Karate History

Karate

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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.
map of chinaOkinawa 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. 
chartIn 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 calledOkinawa-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.

kangi symbols

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.

(Nagamine,1976)

 
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 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.

History of Karate

Karate history can be traced back some 1400 years, to Daruma, founder of Zen Buddhism in Western India. Daruma is said to have introduced Buddhism into China,

incorporating spiritual and physical teaching methods that were so demanding that many of his disciples would drop in exhaustion. In order to give them greater strength and endurance, he developed a more progressive training system, which he recorded in a book, Ekkin-Kyo, which can be considered the first book on karate of all time.

The physical training, heavily imbued with Daruma’s philosophical principles, was taught in the Shaolin Temple in the year 500 A.D. Shaolin (Shorin) kung-fu, from northern China, was characterized by very colorful, rapid, and dynamic movements; the Shokei school of southern China was known for more powerful and sober techniques. These two kinds of styles found their way to Okinawa, and had their influence on Okinawa’s own original fighting method, called Okinawa-te (Okinawan hand) or simply te. A ban on weapons in Okinawa for two long periods in its history is also partly responsible for the high degree of development of unarmed fighting techniques on the island.

In summary, karate in Okinawa developed from the synthesis of two fighting techniques. The first one, used by the inhabitants of Okinawa, was very simple but terribly effective and, above all, very close to reality since it was used throughout many centuries in real combat. The second one, much more elaborate and impregnated with philosophical teachings, was a product of the ancient culture of China. These two origins explain the double character of Karate–extremely violent and efficient but at the same time a strict and austere discipline and philosophy with a nonviolent emphasis.

Master Gichin Funakoshi

Gichin Funakoshi

 

 

The Influence of Master Funakoshi

Master Gichin Funakoshi was the first expert to introduce karate-do to mainland Japan, in 1916. One of the few people to have been initiated into all the major Okinawan karate methods, Master Funakoshi taught a synthesis of the Okinawan styles, as a total discipline. This method became known as Shotokan (literally “House of Shoto,” Funakoshi’s pen name). Because of the great popularity of the style in Japan and, later, around the world, Funakoshi is widely considered to be the “father of modern karate-do.”

The Influence of Tsutomu Ohshima

Tsutomu Ohshima was one of Master Funakoshi’s last direct pupils (1948-1953), studying under him while attending Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. In 1955 Mr. Ohshima came to the United States and was the first person to teach karate to the US public. By 1959 the Southern California Karate Association (SCKA) was formed, which has grown over the years to become a nationwide organization, Shotokan Karate of America, and Mr. Ohshima’s influence on karate is felt around the world.

Despite the secluded nature of Mr. Ohshima’s early US practices, knowledge of his teachings quickly spread and membership steadily increased. In August of 1957 Mr. Ohshima was asked to demonstrate Karate during the intermission of the annual Nisei Week Judo Tournament, held in Koyasan Hall in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles. This was the first public demonstration of traditional Shotokan karate in the United States, and has since become an annual SKA activity. In 1958 a separate karate tournament was added as part of Nisei Week under the direction of Mr. Ohshima. The Nisei Week tournament is now the oldest annually held karate tournament in the United States, and is still presided over by Mr. Ohshima.

Ron Thom (SKA President), Tsutomu Ohshima (Shihan), John Teramoto (BBC President), Norman Welch (Canada Shotokan President)

In addition to the formation of the SCKA, several other events of historical importance to Shotokan Karate of America occurred in 1959. In July the first US Special Training was held. In December Mr. Ohshima awarded six of his students the rank of shodan (first degree black belt), making them the first American-trained black belts in Shotokan karate. (These honored six were Caylor Adkins, George Murakami, Mas Norihiro, Jordan Roth, Roe Suzuki, and George Takahashi.)

In 1960, three years after the death of Master Funakoshi in Japan, Mr. Ohshima led the Waseda Karate Club black belts on a tour of Okinawa and its karate experts. This was the first official visit by students from the Japanese mainland since before the Second World War.

