A Short History
Of Okinawan Karate-Do
centuries was originally practiced in secret, cloaked in classical Okinawan
dance. The fighting art was closely guarded by family members, teachers
and practitioners. Karate was indigenous to the RyuKyu culture, pervaded
by weapons bans throughout the centuries which forced the Okinawans to
employ empty or China hand (Te) for self-protection.
The lack of records also lends to the curtain of uncertainty regarding
historical events and facts for any given time period of Te history. The
bombings during the United States invasion of Japan and Okinawa in the
1940's was the final blow and catalyst to obliterate karate's ancient
history. Many records of RyuKyu culture, politics and government were
destroyed during the war by the bombs and aftermath of fire. After World
War II the RyuKyu language Okinawa Hogen was forbidden to be spoken or
taught in the schools. We do have some information regarding martial arts
in Okinawa and most historians would agree on the following important
overview of facts.
an island chain geographically situated between China and Japan, has strong
influences from both cultures, thereby borrowing martial art philosophy,
technique and training methods from the two outside societies. China and
Japan were, for centuries, involved in a tug of war to conquer and overrule
Okinawa, an important stopover point for seaborne commerce and trading
ships from the surrounding countries.
2. Influence of other Asian cultures, such as India, is evident in Okinawa.
In the sixth century A.D. an Indian monk named Bodhidharma (Daruma in
Japanese) was born into a warrior caste. He became a skilled martial artist.
He left India and traveled over the Himalayas into China to teach Zen
Buddhism there. He settled at the Shaolin (Shorin in Japanese) Temple
monastery. His teachings included Zen Buddhism philosophy, meditation,
and even more importantly physical striking with the hands and feet and
body shifting, all which are the precursors to Okinawan karate's budding
3. Korea, Tibet, Laos, Cambodia and numerous other Asian island cultures
throughout the centuries have had their considerable effect on Okinawa.
This effect through the pilgrimages of priests and the activities of pirates
of mixed racial background who dominated the seas surrounding Okinawa
during the Ming dynasty (1368-1643).
4. Okinawa suffered a history of weapons bans placed upon them by the
- Their own royalty in the 1420's the Okinawan King Hashi from Chuzan
and First Sho Dynasty.
- In 1469, King Sho-En, Second Okinawan Sho Dynasty, outlawed possession
of weapons by the people. He placed the ban to please China's royalty
and governmental court and also to protect himself and the throne from
- Sho-Shin reign, Okinawan 1477-1527, during this time period and including
1527 to 1609 Okinawa was left to itself, more or less, by Asia which was
torn by war and by Japan which was in a state of anarchy. The RyuKyu islands
remained for decades in a relatively peaceful state again without its people
bearing arms. The Okinawans were benevolent to the continued visits and
trading of peaceful merchant ships. During this time period, karate enjoyed
its development throughout the islands.
- 1609-1879 Japan's Satsuma clan reinstated the ban on arms including
the ban of ceremonial swords. Japan occupied and overruled Okinawa during
this time period, allowing China some dictate in the Okinawan political
system which was ruled by Japan. Japan did tolerate and there did exist,
undisturbed for three centuries, a succession of puppet-like Okinawan
kings and royal courts. However the Japanese soldiers, like most any occupying
force had little respect for the indigenous Okinawans, their homes or
their peaceful way of life.
-In 1879, Meiji Period, the abdication of the Okinawan King Sho Thi resulted
in Japan completely controlling the government. China withdrew from efficacy
and arbitrary interference of the Japanese control of Okinawa. The United
States tried to influence this political system, but to no avail. Japan
and Okinawa become synonymous from 1879 until present time. Japan remains
the authoritative ruler.
5. The RyuKyu islands stimulated by their development of the weaponless
fighting art incorporated the martial ideas of the various cultures into
karate thereby further developing (te) empty hand and combat with farm
implements. In order to protect themselves and their families from invaders
the Okinawans used the only weapons they had at their disposal; their
bodies. They combined the knowledge of their own martial heritage with
the methods they learned from the Chinese and others.
6. Okinawan karate from the late 1800's up to the present time is a matter
of record and it is more openly practiced and documented in this century.
As a result of the described outside influences of cross-pollination of
foreign cultural ideas and martial arts exposure, the Okinawans were destined
to incorporate and propagate the best techniques and fighting methods
from the others and into their own te. The secret practice of karate made
it even more mystical to the Okinawan practitioners who dedicated themselves
to the constant improvement of these skills. The fundamental precepts
of karate and other martial arts, Gan/Soku/Tanden/Riki are worthy of dissecting
and exploring especially from the point of view of the ancient Okinawan
and their contribution to our present day quest
for perfection in our training.
7. To state further, karate has been destined to circulate throughout
the world especially in this the 20th century. Modern karate was taught
for the first time in Japan in 1923 by a special invitation of the Ministry
of Education to Okinawan karate master Gichin Funokoshi who is the father
of Japanese karate. Karate made its way to Korea in the later part of
the 1940's. The Korean arts adopted the pinan kata, composed by Anko Itosu
and various other advanced kata composed by ancient Okinawan masters.
In the 1950's, karate came to the U.S. by way of the homecoming of the
American military men who were stationed in Okinawa during and after World
War II. In the 1960's, Europe and Russia both embraced karate and continue
to practice it with the help of modern day Okinawan and Japanese masters.
Karate has made its way full circle throughout the world and back to Asia,
influencing just about every modern day martial art practice.