is karate and where is it from? - In More Detail
day Karate is the culmination of around a millennium of cultural exchange
and adaptation. It would seem to have begun when an Indian Buddhist
named The Bodidharma came to teach Buddhism in China around 600AD
and is said to have introduced a system of Martial exercises to both
strengthen the monks to withstand the rigors of meditation and also
to protect them against random external physical violence.
was systematized by the Shaolin monks when they apparently identified
thirty six major defensive themes and seventy two variations as being
comprehensive and necessary to protect the monks against the foreseeable
random physical threats of the time. They apparently had a system
of eighteen exercises/kata to cover the practice of suitable comprehensive
defensive principles. Unfortunately we are not sure which current
exercises/kata originate from or resemble those as they have been
lost in history.
seem however that the kinds of Chinese martial arts which Karate took
its lead from were very much influenced by this original Shaolin philosophy
of training for self defence, self improvement and health, as opposed
to promoting aggressive and ego driven behaviours.
ego driven model of Martial Arts is popular in Chinese martial arts
mythology and it's notoriously unreliable history (and movies!) and
is more in tune with the idea of fighting for it's own sake rather
than simply defending oneself if necessary. Karate was not designed
to produce champion professional fighters (although in some modern
day Karate organisations that is mainly what they try to do).
seem in fact that the early Karate teachers also saw the potential
danger of the techniques they were teaching being in the hands of
a student with poor self control or too much aggression. As a result
these teachers usually taught a peaceful, spiritual philosophy to
go with the devastating techniques they were teaching. This philosophy
was probably partly or largely drawn from an old Chinese text named
The Bubishi or "Bible" of Karate. This book was originally only passed
down from masters to selected Senior students who copied it by hand,
but is now available in English translation by Patrick
history. The Chinese in around the 14th century sailed to Okinawa
and established a presence there to collect tribute and develop trade
and influence. This lasted till the late 19th century. Throughout
this time there appears to have been an influence of various Chinese
Martial Arts on the indigenous Okinawan Martial Arts, made all the
more necessary by the banning of the private ownership of weapons
from about the 16th century. There is however scant documentation
of this influence and our first concrete evidence comes really in
the early nineteenth century with reasonably detailed accounts of
how Okinawans either travelled to Southern China or used Chinese in
Okinawa to learn various martial arts in popular practice in that
Southern part of China at the time. These combined with varying amounts
of Okinawa's indigenous martial arts formed the basis for the first
recorded practise of Karate or "Toude" (China Hand) as it was then
called. Why did the name get changed? For the answer to that we will
have to discuss the other major influence on Okinawa's history and
confront the power of nationalist politics in the other country concerned,
17th century, Japan got in on the act of controlling Okinawa (or the
Ryukyu islands as they were then known). By the late nineteenth century
they had simply annexed Okinawa and then provided the major influence
on Karate's development in the 20th century. The Japanese took Karate
in a direction away from its origins and used it for purposes it had
never been intended, as well as denying its origins. The reasons for
denying China's role in Karate's development lay in Japan's nationalist
pride and the disrespectful political history between the two countries.
Okinawans who introduced Karate to mainland Japan in the 1920's quickly
realised their way to acceptance by the mainland Japanese lay in mentioning
the Chinese influence as little as possible and instead highlighting
the role of regional Okinawan towns in the development of different
"styles". Similarly, whereas the original name for Karate used by
the Okinawans was "Toude" or "China hand", the Japanese characters
for Toude were reinterpreted as Karate or "Empty Hand". Also the purpose
of training moved away from civil self defence against random violence
(which was not and still is not nearly as important in a relatively
law abiding Japan), to the promotion of martial spirit and character.
The aim of this was to develop strength of body and mind to be used
for nationalistic development purposes including war.
precision, neatness and uniformity were all pushed while the messier,
more complex, brutal and versatile original applications were neglected.
The Japanese made the Okinawans incorporate the Kyu/Dan grade system
and "Dogi" training suit from Judo as well as many of its formalities.
They also introduced competition (with a much more limited range of
technique) and pushed the idea of the irresistibly powerful punch
or kick to replace the more varied use of vital points, cavity seizes
etc to control and overpower opponents.
some Okinawan teachers at the turn of the century pushed their Japanese
masters for the inclusion of Karate into the school curriculum on
the basis that students would already be partly trained for military
duty when they finished school. To help them to agree to the idea,
Karate pioneer and master Itosu Anko is said to have simplified the
more complex kata around at the time into the Pinan or Heian series
which could more easily and safely be taught to school children. There
were five kata in the series, one for each year of school at the time.
was introduced to Japan itself in the 1920's where it was modified
as stated earlier. Strength of spirit, and blind and total obedience
to instructor's commands were stressed while questioning and innovation
as 1985 when I visited the Meiji University Goju Kensha dojo, these
same principles were stressed. The fierceness of spirit and blind,
extreme and warlike acknowledgement of all commands were in one way
very scary. Never mind our comfortable floors and rubber mats, these
students happily trained on the rooftop of one of the University's
high rise buildings on a mixed surface of broken asphalt and concrete.
of all this is to show that while Karate probably started life as
a brutal form of self defence against everyday violence in a more
lawless society, these days it is a tool which can and is used for
many purposes. Purposes include self defence, recreation, competition,
art for arts sake, personal development, health and fitness, nationalistic
development (as in Japan), competition, belief system replacement
(not advised) and as a part or full time business (shouldn't be the
primary goal of training in our opinion).
Kin Shin Kai we use it mainly for the
original self defence and health and fitness reasons (with a little
recreation thrown in). But bear in mind that both these major goals
ask for personal and character development as a component of their
higher levels of expression.
In a real situation
our aim is to stop the attacker/confrontation as quickly and as safely
as possible, so that we and our loved ones have less chance of being
hurt and that violence overall is minimised. As we avoid or block
an attack, or escape a grip, we try to work our attacker into a vulnerable
position where we have some control over them. From there we may counter
attack strongly to exposed weak areas or "vital points" on the attacker's
body or restrain them as is necessary and possible. We always aim
to escape as soon as it is safe to do so.
In the dojo
(training hall) we develop our skills in a variety of ways including
developing strong basics, improving fitness strength and flexibility,
learning Kata (forms) and Bunkai (self defence techniques from kata),
practising simpler self defence for beginners, drilling prearranged
partnered practise of a variety of allied self defence concepts and
techniques, and participating in various forms of sparring.
we always aim to stop our attacks without hitting our partner's body.
This CONTROL is an important part of karate development. It is relatively
easy to hit someone but needs much greater skill to attack strongly
and stop just short of a TARGET. This is called non contact karate.
All of our regular karate practise aims to be non contact for the
long term health and safety of participants. It is important to do
contact work to test striking techniques so we use striking pads often
in class practise.
Dojo Karate our main competition is with ourselves. Even if we are
good, we must train to improve. If we train without pushing ourselves
to improve and without constantly raising our intensity, we will never
experience the essence of Karate. •