The Founder of Fighting
In the sixth century, China reached its highest cultural point and was the most powerful nation on earth. In 525 AD a Buddhist monk, named Bodhidharma, left India and traveled to Northern China. He walked across the Himalayas into Northern China and settled on the Songshan Mountains in the Shaolin Temple. There he taught the priests of the monastery a series of eighteen exercises. With the passing of time, these exercises were refined and developed into a fierce form of self-defense known as the Shaolin Temple method (Shorin-ji Kempo).
The Shaolin Temple is believed to be the birthplace of systematized martial arts. This Chinese method of self-defense spread through Asia and eventually found i's way to Okinawa. In most parts of East Asia today, Bodhidharma is referred as the spiritual father of Zen Buddhism and the founder of weaponless fighting styles, which was the precursor of modern day karate.
Martial Arts Enters Okinawa
In 1392, thirty-six families moved from China to Okinawa as a result of a cultural exchange program. Among these thirty-six families there where some experts of martial arts who solidified the growth and interest of Chinese Kempo in Okinawa.
In 1429 King Sho Hashi wanted to improve Okinawa's position in the world and involve the islands in active relations with other countries. The Okinawans were excellent sea men and quite naturally fell into their more profitable role as commercial sea traders. For two centuries Okinawa's two largest towns, Shuri and Naha became famous ports of traffic in luxury goods. Sailors traveled port to port exchanging their knowledge of their particular style in the martial arts. This expanded martial arts throughout Okinawa.
Okinawa Fights Back
With the fall of the Sho Dynasty in 1470 and the establishment of an all new dynasty under Sho Shin in 1477, came a ban on all weapons. The reason for this was to insure that the citizens would not be able to defend themselves.
1609 was a very important year in Okinawan history. A military expedition led against Okinawa by Japan, resulted in ending Okinawa's independence and giving way to complete control by the Japanese. The Okinawans, being infuriated by the Japanese control, frequently fought with their captors using only their hands, feet, or any other weapon that they could find.
Resistance against the Japanese by small unorganized bands was futile so those smaller groups began to unite and present a lager front that commanded a new fighting style known as "Te" which translates as "hand". "Te" had been developed, and practiced in utmost secrecy, and only by an elite group of trusted and carefully selected trainees. The art had to be practiced in secrecy because the Japanese were at that time trying to eliminate any and all forms of martial arts from Okinawan society. The three most advanced schools where in Shirr, Napa, and Tomari. At this time the art also became very brutal, in response to its soul purpose of maiming and killing their Japanese oppressors.
Sometime between 1784 and 1903, the word "Te" was replaced by the, now well known term "Karate". Kara in Japanese= "empty" Te in Okinowan= "hand". Around this time Japan became the official controllers of Okinawa.
Karate's Introduction To Japan
Some historians report that a small number of Okinawan instructors were known to have traveled through Japan and taught their sacred art as early as 1904 but it is recorded that Japan did not get its full taste of Karate until 1915. The person to officially introduce this art to Japan was Master Funakoshi who had been invited by the Ministry of Education in 1922. He presented several lectures and demonstrations to large groups of Japanese onlookers in Tokyo.
Over the next few years Master Funakoshi taught in universities around Japan. In 1924 Funakoshi persuaded the current rulers that his art, Karate, should be included in each of the university's physical education programs. Several universities, at this time, began to put D'j's on campus which increased Karate's popularity. By 1937 Karate reached the general public in Japan but was primarily practiced in the universities and the Japanese armed forces. Karate's Journey Into Hawaii: In the late 1800 many Okinawans traveled to Hawaii. Because Okinawa and Japan where united, the people who kept track of immigration considered the Okinawans to be Japanese. There is no separate record and the present population records show that there are approximately 61,000 "Japanese" living on the Hawaiian islands. They had migrated to the islands originally to find jobs on plantations working in the fields. These people made up 40% of the population, and a large number were familiar with, if not proficient in karate. There were no formal schools where martial art was taught. The first semblance of such a school was opened by Kensu Yabu, a retired Japanese militia lieutenant and one of the leading experts on karate. This occurred coincidentally when he was approached by a group of Okinowans, asking him to hold a Karate demonstration. Modern Day Karate: In 1954 Edward Parker, a Karate instructor, opened a Karate school in Utah. He also opened another school in Pasadena, California. Tsutoma Ohshima and Hidetaka Nishiyama are opened a great school in California. They could be called the greatest influences for "pure" karate's great popularity in America today.