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Karate History

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 very 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.

Legends of the past
The evolution "Tode" or "Chinese Hand" as it was once called, into what we know today as "karate" or "the empty handed way", has involved the contributions of a great many past Masters, including those of both Chinese and Okinawan lineage.
Some of these Masters are know to us today through their deeds, or in some cases through the deeds of their students. Other Masters, however, are lost to us forever, since they either practiced in solitude and were unknow to the world at large, or they produced no students who went on to greater things.
While always acknowledging in our hearts the contributions made by these unknown Masters, just a few of the well known Masters whose contributions have stood the test of time as as follows:
Takahara Peichin
1683 - 1760
Born in Shuri, Okinawa, the actual dates of Takahara's birth and death vary depending on the source, but the most commonly held dates covering the span of his life are 1683 - 1760.
As a member of the upper class of Okinawan society Takahara was both well traveled and well educated during his lifetime. He was reputed to be a student of Chatan Yara (1668 - 1756) who was himself a master of Okinawan weapons and whose legacy lives on in katas such as "Chatan Yara no Kon Sho", "Chatan Yara no Sai Sho", and "Chatan Yara no Sai Dai". Takahara's most famous student was "Tode" Sakugawa.
(dates unknown)
A Chinese envoy to the island kingdom of Okinawa, Kushanku had a brief but substantial influence on the life of one of the greatest masters of all time "Tode" Sakugawa. It has been said that they first met around 1756 when as a young man Sakugawa attempted to push Kushanku off a bridge, only to find himself bested and on the receiving end of a lecture on the proper behaviour of young men towards their elders. The meeting was to be a fortuitous one for Sakugawa and it was to change his life forever, as soon after the episode on the bridge he became a student of Kushanku's.
Shortly after Kushanku's death Sakugawa developed the kata "Kushanku" and named it in honour of his former teacher, today the kata is known as one of the longest in the Shotokan syllabus and is referred to as "Kanku Dai" or "Looking to the Sky". There are many versions of this kata in circulation today and it is one of the oldest known katas in existence.
1782 - 1862+
Born in Shuri, Okinawa the actual dates of Sakugawa's birth and death vary depending on the source. The most commonly held dates covering the span of his life are 1782 - sometime around 1862.
"Tote" Sakugawa was a pupil of a Buddhist monk Takahara Peichin and for a brief period of time studied under the Chinese master Kushanku. During his brief time with Kushanku he travelled with him to study in China returning to Okinawa where he introduced his fighting style to the local community. In time he would become known as the "Father of Okinawan Karate" and amongst his legacy is the concept of the dojo kun, the kata "Kushanku" which he named in honour of his former teacher, which is today known in the Shotokan syllabus as "Kanku Dai" or "Looking to the Sky".
His proficiency with the bo is also with us today in the form of the kata "Sakugawa no Kon Sho." One of Sakugawa's principal students was Sokon Matsumura, the son of a prominent family Matsumura was himself to go on to became one of Okinawa's greatest karate teachers, and the founder of the Shuri-te style which was later to evolve into a style known today as Shorin-Ryu.
(no known photograph of Matsumura exists )
1809 - 1896+
Born on Okinawa the actual dates of Matsumura's birth and death vary depending on the source but the most commonly held dates covering the span of his life are 1809 - sometime after 1896, the year in which he celebrated his 88th birthday.
Matsumura was born into the upper class of Okinawan society and first started studying under the great master "Tode" Sakugawa. During Matsumura's lifetime he like may of the other great masters traveled to China where it is said he studied for a time under Iwah. He was later in life to encounter a man named Chinto after whom he was later to name a kata of his own design.
Amongst his many students was Yasutsune Itosu later to be known as one of the early teachers of Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of the Shotokan who would one day be recognized as the "Father of Modern Karate". Matsumura is said to have had a hand in formulating the katas Chinto, Wansu, Passai, and Seisan. It was Matsumura who took Shuri-te that extra step and created the style we know today as Shorin-Ryu.
Yasutsune Azato
1828 - 1906
Born in the town of Azato, the actual dates of Master Azato's birth and death vary depending on the source, but the most commonly held dates covering the span of his life are 1828 - 1906.
Having been born into the upper class and having family members who were of very high rank within Okinawan society made it much easier for azato to enter into the world martial arts. An expert in many forms of Budo, Master Azato despite his own skill, was to gain fame in a more indirect way, and that was as one of the two primary teachers to the future "Father of Modern Karate", Sensei Gichin Funakoshi.
(no known photograph of Itosu exists )
1831 - 1915
Born in Shuri, Okinawa in the town of Shuri the actual dates of Itosu's birth and death vary depending on the source but the most commonly held dates covering the span of his life are 1831 - 1915.
Itosu at an early age was taken to study under "Bushi" Matsumura. It is from Itosu's and also Yasutsune Azato's style of Shuri-te that Gichin Funakoshi later developed the style we know today as Shotokan, while another of Itosu's students Kenwa Mabuni, would later go on to create the style known today as Shito-Ryu. Itosu was said to have given the first public demonstration of karate in Okinawa in 1903 and he was a large factor in karate being introduced into the Okinawan public school system. Various sources credited Itosu with using the kata, "Kushanku" to create the Pinan, or Heian katas as they are known in Shotokan today.
Today, however, there is a widely growing belief that the truest source used by Itosu for the creation of the Pinan and Heian katas were much earlier known katas, more commonly referred to a "root katas". In addition to his skill, Itosu was said to be noted through out Okinawa for his legendary strength.  
November 10, 1868 - April 26, 1957
Sensei Gichin Funakoshi, known world wide as the Founder of Shotokan Karate-Do, was born in Shuri, Okinawa in Yamakawa-cho district on November 10, 1868.
The official district records, however, show that his birth took place in 1870, but he in fact falsified his own records in order to be able to take the Tokyo medical school entrance exam. In spite of passing the exam Sensei Funakoshi never did become a member of the medical profession.
Born a frail child many members of his family felt he was destined for a short life and uneventful life. Little did his family know just how long, and how important his life would be.
It was during his early primary school years in his life he was introduced to the study "Tode" or "Chinese Hand" under Master Yasutsune Azato, as it was thought that the art of karate might strengthen him and improve the quality of his life.
A good student Funakoshi flourished under the tutelage of Master Azato to whose home he travelled each evening to practice karate. Later Master Azato would introduce him to another important teacher under whom he would also study, Master Yasutsune Itosu. It was these two men more than any others, who would have the greatest impact on his life.
No longer interested in entering the medical school it was while studying karate that Gichin Funakoshi decided to become a school teacher, and so after passing the qualifying examination he took charge of his first primary school class in 1888. It was a profession he was to follow for more than thirty years.
A high point in Gichin Funakoshi's karate took place on March 6, 1921 when he had the honour of demonstrating the art of "Okinawan te" to then Crown Prince Hirohito during a visit he made to Okinawa. Then, in the Spring of 1922, Gichin Funakoshi traveled to Tokyo where he had been invited to present his art of Tode at the First National Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo which had been organized by the Ministry of Education. After the demonstration he was strongly urged by several eminent groups and individuals to remain in Japan, and indeed he never did return to live in Okinawa.
As it had in Okinawa, the educational system of Japan was to become a major factor in the spread of karate. By 1924 Gichin Funakoshi had started to introduce karate to several of the local universities, first at Keio, followed by Chuo, Tokyo, and Waseda to name but a few. It was through these universities that he was able to reach a much larger audience and this contributed greatly to the growing popularity of karate.
Master Funakoshi was finally establish the Shotokan dojo in 1936, a great landmark in the history of karate. Sensei Funakoshi was not only a genius in martial arts, but he was also a literary talent, and he signed all of his works "Shoto" which was his pen name. Hence, the dojo or school where he taught came to be known as "Shoto's school" or "Shotokan" which ultimately was adopted as the official name for his style of karate. Sensei Funakoshi combined the techniques and katas of the two major Okinawan styles to form his own style of karate. As a result, modern day Shotokan includes the powerful techniques of the Shorei style of karate, as well as the lighter more flexible movements of the Shorin style of karate.
The original Shotokan Dojo
In the beginning Sensei Funakoshi taught only sixteen katas, they were: Kankudai, Kankusho, five Heian katas (known in Okinawa as Pinan katas), three Tekki katas (known on Okinawa as Naihfanchi katas), Wanshu, (later to be known as Empi), Chinto, (later to be known as Gankaku), Patsai, (later to be known as Bassai), Jitte, Jion, and Seisan (later to be known as Empi) since he felt that sixteen katas were more than enough for one lifetime.
After the end of the Second World War, karate was slowly revived, and a major step forward took place when the Japan Karate Association (JKA) was established in 1949, with Sensei Funakoshi appointed by the organization as it's first Chief Instructor due to his advanced skills and leadership capabilities. Although Sensei Funakoshi was famous as a great karate master he was also a very humble man. During his lifetime he emphasized three major aspects of karate-do above all else and that was, basic technique, kata, and the development of spiritual values leading to the perfection of the character of karate's participants.
Memorial to Master Gichin Funakoshi, in Kamakura, Japan
(Photo courtesy of Sensei Thomas Casale, 5th Dan, JSKA-USA)
After training, and teaching the art of karate for more than seventy-five years, Master Gichin Funakoshi passed away in Tokyo, Japan on April 26, 1957 at the age of 88.

