The Origins of Karate

The origins of Karate may date back over a thousand years, as it is thought that Karate evolved in Okinawa from earlier forms of Chinese self defence which were imported from the Asian mainland (Wikipedia –Karate web site 2009).

As the use of conventional weapons were banned in Okinawa in the late 15th century and again in the 17th century localised forms of empty handed combat evolved as a means of self defence; the term Karate simply means “empty hand” (Smit, 2001: 10). At the time of its development Karate was very much a secret art. Due in part to its secretive nature even in its origin, Karate had regional variations as various Okinawan karate masters placed differing emphasis on stances, blocks, strikes and kicks etc.

In 1908, 'The 10 Articles of Karate' prepared by Anko Itosu was submitted to the Educational Affairs Section of Okinawa Prefecture. Following this event karate started being introduced into the Okinawan school gymnastics curriculum, thus acquiring broad accessibility, in contrast to its previously secret nature (Karate and Martial Arts With Weaponry-History of Okinawan Karate web site 2009).

Modern Karate developed as a result of Gichin Funakoshi (1868 to 1957), a school teacher and a student of Okinawan karate masters Yasutsune Itosu and Yasutsune Azato, being invited to Japan by the Japanese Department of Education in order to demonstrate Karate in Tokyo during 1922. Funakoshi made a strong impression with the Japanese and as a result remained in Japan for the rest of his life teaching Katate at various Japanese Universities (Smit, 2001: 10; Wikipedia –Karate web site 2009).

While the majority of karate masters continued their teaching of the martial art in Okinawa, others followed Funakoshi to Japan and taught their own stylistic variations of Karate to Japanese students. While Japan already had a number of home grown martial arts and martial sports Karate quickly became popular, particularly amongst university students.

Karate on the International Scene

Following the end of the Second World War Karate was successfully exported to other nations. This spread principally in two ways. Initially some members of the allied occupation forces stationed in Japan and Okinawa took an interest in Karate and learned the art. When they returned to their home countries as qualified instructors they opened dojos of their own. Also during this period Japanese karate masters decided to send their own students out into the world to teach Karate in other nations. The Japan Karate Association (JKA) placed a strong emphasis on exporting karate to the world (The History Channel, 2005; Wikipedia-Karate web site, 2009; Wikipedia-Japan Karate Association web site 2009).

In 1970, the International Karate Union (IKU) was formed in an effort to organise karate at world level. Upon hearing this, Ryoichi Sasakawa, President of the Federation of all Japan Karatedo Organisation (FAJKO), traveled to France to discuss the creation of an international governing body. The IKU was quickly disbanded and a new organisation was formed between the EKU and the Japanese federation, and was called World Union of Karate-do Organizations (WUKO).

The WUKO evolved into the World Karate Federation (WKF) in 1990. The WKF currently represents approximately 160 international Karate bodies (Wikipedia-World Karate Federation web site, 2009).

The Australian Karate Federation (AKF) which was established in 1970 is a member of the WKF. The Australian Karate Federation Tasmania Inc. is recognized as an affiliated body by the AKF.

The Various Styles of Karate

Both traditional regional differences in Okinawan karate and recent interpretations by modern karate masters have led to a diverse number of modern karate styles evolving. Listed below are a number of the key styles currently practiced.

The AKF Tasmania Inc. presently has member clubs teaching Shotokan and Goju-Ryu styles of Karate.

Shotokan

Funakoshi is considered by many to be the founder of modern karate. The style of Karate which he developed and taught is today known as Shotokan. The term Shotokan means Shoto’s house or hall. Shoto was Gichin Funakoshi’s pen name.

In the Shotokan style emphasis is placed on training which makes use of low strong stances to ensure a solid foundation for basic techniques (Smit, 2001: 12).

Goju-Ryu

Goju-Ryu which means hard soft style is a combination of soft Chinese techniques and hard Okinawan methods. This style was founded by Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953).

Goju-Ryu emphasises fast and slow movements, tension and relaxation with deep abdominal breath control. It is characterized by small, tight movements of the body (Smit, 2001: 12).

Wado-Ryu

Wado-Ryu which means “way of harmony”, was founded in 1939 by Hironori Otsuka, one of Funakoshi’s students.

This style of karate emphasises the use of tension free techniques. It is characterised by stances which are slightly higher than those used in Shotokan and the generation of power through speed of movement (Smit, 2001: 13).

Shito-Ryu

The Shito-Ryu style of karate was founded in 1928 by Kenwa Mabuni. While popular in Japan Shito-Ryu did not spread further until a student of Mabuni, Chojiro Tani modified the style in the 1950s. Tani’s variant of traditional Shito-Ryu is known as “Shukokai” it means “way for all”.

This is a fast style of Karate, using high, shortened stances that are designed for natural movement and greater mobility, rather than power(Smit, 2001: 13).

References

Texts

Smit, S. 2001, Karate, The Essential Guide To Mastering the Art, New Holland Publishers, Australia.

Documentaries

The Mystic Origins Of The Martial Arts, 2005, The History Channel.

Web Sites

Australian Karate Federation 
Wikipedia-Japan Karate Association 
Wikipedia-Karate 
Wikipedia-World Karate Federation 
Karate and Martial Arts With Weaponry-History of Okinawan Karate