Karate is a martial art developed in Japan from a system used on the island of 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 Chuan-Fa to the Shaolin temple in China during the Sung Dynasty. Some historians claim this to be false, yet it remains a popular view. Until records of the practice of Chuan-Fa in Okinawa in 1372, very little is known from that period, when King Satto declared allegiance to China’s Ming Emperor.
In the centuries to follow, Chuan-Fa gained a strong foothold in Okinawa and 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 Chuan-Fa and Tode, leading to the development of a fighting method designed 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 practiced openly in schools.