The story of Karate is as old as man himself. Struggling for survival in a hostile world, early man soon learned that his life depended on his ability to kill and evade. Through centuries of painful evolution man broadened his knowledge, studying the fighting habits of his enemy and his prey, establishing systematic techniques and training methods.
Having defeated the greatest reptiles and most cunning animals in the battle for world domination, man encountered his most formidable opponent – MAN. In defense of hunting territory, his home, his village or his country, man maintained a constant quest for knowledge and skill in the ways of combat. Young men sought the knowledge and technique of old warriors, adding to them and passing the compounded knowledge on. Spawned by generations of experience, a highly specialized art was born. Families having knowledge of the art guarded it closely and generally exercised a place of prominence in the community.
The first true milestone in karate philosophy came in 563 B.C., with the birth of an Indian Prince named Siddhartha Gautama. Born to royalty and great wealth, he rejected all worldly possessions to live the life of a monk. He came to be known as the Buddha (“enlightened one”), founder of the gentle religion that bears his name. Ultimately, one-third of the worlds’ population would be converted to Buddhism. Buddhist theory credits the shortcomings of all humanity to man’s rebellion against the laws of nature. An important part of Buddhist development was the study of birds, animals, insects and reptiles. It was reasoned that Man could learn much from God’s creatures since they were in complete harmony with nature and the universe.
Traveling from village to village teaching the gentle ways of Buddhism, early monks often delivered mail and valuables as a service to their devoted. For this reason they were often attacked and robbed. Forbidden to bear weapons, they turned to nature with their need. Knowledge of ancient unarmed combat techniques became a part of their training. The fighting habits of birds, animals, insects and reptiles, as they applied to the human body, were incorporated and a complete new concept of combat was born. It was to be known as Vajaramushti (meaning: one whose first is unyielding). Siddhartha Gautama’s (The Buddha) teachings were destined to have great influence on the fierce fighting art and it’s philosophy. He died, a penniless monk in 483 B.C., at the age of 80.
In 500 A.D., responding to the death wish of his aging teacher (Prajnatara), a Buddhist monk by the name of Taishi Daruma journeyed from India across the Himalayan Mountains to Tibet and into China. His prior purpose was to unite the various Buddhist schools of thought that had sprung up there and to establish a monastery. Daruma was born the son of an Indian King (Su-Gan-Dha) and a member of the warrior caste. He was therefore highly skilled in the deadly combat art of Vajaramushti.
Daruma (also known as Tamo and Budhidarama) found that the monarchs of the Liang dynasty were not perceptive to Buddhist Tehents.
Returning to the wilderness, he and a small group of disciples constructed the now famous Sholin (or Shaolin) Monastery (Monastery of the young Bamboo Forest) which was to be the birth place of the Zen Buddhism and the forerunner of modern day Karate.
The first written reference to the Chinese fighting art known as Kung-Fu (Cong-Fu, Ken Fat, Ch’uan Fa, Kenpo, Kempo and Tode) dates back to 2600 B.C., it’s development was stimulated at and during the time of the Shaolin Temple. Early forms of Kung-Fu which simply means “practitioner of excellence” were originally an art form taken from the frolics of animals and practiced primarily for health purposes. In theory, the practitioner sought to experience, tap or participate in the flow “ch’i” which was believed to be the power of the universe. In 180 A.D., the Chinese surgeon “Huo To” wrote of the frolics of the tiger, deer, leopard, crane and snake.
Finding his Chinese followers weak from long hours of traditional meditation and physical neglect, Daruma established a system of physical and mental discipline that was to be known as I-Chin (inner-conflict) and would later be called San-Chin (three-conflicts). The concept of San-Chin is founded on the realization that man’s most powerful body forces lie virtually untapped. The term “conflict” applies to the independent, undisciplined function of the body’s three most powerful elements: controlled breathing, mental awareness and physical concentration. In application, the San-Chin practitioner seeks complete coordination of these forces, greatly improving and enhancing the mind-body relationship.
