Karate History


The origin of karate dates back more than a thousand years. It is believed that karate evolved from a system of physical training exercises taught to monks at the Shaolin Monastery in northern China many centuries ago by a Buddhist monk of Indian descent, Daruma (Bodhidharma). These methods built up endurance and physical strength required by the monks to carry out the rigid discipline that was part of their religion. Stories handed down through time suggest that Daruma believed that the exercises could be used for self defense which was beneficial for the monks whose religion forbade their use and carrying of weapons. As a result, parts of the human body were trained as weapons and the hands, elbows, knees and feet became effective offensive weapons. Various methods were also devised to harden the striking surfaces resulting in devastating effects.

Okinawan origins

Following the introduction of Daruma’s system, it spread throughout China, and evolved to become known as kung-fu and also as kempo. Later through trading links between China and the islands off Southern Japan the Chinese self defense systems were passed on to the occupants of the island of Okinawa, where they became mixed with the native Okinawan fighting form known as Okinawa-te, becoming further refined during Japanese occupation when weapons were banned.

The birth of Shotokan Karate - A Short History of Shotokan Karate

Gichin Funakoshi is widely considered as the “father” of modern day karate. He was born in the Shuri prefecture in Okinawa in 1868 and at the age of 11 began to study Karate under two of Okinawa’s top masters. In time, he became a master in his own right and in 1922 he was invited to demonstrate karate to the Japanese public for the very first time. The demonstration was such a success he was invited to stay in Japan and teach, which he did with great success. For Sensei Funakoshi, the word ‘karate’ eventually took on a deeper meaning than just martial arts training, transforming into what is has become known as karate-do, the ‘way of the empty hand.’ He was to modify the Okinawan art by taking inspiration from traditional Japanese budo (kendo, judo, etc) and integrated their philosophical aspects into his and his student’s training.

This became a total discipline, which represented a synthesis of Okinawaan and Japanese schools and in 1936 he established the ‘SHOTOKAN’ style of Japanese karate which was to be greatly influenced by his son Yoshitaka (Giko) and Masatoshi Nakayama, first headmaster of the Japan Karate Association. Whereas his father was responsible for transforming karate from a mere fighting technique into a philosophical martial ‘do’ (way of life), Yoshitaka was put in charge of developing, helped by other important martial artists, a karate technique that definitively separated Japanese karate-do from the local Okinawaan art, thus giving it a completely different and at the same time notoriously Japanese flavor. It is upon these concepts that in 1948, the Japan Karate Association (JKA) was founded.

The establishment of the JKA lead the way to the spread of Shotokan karate throughout the world. Master Masatoshi Nakayama, one of Funakoshi’s greatest students, succeeded him as the headmaster of the JKA and during his time there he further developed Shotokan, based on his own research, into the style we know today. It was through master Nakayama’s vision, that Shotokan has spread throughout the world by enriching many people’s lives in many countries, while other senior instructors stayed in Japan at the Sohonbu to teach the next generation of Shotokan masters.