Itsou is often criticized for weakening karate due to the changes he instigated but, at the time, Karate was dying and without his changes it may have died. Itsou will have had no idea that his “children’s Karate” was due to become one of the world’s most popular martial arts. Itsou later saw the problems caused by the changes. In 1905, he wrote, “You must decide whether your kata is for cultivating health or for its practical use.” He encouraged his adult students to, “Always practice kata with its practical use in your mind.”
In the mid 1930’s, Gichin Funakoshi, a student of Itsou’s and the founder of Shotokan karate, led a movement to gain national recognition for karate from Japan’s leading martial arts association, the Butoku-Kai. After numerous meetings and demonstrations, Karate was finally granted national recognition, but there were a number of conditions attached. The Butoku-Kai insisted that Karate develop a unified teaching curriculum, distance itself from its Chinese origins, adopt a standard training uniform (a lightweight Judo gi was decided upon), assign a system of ranking (the kyu-Dan grade system of Judo), develop a system of competition, and to further reduce some of the more violent methods employed. Funakoshi and his group were successful in these tasks and karate gained national recognition and hence continued to spread.
These changes were vital if karate was to continue to grow, but again they had a negative effect on the combative aspect of the Karate patterns. The more potent techniques and methods contained within the patterns were further obscured due to the concerns at the brutality employed. The birth of competition and of the grading system eventually resulted in many practitioners being more concerned with the artistic look of the pattern to win trophies and pass exams. Competitive sparring also resulted in karate beginning to focus on the defeat of the opponent in competition, as opposed to the defeat of a violent and untrained attacker in actual combat. Had these changes had not been made, it is unlikely that karate would ever have left Okinawa. Patterns contain all the principles and methods of the original fighting art, and if we wish to practice the original art all we need to do is alter the way we approach performing the patterns.