Unarmed martial arts style known as karate (Japanese: “empty hand“) uses kicking, striking, and defensive blocking with the arms and legs. The goal is to direct as much of the body’s force toward the location and instant of impact. The ball of the foot, heel, forearm, knee, and elbow are among the surfaces that can be struck. The hands, particularly the knuckles and the outer edge, are another. All of them have been strengthened by repeated knocks to wood or padded surfaces. A skilled person can break pine boards up to several inches thick with their bare hands or feet. However, it is believed that timing, strategy, and attitude are all at least as significant as physical toughness.

Blows and kicks are halted quickly in karate for sport and in training sparring (kumite), ideally within an inch of contact. If neither competitor has scored a clear “killing” point in the judges’ opinion after three minutes, sporting competitions usually end in a decision. There are also contests of form (kata), in which a single contestant executes a prearranged sequence of motions that represent a defense and counterattack against numerous opponents. As in gymnastics, a group of judges assigns points to performances.

Over many decades, karate developed in East Asia. It was systematized in Okinawa in the 17th century, probably by individuals who were not allowed to carry firearms. In the 1920s, it was brought into Japan. With the development of numerous institutions and systems, each favored slightly various training methodologies. Like other Asian martial arts styles, karate emphasizes a positive mental attitude, politeness customs, costumes, and a rigorous ranking system (by colour of belt). There are several technical similarities to different combat styles.


The Ryukyuan Pechin class developed te (Okinawan: ti), a common fighting system, long before karate existed. King Satto of Chzan established trading ties with the Ming dynasty of China in 1372, and after that, visitors from China, mainly from Fujian Province, brought several types of Chinese martial arts to the Ryukyu Islands. Around 1392, a sizable group of Chinese families migrated to Okinawa with the intention of fostering cultural exchange. There, they founded the Kumemura community and disseminated their expertise in a wide range of Chinese arts and sciences, including the Chinese martial arts. Furthering the development of unarmed combat tactics in Okinawa were King Sh Shin’s policy of banning firearms in 1477 and King Sh Hashi’s governmental centralization of Okinawa in 1429. These laws were later enforced in Okinawa during the Shimazu clan’s invasion in 1609.

There were numerous practitioners with unique techniques rather than many formal te styles. The Motobu-ry school, which Seikichi Uehara inherited from the Motobu family, is one surviving instance. Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te are three early karate styles that were called after the three cities from which they originated. Each region and its teachers had unique kata, methods, and tenets that set their regional form of te apart from the others.

The elite classes of Okinawa frequently sent representatives to China to study a range of theoretical and practical subjects. As a result of these interactions and expanding legislative limits on the use of weapons, empty-handed Chinese Kung Fu was incorporated into Okinawan martial arts. Traditional karate kata are strikingly similar to the movements seen in Fujian martial arts such Gangrou-quan (Hard Soft Fist; pronounced “Gjken” in Japanese), Fujian White Crane, and Five Ancestors. The sai, tonfa, and nunchaku are only a few examples of Okinawan weaponry that may have their roots in Southeast Asia. [Reference needed]

In China, Sakukawa Kanga (1782–1838) had studied staff (bo) combat and pugilism (according to one legend, under the guidance of Kosokun, originator of kusanku kata). He began instructing in a combat style he dubbed “Tudi Sakukawa,” which translates to “Sakukawa of China Hand,” in the city of Shuri in 1806. This was the first time the art of “Tudi,” also written as, was mentioned in writing. Matsumura Skon (1809–1899), Sakukawa’s most important pupil in the 1820s, taught a fusion of te (Shuri-te and Tomari-te) and Shaolin (Chinese ) forms. Later, Matsumura’s fashion would evolve into the Shrin-ry fashion.

Itosu Ank (1831–1915), among others, received instruction from Matsumura in his craft. Two types Itosu had picked up from Matsumura were modified. These are chiang nan and kusanku. He developed the simpler kata known as ping’an forms, or “heian” or “pinan” in Japanese, for use by starting pupils. Itosu assisted in introducing karate to Okinawa’s public schools in 1901. Children were taught these forms when they were in primary school. The legacy of Itosu in karate is extensive. The forms he developed are utilized by almost all karate styles. Some of the most well-known karate masters he taught, including as Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, and Chki Motobu, are descendants of his pupils. Itosu has earned the moniker “the Grandfather of Modern Karate” at times.

