The Origins of Karate

Karate is a martial art developed in Japan from a system used on an island called Okinawa. Okinawa is the Principle Island of the Ryukyu Archipelago, laying three hundred miles to the south of Japan and three miles east of main land China. Although the roots of Martial Arts can be traced back thousands of years to India, the evolution of karate as we know it today began in the seventeenth century.

Legend has it that an Indian Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma, the originator of Zen Buddhism, brought Ch Uan-Fa to the Shaolin temple in China during the Sung Dynasty. Some historians claim this to be false, but yet it remains a popular view. Very little is known from that period, until records of the practice of Ch Uan-Fa in Okinawa in 1372 when King Satto declared his allegiance to Chinas Ming Emperor.


In the centuries to follow Ch Uan-Fa gained a strong foothold in Okinawa, it was practised along side an indigenous unarmed fighting system known as Tode. In 1609 the Japanese Satsuma Clan marched on the Ryukyu Islands ending their independence and banning all weaponry. This brought a bond between the Ch Uan-Fa and Tode to develop a fighting method to strengthen the physical and spiritual body in a bid to survive. The union came to be known as 'Te' (hand).

Te was practised in secret in three main centres around the towns of, Shuri, Naha and Tomari. These local variations were later known as Shuri-Te, Naha-Te and Tomari-Te. Between 1784 and 1903 karate replaced the word Te to describe the fighting system. In 1875 the Satsuma occupation of the Ryukyu Islands ended and they officially became part of the Japanese Empire. By 1903 karate was practised openly in schools.

 

Karate was by now a combination of hand and foot techniques influenced by its origins. Karate was officially introduced to Japan in 1917 when Gichin Funakoshi demonstrated the art at the Butokuden in Kyoto. By 1921 popularity had grown and Prince Hirohito was so impressed by a demonstration, it was included in his official report to the Japanese Ministry of Education recommending it to be taught in Universities.

Prominent Karate masters, Funakoshi, Mijagi and Mabuni were instrumental in developing the three main styles from which all others originate, these are Shotokan, Shito Ryu and Goju Ryu. Yoshitaka Funakoshi, son of Gichin brought later changes forming Shotokan Karate into what is recognisable today.

Gichin Funakoshi was also a poet and wrote under the pen name "Shoto", meaning "whispering pines". The Shotokan was the "place of Shoto", where Gichin Funakoshi set up a dojo (training hall). Sensei Taiji Kase who was the founder of the WKSA and now SRKHIA, trained at the Shotokan with Yoshitaka Funakoshi. Sensei Steve Cattle who founded the ESA, in turn, was a student of Sensei Kase.

 

The development of modern day Shotokan, can be in the most part, accredited to Gichin Funakoshi's third son, Yoshitaka. It is Yoshitaka's influence that has resulted in the karate that Shotokan exponents practice today. Yoshitaka is known to have developed longer, deeper stances to create more strength, his kicks were more dynamic and the attacking techniques were developed even further.

Around 1930, Yoshitaka took over the running of his fathers main dojo in Japan. Yoshitaka was instrumental in introducing many more katas to the Shotokan system which he had learned from Sensei Azato. Yoshitaka was ill, however, and was told when he was a boy that he would not live beyond his twenties due to tuberculosis. However, through hard training he lived into his forties.

Yoshitaka taught at the Shotokan dojo until 1944/45 but by 1945 he was seriously ill and much of the teaching was carried out by Genshin Hironishi. Without a doubt from 1932/33 until 1945, Yoshitaka had a enormous influence on the way Shotokan karate developed. However when he died, Gichin Funakoshi had to come out of "retirement" to take over from where his son had left off, to oversee the training at the Shotokan.

 

The 'dojo kun', are basically the rules of the Dojo. These rules were laid down by the Okinawan master of Karate, Sakugawa Shungo. He based these rules on the Chinese rules, which date back to the era of Bodhidharma. The rules were recited at the end of every training session by the highest grade student, then repeated by the other students.

Japanese:

hitotsu, jinkaku kansei ni tsutomeru koto.
hitotsu, makoto no michi o mamoru koto.
hitotsu, doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto.
hitotsu, reigi o omonzuru koto.
hitotsu, kekki no yu o imashimuru koto.

Translation:

To seek the perfection of character
To follow the path of truth
To cultivate the spirit of effort
To esteem etiquette
To admonish brute courage

Dojo kun