Karate is arguably one of the most popular combative martial arts in the world, and the credit for that goes to the Japanese for its invention, and development. Karate was conceived from the ancient martial arts which existed during those times which had Chinese elements. Its effective combative techniques include liberal use of punches, kicks, elbow strikes, knee strikes, and open hand techniques to knock the opponents off their feet. Throws, grappling, and vital point strikes add another sting to this martial art.
History / Origins
The word Karate is all Chinese and it consists of two elements which aptly define the martial art.
- ‘kara’ means empty
- ‘te’ means hand
Hence it would sum up to ‘empty hand.’ If you add another suffix character to it, ‘-do,’ it would further elaborate the meaning. ‘-do’, pronounced as ‘daw,’ means ‘the way/path.’ Thus ‘karate-do’ would translate as ‘way of the empty hand.’ Though loosely translated, it also means China or Tang Hand.
The birth place of this martial art was the Ryukyu Islands, now Okinawa, Japan. Though, the foundation was laid down back in 1372, when Okinawa established trade relations with the Ming dynasty of China, but in actual it was the bulk immigration of Chinese families to Okinawa in 1392 that brought the Chinese arts, sciences, and martial arts into this island.
Thus various forms of ancient Karate techniques flourished in the region, and the Fujian island was the hub for them. In 1806 Sakukawa Kanga ventured to teach the combative art in the city of Shuri, and named it ‘Tudi Sakukawa,’ meaning ‘Sakukawa of China Hand.’ Then Matsumura an outstanding student of Sakukawa, coined his own art brand ‘Shorin-ryu,’ which was a blend of Chinese Shaolin and Shuri-te and Tomari-te styles. From Matsumura the legacy was passed over to Itosu Anko, who simplified the combative forms, and worked to introduce Karate to the children at elementary school level. Thus his contribution helped him get the nickname ‘the Grandfather of Modern Karate.’
The title of ‘Father of Modern Karate’ goes to Gichin Funakoshi, who brought Karate to Japan in 1922. With the passing times, Karate was revamped to give a modern and more systematic look. The uniformity began with white uniform being introduced, and kimonos, dogi or keikogi, and coloured belts became the identity of Karate practitioners.
Karate has been unsuccessful in its bid to get into the Olympics 2020, despite the claims made by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs that there are as many as 50 million Karate practitioners across the world, while World Karate Federation claims double the number.
In modern times Karate has been accepted in different forms, or kata. And these different forms as inscribed by World Karate Federation are Shotokan, Shitō-ryū, Gōjū -ryū, and Wadō-ryū. Today Karate has spread in every corner of the world.
Despite its Chinese origin, Karate has largely remained under Japanese influence, and the Chinese names of the different Katas of Karate have also been replaced by Japanese names. It was the need of the day due to the turbulent times in which Japan had picked up war with China. And the renaming work was undertaken by Gichin Funakoshi, who wanted Karate to be accepted in the Japanese martial arts society.
Shorin-ryu, and Shorei-ryu were the two important branches of Okinawan Karate which Funakoshi taught along with elements of Kendo. Then a new form of Karate also emerged in 1957, Kyokushin, which was the innovation of Masutatsu Oyama, a Korean by birth. Because of its dynamics, Kyokushin earned the nickname ‘full contact Karate,’ or ‘Knockdown Karate.’