The History of Karate




According to legend, the evolution of Karate began over a thousand years

ago, possibly as early as the 5th century B.C. when Bodhidharma, a

Buddhist Monk arrived in Shaolin-si, China from India and taught

Zen Buddhism. He also introduced a set of exercises designed to

strengthen the mind and body. Bodhidharma's teachings later became

the basis for the majority of Chinese martial arts. In truth, the origins of

Karate appear to be somewhat obscure and little is known about the

early development of Karate until it appeared in Okinawa. Sometime

between the years 1784 and 1903, the term karate replaced that of Te.

This new name reflected the synthesis of the native Okinawan martial

arts of Te with the influence of the Chinese Martial Arts the

Okinawans had been exposed to.




Karate-do was modified and transformed into a way of life by Master

Gichin Funakoshi in 1905. Before this, it was just a group of techniques

that permitted self-defense without weapons. Weapons bans, imposed

on the Okinawans at various points thoughout their history, encouraged

the refinement of empty-hand techniques and, for this reason, was trained

in secret until modern times. Further refinement came with the influence

of other martial arts brought by nobles and trade merchants to the island.

Born in 1868, Funakoshi began to study karate at the age of 11, and was

a student of the two greatest masters of the time, Yasutsune Itosu

and Yasutsune Azato.


The first public demonstration of karate in Japan was in 1917 by Funakoshi,

at the Butoku-den in Kyoto. This, and subsequent demonstrations, greatly

impressed many Japanese, including the Crown-Prince Hirohito, who was

very enthusiastic about the Okinawan art. In 1922, having mastered two

major styles of Karate, Funakoshi, then President of the Okinawa

association of the Spirit of Martial Arts, was chosen to demonstrate

Karate at the first National Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo. This led to the

introduction of the ancient martial art to the rest of Japan.


Other masters then helped spread Karate throughout the country

and the rest of the world. A general Federation of Karate Organizations

was established in 1964 after Karate achieved a following abroad. This

federation's main concern has been to establish unified forms, rankings,

and rules of competition, and to keep contact with overseas Karate

associations. Over the years, numerous schools and styles have

emerged, some emphasizing the strengthening of the body, while others

focused on quick movement.



History of Shito-Ryu and Kenwa Mabuni -

The Founder of Shito-Ryu Karate




Ryukyu (ancient name of Okinawa) appears in "Nihon Shogi" the

oldest Japanese historical and legendary record book, and "Sui Shu"

a record of Sui Dynasty, of ancient China. 14C The kingdom of Ryukyu

consists of three kingdoms, Northern, Central, and Southern Okinawa

and constantly fights each other. 1372 Central kingdom of Ryukyu

(King Shoho) begins trade with China (Ming Dynasty). Chinese culture

and products are imported. Also flourishing trade with southeast Asia

and Eastern Asia is opened 1392 Fukken (Fuchu province) China, settled

down in Kume village, Central district of Naha, and Chinese Kenpo

(martial arts) influenced by *Nampa Taiso-ken was probably introduced.

*Nampa Taiso-ken is invented by Sho Koku In (926-976AD) who is the

founder of So Dynasty. And the art was spread to southern part of China.

Developed in Fuchu Province especially. 1429 The constantly warring

three kingdoms of Okinawa were unified under Sho Hashi, the founder

of Sho Dynasty. 1458 At the Asawari (a king of Katsuren castle) war, heroic

samurai of Oni-ow-gusuku, made a great victory, who is an ancestor of

Mabuni family. 1477 During the reign of Kng Sho Shin, the private

ownership of weapons is banned for the first time. In that Ryukyu had

been in close contact with China for centuries, referred to the many martial

art forms based on Chinese models that were practiced on the island.

Ryukyu learned various forms of boxing during their trading trips to

china, and immigrant Chinese Kempo (ch'uan fu) masters taught on

the island itself. In addition to imported Chinese boxing, more indigenous

martial art forms were apparently formulated over the centuries by the

upper-classes Okinawan. 1609 The Shimazu clan which locates in the

southernmost island of mainland Japan control over Ryukyu. The kingdom

of Ryukyu is organized into Tokugawa Shogunate feudal state. The

second banning on the private ownership of weapon is reinforced.

1830 Ss Ankoh Itosu, born in Shuri. [*Ss=abbreviation of Sensei]

1852 Ss Kanryo Higaonna, born in Naha. 1867 People of Kume village,

descendants of Fuchu people, demonstrated Karate at celebration for

King Shotai, which was probably introduced from their home town.

1872 Ss K Higaonna visited China, learned arts from two masters, Sui

and Ryu Ryu Koh. 1879 Ryukyu became Okinawa prefecture upon the

Meiji reforms of mainland Japan Modernization policies of the new Meiji

government of Japan started in 1868. 1888 Ss Chojun Miyagi, born in

Naha. 1889 Ss Kenwa Mabuni, born in Shuri. He is the 17th descendant

of the heroic Oni-ow-gusuku. As he was born weak, he was eager

to be stronger and was greatly influenced by heroic stories of his brave

ancestor Oni-ow-gusuku. In Okinawa, martial artists were called "bushi",

or warriors. There were several karate masters in Shuri, Naha, and Tomari.