When delivering a blow (which is a very small part of the total spectrum of San-Chin) the practitioner begins to exhale as his hand or foot starts forward. Mental concentration is greatly increased and muscles begin to tighten. The San-Chin state is brought to climax just prior to the point of impact. All air is suddenly expelled from the body. Mental concentration reaches an absolute maximum and every muscle is locked. An explosion of super-human force is suddenly created lasting only a fraction of a second followed by relaxation, the entire move being performed with the suddenness of a lightening bolt. This spontaneous explosion of life force was developed through close observation and imitation of the great cats and reptiles, especially the snake (the San-Chin theory is basically the same instinctive action that the snake executes as he hi-s-s-s-ses and strikes).
Also developed at the Shaolin Temple were the techniques known as the “Eighteen Hands of Lo-Han” (Lo-Han meaning: those who have achieved Nirvana, the spiritual goal of all Buddhists). The study and practice of San-Chin and the Eighteen Hands of Lo-Han soon established the monk of Shaolin as the most formidable fighters in China, absolutely above conventional acts of violence, which of course, was their goal.
Later, in approximately 1500 A.D., the Eighteen Hands of Lo-Han were expanded to seventy-two forms.
Then in 1522, a monk known as Kwok Yuen and two of China’s greatest teachers who had been invited to the Temple to assist; a master Li and a master Pak-Yook-Fong, expanded the seventy-two forms to one-hundred and seventy and classified them into what were known as the “Five Original Styles” (dragon, tiger, leopard, crane and snake).
The most important step in the development of modern day Karate came with the introduction of Zen Buddhism and Chinese culture to the Ryukyuan Islands, the largest of which is “Okinawa”. These islands are scattered like stepping stones from the southern island of Kyushu, Japan seven-hundred miles south to Taiwan in the East China Sea.
A popular Okinawan legend states that in the year 1296, a shipwrecked Chinese mariner named “Chinto was washed ashore on Okinawa during a raging Typhoon. Seeking shelter from the storm in a nearby cave, he found himself alone and penniless in a strange land. Venturing out only at night to gather food, he was soon detected. A soldier, in service of the King named Pechin Matsumura (NO relation to Kyan’s teacher Matsumora) was sent to capture the fugitive. He tracked Chinto to the cave and there confronted him.
When Chinto refused to surrender, Matsumura attempted to physically restrain him. Though a battle seasoned warrior, skilled in the Okinawan fighting art, Matsumura was unable to penetrate the derelict’s defense. Having blocked every technique the soldier attempted, Chinto did not counter-attack but chose to run away. Instead of persuading, Matsumura returned to the King and reported that this man would harm no one. He then went back to the countryside and once again sought out Chinto who was hiding in a cemetery, there he befriended him and became his student. From Chinto, Matsumura learned the primary defensive kata that today bears his name. The style taught by Chinto was South China Kung-Fu. Other famous students of Chinto were Teguchi, Yamazato, Nakazato, Yamada, Gusukuma, Kanagusuku and Oyatomari, all of the port city of Tomari.
In 1316 the Chinese Military Attache Iwah came to Okinawa. Three famous Okinawans who became his students were Pechin Matsumura (who had also studied with Chinto) from Shuri, Kogusuku from Kume and Maesato from Kume.
Also arriving on Okinawa during this period were the Chinese Military Ambassador Ason and Waishinzan. Ason’s better known students were Tomoyori, Sakiyama, and Gushi, all of the Port Naha. Waishinzan taught Aragaki, Nagahema and Hijaunna of Kunenboya. And Shimabuku, Higa, Senaha, Gushi and Kuwsu all of Uemonden.
In 1372, the Okinawan King Satto requested and was granted admission to the Chinese Empire. As a gift Emperor Hung Wu-Ti sent thirty six families of skilled Chinese artisans including teachers, merchants, Buddhist priest and skilled military advisors. The effect of these thirty-six families was a stimulation of Ryukyuan cultural and economic development and of course, the introduction of Chinese Kung-Fu.
