WTOKF - The History of Martial Arts

The History of Martial Arts

The Early History From China
Early in China, as many of you know, Shaolin monasteries trained monks in Kung Fu. In the 6th century, this style of Shaolin Kung Fu quickly spread throughout Asia. Neighboring countries incorporated these new techniques into their indigenous fighting systems.

Okinawa, a chain of islands between China and Japan, was strongly influenced by this introduction of Kung Fu early in the country’s history, thought to have taken place as early as the late 6th century. This early form of Okinawan art became known as Tode. “To” referred to the T’ang Dynasty, which flourished between 618-906 A.D. ‘To” was later used as an adjective, referring to being connected with China. “To” was also read as “Kara” in Kanji, which becomes important later in the history. Tode thus became the indigenous form of weaponless fighting in the Okinawan Islands. Very little was known about this form of fighting outside of Okinawa until the 14th century, some 8 centuries later.

In 1372, Okinawa began an official relationship with China. This agreement allowed China to expand its trade with other countries, as well as to spread Kung Fu throughout the region. As an Imperial gift to Okinawa, a group of Chinese artisans and merchants were sent to Okinawa to establish a permanent settlement. This group of people became known as “the thirty six families.” Not only did these immigrants bring their professions and culture to Okinawa, but they also introduced a more modern form of Chinese Kung Fu. So by the 1400’s, two forms of weaponless fighting systems, Tode and Kung Fu, both originating as Chinese Kung Fu, were coexisting in Okinawa.
The History in Okinawa

Okinawa was originally divided into three kingdoms, the kingdoms of Chuzan, Hokuzan, and Nanzan. In 1429, these three kingdoms were united under one king, which formed the beginning of the Sho Dynasty. The Sho Dynasty lasted until 1477, when a new Sho Dynasty started, the Sho Shin Dynasty. The new ruler of the Sho Shin Dynasty was fearful of an uprising against him, so he placed a ban on all weapons. The act of banning weapons drove the Tode and Kung Fu organizations underground, in fear that they would be persecuted for practicing their fighting methods. However, Tode and Kung Fu continued to evolve and be practiced secretly, and this secrecy is why so little is known about these ancient forms.

About 140 years later, in 1609, the Satsuma Clan of Japan invaded the Okinawan Islands and ended Okinawan independence forever. The invading Satsuma wanted to destroy all evidence of Okinawan fighting forms, in addition to continuing to ban weapons from Okinawa’s inhabitants. The Samurai was now the law of the land, and their skills with the Samurai sword allowed them to maintain their rule.

The inhabitants of Okinawa were at a great disadvantage, without weapons to defend themselves against the powerful sword and jujutsu techniques of the Samurai. The effort to survive under these circumstances was the direct cause of the development of the Okinawan weapons we know of today. The Tonfa, Kama, Sai, Nunchuku, Bo, and Eku-Bo were all created by people struggling to deal with being denied the mean to defend themselves. These new weapons have origins as farm implements and other tools, but in the hands of the Okinawans they became deadly weapons. The benefit of using farming tools was that the Samurai would not become alarmed when they saw people using them. However, if the Okinawans were under attack, they could quickly convert there simple farming tools into useful and effective weapons against the samurai warriors. Twenty years after the Satsuma invasion, in 1629, the Tode and Kung Fu societies continued their own evolution, by deciding to combine their fighting styles. This new blend of styles was called Te, which means “hand” in translation. This union was an effort to take the benefits of both the styles and create a stronger more effective style that could be used against the Samurai.

The Satsuma Clan lost control of the Okinawan Islands in 1875, when Japan officially made Okinawa part of Japan, and lifted the fear and subjugation that had oppressed the Okinawans for so long. In the years to follow, Okinawan Te would begin to reveal itself to the world. There evolved three slightly different styles of Okinawan Tej, and these styles were named after the cities that Te was practiced in: Shuri, Tomari, and Naha. With the elimination of the oppression, Shuri Te, Tomari Te, and Naha Te would soon proliferate. By 1887 the word “Te” was replaced, and the name “Karate” began to be used. “Kara” means China, as mentioned earlier. “Karate” was thus translated as “China Hand.” In a way, this constituted the birth of Karate, and with it a new era of openness and sharing came into being. By the early part of the 1900’s, karate was being demonstrated and taught openly, and soon found great acceptance among the Okinawan people. Soon, karate began to be taught in the public schools. Karate became more and more widely accepted by the people of Okinawa, as many more students began to practice the art.

By 1905, an Okinawan karate master decided to start referring to karate as “Empty Hand” instead of “China Hand,” thus finally eliminating any references to karate’s Chinese origins. With this bold move, practitioners of karate began to present karate to the world as a truly Okinawan Art. The growing interest in karate soon caught the eye of the Japanese people. In 1917, the Japanese government requested a personal demonstration of this still generally unknown Okinawan fighting art. A gathering of Okinawan masters took place and they decided that one person would represent all of Okinawan Karate. It was decided that Gichin Funakoshi would travel to Japan to demonstrate karate to the Japanese. The History in Japan and Movement to the United States and the Rest of the World Gichin Funakoshi was a small and rather weak looking individual. However, despite his appearance, he was very skilled in Okinawan karate. A demonstration of a sparring match between this Okinawan master and a Japanese martial artist was arranged. Gichin Funakoshi was able to overpower the Japanese opponent with his superior karate techniques. The Japanese people were very impressed and Gichin Funakoshi stayed in Japan and began to teach karate to the Japanese people.

By the 1920’s and 30’s many Okinawan masters began to travel to Japan an establish dojos. Most of the Japanese styles we have today began to be created in those first schools in the 1920’s and 30’s. In 1927 the style of Gojo-Ryu was created, and this was the first time the name of a style didn’t come from the name of the city it was practiced in. Shortly, other styles began to emerge, including our own, Shito Ryu. There are a number traditional Japanese karate systems, including Shotokan, Goju-Ryu, Wado-Ryu, Shorin-Ryu, Kyokushin, and Shito-Ryu.
Karate quickly found its way from Japan to the Hawaiian Islands. This was mainly due to the fact that there was a large group of Okinawans living on in Hawaii at the time. However, it wasn’t until World Wars II that karate began to reach the United States. After the war, many United States servicemen were exposed to Japanese judo and karate. During the 40’s and 50’s, judo actually gained greater acceptance than karate, which lead to karate not being as widely accepted until the 1960’s.

Beginning in the 1960’s, substantially through the hard work of our Chief Instructor, Shihan Fumio Demura, karate was introduced to the United States, and further on to the rest of the world. Shihan Demura brought karate to the public’s eye with powerful demonstrations, in widely popular movies like “The Karate Kid” series, and through his own tireless efforts and charismatic teaching style. There are now hundreds of different styles of Karate around the world. Of course, some styles die out as new ones are created. This is the ongoing evolution of karate, just as an ancient form of Chinese Kung Fu evolved into Okinawan Te and eventually into Japanese Karate.





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