The origin of Karate dates back more than a thousand years. When Dharma
was at the Shao Lin monastery in China, he taught his students physical
training methods in order to build endurance and physical strength. These
traits were required to carry out the rigid discipline that was part of
their practice. This physical training method was further developed and
adapted to become what is known today as the Shao Lin art of fighting. This
martial art was imported to Okinawa and blended with the indigenous fighting
techniques of the island. The lord of ancient Okinawa and later the feudal
lord of Kagoshima, on the southernmost tip of Kyushu in Japan, banned the
use of weapons, thus giving rise to the development of "empty-hand" fighting
and self-defense techniques. This martial art, due to its Chinese origin,
was called karate, written in characters with literal meaning "Chinese hand."
The modern master of this art, Gichin Funakoshi, who died in 1957 at the
age of eighty-eight, changed the characters to mean literally "empty hand."
Funakoshi, however, chose the character for its meaning in Zen Buddhist
philosophy: "rendering oneself empty." To the master, karate was a martial
art, but it was also a means of building character. He wrote: "As a mirror's
polished surface reflects whatever stands before it and a quiet valley carries
even small sounds, so must the student of karate render his mind empty of
selfishness and wickedness in an effort to react appropriately toward anything
he might encounter. This is the meaning of KARA, or EMPTY, of KARATE."
Karate was first introduced to the Japanese public in 1922, when Funakoshi, who was then Professor at the Okinawa Teacher's College, was invited to lecture and demonstrate at the exhibition of traditional martial arts sponsored by the Ministry of Education. His demonstration so impressed the audience that he was flooded with requests to teach in Tokyo. Instead of returning to Okinawa, Funakoshi taught karate at various universities and at the Kodokan, the mecca of Judo, until he was able to establish the Shotokan in 1936, a great landmark in the history of karate in Japan.
The Japan Karate Association was established in 1955 with Funakoshi as chief instructor. At that time, the organization had only a few members and a handful of instructors who had studied karate under the then aged master. The Association was approved as a corporation by the Ministry of Education in 1958. In that same year, the Association held the first All-Japan Karate Championship Tournament, now an annual event, helping to establish karate as a competitive sport.
The role of karate in the modern age is multiple. As a practical means of self-defense, it is widely taught in private clubs, and in Japan it is a part of the training program for policemen and members of the armed forces. A great number of colleges now include karate in their physical education programs, and an increasing number of women are learning its techniques. In Japan and elsewhere in the world, moreover, karate is gaining great popularity as a competitive sport, one which stresses mental discipline as well as physical prowess. What was originally developed in the Orient as a martial art, then, has survived and changed through the centuries to become not only a highly effective means of unarmed self-defense, but also an exciting, challenging sport enjoyed by enthusiasts throughout the world.
For more detailed information about history,
philosophy, and theory of Karate, and about the most representative Karate
Grand Masters and their contribution to the development, visit
the web site of Budo
Sensei's (4th from right, front row) Romanian Dojo