In 1881, Higaonna Kanryō returned from China after years of instruction with Ryu Ryu Ko and founded what would become Naha-te. One of his students was the founder of Gojū-ryū, Chōjun Miyagi. Chōjun Miyagi taught such well-known karateka as Seko Higa (who also trained with Higaonna), Meitoku Yagi, Miyazato Ei’ichi, and Seikichi Toguchi, and for a very brief time near the end of his life, An’ichi Miyagi (a teacher claimed by Morio Higaonna).

After years of study under Ryu Ryu Ko, Higaonna Kanry returned from China in 1881 and established what would become Naha-te. Chjun Miyagi, the creator of Goj-ry, was one of his pupils. Seko Higa (who also studied with Higaonna), Meitoku Yagi, Miyazato Ei’ichi, and Seikichi Toguchi are just a few of the well-known karateka that Chjun Miyagi instructed. He also briefly instructed An’ichi Miyagi near the end of his life (a teacher claimed by Morio Higaonna).

Gichin Funakoshi, the creator of Shotokan karate, is typically credited with bringing karate to Japan’s main islands and popularizing it there. The growth of karate in the main islands was also facilitated by the active teaching activities of numerous Okinawans. Asato Ank and Itosu Ank both taught Funakoshi (who had worked to introduce karate to the Okinawa Prefectural School System in 1902). During this time, notable instructors like Kenwa Mabuni, Chjun Miyagi, Chki Motobu, Kanken Tyama, and Kanbun Uechi helped karate become more popular in Japan. In the region’s history, this was a time of unrest. It covers the annexation of Korea, the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), Japan’s acquisition of the Okinawan island group in 1872, and the emergence of Japanese militarism (1905–1945).

Funakoshi changed the name of the art to “way of the empty hand” because he was aware that the Tang/China hand would not be accepted by the invading Japanese army. The d suffix suggests that karate is more than just a study of the mechanics of conflict; it is a route to self-knowledge. Around the turn of the 20th century, karate underwent a change from -jutsu to -d, as did the majority of martial arts practiced in Japan. Similar to how aikido is separated from aikijutsu, judo from jujutsu, kendo from kenjutsu, and iaido from iaijutsu, “d” in “karate-d” distinguishes it from karate-jutsu.

To have karate authorized by the Japanese religious organization Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, Funakoshi modified the titles of numerous kata as well as the name of the martial art itself (at least on the country’s main island). Many of the kata were given Japanese names by Funakoshi as well. The three naihanchi forms became known as tekki, seisan as hangetsu, Chint as gankaku, wanshu as enpi, and so on. The five pinan forms became known as heian. Even if Funakoshi did introduce some such alterations, the majority of these were political rather than changes to the forms’ actual content. Funakoshi had received instruction in Shorin-ry and Shrei-ry, two of the most well-liked schools of Okinawan karate at the time. He was influenced by kendo in Japan and incorporated some of its concepts of time and distance into his own method. Despite the fact that he founded a dojo in Tokyo in 1936 and named the style he left behind Shotokan in honor of this dojo, he always referred to what he taught as just “karate.” Funakoshi’s pen name was Shoto, which means “pine wave,” and kan, which means “hall.”

The adoption of the white uniform—often referred to as simply “karategi”—consisting of the kimono, the dogi or keikogi, and the various colored belt ranks was another aspect of the modernisation and systemization of karate in Japan. Jigoro Kano, the creator of judo and one of the individuals Funakoshi consulted in his efforts to modernize karate, was responsible for both of these innovations’ conception and widespread adoption.

Masutatsu Oyama (Choi Yeong-Eui was his Korean name at birth) created a brand-new style of karate known as Kyokushin and gave it its official name in 1957. Most of Kyokushin is a combination of Shotokan and Gj-ry. It uses a curriculum that promotes physical toughness, full-contact sparring, and being alive. Kyokushin is currently frequently referred to as “full contact karate” or “Knockdown karate” due to its emphasis on physical, full-force sparring (after the name for its competition rules). The Kyokushin curriculum is the ancestor of numerous different karate associations and schools.

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