History of Karate

History of Karate
The history of Karate is full of uncertainty and mythology.

It has been suggested that 1,500 years ago a young buddhist monk (Bodhidharma) invented a method of self-defense that was possibly the original form of Karate during the 5th or 6th Century AD.

Travelling from India to China through the Himalayas, he used his hands to defend himself against wild life and hostile natives. His religion prevented him from carrying (and using?) weapons.

Once in China, he blended in with the local residents, and developed a system of exercises and physical technicques of Yoga, which consisted of stretching postures and deep breathing.

Eventually, his system developed into a very strong martial art that gave those who practiced it, stregth and confidence.

Was this system "Karate"?

That is a very hard question to answer, as the history of Karate is uncertain.

Prior to Bodhidharma's system, there were many other forms of well established fighting systems.

Thus, it is very difficult to know with certainty whether his system was in fact the one that gave birth to Karate as the martial art humanity came to know in the 20th century.

It may be that his system was only one of the many systems that contributed to the development of Karate.

These martial arts (including Bodhidharma) were transferred from place to place by merchants.

Okinawa: Satelite View Okinawa, an island between Japan and Taiwan, was one of the places that benefited in this way from travelling merchants.

Okinawans, at that point in time, were known to practice an ancient Chinese martial art called Chuan-Fa (the precursor of Kung Fu), and another fighting system called "Tode".

The combination of these fighting systems became a unique breed called Okinawa-te (or just "Te", which means "hand").

The original Te consisted of punches, kicks and jumps, as well as blocking techniques.

No doubt, there was a system in place. However, it was until a guy called Sokon Matsumura put together a collection of prescribed moves, that Karate started resembling the martial art we know at present. The moves were called "Kata".

The history of Karate known to us, tells us that Okinawans used this system out of necessity.

As the island was also constantly invaded by foreign miliatry forces, who forbade possession of weapons, Okinawans continued practicing their empty-handed fighting system, and went even further than that: they learned to use their everyday tools as fighting tools.

Anyhow... I'm digressing here... the weapons component of Karate will be a topic for later on.

The thing is that Okinawans were able to develop an empty-handed fighting system that became the Karate we know today.

From then on, several styles of Karate branched out from the original system.

The word "Ryu" means "Style".

Thus, for instance, the style developed in the sity of Shuri, became Shuri-Te (Remember the "Te"?), and eventually became Shorin-Ryu. (Shorin is the Japanase word for Shaolin, which suggest that Shorin-Ryu is a direct descendant of Bodhidharma's system).

Wikipedia has a more thorough outline of the history of karate (a new page will open).

You can also find a very good summary at the Karate International website which offers a very detailed history of karate (a new page will open).

It is also said that Karate originally meant "T'ang Hand", referring to the martial art practiced in China during the T'ang Dynasty between the 6th and 9th Century.

It was until the late 1800s that Master Gichin Funakoshi changed the translation of the word Karate into "Empty Hand".

From then on, Karate was set to undergo many more changes that made it what it is today. These changes are discussed in a page I'm preparing called: History of Modern Karate: The Karate(s) We Know. I'll tell you when it's ready.