A key event in the history of US karate occurred in 1967 when Mr. Ohshima brought the first organized group of karateka (karate practitioners) from America to tour and demonstrate in Japan. During their two weeks in Japan, this group of 36 black, brown, and white belts (including two from Canada and two from Europe) left a strong impression of the high degree of development that karate had attained in the United States. This visit created much interest in American karate among Mr. Ohshima’s seniors in Japan. In 1968 Mr. Ohshima invited Senior Isao Obata, the first Captain of the Keio University Karate Club, to the United States. During his stay Senior Obata personally observed and educated Mr. Ohshima’s students.

In 1970 five SKA members (Jon Beltram, Don DePree, Jeff Klein, Ron Thom, and Henry Wilkerson) were honored by being selected to the United States team representing America in the first World Karate-do Championships held in Tokyo, Japan. Their outstanding performance enhanced the international reputation of Shotokan Karate of America.

Another visit of major importance from Japan occurred in 1973, when Mr. Ohshima and SKA invited Senior Shigeru Egami to the United States. SKA organized a massive demonstration for Senior Egami, and he honored us by lecturing and educating our members.

During 1975, because of SKA’s committed involvement with the Amateur Athletic Union, the entire responsibility for the Third World Karate-do Championships was thrust upon us. Participants from 35 countries traveled to Long Beach, California, for the event. It was an enormous and difficult task, but it ultimately enhanced our goal of spreading the ‘way’ of karate by increasing communication, heightening understanding of karate, and gaining constructive viable relationships with martial artists and leaders from all parts of the globe.

In 1975 SKA invited Senior Tadao Okuyama to visit the United States to observe our members. He also personally led Mr. Ohshima in daily practices.

To commemorate our 20th anniversary in 1976 SKA held a memorable celebration, including a public demonstration and tournament. High-ranking karate experts from all over the world came to honor the occasion. Various speeches and awards were made, including a presentation to Mr. Ohshima of a special plaque by Councilman Bob Farrell on behalf of the City of Los Angeles for his unselfish devotion to karate, his students, and the public for over twenty years. We were especially honored by the presence of Senior Kamata-Watanabe from Japan, who accepted our invitation to attend. Senior Kamata-Watanabe spoke to our members, emphasizing that all members of SKA should be proud of our association with Mr. Ohshima for his work over the last twenty years in developing the strongest and most traditional karate organization following the teachings of Master Funakoshi.

The highlight of the 20th anniversary took place at the special dan (black belt rank) promotion personally administered by Senior Kamata-Watanabe with Mr. Ohshima at the Melrose Dojo in Los Angeles. In the tense atmosphere of the dojo crowded with SKA black belt observers, three men (Caylor Adkins, Sadaharu Honda, and Daniel Chemla) became the first individuals outside of Japan to be awarded the rank of godan (fifth degree black belt), the highest that can be achieved. This event marked the coming of age of Shotokan Karate of America!

Karate history can be traced back some 1400 years, to Daruma, founder of Zen Buddhism in Western India. Daruma is said to have introduced Buddhism into China, incorporating spiritual and physical teaching methods that were so demanding that many of his disciples would drop in exhaustion. In order to give them greater strength and endurance, he developed a more progressive training system, which he recorded in a book, Ekkin-Kyo, which can be considered the first book on karate of all time.

The physical training, heavily imbued with Daruma’s philosophical principles, was taught in the Shaolin Temple in the year 500 A.D. Shaolin (Shorin) kung-fu, from northern China, was characterized by very colorful, rapid, and dynamic movements; the Shokei school of southern China was known for more powerful and sober techniques. These two kinds of styles found their way to Okinawa, and had their influence on Okinawa’s own original fighting method, called Okinawa-te (Okinawan hand) or simply te. A ban on weapons in Okinawa for two long periods in its history is also partly responsible for the high degree of development of unarmed fighting techniques on the island.

In summary, karate in Okinawa developed from the synthesis of two fighting techniques. The first one, used by the inhabitants of Okinawa, was very simple but terribly effective and, above all, very close to reality since it was used throughout many centuries in real combat. The second one, much more elaborate and impregnated with philosophical teachings, was a product of the ancient culture of China. These two origins explain the double character of Karate–extremely violent and efficient but at the same time a strict and austere discipline and philosophy with a nonviolent emphasis.

             

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