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Short History of Karate

Gichin Funakoshi introduced the basic concept of Karate into Japan from Okinawa in 1916 and, particularly since the 1960s, the popularity of Karate has been increasing rapidly.


Gichin Funakoshi

The earliest origins of Karate as we know it today are somewhat vague due to the lack of documentation. The traditional idea accepted by most authorities is that it started in India. A Buddhist priest called in Chinese Daruma (or Bhodidarma, as he is better known), wished to take his particular sect of Buddhism, called Zen, to the Chinese as a missionary venture. It was not uncommon for itinerant priests to be able to fight, as they would frequently be in danger on their wanderings from wild animals as well as men. Even Gautama Sidartha himself had been a warrior before he became the Buddha. When he established Buddhism, he saw no contradiction in the idea of a man of peace and love also being skilful in combat.

In about AD 500, Bhodidarma reached the court of Emperor Wu at Chein-K’ang in China, where he was warmly received. He left the courts, eventually north to Henan Province and into seclusion in the Shaolin temple (Shorin in Japanese) to teach Zen. He also taught his system of unarmed combat called Shorin Kempo.

Forms of Chinese combat have been recorded as far back as 3000 BC. Bhodidarma is credited with being the founder of Chinese Kempo, mainly because he added the meditative practices of Yoga and Zen, making it a more complete system, as we know it today. Zen is inseparably linked with Karate and every Master of Karate seeks a more enlightened experience by studying Zen; in fact, all the major developments in Shorin Kempo were achieved by various priests, through the years. Finally, the close connection between priests and medicine resulted in the discovery not only of vital spots on the human body where cures could be applied but also where Kempo attacks could be directed for the best results.

From China, Kempo spread north to Mongolia, east to Korea and south-east to Okinawa. Eventually it reached Japan, where it became extremely popular after the Kamakura era (about AD 1200). The soldier class, the Samurai, in particular welcomed both the combat forms and the Zen philosophy. The morality and mysticism of Zen Buddhism appealed to their sensibilities, but the real attraction was the way it provided them with a discipline which made them capable of great endurance and excellence in fighting, by giving them the special psychological skills and insights into both themselves and their opponents.

At various times in history B for instance in 1400 and again in 1609, in Okinawa By the authorities forbade the populace to use arms. As a means of protection against the bandits, and sometimes even against the authorities, unarmed combat became widely taught. The schools, themselves usually confined to the temples, were nevertheless kept secret, because if discovered they would have been immediately wiped out by those in power.

It was not until 1901 that Karate, as we now know it, was brought out of secret study and taught openly in Okinawa. In 1916, Master Gichin Funakoshi came from Okinawa to Tokyo and pioneered the modern system of Karate in Japan. Born from many origins, there are today many schools of Karate, each with its own merits and perhaps its own faults.