However, Okinawa martial arts were in strict secrecy to avoid the scrutiny

of both overloads and rival schools. Martial techniques were considered

family heirlooms, and guarded zealously from generation to

generation. {Ss Ken-ei said}


There were in fact no dojo in Okinawa in old days - karate keeping

with the tradition is not openly practiced. Karate practitioners usually

went to a teacher to learn his techniques and they concentrated on the

training of only a few katas, not many for their lives long. In a scarce

case, the few, with allowance, went to another teacher to get

more different skills.


Karate was mainly studied through kata practices in Okinawa, but almost

nothing was written down, no records kept and no teachers left their

names. Therefore today katas have as many as the number of schools.

Katas in old days, have names like "xxx of Pattsai", "xxx of Goju-shiho",

etc., relating to the places and the masters' names. 1901 Karate became

popular and was taken up as a curriculum in a teachers' school as

physical education. Ss Itosu organized traditional katas and remodeled

them to "Nai-fan-chin", and "Hei-an" to be used in schools. He left

great steps to modernize karate. 1902 At age of thirteen, Ss Mabuni

went to Ss Itosu. He studied very hard without taking a day off. Ss Itosu

had to stop him practicing on a day like tyhoon. "Stay home !" Ss Itodu

had to scold him. {Ss Kenwa said} Ss Itosu practiced every morning

at the same time. Punching "makiwara" several hundreds times made

his fist like a black stone. The training session took place at home,

mainly in his garden. In general, masters of those days never had dojo

to teach students. {Ss Ken-ei said} 1905 Ss Chomo Hana-gusuku, one

of the senior students of Ss Itosu, suggested to use letter Kara-empty

(in spite of Tong Dynasty), and Te=hand. 1909 When Ss Kenwa was

twenty, he knocked the door of Ss Higaonna to be enrolled by introduction

of Ss C Miyagi. Ss Higaonna was the representative master of "Naha-te",

which was arranged from Fukken kempo, China. At the time, kumite was not

openly practiced as we do today. Kumite session took place, with the agreement

of both sides, at some street corners or a garden. Usually witnesses from

both sides watched the fighting, and sometimes in the dark, lighting their

feet with lanterns. When it became the right time, they stopped playing and

evaluated them, giving them advices and judgments. Ss Kenwa joined these

sessions too and became a witness several times. {Ss Ken-ei said}


When it's dark, he practiced under the lamps hung from trees at garden. Trainees

were usually naked to the waists and practiced their fists or feet using

"makiwara", also using sand bags, they trained their elbows and arms. Kuba

(a kind of leaves) kasa-keri is kicking training using a broad-brimmed hat with

"kuba" leaves. Sessions are generally trained individually and consist of sequences

that include basic and advanced punches, kicks, blocks, and evasive moments.

Ss Kenwa continued to keep up training throughout his life. And his passion

for karate never set aside even in a moment. {Ss Ken-ei said} 1913 As matured

his military service, was appointed to a police detective. Taking opportunities

as a police, he walked around the whole island seeking distinguished

senseis. He practiced Judo, Kendo & arrest technique which were compulsory

for policemen. In addition, he learnt the arts of ancient Ryukyu Budo like

"bo-jutsu (sticking arts)" from Ss Aragaki. "Sai-jutsu" from Ss Watada, and

"bo-jutsu in Ss Sueishi style" by Ss Sueishi. 1914 Ss a Itosu, died.

1915 Ss K Higaonna, died. 1917 Since two giant stars in the dawn of karate

in Okinawa died, Ss Mabuni had been the most prominent leader among

young aggressive karate-kas. Thus, as a young leader, Ss Kenwa organized

"Karate study club" which was the first karate study group in Okinawa.

Many promising practitioners gathered there and followed Ss Kenwa's

character. Main members were Ss Miyagi, Ss G Funakoshi, Ss Chomo

Hana-gusuku, Ss Tsuken Yabu, Ss S Tokumrua, Ss H Ishikawa,

Ss C Oh-Shiro, Ss A Tokuda, Ss S Shiroma, etc. 1918 Ss Kenwa had the honour

to demonstrate in front of Imperial Prince Kuninomiya. Ss Ken-ei, born in

February 13 in Shuri. 1922 Owing to the great efforts made by

both Ss Kenwa and Ss Miyagi, karate became more popular and

its theory was propelled systematically. Ss Funakoshi introduced karate

first to mainland Japan. 1924 Had the honor to demonstrate karate in front

of Imperial Prince Chichibu. Ss Kenwa was appointed as professor at a

marine college and a teachers' school. Ss Funakoshi performed with

Ss Otsuka at Imperial dojo in Tokyo. 1925 Ss Kenwa established a

school named "Okinawa Karate Kenkyu Club", that was his dearest wish.

