This History of Karate

To understand the history of karate, we firstly need to talk about a monk. If you have already done some research into how and where Karate evolved, you will have heard about a Buddhist monk called Bodhidharma.

Bodhidharma was an Indian Buddhist monk, and it is believed that he is the creator of all martial arts styles.

The myth of how the martial arts came to be starts over a thousand years ago, around the fifth century BC when Bodhidharma arrived at a small forest temple in China. Whilst at this temple, he taught the local monks about Zen Buddhism to strengthen their minds and incorporated a gruelling training programme for their weak bodies. After many training sessions it was clear that the monks were far too weak and could not cope.

The exercises from Bodhidharma are believed to have been the makings of Shaolin boxing, and it appears that this was to be the basis for all Chinese martial arts.

Karate’s history on the other hand appears to be somewhat vague, and very little is known about the early development of Karate, until it emerged suddenly in Okinawa. It was said that many styles evolved in Okinawa as this was the main trade route for south eastern Asia, trading with Japan, China, Indo China, Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo and the Philippines. Word of Shaolin boxing spread from China, and people were keen to demonstrate what they knew.

At first, Karate was known as Te, meaning hand in Japanese. At some point in their history, a weapons ban was imposed by the government on the Okinawan villagers. Due to the weapon bans, a form of unarmed combat started to evolve using empty handed techniques in secret.

Te continued to develop over the years within three Okinawan cities: Shuri, Naha and Tomari. Gradually, the three cities, merged their teachings and two forms of Karate emerged. Shorin-ryu which developed around Shuri and Tomari and Shorei-ryu which came from Naha. It was later that Gichin Funakoshi spread the art of Karate as we know it around Japan.