BRIEF HISTORY OF OKINAWAN KARATE
The origin and development of Karate is intimately tied to the history of the Okinawan people who brought it to its present form and preserved its traditions for centuries. A major root of the discipline, however, can be traced to ancient China. Approximately 483 AD, Daruma Tashi a prince of a warrior sect, left his home and journeyed into the mountains of China in search for enlightenment. It is said that Tashi used his warrior training to help him to meditate for amazing durations of time.
While on his quest Tashi was discovered by monks of the Shaolin (Small Forrest) Temple. The monks, impressed by Tashi’s focus in meditation pleaded with Daruma to teach them his ways. Tashi taught the monk’s a series of exercises that aimed to afford them mastery of the body, mind and soul. The exercises, often regarded as the 18 hands of the Lo Han, immolated the movements of nature and would evolve mimicked the instinctive movements of animals.
In the 8th centruy, Chinese feudal warlords invaded and occupied the Ryu Kyu Island known as Urma (Okinawa). They brought with them techniques of a fighting art that had developed from the 18 Hands of the Lohan, Chua’n Fa, also known as Shaolin Boxing or Shaolin Kung Fu. The Okinawan people had already developed a system of self-defense called Te or Hand. As the Chinese occupation continued, the Okinawan King, Sho Neopashi, was impressed by the discipline and character developed through this art developed by the Shaolin Temple and he ordered it to be combined with the teaching of Okinawan-Te. The combination of the Chinese and Okinawan system was actual beginning of Karate.
Among the more notable purveyors of the art Shaolin Boxing was a Chinese man named Kwang Shang Fu. Belive born in the late 1600s Kwang Shang Fu, (pronounced Kusanku in Japanese) was a master of Shaolin Chua’n Fa and would come to be the earliest recorded contributor to the creation of what is now known as Karate.
Among Kusanku’s was Chatan Yara. Yara was said to have been to sent to China at age 12 to study the classics and the arts of the Shaolin masters. Among his teachers was Kusanku and was also considered as one of the early proveyors of -Te throughout Okinawa.
During the 17th century, Okinawa was overrun and occupied by the Japanese. The Okinawan warriors were disarmed and forbidden to own, carry or use weapons. Faced with necessity of defending themselves and their people from their oppressors and having only their bare hands with which to fight, the warriors turned to the Karate, then regarded as the Chinese or Shaolin Hand. In those desperate years they developed and refined their techniques until their bodies were as deadly and as effective in battle the weapons that they were denied access to. Karate was taught in secret and was only known to scholars, royalty and people of other high station. Where and how it was taught was a mystery, but those known for their mastery were revered in their communities. One such master was Peichin Takahara.
Peichin Takahara was a monk and a member of the Okinawan social class and was revered as a great warrior. It is said that Peichin Takarhara was the first to distill the aspects of –Do (the way) as it pertains to Karate.
Peichin Takahara would go on to teach Kanga “Tode” Sakagawa in the mid 1700s. Sakagawa trained with Peichin Takahara for six years before Takahara instructed him to train with the Chinese master Kusanku. After six years with Kusanku, Sakagawa began spreading what he had learned throughout Okinawa. We was considered such an expert that he was given the nickname “Tode” which translates to Chinese Hand. In those times, the practice of Karate although remaining relatively secret and only being taught via word of mouth, became a course of exercise valued for it health and character building.
Likely the most revered master of that era was Tode Sakagawa’s most noted student, Matsumura Sokon.
In the late 18th century, Matsumura Sokon would collect and study the various forms of Karate that had grown up around Shuri City Okinawa and systemize them into what would be known as Shuri-Te (Shuri hand).
Sakagawa was an older man by the time that Matsumura came to him, and at first Sakagawa was reluctant to teach the young Matsumura. Sakagawa ultimately accepted Matsumura as a favor to the boy’s father and Matsumura would go on to train with the master for 5 years. Matusumura would gain the nickname “Bushi” which means warrior for his great martial arts skill. It is said that though he fought many battles he was never defeated. For this reason he would go on to become the Chief martial arts instructor to three separate kings of Okinawa.
Matsumura’s most famous student was Itotsu Anko of Shuri. Itotsu is credited as the first person to introduce Shuri-Te to the public. Itotsu served as the secretary to the last king of Okinawan, until the point where Japan outlawed the Okinawan monarchy. While in his position Itotsu would use his influence to introduce Karate into the Ok
inawan secondary schools. He is known for standardizing the way that Karate is instructed and many of principles are still applied throughout the martial arts community including his ten precepts of Karate practice.
In his life Itotsu taught many great Karate masters, many of which would go on to spread Karate throughout Asia as the foundation of many other martial arts that are popular today. Two notable examples are Tang Soo Do, the martial art practice by American action star Chuck Norris; Tae Kwon Do, the national sport of Korea; and Shotokan.
Itotsu passed his legacy to Chosin Chibana who was first to call Shuri Te “Shorin Ryu Karate Do.” Chosin Chibana was the last of the pre-World War masters and has been called “the Last Warrior of Shuri.” Chibana trained with Itotsu for 13 years before Itotsu passed at the age of 85. Chibana would be the first President of the Okinawan
Karate Federation and the first Hanshi (grand or high master) of Shorin Ryu Karate., the most popular form of Karate on the Japanese mainland.
Shorin-ryu Karate-Do is based on the laws of physics and the physiology of the human body. Chiban spent a lifetime refining Shorin-Ryu to its present form. Chibana’s leading student is Shuguro Nakazato who is the present leader of Shorin-Ryu Karate and holder of the highest possible rank of Hanshi (Grandmaster), 10th Degree Black Belt. At 91 years old, Shuguro Nakazato has trained several great karate masters. Two of the most notable are Kyoshi (Master), 8th Degree Black Belt, Franklin D. R. Hargrove, and Hanshi (Grandmaster), 9th Degree Black Belt, Seiei Nakaza.