Legend says that about 1,400 years ago a monk named Daruma came to China from India and taught Buddhism. He also taught his disciples a weaponless combat technique for physical fitness and self-defense. Since Daruma's system of fighting originated in a foreign country it was called Way-Jai-Chuan or Gai-Ka-Ken (outside-house-fist or foreign fist) to differentiate it from the domestic weaponless combat technique which was called Ney-Jai-Chuan or Nai-Ka-Ken (inside-house-fist or domestic fist). Presently Gai-Ka-Ken is divided into two major groups, Bei-Pie-Chuan (Northwern style) and Nan-Pie-Chuan (Southern style).
Typical characteristics of Chinese fighting styles are body shifting, circular or elliptical hand movement blocking, and low kicking. From these points one can sense the Chinese principle of harmony: "Do not fight directly with power against power;" rather, use "softness against hardness." These circular movements and low kicks tend to be practical and econimcal in terms of fighting.
The Chinese also utilized and adapted these arts for physical fitness. One of these styles, Tai-Chi-Chuan, attracts people who love harmony and tranquillity. In Tai-Chi-Chuan, the same tecnique is practiced over and over again until it becomes second nature. Many Chinese styles emphasize "CHI or "KI development for internal (and external) power.
When the idealist and visionary King Shohashi united Okinawa around 400 years ago, he ordered the burning of all weapons. This encouraged peaceful control of the population and prevented armed uprisings. Two hundred years later, the Satsuma clan from the southern Japanese main islnad of Kyushu, under Lord Shimazu, conquered Okinawa; once again possession of weapons was strictly prohibited. As a result of these consecutive weapon prohibitions, the Okinawan populace developed combat techniques which utilized agricultural implements.
Also during this time Karate began its development there, getting its technical roots from the Chinese mainland. From the beginning of its history, and largely because of its location, Okinawa has been influenced by Chinese culture.
These bare-hand and kicking arts became known as Naha-te, Shuri-te, and Tomari-te based on their place of town of origin. Because of their Chinese roots, these arts were sometimes refered to as "TOW-DE" or "KARA-TE" (TOW or KARA means Chinese and DE and TE mean hand). Sometimes they were referred to as Okinawa-te. These styles evolved out of a need to fight against armed opponents. IN contrast to Chinese techniques, Okinawa-te tended to use more fist techniques than open hand techniques. Furthermore, it tended to utilize more straight-lin or linear movements.
An important principle in these Okinawan martial arts involves also the developemnt of large muscles and strongly callused hands and feet, in order to develop kicks and punches that can finish an opponenet with one blow. But practitioners did not do much free sparring, believing that if they did free sparring, their strong focus would be weakened by trying to win. They mainly practiced hitting makiwar (a punching board strapped with straw rope) and kata (forms; movements in a set sequence). The use of kata to study and practice probably derived from the Chinese martial arts, which used them extensively.
In the early 1920's, the Venerable Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), a student of the Venerable Yasutsune Asato (1827-1906) and Yasutune Itosu (1838-1915), was chosen by the Okinawan Martial Art Society because he was well educated to introduce Karate into mainland Japan. Many of Funakoshi's concepts were influenced by Japanese culture, especially by Zen Buddhism.
Funakoshi transformed Kara-te from a mere fighting technique of Okinawa to a full-fledged martial art with a spiritual background. He not only ttaught the physical aspects of Karate, but also instructed his students in teh new phiolosophy of this martial art. Some of his percepts were:
"Karate is not for winning but to build character;"
"Karate is a martial art of a respected person;"
"All Kata of Karate start from a blocking technique because Karate is for defense and not for aggression;"
"To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles does not prove superior skill; rather, to defeat the enemy without fighting indicates superior skill."
The followers of Funakoshi are referred to as Shoto-kan stylists, and after WWII, his students gathered together to form the Japan Karate Association (JKA). Its headquarters was established at the main Dojo in Yotsuya, Tokyo.
At this time, the Vernable Masatoshi Nakayama was selected by leading JKA members to become the chief instructor, although he was not Funakoshi's most senior student. He was selected on the basis that he was the only person available to pursue full-time teaching. The other seniro students could not afford to leave their occupations. Nakayama was the persone to secure precious dojo space.
Because of Mr. Nakayama's selection as chief instructor, many of Funakoshi's senior students left the Japan Karate Association. They are now referred to as the Shoto-kai stylists. To this day, Shoto-kai stylists prefer simple, quick, long-distance attacks.
After WWII many American servicemen served in Japan. While there, they studied Karate, but because they understood little of the Japanese language, they learned Karate by mimicking what they saw.
Therefore when these servicemen returned to the US and started teaching Karate, they could not pass on certain important Karate concepts to their students. Instead, boxing and Karate blended, so much so that Karate in the US is now boxing combined with kicking, wihtout any one blow finishing techniques. As a result, a major difference between this hybrid martial art and other more traditional Karate styles revovles around the concpet of a finishing blow: in more traditional martial arts, a finishing blow is at the core of the art.
But there are some serious schools of Karate in America. Many of them are influenced by Americans' study of practical sciences, especially kinesiology, and have developed a modernized form of Karate. (In kinesiology and other sciences applicable to Karate, the US is far mroe advanced than Japan.) This group of Karate schools currently teaches better Karate than is taught in Japan, to which many visitors to Japan can testify.
The four major styles of Karate