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The Origins Of Karate

“You may train for a long, long time. But if you merely move your hands and feet and jump up and down like a puppet, learning karate is not vastly different from learning to dance. You will never have reached the heart of the matter; you will have failed to grasp the quintessence of karate-do.” – GICHIN FUNAKOSHI

In 1916 Gichin Funakoshi introduced Karate into Japan from Okinawa. Karate means Empty Hand. Gichin Funakoshi (船越 義珍, Funakoshi Gichin, November 10, 1868 – April 26, 1957) is the founder of Shotokan Karate-Do, perhaps the most widely known style of karate, and is known as a “father of modern karate”.

Following the teachings of Anko Itosu and Anko Asato, he was one of the Okinawan karate masters who introduced karate to the Japanese mainland in 1922. He taught karate at various Japanese universities and became honorary head of the Japan Karate Association upon its establishment in 1949. 

Karate is thought to have been started in India by a Buddhist priest called Bhodidarma, who wished to take Zen (a sect of Buddhism) to the Chinese. The Buddhist priests learnt how to fight to defend themselves from bandits and wild animals as they wandered.

In about AD 500, Bhodidarma reached the court of Emperor Wu at Chein-K’ang in China, where he was warmly received. He left the courts, eventually reaching the Henan Province and went into seclusion in the Shaolin temple (Shorin in Japanese) to teach Zen. He also taught his system of unarmed combat called Shorin Kempo.

Forms of Chinese combat have been recorded as far back as 3000 BC. Gichin Funakoshi (船越 義珍, Funakoshi Gichin, November 10, 1868 – April 26, 1957) is the founder of Shotokan Karate-Do, perhaps the most widely known style of karate, and is known as a “father of modern karate”. Following the teachings of Anko Itosu and Anko Asato, he was one of the Okinawan karate masters who introduced karate to the Japanese mainland in 1922.

He taught karate at various Japanese universities and became honorary head of the Japan Karate Association upon its establishment in 1949.  is credited with being the founder of Chinese Kempo, mainly because he added the meditative practices of Yoga and Zen, making it a more complete system, as we know it today.

Zen is inseparably linked with Karate and every Master of Karate seeks a more enlightened experience by studying Zen; in fact, all the developments in Shorin Kempo were achieved by various priests, through the years. Finally, the close connection between priests and medicine resulted in the discovery not only of vital spots on the human body where cures could be applied but also where Kempo attacks could be directed for the best results.

From China, Kempo spread north to Mongolia, east to Korea and south-east to Okinawa. Eventually it reached Japan, where it became extremely popular after the Kamakure era (about AD 1200). The soldier class, the Samurai, welcomed both the combat forms and the Zen philosophy. The morality and mysticism of Zen Buddhism appealed to their sensibilities but the real attraction was the way it provided them with a discipline which made them capable of great endurance and excellence in fighting, through the development of insight into both themselves and their opponents.

At various times in history – for instance in 1400 and again in 1609, in Okinawa- the authorities forbade the populace to use arms. As a means of protection against the bandits, and sometimes against the authorities, unarmed combat became widely taught. The schools, themselves usually confined to the temples, were nevertheless kept secret, because if discovered they would have been immediately wiped out by those in power. It was not until 1901 that Karate, as we now know it, was brought out of secret study and taught openly in Okinawa.

In 1916, Master Gichin Funakoshi came from Okinawa to Tokyo and pioneered the modern system of Karate in Japan. There are many schools of Karate today, born from many origins, each with its own merits and perhaps its own faults.

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