Karate is the ultimate in unarmed self-defense. It specializes in kicking, punching, chopping, slashing, clawing, stabbing, and gouging, along with locking, choking, and throwing techniques used in special cases where it is more practical to throw or to lock the opponent than to strike him.

Karate is traced to the Buddhist monks of the Shaolin (Japanese Shorin-ji) Temple in China. Bodhidharma, a semi-legendary Indian abbot, crossed the Himalayas from India to China to teach the monks at Shorin-ji Temple the Way of Buddha. The monks were physically and mentally unfit to endure the servere discipline imposed by Dharma for the purpose of facilitating enlightenment. To strengthen them to endure the rigors of his discipline, he taught a system of exercises based on the Buddhist doctrine of the inseparability of mind and body, and they soon earned the reputation of being the most formidable fighters in China. This is the origin of the shorin-ji-ryu system, the foundation of Chinese kempo.

The final link in the history of karate is its development in Okinawa. In the fifteenth century the Sho dynasty consolidated its civil administration, and the confiscation of all arms led to an interest in fighting with hands, feet, and self-made weapons. Fresh impetus was given to this inclination when China replaced her civil emissaries with military personnel, some of whom were trained in Chinese kempo (tode). This ancient art was well received by the Okinawans and absorbed into the native system of unarmed self-defense (okinawa-te).

Interest in Okinawa-te was fanned when a Kyushu lord terminated the Sho dynasty with the capture of Okinawa and by a fresh prohibition against weapons. Okinawa-te made tremendous advances and gave rise to such styles as shovel, shorin, bushi-de, and naha-de. From these Okina-wan forms developed the present day styles of shotokan-ryu, goju-ryu, shonen-ryu, wado-ryu, chlto-ryu, seito-ryu, isshin-ryu, uechi-ryu, kyokoshinkai-ryu, and many others. Due to the fear of civil authorities it was necessary to teach the Okinawa systems with the utmost secrecy, and they were not to see the light of day again until 1900.

Modern karate is of relatively recent origin and was systematized from elements of Chinese, Korean, and Okinawan forms. In 1901 Master Anko Itosu (teacher of Masters Motobu and Funakoshi) broke with this tradition by teaching karate as part of the regular curriculum in the Okinawa Normal School. This action, followed by Motobu’s work in Okinawa and Funakoshi’s work in Japan, did much to speed the dissemination of modern karate knowledge throughout the world.

Although the development of the science of karate over the centuries has been long and arduous, and has at times even been in danger of being lost to mankind, it has nevertheless persisted to the present day due to the devotion of its many students and masters, often in the face of great hardships.

Karate must be considered in its final form and spirit as an expression of man’s indomitable will to survive in the most direct, self-reliant manner possible, using only that which nature gave him, a mind and body, rigorously disciplined as an inseparable entity.

Reprinted from Trias, Robert A. (2011-12-20). The Hand is My Sword: A  Karate Handbook (Kindle Locations 179-187). Tuttle Publishing. Kindle Edition. Presented by Ashland Karate Academy Student Tim Morton