History of Karate

The History of Karate

Japanese Culture Karate

History of Karate

Karate is a Japanese word meaning "empty hands" which indicates that Karate is a kind of martial art that does not require weapons other than the parts of the body. Originally, it was a method of unarmed self-defense developed in the Okinawan Islands from various techniques introduced from mainland China, as well as local innovations. 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. Although its origin is obscure, a popular legend prevails that the evolution of karate began over a thousand years ago, possibly as early as the 5th BC when Bodhidharma arrived in Shaolin-si in China from India and taught Zen Buddhism. He also introduced a systematized set of exercises designed to strengthen the mind and body. This set of exercises 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. 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.
Karate was originally known as 'Kenpo', meaning 'First Law'. From China it crossed over to Okinawa, where known as 'Te', which consisted mostly of hand movements. In 1923 the Okinawans altered the Chinese character to a Japanese character. Thus, the meaning changed from 'hands of China' to 'empty hand'. This transition assuredly lea to a deeper meaning to the art in which the spiritual overcame the physical.

Te continued to develop over the years, primarily in three Okinawan cities: Shuri, Naha and Tomari. Each of these towns was a center 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, and 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 the same .Shorin-ryu was quick and linear with natural breathing while Shorei-ryu emphasized steady, rooted movements with breathing in synchrony with each movement.The Chinese character 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

In the last seven decades, the techniques have been modified into distinct Japanese styles. Today there are four main styles of karate-do in Japan: Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, Shotokan, and Wado-ryu:Many. These styles are currently taught in the world and are often modified into styles more suitable to their own methods of self defense. Thus the art of karate is constantly undergoing improvement and revision.

In its course of development, Karate has gradually come into prominence as a sport. In 1916, two experts form Okinawa, Kenwa Mabuni and Gigen Funakoshi introduced their techniques to Japan aiming at promoting Karate as a sport throughout Japan. As a sport, Karate offers many different levels and types of competition. A typical tournament would include demonstrations of breaking, weapons use, self defense techniques, tradition and open forms and the most exciting competition, sparring. Competitive tournaments bring together many different styles of Karate.   

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eKnow Inc. Staff, Joined eKnow Inc. in 2008 as a part time content editor

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