History of Karate

This history of martial arts is clouded, as most of the information was passed down orally.

The earliest traces of hand-to-hand fighting appeared 1600 years ago in the 6th century when an Indian monk, Bodhidharma (Daruma in Japanese, Ta-Mo in Chinese) trekked across the Himilayas to China (he is also known as the founder of Zen Buddhism). Bodhidharma discovered that the traditional ascetic life in the monasteries left the monks in a weakened condition. He Bodhidharmadecided to strengthen their bodies as well as their souls by teaching them physical exercises as well as breathing techniques (called Ta-ch'uan). The results of these exercises were extraordinary and Bodhidharma began teaching at the Shaolin monastery in the province of Honan in northern China. There he continued to develop and teach Zen Buddhism and stressed that one could not become spiritually strong if one was physically weak.

Over the years the monks refined the older methods which relied on brute strength for success and developed fast, efficient movements that required a minimum amount of effort.

Shoalin is not only recognised for it's fighting techniques, but it is also remembered for making the connection between fighting and Buddhism. Up until then fighting methods were studied only to defeat an enemy. Since the Shaolin fighters were mostly Buddhist monks, they did not learn fighting in order to fight. They studied fighting as meditation, worked on perfecting painting and calligraphy and read the classics, all in order to seek perfection of character. Their ultimate aim was Enlightenment and the fighting exercies were an integral part of their quest. Fighting was not for fighting, but for a higher purpose, and because of this ideal Chinese fighting practice developed into an art form - Martial Arts.

When the monks found it necessary to defend themselves, a moral code was followed. As Buddhists, loyalty, respect, honesty, unselfishness and gentleness were important to them. One was not to fight indiscriminately or out of pride or ego. Fighting was for self-defense purposes only - to protect one's self or others. Soon these ideas and methods of training spread beyond the forests of Honan (Shaolin means "young forest"). The monks traveled throughout China and taught the Chinese how to defend themselves against bandits. But, many of the techniques remained secret and were only taught to those deemed worthy.

These concepts and techniques slowly spread beyond the borders of China to Okinawa, Korea and Japan. Each country adapted the teaching to its own culture and needs and developed its own system. What all the arts retain, including the more modern ones of Karate, Judo and Aikido, is the underlying philosophy of Shaolin; that the martial arts are a means for developing physically, mentally and spiritually, and not just a fighting method for defeating an enemy. It is this philosophy that differentiates between street fighting and the martial arts, and it is the goal of every true martial artist.

History of Okinawan Karate

okinawa mapOkinawa is composed of many small islands, each having a beautiful landscape and unique culture and history. In the 12th century, Okinawa was divided into many regions, each with its own ruler who built a gusuku (castle) and controlled the neighboring villages. Later, these regions unified into three main kingdoms. In 1429, King Sho Hashi united these three forces, creating the Ryukyu Kingdom. During the 15th and 16th centuries, known as the golden trading era, the Ryukyus developed into a major trading center between China and other neighboring countries. However, during this period there was the threat from Japanese pirates and, for purposes of securing one's own safety abroad, bujutsu (martial arts) was of vital importance. From this historical background, Okinawa's unique karate (formerly referred to as "ti") and kobudo were originated and perfected. Today's karate and kobudo came to be as a result of combining the good qualities of the martial arts of China and the other Southeastern Asian countries with the Okinawa "ti."

During the Ryukyu Kingdom period, the Shuri "ti" was developed with the Shuri Castle as its origin. The Naha "ti" flourished in the commercial city of Naha, and the Tomari "ti" was developed in the Tomari village area which was located between the previous two regions. Famous bujins (martial arts experts) originated from each region and their tradition has been passed on to today. As karate and kobudo were forbidden by the lords, their techniques were kept secret and very little literature regarding these techniques was written. Their traditions were conveyed either verbally or by individual instruction.

After Okinawa was officially incorporated as a prefecture of Japan, new laws reduced the need for secrecy, and the education system of the Meiji era (1896-1912) adopted karate and kobudo as part of its physical education program. Since then, karate and kobudo have been performed in public. In the Taisho period (1912-1926) they were introduced to mainland Japan, and in the early Showa period (1926-1988) they spread overseas.

After World War II (1945), Okinawan karate was divided into four ryuhas - Shorin-ryu, Goju-ryu, Uechi-ryu, and Matsubayashi-ryu. Currently, there are many ryuha and kaiha changing their styles and techniques, but the karate and kobudo of each ryuha and kaiha have their own kihon kata (basic kata) from which the attack and defense techniques are logically derived.

