Karate history A brief history (Karatedo)

As legend has it, the evolution of karate began over a thousand years ago, possibly as early as the fifth century BC when a Buddhist Monk named Bodhidharma traveled from India to China,eventually teaching at the Shaolin-si (small forest temple) and taught Zen Buddhism. He also introduced a systematized set of exercises designed to strengthen the mind and body, exercises which allegedly marked the beginning of the Shaolin style of temple boxing. Bodhidharma teachings later became the basis for the majority of Chinese martial arts.

It was on the island of Okinawa, the traditional point of contact between Chinese and Japanese cultures, where the development of Karate as we know it began. In its earliest stages, "karate" was an indigenous form of closed fist fighting imposed on the Okinawan people at various points in their history, first by the Chinese and later by the Satuma Clan of Kyushu, Japan, encouraged the refinement of empty-hand techniques and, for this reason, was trained in secret. Further refinement came with the influence of other martial arts brought by nobles and trade merchants to the island as well as the occasional shipwrecked sailor.

Te developed primarily in three Okinawan cities: Shuri, Naha and Tomari. Each of these towns was a centre to a different sect of society: kings and nobles, merchants and business people, and farmers and fisherman, respectively. For this reason, different forms of self-defense developed within each city and became known as Shuri-Te, Naha-Te and Tomari-Te. Grouped together they were called Okinawa-Te or Toode, "Chinese hand". Gradually, karate was divided into two main groups: Shorin-ryu, which developed around Shuri and Tomari and Shorei-ryu which came from the Naha area. The towns of Shuri, Tomari, Naha were only a few miles apart so the differences between their arts were essentially ones of emphasis, not of kind. Shorin-ryu, was quick and linear with natural breathing while Shorei-ryu emphasized steady, rooted movements with breathing in synchrony with each movement.

The Chinese character used to write Toode could also be pronounced "kara" so eventually the name Te was replaced with Karate of "Chinese hand" by the Okinawan Masters. This was later changed to Karate-do by Gichin Funakoshi who adopted an alternate meaning for the Chinese character for kara, "empty". From this point the term "karate" came to mean "empty hand". The Do in karate-do means "way" or "path" and is indicative of the discipline and philosophy of moral and peaceful values.

Over the years the prohibition against karate training began to diminish and many great teachers began to emerge. The most notable would definitely include Sokon Matsumura who was also called "Bushi"(Samurai) Matsumura, who taught many great instructors including Azato and Itosu who became the instructors of Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan.

The first public demonstration of karate in Japan was in 1917 by Gichin Funakoshi, at the Butoku-den in Kyoto. This, and subsequent demonstrations, greatly impresses many Japanese, including the Crown-Prince Hirohito, who was very enthusiastic about the Okinawan art. In 1922, DR Jano Kano, the founder of Judo, invited Funakoshi to demonstrate at the famous Kodokan Dojo and persuaded him to stay in Japan to teach Karate / The fact that DR Kano gave his endorsement helped to make the establishment of karate in Japan easier, as the Japanese did not take readily to "rough Okinawan peasant arts" as compared to the more refined traditional Japanese Martial Arts.

However, as a result of this and further demonstrations throughout mainland Japan, Karate earned the approval of the ministry of Education and was introduced into public school curriculums and also became an institution in Japanese youth organisations, the military, colleges and with the general public. Funakoshi was extensively sought after as an instructor and thus permanently relocated to mainland Japan to teach Karate to the Japanese people.

His students initiated the building of the first public karate dojo (training hall) opening in 1939 which was named the "Shoto-Kan" (using Funakoshi's pen name of "Shoto" and "Kan" for hall)

To Funakoshi, karate was a martial art, but it was also a means of building character. He wrote: "As a mirror's polished surface reflects whatever stands before it and a quiet valley carries even small sounds, so must the student of karate render his mind empty of selfishness and wickedness in an effort to react appropriately toward anything he might encounter. This is the meaning of 'kara', or 'empty', of karate."

As the study of karate in Japan became increasingly popular, many other experts from Okinawa and China came to give instruction. At the same time, the ancient Japanese hand-to-hand fighting techniques of Juijitsu and Kendo (sword fighting) were being widely practiced. Karate soon took over elements from both of these arts and the basis was laid for Japanese-style karate.

The role of Karate is multiple. As a practical means of self-defence, it is widely taught in Japan as part of the training programe in the police force and for members of the armed forces. A great number of colleges and high schools now include karate in their physical education programs and women and children are now learning karate as an effective form of self-defence as well as a competitive sport.

Karate is gaining great popularity throughout the world as a competitive sport which stresses mental discipline as well as physical prowess. Over 160 countries (and 10 million practitioners) belong to the World Karate Federation which holds Junior and Senior world Championships alternating every year. The federation is dedicated to making karate and Olympic Sport and has made huge progress towards this end in recent years.

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