Many historians trace Okinawan karate history and indeed the history of the martial arts in the Far East to Bodhidharma, the Indian Buddhist monk who travelled to China in around 527 CE.
He stayed at the Shaolin Temple where he is said to have taught the monks an ancient form of Indian martial arts known as Vajramushti, which dates back to around 1000 BCE.
From there it grew and developed into what we now know as kung fu and spread right throughout China. Over the centuries, it is believed that Chinese martial artists visited the island of Okinawa and passed on their knowledge, developing over time into an art that was unique to the island.
From 1609, Okinawa was run by the Satsuma samurai clan from Japan and under their rule, weapons and martial arts in general were banned. Though the use of some weapons was still practiced, their ban had a profound influence on the art as it led to the secret development of many empty handed techniques.
All those who chose to learn martial arts had to do so in secret or risk punishment from the authorities. As a result, very little information was written down about the martial arts in Okinawa before the 20th century and much of what was recorded unfortunately hasn’t survived, leaving the exact details of what was practiced and believed a mystery.
Much of what is generally accepted as karate history fact comes from an oral tradition and unreliable sources making it very difficult to know where the truth ends and myths & legends begin; even work written by masters may have relied on historically inaccurate sources.
There were three main styles which are named after the cities in which they developed; Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te. Collectively, these fighting styles were known as Okinawan Te (Hand) or Tode, (Chinese Hand). Two forms of Tode emerged by the 19th century, Shorin-ryu which was developed from the Shuri and Tomari styles and Shorei-Ryu which came from the fighting style practiced at Naha.
It should be remembered that the cities were all within a few miles of each other and Shorin-Ryu and Shorei-Ryu had many similarities. The main differences were of emphasis and according to Sensei Gichin Funakoshi who studied both, they were developed based on different physical requirements.
Shorin-Ryu was a quick, linear art that taught natural breathing whereas Shorei-Ryu was more rooted and practiced breathing that was synchronized with each individual movement; according to Funakoshi, both styles also have links to the kung fu styles of the Wutang and Shaolin Temples.
Karate (空手) Okinawan pronunciation: kaɽati is a martial art developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom. It developed from the indigenous Ryukyuan martial arts (called te (手), "hand"; tii in Okinawan) under the influence of Shaolin (Shorin) Kung Fu, particularly Fujian White Crane. Karate is now predominantly a striking art using punching, kicking, knee strikes, elbow strikes and open-hand techniques such as knife-hands, spear-hands and palm-heel strikes. Historically, and in some modern styles, grappling, throws, joint locks, restraints and vital-point strikes are also taught. A karate practitioner is called a karateka (空手家), and its plural is "karateka" or "karatekas''.
The Empire of Japan annexed the Ryukyu Kingdom in 1879. Karate came to the Japanese archipelago in the early 20th century during a time of migration as Ryukyuans, especially from Okinawa, looked for work in Japan. It was systematically taught in Japan after the Taishō era of 1912-1926. In 1922 the Japanese Ministry of Education invited Gichin Funakoshi to Tokyo to give a karate demonstration. In 1924 Keio University established the first university karate club in mainland Japan, and by 1932 major Japanese universities had karate clubs. In this era of escalating Japanese militarism, the name was changed from 唐手 ("Chinese hand" or "Tang hand") to 空手 ("empty hand") – both of which are pronounced karate in Japanese – to indicate that the Japanese wished to develop the combat form in Japanese style. After World War II, Okinawa became (1945) an important United States military site and karate became popular among servicemen stationed there.