The rigorous training cultivates physical power and a keen mind, thus contributing to the well-being of the society. Karate and kobudo have greatly influenced education. The diverse elements and characteristics that made karate and kobudo popular throughout the world have instilled inspiration in the hearts of millions of people.

The history of Okinawan Karate: Copyright 2002 by the North American Beikoku Shido-kan Association. All rights reserved.


History of Shorin-ryu
by Katsuya Miyahira

As martial arts instructor and advisor to the last King of the Ryukyuan Dynasty, Master Sokon Matsumura, often called "Matsumura the Warrior" was the preeminent martial artist of his era. Matsumura Sensei developed and trained many disciples, one of whom was Anko Itosu.

Anko Itosu (1830 - 1915) incorporated the closed, hidden arts of karate into the physical education given at schools, and worked for broader, further dissemination of the arts. His disciples, Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, and Kanken Toyama carried the arts to mainland Japan while Kentsu Yabu, Chomo Hanashiro, Chotoku Kyan, Choki Motobu, Mouden Yabiku, Choshin Chibana, Anbun Tokuda, Choujyo Oshiro and Shinpan Shiroma disseminated Itosu's teachings throughout Okinawa.

Choshin Chibana, to better distinguish the style from other forms of karate, and to preserve the tenets that had been passed down from his teacher, Anko Itosu, renamed the form Okinawa Shorin-ryu. While the basic kata of Okinawa Shorin-ryu is Naihanchi, Anko Itosu modified the traditional kata and incorporated them into the First Dan, devised new Second and Third Dan, and amalgamated five new patterns of kata collectively known as Pinan into the Fukyu kata.

Shorin-ryu is a natural flow, devoid of unbalanced stances or unnatural breathing patterns. It has unique patterns of coiling and of relaxing power, allowing easier concentration of force and the attainment of speedy actions. To best develop the skills involved in the art of the single, deadly blow, training is targeted at tightly bound bales of straw. Nor is the art limited to passive modes of defense: the ability to release an effective counterattack in defense is a crucial element, summarized as "Offense is an effective form of Defense."

Unlike the Okinawa Shorin-Ryu Karate Association, the All Japan Karate Federation seeks to spread karate as a sport form. Simply put, this divergence is vast and serious. Winners in combative sports such as boxing may be seen wildly rejoicing with the announcement of a win, but this is not acceptable in martial arts such as sumo, judo or karate. A victor restrains his joy out of consideration for the vanquished. Such is the difference between sport and a martial art.

Today, 25 dojos are registered with the Okinawa Shorin-ryu Association (Chairman Katsuya Miyahira). The many more outside Okinawa and overseas demonstrate the growing presence of Okinawa Shorin-ryu in the world.

The history of Shorin-ryu: Copyright 2002 by the North American Beikoku Shido-kan Association. All rights reserved.

History of Shido-kan

Grand Master Katsuya Miyahira explains the origin of the Shido-kan this way. The great Chinese philosopher Confucius, who has had a huge influence on his country's scholarship shidokan and thought, taught and popularized an ethical system concerned with building proper character in people.

The widely read Analectis by Confucius has, from its earliest publishing been highly respected and has had a profound influence on the spiritual thinking of people in China, Japan and elsewhere.

Grand Master Miyahira relates that he took the name shido from chapter seven, verse six in Book Four of the twenty volume collection; which reads ...

Determine in your heart to forever follow the Way.
Stay close to the sun of Virtue and do not stray.
Trust in the power of Benevolence for support.
Take pleasure from these abilities.

The philosophy of this passage means "Enjoy the abilities you develop in your training, but also use them as a means to perceive greater abilities, namely, benevolence. Benevolent kindness will be a rock that you can lean on in difficult times; and virtue will protect you from the rain like an umbrella if you do not forget to keep it with you." And, of course, never, never, stop practicing.

Therefore, the meaning of Shido is that the physical discipline of practicing Karate builds character and is the starting point from which you can develop a higher form of kindness deep within your soul. And one must never give up trying to actualize this virtue and bring it into your life, right here and right now, to make of yourself a person worthy of emulation.

Thus, Shido-kan means the place dedicated to building a kind and benevolent character through the practice of Karate.

Benevolence With love as the foundation, to be virtuous and gentle of spirit to all people.
Virtue The way in which you conduct yourself during life. Your character.
Excellence The Master, or Sensei, is a cultured man of wisdom and learning worthy of society's respect for the man he is.

The history of Shido-kan is reprinted from the North American Beikoku Shido-Kan 25th Anniversary Celebration Commemorative Journal.