Unlike Kendo & Judo, Karate was not born in Japan but on Okinawa, the largest of the small Ryukyu islands south of Japan.  Due to its location, Okinawa became a busy trading hub, ideal for cross-cultural exchanges flowing to and from its shores.  Although the precise origin of karate is unknown, most historians agree that karate is the result of the evolution of local fighting arts such as Ti and Shaolin Chuan-fa (Kung-fu) from China.  Adding to the mystery of its origins are many modern-day misconceptions built upon myths and legends.

The indigenous fighting arts known as Ti, meaning “hand” in the Okinawan dialect, later came to be known as To-di or To-de, meaning “China Hand”  (“To” being the pronunciation of the Chinese character “Tang”, the ruling dynasty of China at the time).  This was due to the undeniable Chinese influence upon Ti.   Eventually, Kara (an alternate pronunciation of the character for “China”) replaced “To” and Te (the Japanese word for “hand”) replaced “Ti”.  China Hand was now known as Kara-Te.  The final evolution came in the form a decree from the Dai Nippon Butokukai (the national organization established to preserve, license and regulate martial arts in Japan) to change the character from Kara meaning “China” to Kara meaning “Empty” (ex. “flower” and “flour”).  Thus, Karate became the method of the Empty Hand.

Karate was introduced to mainland Japan by Gichin Funakoshi (founder of Shotokan) who was soon followed by Kenwa Mabuni (founder of Shito-ryu) and Chojun Miyagi (founder of Goju-ryu).  These three Okinawan masters spread Karate primarily through the university system at a time when Kendo and Judo were well-established.  Ethical standards such as perseverance, respect, harmony, loyalty and honor were essential in balancing the practice of lethal fighting skills.  Accepting these virtues as a foundation for devoting one’s life to the perfection of skills, defined Karate-do as Budo (Martial Way).  

Although Karate-do was accepted as an effective method of self-defense, its practitioners wanted to test their skills amongst one another in competition.  The early innovators experimented with the use of Kendo bugu (armor) to prevent injury from devastating full-contact strikes and kicks.  Over time, the concept of controlled contact was adopted for competition and full-force contact was reserved for the makiwara (striking post) training.

Although the elements and techniques of Okinawan karate remain within the kata (pre-arranged series of Karate techniques), post-WW II Karate-do became a recognized Japanese martial art that rapidly spread to every corner of the world.  United by its common vocabulary, gi (uniform) and values, to name a few, Karate-do continues to build bridges between all Karate-ka (Karate practitioner) bringing them together as one family.  It is our goal that the culture of Okinawa and Japan continue to live through traditional Karate-do regardless of style, affiliation or school.  Today we honor our predecessors for their inspiration, passion and devotion to a cultural phenomenon that promotes physical fitness, self-defense, positive values and self-perfection. 

The History of Karate