Karate History

So this bit is for all of you intellectuals who want to know where Karate comes from.

Well the simple answer of course is Japan. But how did it get there and how has it gone Global? There are many theories…here’s what I have found out and what I believe.

Ever since one upright thinking creature attempted to hit another upright thinking creature there has been aggression and self defence, but a systematic form of teaching self defence is quite another matter. Karate is believed (and here we are already into controversy) to be based on a much older form of Self Defence that started in India around AD 500. Indeed one of the oldest forms of self defence in the world still exists in India and is called Kalaripayit.

There was a monk called Bodhidharma who was Indian and he decided to travel East towards China to spread the word of Buddha. Why East? Well that is where the trade roads led for silks, spices, precious metals, jewels and other trade goods. Monks begged and therefore carried money and because of this they were often robbed on their travels. Bodhidharma was, by all accounts, quite a robust figure (see the rather scary picture here)  IMG_20150721_0001and he taught himself a method of self defence based on Kalaripayit. So whenever Bodhidharma stopped at a temple for shelter or prayer he would pass on this knowledge to other monks so that they would be able to defend themselves against attack using their bare hands and feet and the stout staffs that they carried.

Eventually Bodhidharma arrived in China where he stayed for a number of years at the now famous Shaolin Temple (you can still go and train there in Kung Fu – it’s expensive!). Of course in order to get to China he had to travel overland through a number of countries and it is no coincidence that these same countries have developed their own form of self defence: Tae Kwon Do from Korea, Thai Boxing from Thailand, Bando and Banshei from Burma, Pentjak Silat from Indonesia, etc. But he never went to Japan, so how come the Japanese have Karate?

Japan has always been influenced by its big neighbour China, and Japan is world renowned for being able to copy things. They were not historically very good at inventing things but “stole” a number of ideas from China – including the fighting art of Kung Fu. This was developed into what we call Karate today. Karate means “Empty Hand”.

However, the story continues…….Karate became popular simply because the Shogun of Japan banned the use of all weapons exept those carried by the Samurai and their wives. So to defend themselves the non-samurai developed fighting arts based around agricultural inplements. This is why you have Nunchaka – rice flails, Sai – pitchforks, etc. And of course, their bare hands. Much of this was taught privately as it was forbidden but then came the Second World War and it was discovered that the young men of Okinawa were much fitter than the rest of the country. It was finally discovered that the reason was Martial Arts. The Emperor demanded an exhibition and a young Poet who practised karate called Gichin Funakoshi (see photo below) was selected to organise the display. It so impressed the military present that they had it adopted into their training.funakoshi-new1

Funakoshi turned out to be a Karate Master based on Okinawa. He was a Sensei and he founded Shotokan Karate Do. The name Shotokan comes from his poet pen name of Shoto, meaning “waving pines” which was the name of his house. Kan means house. So Shotokan means “the house of the waving pines”. Do means “the Way” as in pathway, and shows us that learning Karate is a path to be followed – it has no end.

Sensei Bill.