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 defence 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.
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 defence 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 karate
Master Gichin Funakoshi, the man most responsible for karate as we know it today, was born in Shuri, Okinawa, in 1868.
At the age of eleven as a very frail and sick child he was encouraged to study of the precursors of karate to improve his health, mastering both of the major existing styles in Okinawa. These schools were known as Shorei and Shorin.
The Shorei style is characterized by heavy, powerful movements and, the Shorin style exploits lighter, quicker techniques. From these schools Master Funakoshi created his karate style.
In 1922 Master Funakoshi was invited by the Japanese Ministry of Education to give a series of lectures and demonstrations in Japan. He stayed in Japan to teach karate at various universities and the Kodokan, the mecca of Judo. In the years that followed, Master Funakoshi’s karate evolved further due to interaction with native and imported systems. His arrival and settling in Japan brought about substitution of the word kara for the “Okinawa” in “Okinawa-te,” thus forming the word kara-te, literally meaning empty hand.
The founding of Shotokan
A major landmark in Japanese karate history was the founding of the Shotokan in 1936. Shoto was the pen name of Master Funakoshi, who was also well known as an author. Hence, the word Shotokan simply translates to the school of Shoto. Shotokan became known as the style of karate taught to his students in major universities in Japan and latterly, taught to people all over the world.