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 center 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 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, 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:
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.

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).

Shotokai is a non-competitive martial art that tries to empower people to improve themselves through practicing Karate-do. The majority of our practices focus on distance and timing and strive for personal development. When I say the style is non-competitive, I am referring to the fact that we do not stress the sporting aspects of the Martial Arts. We do not participate in competitions (kata or kumite), but stick to the traditional Japanese way of Martial Arts.  Shotokai was founded by Master Gichen Funakoshi (the father of modern day karate), but was later developed to focus more on internal strengths than just physical ones, by Master Shigeru Egami. The current Master of Shotokai in Great Britain is Master Mitsusuke Harada (Wales). Master Harada was a private student of both Funakoshi and Egami. Master Harada was awarded Shotokai's highest grade, 5th Dan, by Funakoshi in 1956. Master Harada is the Founder and Chief Instructor to the Karate-Do Shotokai (KDS) of Great Britain.

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 techniques.

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 strong stances.

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 discipline.

Muteki Karate-Do is a cross style of Martial Art.  It was developed by a woman to suit smaller, weaker bodies.  It takes numerous parts of different Martial Arts so that the body is split up into several regions of fighting machines.  It focuses on Self-defence as well as traditional Kata, Kumite, etc.



Copyright Trieda Hill/Muteki Karate-Do 2005
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