Karate History

Karate is a martial art developed in Japan from a system used on the island of Okinawa, the principle island of the Ryukyu Archipelago, laying three hundred miles to the South of Japan and to the east of China.


The roots of Martial Arts can be traced back thousands of years to India, being introduced, it is believed, to China during the Sung dynasty by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. Little is known of this period until records of the practise of Ch Uan-Fa in Okinawa in 1372 when King Satto declared his allegiance to the Emperor of China.


In the years to follow Ch Uan-Fa gained a strong hold in Okinawa, being practised alongside the indigenous fighting system known as Tode. In 1609 the Japanese Satsuma clan marched on the Ryukyu islands, ending their independence and banning all weaponry. This resulted in the gradual merging of Ch Uan-Fa and Tode to develop a fighting method known as Te (hand).

Te was practised in secret around the three main towns of Shuri, Naha and Tomari. These regional variations became known later as Shuri-Te, Naha-Te and Tomari-Te. Between 1784 and 1903 the word Karate (initially meaning China Hand but later becoming Empty Hand) replaced the word Te to describe the system. In 1875 the Satsuma occupation ended and the Ryukyu islands officially became part of Japan. By 1903 Karate was practised openly in schools.


Karate had developed into a system of hand and foot techniques and was officially introduced to Japan in 1917 when Gichin Funakoshi demonstrated the art at the Butokuden in Kyoto. By 1921 popularity had grown and Prince Hirohito was so impressed that he recommended karate be taught in Universities.


Prominent Karate masters, Funakoshi, Miyagi and Mabuni were instrumental in developing the three main styles from which all others originate, these are Shotokan, Goju Ryu and Shito Ryu. Yoshitaka Funakoshi, son of Gichin, brought later changes forming Shotokan Karate into what is recognisable the world over today.

"Gichin Funakoshi"
"Sensei Willis and the ESA Seniors with Sensei Kase,
Luxembourg 2000."
"Sensei Cattle and Sensi Willis perform a karate demonstration at the 1994 ESA National Championships in Bradford.



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Site Curator. Joy Patel

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