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Karate (???) ( listen (help·info)) or karate-do (????), pronounced /ka?ate?/ and often miss-pronounced /ka?ati?/, is a martial art developed in the Ryukyu Islands from indigenous fighting methods and Chinese kenpo. It is primarily a striking art using punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes and open-handed techniques such as knife-hands and ridge-hands. Grappling, locks, restraints, throws, and vital point strikes are taught in some styles. A karate practitioner is called a karateka.
Karate began as a common fighting system known as “ti” (or “te”) among the pechin class of the Ryukyuans. After trade relationships were established with the Ming dynasty of China by Chuzan King Satto in 1372, many forms of Chinese martial arts were introduced to the Ryukyu Islands by the visitors from China, particularly Fujian Province. A group of 36 Chinese families moved to Okinawa around 1392 for the purpose of cultural exchange and shared their knowledge of the Chinese martial arts. The political centralization of Okinawa by King Shohashi in 1429 and the ‘Policy of Banning Weapons,’ enforced in Okinawa after the invasion of the Shimazu clan in 1609, are also factors that furthered the development of unarmed combat techniques in Okinawa.
There were few formal styles of ti, but rather many practitioners with their own methods. One surviving example is the Motobu-ryu school passed down from the Motobu family by Seikichi Uehara. Early styles of karate are often generalized as Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te, named after the three cities from which they emerged. Each area and its teachers had particular kata, techniques, and principles that distinguished their local version of ti from the others.
Members of the Okinawan upper classes were sent to China regularly to study various political and practical disciplines. The incorporation of empty-handed Chinese wu shu into Okinawan martial arts occurred partly because of these exchanges. Traditional karate kata bear a strong resemblance to the forms found in Fujian martial arts such as Fujian White Crane, Five Ancestors, and Gangrou-quan (Hard Soft Fist; pronounced “Gojuken” in Japanese). Further influence came from Southeast Asia— particularly Sumatra, Java, and Melaka. Many Okinawan weapons such as the sai, tonfa, and nunchaku may have originated in and around Southeast Asia.
Sakukawa Kanga (1782–1838) had studied pugilism and staff (bo) fighting in China (according to one legend, under the guidance of Kosokun, originator of kusanku kata). In 1806 he started teaching a fighting art in the city of Shuri that he called “Tudi Sakukawa,” which meant “Sakukawa of China Hand.” This was the first known recorded reference to the art of “Tudi,” written as ??. Around the 1820s Sakukawa’s most significant student Matsumura Sokon (1809–1899) taught a synthesis of te (Shuri-te and Tomari-te) and Shaolin (Chinese ??) styles. Matsumura’s style would later become the Shorin-ryu style.
Matsumura taught his art to Itosu Anko (1831–1915) among others. Itosu adapted two forms he had learned from Matsumara. These are kusanku and chiang nan. He created the ping’an forms (“heian” or “pinan” in Japanese) which are simplified kata for beginning students. In 1901 Itosu helped to get karate introduced into Okinawa’s public schools. These forms were taught to children at the elementary school level. Itosu’s influence in karate is broad. The forms he created are common across nearly all styles of karate. His students became some of the most well known karate masters, including Gichin Funakoshi, Kenwa Mabuni, and Choki Motobu. Itosu is sometimes referred to as “the Grandfather of Modern Karate.”
In 1881 Higaonna Kanryo returned from China after years of instruction with Ryu Ryu Ko and founded what would become Naha-te. One of his students was the founder of Goju-ryu, Chojun Miyagi. Chojun Miyagi taught such well-known karateka as An’ichi Miyagi(teacher of Morio Higaonna),Seko Higa (who also trained with Higaonna), Meitoku Yagi, Miyazato Ei’ichi, and Seikichi Toguchi.
In addition to the three early ti styles of karate a fourth Okinawan influence is that of Kanbun Uechi (1877–1948). At the age of 20 he went to Fuzhou in Fujian Province, China, to escape Japanese military conscription. While there he studied under Shushiwa. He was a leading figure of Chinese Nanpa Shorin-ken at that time. He later developed his own style of Uechi-ryu karate based on the Sanchin, Seisan, and Sanseiryu kata that he had studied in China.
Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan karate, is generally credited with having introduced and popularized karate on the main islands of Japan. Actually many Okinawans were actively teaching, and are thus equally responsible for the development of karate. Funakoshi was a student of both Asato Anko and Itosu Anko (who had worked to introduce karate to the Okinawa Prefectural School System in 1902). During this time period, prominent teachers who also influenced the spread of karate in Japan included Kenwa Mabuni, Chojun Miyagi, Choki Motobu, Kanken Toyama, and Kanbun Uechi. This was a turbulent period in history in the region. It includes Japan’s annexation of the Okinawan island group in 1872, the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–1895), the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905), the annexation of Korea, and the rise of Japanese militarism (1905–1945).
Japan was invading China at the time, and Funakoshi knew that the art of Tang/China hand would not be accepted; thus the change of the art’s name to “way of the empty hand.” The do suffix implies that karatedo is a path to self knowledge, not just a study of the technical aspects of fighting. Like most martial arts practiced in Japan, karate made its transition from -jutsu to -do around the beginning of the 20th century. The “do” in “karate-do” sets it apart from karate “jutsu”, as aikido is distinguished from aikijutsu, judo from jujutsu, kendo from kenjutsu and iaido from iaijutsu.
Funakoshi changed the names of many kata and the name of the art itself (at least on mainland Japan), doing so to get karate accepted by the Japanese budo organization Dai Nippon Butoku Kai. Funakoshi also gave Japanese names to many of the kata. The five pinan forms became known as heian, the three naihanchi forms became known as tekki, seisan as hangetsu, chinto as gankaku, wanshu as empi, and so on. These were mostly political changes, rather than changes to the content of the forms, although Funakoshi did introduce some such changes. Funakoshi had trained in two of the popular branches of Okinawan karate of the time, Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu. In Japan he was influenced by kendo, incorporating some ideas about distancing and timing into his style. He always referred to what he taught as simply karate, but in 1936 he built a dojo in Tokyo and the style he left behind is usually called Shotokan after this dojo.
The modernization and systemization of karate in Japan also included the adoption of the white uniform that consisted of the kimono and the dogi or keikogi—mostly called just karategi—and colored belt ranks. Both of these innovations were originated and popularized by Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo and one of the men Funakoshi consulted in his efforts to modernize karate.
In 1922, Hironori Ohtsuka attended the Tokyo Sports Festival, where he saw Funakoshi’s karate. Ohtsuka was so impressed with this that he visited Funakoshi many times during his stay. Funakoshi was, in turn, impressed by Ohtsuka’s enthusiasm and determination to understand karate, and agreed to teach him. In the following years, Ohtsuka set up a medical practice dealing with martial arts injuries. His prowess in martial arts led him to become the Chief Instructor of Shindo Yoshin-ryu jujutsu at the age of 30, and an assistant instructor in Funakoshi’s dojo.