Modern day karate is only about 200 years old, however, its roots date as far back as 17th century Japan. Sadly, little is known about the early origins of karate, however, it can be traced back to its first known appearance in Okinawa (a Japanese island in the East China Sea), thousands of years ago.
What is Karate?
Karate is a form of Japanese martial arts that is practiced as a sport across the world, however, as we delve further into its history, you’ll see how important its teachings are on a social and cultural level, as well as fitness.
This oriental system of unarmed combat takes a lot of dedication to master, as it uses the hands and feet to deliver and block blows. It also encompasses moral and spiritual connotations, which will be discussed in more detail a little later on.
Where did it Originate?
There’s much speculation over the origins of karate, however, it’s believed that Bodhidharma, often referred to, as ‘Daruma’ in Japan is believed to be the source for most martial arts styles. It’s believed this Buddhist Monk, who taught Zen Buddhism, also introduced a systemised set of exercises that were designed to strengthen the mind and body. Allegedly, these exercises sparked the beginning of the Shaolin style of temple boxing.
These teachings would later become the basis of most martial art styles practiced out of China and Japan.
To get a little more specific, Daruma spent many years practicing and sharing these exercises that would later be known as the martial art, karate. This indigenous form of closed fist fighting was developed in Okinawa and was called ‘Te’ or ‘Hand’. During this time period, there were a number of weapon bans imposed on the Okinawans, which resulted in a refinement of empty-hand techniques. This is why there is very little information on the early days of karate, as people were usually forced to practice in private and there are no official records detailing any ‘karate-style’ events.
The art of karate developed over time, as visiting nobles and travel merchants influenced many of the emerging forms of martial arts.
As karate began to spread, it was adopted and adapted by the people in three Okinawan cities, Shuri, Naha and Tomari. These would later become two main types of karate, Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu. It’s believed that Shorin-ryu involved quick, linear and natural breathing, while Shorei-ryu emphasised steady, rooted movements with breathing in synchrony with each movement.
Despite the physical aspects of karate, its practice also involves aspects of everyday life, including scholastic endeavours, behaviour and humanity as observed in daily life. This comprises karate’s moral and spiritual connotations.
Flash forward to the present and there are now four main types of karate that are practiced in Asia and across the Western world; Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, Shotokan and Wado-ryu.
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