The history of Karate ...
... is very controversial and subject to many controversies. Indeed, there is very little writing on karate and its origins and it is very difficult for a purist to know exactly the truth about the birth of karate.
So I will just outline the main lines of Karate history without going into more or less legendary details that ultimately do not bring much and even fuel the mystification of our art.
1 - The Chinese origins:
Karate is a Japanese martial art, but (and everyone agrees) he is from Okinawa Island of the Ryu-Kyu Islands archipelago located in the south of Japan and east of China.
Due to its position, Okinawa Island has for many centuries enjoyed many trade exchanges with China, and it is probably, over time, the Chinese martial arts that have most influenced Okinawa Karate.
To know more about these Chinese martial arts, let's take a little trip in time and space to project ourselves in China in the 10th century :
There was two currents of Chinese martial arts :
Internal styles (12 major styles) and External styles (360 major styles)
Internal styles (Neï-Jia):
They are from Mount Wudang and influenced by the Taoist thought current and especially the fear of death.
This fear of death results in martial styles based on an internal search for a long life and the absorption of action, ie the use of the strength of the other.
From these styles, we will retain Taï Ji Quan, Pakua Zhang (Everything is in a circle) and Hsing Yi (Everything is online and circles with arms).
External styles (Waï-Jia):
They find their origin in the famous Buddhist monastery of Shaolin.
Buddhist thought and belief in reincarnation breeds martial styles with outward-looking actions (transmitting one's strength to the other) and a stronger commitment in the fight.
These styles are broken down in two streams, the styles of the south and those of the north:
Southern styles (composed mainly of sailors and peasants in the rice fields) are based on very short techniques, even in hand-to-hand northern styles (Chang Chuan), with its very large plains and riders, give much larger, larger techniques.
Now, all these styles of Chinese martial arts have been structured under one and the same term: the Wushu that could be translated as "martial art" or "art of defense"
2 - The island of Okinawa cradle of Karate:
These Chinese martial arts arrived on the island of Okinawa and influenced by local techniques, will give birth to To-Te (hand of Chinese) which in the 17th century will be divided into 3 styles :
- The Tomari-Te
- the Shuri-Te
Naha, Tomari and Shuri being cities of Okinawa (see map)
In the 19th century, following the colonization of the island of Okinawa by Japan, the To-Te will change its name to become Okinawa-Te (The hand of Okinawa).
Naha-Te, native rather southern Chinese styles, will give birth to Shorei Ryu, based on the Yin / Yang, the hard and the soft, to later become the Goju Ryu from Okinawa founded by Master Kanryō Higaonna.
Tomari-Te and Shuri-Te, rather influenced by the Northern Chinese style, are very close to one another and end up giving birth to Shorin-Ryu founded by Master Sõkon Matsumura.
A third style, very hard, will also be founded in Okinawa, the Uechi Ryu de Kanbun Uechi Master.
3 - Transition of Okinawa Martial Arts Styles to Modern and Japanese Karate
The real father of modern Karate is Master Ankõ Itosu, a pupil of Master Matsumura, who modified the foundations of Shorin-Ryu to make it accessible to the general public.
He also created the 5 Heian (or Pinan).
On the other hand, the first to introduce Karate in Japan, will be one of his students, Gichin Funakoshi which was sent to Japan to publicize Karate.
Master Funakoshi changed the term Karate, which in Japanese meant "The Chinese Hand" with Karate, which means "The empty hand". The ideograms are different, but the pronunciation remains the same.
Master Funakoshi explain this choice in the book Karate-do: my way, my life :
« Kara which means empty [...] represents the refusal to use other weapons than the hands and the feet. In addition, the goal of Karate students [...] is to purify their hearts and minds from all earthly desire and vanity. »
Gichin Funakoshi made a demonstration in 1922 before the 1er Minister of Education in Tokyo who had a very great impact.
Very quickly, thanks in particular to the support of Jigoro Kano, Master founder of Judo, Karate experienced a significant social rise and was even taught in Tokyo universities, then later all over the world.
Karate practiced by Master Funakoshi and that he taught was taken directly from Master Matsumura's Shorin-Ryu, modified by Master Itosu. This is Shotokan-Ryu, named after the 1er Dojo Karate that made Gichin Funakoshi in Japan in 1936, the "Shotokan". This name of Shotokan was chosen simply because Shoto ("Sho" = "pin" and "To" = "wave" therefore, Shoto = "waves in the pines") was the pseudonym under which Master Funakoshi signed his Chinese poems when he was younger. Shotokan means Shoto's house.
The Shotokan-Ryu So is the Shoto dojo school, which is Master Funakoshi's Dojo School.
Even though Master Funakoshi was for a unique karate school so that Karatédô continues an orderly and useful progression to the future development of man " other Masters founded their own styles of Japanese Karate.
Here are the other main karate schools:
- Goju Ryu (different from Goju Ryu from Okinawa) Master Chõgun Myagi
- the Shito-Ryu (from Goju-Ryu of Okinawa and Shorin-Ryu) from Master Kenwa Mabuni
- Wado-Ryu (from Shotokan and Japanese Jujitsu) from Master Hironori Otsuka
These styles are certainly different but still remain karate and the basic principles remain the same in all these styles.
As a drawing is often better than comlicated explanations, I made you a small synoptic about the history of Okinawa Karate in Japan. We understand immediately much better
That's it, I hope this little trip in space-time has you more and that you understand a little better Karate history (clear and clean ;-))
Leave me now a comment below and if this article has you more than share it with your friends.
See you soon,
PS: I want to clarify that I drew most of this article by rereading one of my BEES1 courses. This course was given to us by Pascal Girodet, BE2, Master in Karate and KungFu-Wushu. The synoptic I made at the end, is the copy almost identical to what he had written on the board. Thanks to him.
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