to be one of the great masters and pioneers of Japanese Traditional Karate. He began his study in 1943 at the age of fifteen, with Master Gichin Funakoshi, the man who introduced Okinawan karate to Japan. At that time, karate was not yet popular. Other martial arts, such as judo and kendo were taught as compulsory classes in Japanese middle schools, similar to American phys-ed classes. After a difficult search he found master Funakoshi and his karate dojo in Tokyo. He continued his study from Funakoshi after he went to college.


In the late 40's the American Strategic Air Command (SAC) Special Forces began combat training in judo, aikido and karate. In a recent interview, master Nishiyama related some of the events of that time period.

"We were invited to the American bases to instruct... I was the youngest. Every time we went to the bases we were expected to give demonstrations. These were very tough; I had to break many boards so pretty soon my hands and forearms were in a bad state. This happened 3 or 4 times a day. Eventually I couldn't move my arms."


According to a student of master Nishiyama, "...many times the American instructors would present Mr. Nishiyama with very thick boards that had been soaked in water. Mr. Nishiyama never failed to break these boards and never once asked his seniors to break them for him." Although this was a difficult time for Master Nishiyama and his fellow karate enthusiasts, it helped him realize that karate could be spread internationally. They were subsequently invited to the United States in 1953 to tour every SAC base in the U.S. and Cuba.


Master Nishiyama later became one of the original founders of the Japan Karate Association, home of the famous JKA Instructors School which has produced some of the most famous karate masters in the world: Kanazawa, Enoeda, Shirai and Mikami. In 1960 he published "Karate: The Art of Empty Hand Fighting". It is still considered the definitive text on the subject and the best selling karate book in history.




Traditional Karate Organization

The Shuhari Institute is a new karate organization based on the concept of the developmental stages of Shu Ha and Ri.  The Institute’s mission is to advance Traditional Shotokan Karate by promoting technical excellence, encouraging individual innovation, and supporting creative mastery.


The Institute is in the process of developing Programs & Initiatives including technical guides, videos, seminars, and other events. The institute welcomes and encourages interaction between styles and organizations as a means to developing and supporting the art of Traditional Karate.


Want to learn more about the Shuhari Institute?

Sensei Chris Smaby

Sensei Christopher Smaby (8th Dan JKA, 8th Dan USKF) has been in the Martial Arts for over 50 years. He has been formally trained exclusively by Japanese Instructors and is one of the most senior students of world-renowned Hitetaka Nishiyama, 10th Dan, JKA International. Mr. Smaby is also is qualified to instruct Kyusho-Jitsu/Daito Ryu Jujitsu. Additionally Mr. Smaby has created “Personal and Professional Safety for Women” self-defense classes.


Mr. Smaby received his first formalized training from Sensei Sugiyama in Chicago. Instruction also included two years with Master Enoeda in England while in the Air Force. In 1975 Mr. Smaby began his constant training with Master Nishyama.


Mr. Smaby also received instruction from the following high ranking masters. Senseis Nakayama, Kanazawa, Shirai, Yamguchi, Kase, Ueki, Oishi, Kawazowe, Iida, Okazaki, Mikami, Obata, Tanaka, Yaguchi, Kato, Asano, Katsumata, Iwakabe, as well as Master Mabuni for Shitoryu style, and Master Seiu Oyata from RyuKyu Kempo Okinawan Karate. Mr. Smaby is also trained in Judo, Bojitsu, Kendo, Iiado, and Aikido.


In 2012, Mr. Smaby participated in a 10 day training program in Okinawa with 10 of the world’s most senior Senseis of Okinawan Karate.


LAW ENFORCEMENT: Mr. Smaby is the full time Police Training Specialist for the Cedar Rapids Police Department. Previously he had been Training Officer for the Sheriff’s Department for 27 years and 22 years with the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy.


