History of Karate


History of Karate


The origins of karate are somewhat obscure. The most popular tradition traces them to

the arrival in China of the fierce Indian monk Bodhidharma, or Daruma taishi, to give him his

Japanese name. He is said to have arrived in Canton in AD 520 and he was also the First

patriarch of Zen Buddhism in China.

Bodhidharma imposed the most severe discipline on the monks under him at the

monastery of Shaolin. His students and their successors became famous for their physical prowess

as well as their mental discipline and Shaolin was to give its name to one of the foremost schools

of Chinese boxing. Shaolin boxing was introduced into the Ryukyu Islands, of which Okinawa

is the main island, in either the fifteenth or the sixteenth century.

These were tough times in the Ryukyus. A succession of tyrannies, for their own

preservation, had made the possession of weapons by any member of the civilian population a

state offence. Understandably this boosted the interest in unarmed combat, producing a system

called Okinawa-te, a mixture of Chinese and indigenous influences.


There were in fact many different ‘schools’ of Okinawa-te, each one carefully guarding

its secrets from the others. Secrets had also to be kept from the ruling classes and from any

individual who might have misused them. Therefore, all training was carried out in the early

morning or late at night, or else behind locked doors. No beginner was accepted until his good

character had been established.

Thus modern karate is the outcome of centuries of interchange between China, the

Ryukyus and Japan. It only recently came to be openly taught to the public first in Okinawa and

later in Japan. During 1917 and 1922 the late Gichin Funakoshi, President of the Okinawa

Bushokwai, demonstrated his powers in Tokyo. Funakoshi was to become Supreme Instructor of

the new Japan Karate Association and by 1935 karate clubs were established at most of the

leading universities in Japan.

The contact with intellectual life at university was invigorating for karate. New techniques

were developed, old ones improved, and elements which had always been regarded as mysterious

and supernatural were regarded in a more rational light. It must be remembered, however, that

karate students now more than ever derive moral and spiritual strength from their training.