And the dojo was for the first time in Okinawa taking students. Senior

instructors were Ss Juhatsu Kyoda, Ss Chohatsu Motobu, Ss Chomo

Hanagusuku, Ss Chojo Oshiro, Ss Tomonobu Chibana and Ss Go Ken Ki etc.

The dojo was located at the back of my house. Many sub-training tools

were installed, "makiwara", "sage-makiwara (hanging makiwara)",

"yokobo" (to strengthen waist) and "makiage (grip training)", "iron shoes",

"sai", "bottle with full sans". The dojo was perfect and ideal for all kinds

of trainings. {Ss Kenei said ¡­}


The most important training in those time was to build up physical strength

and then practiced kumite to study techniques secondary. When students

asked a teacher about waza or technique, he would show by actions and

simply said "Come on !". He would let students attack him freely, guarding

and averting the "tsuki" and "geri" of the students, he taught "How to".

He would say "Did you get it ?". But the actions were too quick that the

students could never get it by just once or twice. {Ss Kenei said ¡­}


About kata, performances of famous masters characterized their personal

waza. They were practical and based on actual fighting. Katas were named

from famous places and masters, like "Bassai". {Ss Kenei said ¡­} 1927 Ss Kenwa

performed karate with Ss C Miyagi for two days in front of Jigoro Kano, Judo

founder when he visited Okinawa in that January. Ss Kano was greatly

impressed and said "karate-do is perfect 'budo' on self-defence and should

be introduced widely throughout the country." 1928 Ss Kenwa Mabuni

moved to Tokyo, next year to Osaka. In Osaka, away from his native country

Okinawa, Ss Kenwa had to face the barrier of misunderstanding of karate.

Then Ss Kenwa tried to publicise karate mainly at the police stations. The

general public would not understand so easily. It was described as a kind

of "fist dance". Ss Kenwa, while embarrassed by the lack of understanding,

toiled day and night to think of effective ways to promote karate. In spite of

these difficulties, Ss Kenwa stayed true to his belief. 1929 Ss Funagoshi

altered the letter of Karate from kara (Tong) to kara (empty). 1930 Ss Chojun

Miyagi systematized his techniques and when he was asked of his style, he

named it "Gojyu-ryu" at the Butoku-sai (Budo festival) in Kyoto. 1930 Ss Kenwa,

after the enormous efforts, organized Dai Nihon Karatedo kai (later, Nihon

Karatedo kai) at last and opened "Yoshu kan" dojo at Nishinari word of

Osaka. In the beginning of Showa era, Ss Genwa Nakasone wrote in his

book that although Ss Kenwa belonged to Gojyuryu with Ss Miyagi as

two bing bones in the Higaonna school, Ss Kenwa had different stance.

That was that all the people concerned, admired him as a true

successor of Itosu style. He adopted teaching methods

of Itosu and Higaonna and made Shitoryu taking a head character from each

name. The book also says at present, there exist only two main streams

and other streams, evn if existed, are not recognized as stream then, he explains

in his book. 1933 Ss Kenwa appointed to Shihan at Kansai University.

1934 Ss Kenwa publishes "Kobo-jizai Goshinjutsu Karate Kanpo" from

Karate Kenkyusha. Publishes also "Sei-pai no Kenkyu" (study of Seipai).

Karate was organized in Dai-Nihon Butoku-kai (Great Japan Federation of

martial arts), as karate-jutsu (technology) of Judo category. 1936 Tokyo Univ.

used Kara (Tong Dynasty) - te (hand) to Kara (empty or sky) - te. 1938

Publishes "Karate-do Nyumon (for beginners)" with Ss. Genwa Nakasone.

1939 Dai-Nihon Butoku-kai officially registered Karate-do as one of independent

martial arts. Ss Kenwa was awarded a title of "Renshi" by Dai Nihon Butoku-kai.

Ss Funagoshi named his school as "Shotokan-ryu". 1942 Appointed to

Shihan at Toyo University And since then, Ss Kenwa is appointed Shihan

one after another at Osaka Industrial College, Kansei Gakuin Univ., Kinki

Univ., Osaka Municipal Univ., etc. and came step by step to found its basic

for collegate league in Japan as they are massive today. 1952 Passed away

(May 23), the age of 73. Ss. Ken-ei recalled his father as a great karate

pursuit, "He loved Karate and loved training". He also loved to make

poems of budo. The following is his representative poem on discipline

expressing the joy of dedicated training:


"Forgetting mundane things, When striving for the martial

isle, Padding is joy" This poem is the most likely to describe my father

on his training attitude. {Ss Ken-ei said ¡­}


In reference to the books by Ss Kenwa, and a talk by Ss Ken-ei,

this history were written.