History of Karate

The earliest form of Karate emerged on the Ryuku island of Okinawa which, fought over by Chinese and Japanese rule for many centuries, was a centre of conflict for hundreds of years. As a popular trading post, Okinawa attracted natives from all over South East Asia and, as a result, martial artists from varying people groups came together to share ideas and fighting techniques. Over a long period of time, the Okinawa techniques of grappling were fused with elements from Japanese and Chinese martial arts to develop an early form of Karate which focused on using the body to execute modes of attack and restraint. From its early stages then, Karate was not intended as a fighting sport, but as a means of self-defence, training the body to be strong, focused and prepared against attack at all times.

Karate evolved through the 15th and 16th centuries, adopting new variations as natives from Okinawa continued to travel around South East Asia. During that time, King Sho Shin banned the use of weapons on Okinawa, which encouraged natives to explore empty handed modes of restraint and defence.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Karate was introduced into the Okinawa school system placing new emphasis upon developing muscle strength, power and speed. The form of Karate entering the school syllabus at that time depended upon kihon and kata, the basic principles and moves of Karate, but had not yet developed kumite (the application of its techniques through sparring). Around this time Karate began to be recognised in mainland Japan and, as its practitioners increased, techniques were made official, a uniform was introduced, and the dan ranking system was brought in as a way of grading levels of karateka (the name given to a student of Karate).

After the Second World War, kumite was added as the third central element to Karate and, with this, the competitive element of Karate began to emerge. Whilst many karateka believe that sparring competitions detract from the principle of humility that is deemed to be central to the philosophy of traditional Karate, modern Karate is an official sport, and the WKF (World Karate Federation) organises various international competitions each year. Today, Karate is established across the globe and people of all nationalities draw upon the principles of discipline, self-control and power which emerged with the indigenous Okinawa people more than four centuries ago.