Then flourishing on Okinawa was the native fighting art known as Tode (Toe-day) Te (tay) or Okinawa-Te, which was characterized by brutal offensive techniques, not common to Kung-Fu which capitalized on it’s sophisticated defense. The philosophy and superior defense of Kung-Fu, characterized by open hand technique, and the devastating superior offense of Okinawa-Te, characterized by the closed fist were destined to become one. Evolution of the world’s deadliest fighting art was nearing its peak!
In 1429, the famous King Hashi succeeded in uniting the Ryukyuan Islands into one kingdom. To insure rule by law, all weapons were seized from the people and it was made a crime against the state to possess weapons. King Hashi, having knowledge of Chinese culture and trade, set out to improve the economic conditions of the islands by expanding trade relations with other countries. Since Ryukyuans had long been able seafarers Okinawa commercial sea trade soon extended throughout southeast Asia and the Indies, China, Korea and Japan. Between 1432 and 1570 Okinawa established forty-four official embassies on foreign soil. Trade was far-reaching and successful. The people planted their crops (rice, pineapples and sugar), fishing was good in the warm China sea and Pacific ocean, cattle were fat and barns were full. Temples, homes and gardens were great beauty, such as the famous “Tea House of the August Moon”.
During 1400 and 1500 Okinawa-Te and forms of Chinese Kung-Fu were practiced throughout the islands, especially by royalty. Early in 1500, the Okinawan master Thwanku, who had journeyed to China to study Kung-Fu, returned and further expanded Ryukyuan technique. In 1588, the famous Chinese Kung-Fu master Seisan arrived on Okinawa and remained until early 1600.
Then in 1609, the powerful Satsuma Samurai clan of the southern Japanese Island of Kyushu, invaded and occupied Okinawa. The imperial forces had to contend with extremely self-reliant, fierce, and proud people. Their hostile stubbornness would not allow anyone to break their spirit, even though the Japanese, through superior numbers, armor, and swordsmanship, had conquered their home land.
By means of guerrilla warfare, the Okinawans were able to harass the Japanese troops. Due to the distance between Japan and Okinawa, the occupying forces had great difficulty in continuously replacing their materials and their steadily depleting forces. In an effort to strengthen their position and subjugate the Okinawans, the Japanese ordered the confiscation of all metals on the island. This meant all weapons, tools, cutlery, and every source of replacement, including cooking pots and pans. All forges were dismantled and removed. The Okinawans were disarmed; possession of any weapon was forbidden. The Japanese now thought that they had eliminated the strength of the opposition and that their task would be considerably easier. It was, but only for a short time.
The confiscation of metal caused many problems for the Okinawans. As fighters they felt very insecure without their weapons. Also, unlike the Japanese, they were primarily meat and fish eaters and could not butcher their food. It was difficult to prepare their food and do their work efficiently without proper instruments. They endured these hardships for a while, but their will to resist gradually strengthened and they finally formed a delegation to present their grievances to the imperial forces.
The Japanese commander, Iehisa Shimazu recognized not only the validity of the complaint, but the possible consequences if he did not compromise. He knew that the success of any occupation is largely dependent on the continuation of the occupied people habits and ordinary functioning.
It was necessary that he make some allowances that would benefit the Okinawans and at the same time enforce the original mandate. It was decided that villagers would have a community knife which would be kept in an open square attached to a heavy anchored chain and which would be guarded by two Japanese soldiers. This plan seemed to prove satisfactory. Since the troubles and apparently ceased, the occupying forces began to relax their guard.
But the Okinawans did not relax. Among the old patriarchs there was discussion of old stories remembered from their youth. Some of their people had been to China and brought back information and stories about the incredible unarmed fighters in Cathay, who were able to defeat armed and armored opponents with nothing but their hands and feet and occasionally with the use of unusual wooden fighting instruments.