INSTRUCTOR OF: Defensive Tactics, Violence Intervention/Use of Force, Linn County Immediate Response Unit, Iowa Law Enforcement Academy, Defensive Tactics and Fitness, Cedar Rapids Police Academy, and Iowa State Patrol.


CERTIFICATIONS: ILEA Firearms Instructor, ILEA Chemical Munitions Instructor, F.B.I. Law Enforcement Fitness Instructor, ILEA Defensive Tactics, ILEA Fitness Instructor, TASER Instructor, Certified Instructor of R.A.D. (Rape Aggression Defense), and Certified Instructor of NRA Refuse to be a Victim.


QUALIFIED INSTRUCTOR OF: Straight Baton P.P.C.T. Systems, Edged Weapon Defense P.P.C.T Systems, Side Handle Baton P.P.C.T. Systems, Active Counter Measures Systems, Armaments Systems/Procedures, Inst. ASP Crowd Control - by Monadnock Corp, Kansas City. Police Academy Weapon Retention Systems Defensive Tactics Instructor certified by Justice Training Association, Pressure Point Control Tactics Management Systems


UNIVERSITY OF IOWA: Masters Degree:Body Mechanics/Fitness Education. MINNESOTA STATE UNIVERSITY: Bachelor of Science: Fitness Education/Business Administration NATIONAL CRISIS PREVENTION INSTITUTE, INC. MEMBER OF: International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA)

Sensei Toru Shimoji

Sensei Toru Shimoji (5th Dan) is the chief instructor at Traditional Karate Atlanta. Sensei Shimoji has over 3 decades of internationally recognized teaching experience. He served as the president of the American Amateur Karate Federation (AAKF) from 2009 to 2011 and is currently a member of its Technical Board.


Mr. Shimoji received his Dan rankings and instructor certification from his teacher, Hidetaka Nishiyama (a direct student of Master Gichin Funakoshi – the founder of our system). Mr. Shimoji additionally holds a B.S. in Kinesiology from UCLA.


Among his notable achievements, Sensei Shimoji is the head coach for the US National Team, World Kata Champion of the 2000 Nishiyama Cup in Moscow, and silver medalist at the 2002 ITKF World Championships in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.


Sensei Shimoji is also an accomplished sculptor. His sculptures can be viewed at his art website.

—courtesy of Jinsendo Karate


"Teaching is an art form. I would say that human beings basically learn by watching, hearing, or doing. Each person has his/her tendency or preferred modality of learning. So I try to identify the learning style of the student (visual, auditory or tactile) and then hone in to get the message across. I also identify the source of motivation, which helps me to further fine-tune my communication with the student. Of course, even with your best efforts, you still lose students. The process of learning to be a good teacher is dynamic and ever-evolving."


Sensei Avi Rokah

Sensei Avi Rokah is the traditional karate world's most sought after instructor.


He studied daily under Master Nishiyama for 27 years.


  • 1994 World Champion

  • 5 times US National kumite (fighting) champion ('90, '91, '92, '94 & 2001)

  • Winner of numerous regional, state and other international competitions

  • Sensei Rokah teaches many seminars annually throughout Europe and North America and is looked by Nishiyama followers as the heir of the master.

—courtesy of Rokah Karate

Studying under Nishiyama Sensei, Avi Rokah (8th Dan) became a highly acclaimed international competitor, thoughtful student of karate and instructor at his own dojo. Beyond competition, his passion is in learning and improving karate and sharing its beauty. Many karate experts consider sensei Rokah the finest and most knowledgeable karateka after his teacher master Nishiyama. Sensei Rokah is a gifted, devoted and patient instructor who spends his waking hours finding better ways to teach his many dedicated students.


"I studied under Sensei Nishiyama daily and full time for the past 27 years, while I study I run my dojo and taught many hours. He passed away on November 7, 2008. I competed successfully for 27 years nationally and internationally, but my passion is in learning and improving karate and sharing its beauty."

Sensei Nishiyama
Senior Instructors
Sensei Shimoji
Sensei Smaby
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