Origins of Karate

Modern karate as we know it dates back about fourteen hundred years when a monk from India by the name of Bodhidharma travelled to China to spread his new faith, Zen Buddhism. He ended up at the Shaolin Monastery (made famous by the ‘Kung Fu’ TV series) and taught the monks his combat and conditioning methods so they could stand up to the rigours of the new faith. As time went on, this fighting art spread throughout China and eventually to the Ryukyu Islands, between Japan and China. The rulers of the islands had banned weapons which forced the peasantry to develop empty handed fighting methods as well as the use of basic farming implements as weapons. The Chinese influence was constant and a native style developed over the centuries. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Karate was introduced into the Island’s school system and in 1922 the art was introduced in Japan by an Okinawan teacher, Gichin Funakoshi. He had practiced karate from childhood until well into his eighties.

Funakoshi is considered the ‘father of modern karate’. He was instrumental in changing the art from an Okinawan fighting style into a martial art that would bear similar characteristics to other Japanese martial arts like Kendo and Judo. Under Funakoshi’s guidance, the word Karate became known as ‘empty hand’. This has two meanings, the realization that karate is a weaponless art and it relation to Zen Buddhist philosophy where emptying one’s mind of thoughts and fears will enable the student to achieve enlightenment and perfection in the art.

Funakoshi’s dedication to the art enabled it to become established in Japan and in 1949 the Japan Karate Association was formed. It became a recognized educational institute where candidates for the instructors program are taught the physical and scientific aspects of karate. Since then, karate has spread throughout the world and has become a popular form of sport, recreation and self-defence.

Karate training is a life long experience. Although there are many styles of karate with different views on training methods, a good dojo (school) with a quality instructor will follow a structured approach that yields long term results. As in any sport or occupation, a foundation in the basics followed by gradual widening one’s knowledge through research and practice will ensure excellence. Orthodox karate is no exception . This concept is vital since it is a martial art which means that fighting skills are learned over time.

During the student’s tenure he/she will be introduced to the foundations of karate which are stances, walking, blocking and punching. After a month or two, the first form will be taught as well as the first steps to fighting and self defence skills. This consists of one step attack and defence with another person and simple fighting techniques. As the months and years pass, basic techniques are improved, more forms are learned plus fighting and self defence skills become ingrained with constant practice.

By Ben d’Avernas