Monday, April 27, 2009

Karate a History

by: Michael Smith

Although the basic forms of self defense are probably as old as the human race, the art of karate as it is practiced today can be traced directly to the Okinawan technique called, in Japanese, Okinawate-te (Okinawa Hands). This system of defense in turn is a descendant of the ancient Chinese art of chuan-fa (kung-fu).
Little is known about the historical development of karate in Okinawa, but there is an interesting story to be told about it. About five hundred years ago, the famous King Hashi of the Okinawan Sho dynasty succeeded in uniting the Ryukya islands into one kingdom. To ensure rule by law and to discourage and potential military rivals, he seized all weapons in the kingdom and made the possession of weapons a crime against the state. About two hundred years later, Okinawa became part ot the domain of the Satsuma clan of Kyushu, and for a second time all weapons were seized and banned. As a direct result of these successive bans against weapons, it is said that the art of empty-handed self defense call Okinawa-te underwent tremendous development.
The man most responsible for the systemization of martial arts as we know it today was Funakoshi Gichin. He was born in Shuri, Okinawa, in 1869, and when only a boy of eleven began to study karate under the two top masters of the art at the time. In time he became a karate expert in his own right. He is credited to be the first man to introduce karate to Japan proper, when he gave exhibitions in 1917 and again in 1922 at physical-education expositions. The art soon caught on in Japan, and Funakoshi traveled throughout the country giving lectures and demonstrations. The main universities invited him to set up karate teams, and hundreds of people studied the art under his guidance.
As the study of karate in Japan became increasingly popular, many other experts from Okinawa came to give instruction. At the same time the ancient native Japanese hand-to-hand fighting techniques of jujitsu and kendo (sword fighting) were being widely practiced, and modern sports imported from the West were becoming popular. Karate soon took over many elements from these, and the basis was laid for the modern Japanese-style karate.