Karate is a martial art developed in the Ryuku Islands, now Okinawa, Japan.
Its roots can be traced to an Indian martial art known as “Vajramushti” and China’s “Kung fu.” Vajramushti is the unarmed fighting system studied by Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma was a member of the warrior caste, “Kshatriya,” in India.
He studied both martial arts and Buddhism becoming adept at both. He ultimately became a monk and is said to have come to China in the middle of the Sixth century to help strengthen Buddhism. Legend has it, that he settled in Hunan province’s Shaolin Monastery. There he is said to have found the monks beleaguered by a lack of physical fitness and under the continuous threat of attack by robbers. He taught them a series of exercises called “Shih pa lo han sho,” or the “eighteen hands of the Lo-Han.” These physical drills combined China’s own martial arts evolved into Shaolin Kung Fu.
As Kung Fu spread throughout ancient China it reaches Okinawa sometime around the late sixth or seventh century during the initial periods of cultural exchanges between Okinawa and China.
During the ensuing centuries a series of Chinese martial arts where brought to Okinawa either by Chinese emissaries sent to Okinawa or by Okinawan emissaries returning to the Ryukus. The martial arts that generally used punches and kicks were called “To De” in English “Chinese Hand.”
The Japanese character for Chinese Hand 唐手 is pronounced “kara-te,” was later changed to 空手 meaning “empty-hand” by Chomo Hanagi in his book Karate Soshu Hen.
Gichin Funaskoshi used the same Japanese character when he introduced Okinawan Karate to Japan in 1922.
He when on to say, “As a mirror’s polished surface reflects whatever stands before it and a quiet valley carries even small sounds, so must the student of Karate render his mind empty of selfishness and wickedness in an effort to react appropriately toward anything he might encounter. This is the meaning of kara, or ‘empty,’ of Karate.”
This is a very brief outline of the history of karate. More will follow in future postings.
1 Gichin Funakoshi, Karate-do Kyohan The Master Text (Tokyo, New York, San Francisco 1973), pp. 3
2 Bruce A. Haines, Karate’s History and Traditions (Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan 1968), pp. 24 – 25
3 Ibid., p. 26 – 27
4 Masutatsu Oyama, What is Karate? (Tokyo, Japan 1958), pp. 20
5 Bruce A. Haines, Karate’s History and Traditions (Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan 1968), pp. 15
6 Hirokata Toyama, Karate-do (Tokyo, 1958), pp. 24
7 Gichin Funakoshi, Karate-do Kyohan The Master Text (Tokyo, New York, San Francisco 1973), pp. 13