Karate-do History


History of Karate-do

There are no known written records about the origins of the martial art known as karate-do. It is known however that it came to Okinawa from China. The origins of this Chinese method of fighting is found in a discipline set by the Indian monk Boddhidharma who is also known as Da Mo in Chinese and Daruma Taishi in Japanese who set forth from the western shores of India, (Kerala) to China, the destination being the Shaolin Temple. Boddhidharma was well versed in Kalarippayattu a martial art of South India, rich in Yogasans or Yogic Postures that bring forth the union of the body and the mind.

Boddhidharma who is considered the 28 patriach in the tradition of Gautam Buddha and the first patriach of the Zen Sect was surprised when he saw that the trainee monks could not withstand the rigourous training necessary for his type of Buddhism. It was therefore felt that in order for the monks to bear the rigours of travel, they needed to not only have a healthy body and mind, but also learn to defend themselves against both wild creatures as well as thieves and bandits. Boddhidarma's task was therefore to shape them up. The method that he set for the monks is laid down in the Ekkin Sutra of the Dhamapada or the holy scriptures of Buddhism. By conjecture we understand that the martial arts of the Shaolin Monastery also spread with Buddhism along the silk route with the merchants of China, many of whom also learnt the art from the monks.

Amongst the regions where Buddhism spread were the Ryukyu Islands, a group of Islands now called Okinawa which is off the coast of Japan and where Chinese influence through trade and culture was the greatest. Okinawa originally consisted of the small kingdoms of Chuzan, Nanzan & Hokuzan. Being unified by king Sho Hashi of Chuzan in 1429 a prohibitory order was issued banning all Ryu Kyuans from possessing weapons. A similar order was also promulgated in 1609 by Shizuma of the Satsuma clan of Kageshima after they gained control of Okinawa. Therefore the only method of self defence was the method called To-te or Hand of Chinese origin, which was as yet unknown to the mainland Japan and hence practiced secretly. I n the Ryukyu Islands this martial art underwent great developement especially the provinces of Shuri, Naha and Tomari. In Okinawa it became Okinawa-te. Upon coming to know about this art, the rulers from mainland Japan banned it's practice, It is because of these bans that the art got it's mystique and legends of great karate warriors were born. Since it could not be learned legally there were no dojos nor any professional instructors. The only ones who taught the art did so because of their interest in it and accepted a few students in secret. There was therefore no emphasis on written descriptions of techniques. The arts took on a local hue and came to be known as Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te after the provinces.

The calligraphy for Bushi Do or the Way of the Warrior

Supreme Master Gichin Funakoshi often considered as the father of Modern Day Karate was born into a Samurai Family in 1868. He was very weak as a child and to improve his health his father took him to Azato Yasutsune a good friend who knewthe martial arts. During Funakoshi's childhood the art was banned and at first he was Azato's only student.He trained under both Azato and Itoso Yasutsune who were great warriors. Years later he also trained under a great many other Senseis like Piechin Kiyuna,Niigaki and Sokon Mastumura. With the martial art training Master Funakoshi's health not only improved but he became a very adept martial artist. and by the time he completed his education and became a teacher himself, Master Funakoshi was appointed Chairman of Shobukai the Martial Arts Association of Okinawa.

Over the years exponents from both Shuri- te and Tomari-te developed their own schools to the extent that one could see the concievable differences with the art practiced in the Naha prefecture. The Shuri and Tomari schools keeping more to the hardline training methods became known as Shorin- ryu. The school being named after the place of the monks who brought the art to Okinawa viz Shaolin temple. Not to be outdone by their compatriots from Shuri and Tomari, the exponents from Naha called their school - Shorei ryu or the school of the Enlighten Spirit
It was only in 1902 when Shintaro Ogawa the commissioner of schools in the Kagoshima Prefecture after witnessing an exhibition of Karate, submitted a report to the Ministry of Education in Japan about the benefits of the training in karate, that Karate became a part of the curriculum in schools and began to be practiced freely in Japan. The martial art gained tremendous popularity after Master Funakohi performed in Okinawa before the Crown Prince of Japan in 1922. This exhibition of the empty handed art of fighting led to him being invited to perform at the Royal Court in Japan. The response to his demonstration in Japan was so great that he was persuaded to stay on in Mainland Japan. Amongst those who persuaded him to stay on was Master Jigoro Kano the founder of Judo who gave him the necessary help to teach the art for the first time in Japan.
     In his early days in Tokyo, Japan, he stayed at a dormitory for Okninawan students living in a small room by the entrance. His humble charectar could be as he would clean the place while the students attended class during the day and he would instruct them in Karate-do in the evening.
It was in Japan when Master Funakoshi was leading a students group doing research on karate at the Keio University when he proposed the change of name in order to make the art totally Japanese in nature. In the proposal he gave the name 'Dai Nippon Kempo Karate-do or Great Japan Fist Method Empty Hand Way. In the new name he changed the Calligraphy symbolising "to" or "China". (This charectar can also be pronounced as kara) to "Kara" or Empty and thus gave the art the name of Kara-te-do in short.

Calligraphy used ealier
Pronounced as "TO".
This calligraphic charectar could also be pronounced as "KARA"
Calligraphy symbolized 'China'
Calligraphy now used
Pronounced as "KARA"
This calligraphy is also pronounced as "Ku"
Calligraphy symbolized 'Empty

The popularity of the art soon led to many masters from Okinawa coming to the mainland and setting up their own schools. Various masters like Chogun Miyagi (Goju ryu) Kenwa Mabuni (Shito ryu) propogating their own style also came to mainland Japan and their presence soon led to the formation of organizations based on different teaching methods. In Japan today although four major schools of karate-do are prevalent, namely Shotokan, Wado-ryu, Goju Ryu and Shito Ryu, the most popular style or school is still Shotokan with the JKA being the foremost among the all the Orgainizations.