There is a lot of misinformation out there regarding
the history of karate. I have examined several websites as well as
texts. The following information is taken from
http://188.8.131.52/history, it is well researched and remains
objective. Additionally, the corroborating evidence is quite
substantial compared to most other sources.
Most Western students of Asian martial arts, if they have done any
research on the subject at all, will surely have come across references
to Bodhidharma. He is known as "Daruma" in Japan and as often as not,
this Indian Buddhist monk is cited as the prime source for all martial
arts styles or at the vary least, for any style which traces its roots
back to the fabled Shaolin Temple. However, the question of his
contributions to the martial arts and to Zen Buddhism and even of his
very existence has been a matter of controversy among historians and
martial arts scholars for many years (Spiessbach,1992).
As legend has it, the evolution of karate began over a thousand years
ago, possibly as early as the fifth century BC when Bodhidharma arrived
in Shaolin-si (small forest temple), China from India and
taught Zen Buddhism. He also introduced a systematized set of exercises
designed to strengthen the mind and body, exercises which 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. In truth, the origins of karate appear to be
somewhat obscure and little is known about the early development of
karate until it appeared in 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. Surrounded by coral, Okinawa is approximately 10 km (6
mi) wide and only about 110 km (less than 70 mi) long. It is situated
740 km (400 nautical mi) east of mainland China, 550 km (300 nautical
miles) south of mainland Japan and an equal distance north of Taiwan.
Being at the crossroads of major trading routes, its significance as a
"resting spot" was first discovered by the Japanese. It later developed
as a trade centre for southeastern Asia, trading with Japan, China,
Indo China, Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo and the Philippines.
In its earliest stages, the martial art known as "karate" was an
indigenous form of closed fist fighting which was developed in Okinawa
and called Te, or 'hand'. Weapons bans, imposed on the
Okinawans at various points in their history, encouraged the refinement
of empty-hand techniques and, for this reason,was trained in secret
until modern times. 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 sect of society: kings and nobles, merchants
and business people, and farmers and fishermen, respectively. For this
reason, different forms of self-defense developed within each city and
subsequently became known as Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te.
Collectively they were called Okinawa-Te or Tode,
'Chinese hand'. Gradually, karate was divided into two main
groups: Shorin-ryu which developed around Shuri and Tomari and
Shorei-ryu which came from the Naha area. "It is important to note,
however, that the towns of Shuri, Tomari, Naha are only a few miles
apart, and that the differences between their arts were essentially
ones of emphasis, not of kind. Beneath these surface differences, both
the methods and aims of all Okinawan karate are one in the same"
(Howard, 1991). Gichin Funakoshi goes further to suggest that these two
styles were developed based on different physical requirements
Funakoshi, 1935). Shorin-ryu was quick and linear with natural
breathing while Shorei-ryu emphasized steady, rooted movements with
breathing in synchrony with each movement. Interestingly, this concept
of two basic styles also exist in kung-fu with a similar division of
characteristics (Wong, 1978).
The Chinese character used to write Tode
could also be pronounced 'kara' thus the name Te was replaced
with kara te - jutsu or 'Chinese hand art' by the Okinawan
Masters. This was later changed to karate-do by Gichin
Funakoshi who adopted an alternate meaning for the Chinese character
for kara, 'empty'. 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 moral and spiritual connotations.
The concept of Do has been prevalent since
at least the days of the Okinawan Scholar Teijunsoku born in 1663, as
this passage from a poem he wrote suggests:
The first public demonstration of karate in Japan was in 1917 by Gichin
Funakoshi, at the Butoku-den in Kyoto (Hassell 1984). This, and
subsequent demonstrations, greatly impressed many Japanese, including
the Crown-Prince Hirohito, who was very enthusiastic about the Okinawan
art. In 1922, Dr. Jano Kano, founder of the Japanese art of Judo,
invited Funakoshi to demonstrate at the famous Kodokan Dojo and to
remain in Japan to teach karate. This sponsorship was instrumental in
establishing a base for karate in Japan. As an Okinawan "peasant art,"
karate would have been scorned by the Japanese without the backing of
so formidable a martial arts master (Maliszewski, 1992).
No matter how you may excel in the art of te,
And in your scholastic endevours,
Nothing is more important than your behavior
And your humanity as observed in daily life.
Today there are four main styles of karate-do in Japan: Goju-ryu,
Shito-ryu, Shotokan, and Wado-ryu:
Goju-ryu developed out of Naha-te, its popularity
primarily due to the success of Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1915). Higaonna
opened a dojo in Naha using eight forms brought from China.
His best student, Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953) later founded Goju-ryu,
'hard soft way' in 1930. In Goju-ryu much emphasis is
placed on combining soft circular blocking techniques with quick strong
counter attacks delivered in rapid succession.
Shito-ryu was founded by Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952) in
1928 and was influenced directly by both Naha-te and Shuri-te. The name
Shito is constructively derived from the combination of
the Japanese characters of Mabuni's teachers' names - Ankoh Itosu and
Kanryo Higaonna. Shito-ryu schools use a large number of kata, about
fifty, and is characterized by an emphasis on power in the execution of
Shotokan was founded by Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) in
Tokyo in 1938. Funakoshi is considered to be the founder of modern
karate. Born in Okinawa, he began to study karate with Yasutsune Azato,
one of Okinawa's greatest experts in the art. In 1921 Funakoshi first
introduced Karate to Tokyo. In 1936, at nearly 70 years of age, he
opened his own training hall. The dojo was called Shotokan after
the pen name used by Funakoshi to sign poems written in his youth.
Shotokan Karate is characterized by powerful linear techniques and deep
Wado-ryu, 'way of harmony', founded in 1939 is a system
of karate developed from jujitsu and karate by Hienori Otsuka as taught
by one of his instructors, Gichin Funakoshi. This style of karate
combines basic movements of jujitsu with techniques of evasion, putting
a strong emphasis on softness and the way of harmony or spiritual