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(Way of the Empty Hand)

Karate is believed to be the most popular of the martial arts practiced by over 100 million people worldwide. From its traditional roots as an effective means of un-armed self-defence it has also developed into a fast and exciting sport allowing practitioners to compete against each other in kata or kumite.

Karate originated on the Okinawa islands located between the mainland of Japan and China. As a consequence it was influenced by both nations and their existing martial art systems. Three types of Okinawan martial arts developed (Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te). The masters of each of these styles united to form a council called the “Okinawan Shobukai” who created the name “Kara-te” (China-hand) under which these three styles would be generically known.

A school teacher called Gichin Funakoshi was appointed as the council’s ambassador. Funakoshi learnt karate under masters Azato and Itoso and in 1902 gave a demonstration of karate to the commission of Okinawan schools. The commission was so impressed with the demonstration that it quickly became part of the national curriculum in 1903.  He also gave a demonstration to the Admiral of the Japanese Naval Fleet which led to Funakoshi being invited to Japan to give a demonstration to the crown prince. Soon he became the head of the Japanese karate movement at which point changed the meaning of kara-te from “China-hand” to “Empty-hand” as well as changing the names of the old katas from Chinese to Japanese. Funakoshi created the first dojo called the “Shotokan” (Shoto’s club) was built in 1936 but was subsequently destroyed in an air raid during the second world war with many students being  killed in the event.

After the war the Americans banned the practice of martial arts but karate was allowed to continue and in 1947 Funakoshi was appointed chief instructor to the Nippon Karate Renmei (Japanese Karate Association known today as “JKA“). One of Funakoshi’s students was Hironori Ohtsuka who later became the founder of a karate style called Wado-Ryu (Way of Peace) which moved away from the strong, linear techniques used in Shotokan to a more evasive, body shifting (tai sabaki) methods where the aggressors strength is deflected rather than stopped; reflecting the strong influence of ju-jitsu within the style.

There are four major styles of karate:

       Shotokan                              Wado Ryu                                  Shito Ryu                                 Goju Ryu

    (Shoto’s club)                        (Way of Peace)                     (Named after 2 teachers)                (Hard Soft Way)

Today karate is the most popular of the martial arts practiced by over 100 million people worldwide and from its traditional roots as a means of un-armed self-defence it has also developed into an international sport.