History of Karate

Brief History of Karate:

According to legend an India Monk called Bodhidharma traveled to China around A.D. 520.  After visiting the emperor he traveled to the Shaolin monastery on the mountain of Sung-shan and began teaching Buddhism to the monks.  The practice of Buddhism required long periods of meditation which left the monks in poor physical condition.  Bodhidharma taught the monks Vajramushti; an Indian fighting art, to keep them fit and healthy.  This led to the monks becoming very skilled fighters.

In 1372 trade relationships were established between the Ming Dynasty of China and Okinawa.  Some forms of Chinese Martial Arts (developed from Vajramushti) were introduced to the Okinawans by visitors from China. A large group of Chinese families moved to Okinawa around 1392 for the purpose of cultural exchange including teaching martial arts.  In1609 Okinawa was invaded by a Southern clan of Japan.  Under Japanese occupation the Okinawans were not allowed to carry weapons or practice fighting arts.  This was to keep the local people under control.  This led to an underground resistance against the Japanese rulers.  The Okinawans turned to their farming tools and developed ways to use them as weapons.  At the same time there was an emphasis on developing unarmed fighting.

Japanese rule ended in 1872 which allowed Okinawan Karate to lift its veil of secrecy.  Karate was properly introduced to Japan in 1922 when an Okinawan; Gichin Funakoshi (the founder of the Shotokan Karate style) gave a demonstration of Karate at the All Japan Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo.  The interest gained led to several more demonstrations and Gichin Funakoshi decided to remain in Japan to teach karate.  Gichin Funakoshi’s first students were experts in different Japanese fighting arts such as Jujitsu.  These students took elements from their own arts and blended them with Gichin Funakoshi’s teachings.  Other Okinawan masters also went to Japan to teach other martial arts and they in turn also combined elements from different fighting systems.  This diversity would lead to creation of the four main styles of Karate;

·         Shotokan

·         Wado Ryu

·         Goju Ryu

·         Shito Ryu

Karate started to be introduced to other countries after World War Two.  It was at this time that Okinawa was used as a military base by the United States.  The locals would train the American service men as a source of income.  This led to Karate being introduced outside of Japan with some Japanese masters traveling to and some staying in countries in the west to teach Karate.



Shoto (松濤, Shōtō), meaning "pine-waves" (the movement of pine needles when the wind blows through them), was Funakoshi's calligraphy pen-name, which he used in his poetic and philosophical writings and messages to his students. The Japanese kan (, kan) means "house" or "hall". In honour of their sensei, Funakoshi's students created a sign reading shōtō-kan which was placed above the entrance of the hall where Funakoshi taught.  Gichin Funakoshi never gave his style a name, just calling it "karate".

Shotokan techniques in kihon and kata are characterized by deep, long stances that provide stability, enable powerful movements, and strengthen the legs. Shotokan is often regarded as a 'hard' and 'external' martial art because it is taught that way to beginners and coloured belts to develop strong basic techniques and stances. Initially strength and power are demonstrated instead of slower, more flowing motions. Those who progress to brown and black belt level develop a much more fluid style which incorporates grappling and some aikido-like techniques, which can be found in the black belt katas.  Kumite techniques mirror these stances and movements at a basic level, but are less structured, with a focus instead on speed and efficiency.

The differences between the different styles of Karate are relatively minor.  The differences can be as small as the position of the toes during a kick or a different name being given to a kata, to having different katas entirely.  It is important for students to be taught that no other style of Karate or Martial art is wrong or inferior, they are only different to their own art or style.  Effective performance, use and application of martial arts is more down to the practitioner and the training they do under their teacher than the style or art they practice.