According to ancient Okinawan legend, Karate had its beginnings in India with a Buddhist monk named Daruma. Tradition says that Daruma traveled across the Himalayan Mountains from India to the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province of China. There he began teaching the other monks his philosophies of physical and mental conditioning. Legend has it that his teachings included exercises for maintaining physical strength and self defense. This same monk known as Bodhidharma in India (Ta Mo in China) is credited with founding the school of Buddhism known as “Ch'an” in China and "Zen" in Japan.
The Okinawans believe that the art known as Karate today came from those original teachings of Daruma through an Okinawan who visited or lived for some time in China at the Shaolin Temple. We must assume that the Karate of Okinawa developed from trial and error of fighting experiences into a different and unique martial art.
In the ancient Okinawan language of Hogen, the word for China is Kara-no-Kuni and, as much of the original technique of the martial art practiced in Okinawa originated in China, the art became known as Kara Te or “Chinese Hand.” Another term used to distinguish the art of Okinawa from the Chinese martial arts was Tode or “Okinawan Hand.” Te, meaning the martial art of the hand, implies that the human body is trained to become all the weapons a man or woman needs for self-defense. It is believed that Te is at least 1,000 years old.
The development of Te continued over many years and was mostly practiced in secret by only a few individuals. Development was centered primarily in the three Okinawan villages of Shuri, Naha, and Tomari-te and each village had a master who is credited with developing the style unique to that area. Again, the very early history of Te is shrouded in legend. It is believed that a man named Chatan Yara (born 1668) in Shuri was sent to China at the age of 12 to learn the Chinese martial arts. In 1700, he returned to Shuri and began to teach. One of his students was Takahara Peichin who is most famous as the Sensei of the man who later became known as “Tode (or Karate) Sakugawa.” The legend says that Sakugawa began training with Takahara in 1750 and later went to China where he trained for many years. He is credited with introducing the Dojo concept of training to Okinawa.
The most famous student of Sakugawa was Matsumura Sokon (born 1805) who was sent by the royal family of Okinawa, Sho Shi, to study at the Shaolin Temple in China in 1815. He returned to Okinawa and was appointed the chief bodyguard for the King Sho Ko. Since he lived in the royal village of Shuri, his style became known as Shuri-te. Matsumura was awarded the title of “Bushi” or Samurai and became known as “Bushi Matsumura.” He died at the age of 87, leaving a legacy of many famous students.
Itosu Anko (Yosutsune) (1830-1915) was the most famous student of Matsumura. He is credited with introducing Karate into the Okinawan public school system in 1903, under the name Shorin-Ryu. Shorin is the Okinawan pronunciation of Shaolin, where the art is said to have derived from. Prior to this the practice of Karate had been done privately in the homes of the masters and in many instances, was done in secret. Perhaps Itosu's major contribution to the art of Karate was his emphasis on kata. He taught that a student had to be able to put the body under complete control of the mind before any other type of development can take place.
Perhaps the most widely known karate-ka of modern times, Funakoshi Gichin began his study under Anko Azato while still in grade school. Soon after, he began his study of Shorin-Ryu under Itosu Anko. Having also studied Shorei-Ryu, Funakoshi began teaching Karate in the early 1900s, and by 1910 had many students. In 1922, he ventured to mainland Japan to introduce Karate. In 1930, he established an association named Dai Nihon Karate-Do Kenkyukai. This organization still exists today under the name Shotokai and is the official keeper of Funakoshi’s lineage. In 1939, Funakoshi built the first Shotokan dojo in Tokyo.
Due to the distaste of the Chinese in Japan, Funakoshi changed the first character of Karate 唐手, which up until now represented “China Hand,” to the homonym Karate 空手, which was translated as “Empty Hand” in order for his art to be widely accepted and studied. He also added the suffix Do, signifying that it was not just a means of combat but a way of life. Funakoshi’s interpretation, however, caused recoil in Okinawa, prompting him to stay in Tokyo indefinitely. In 1949, Funakoshi’s students started the Japan Karate Association with Funakoshi as the figurative head of the organization, although its daily operations were governed by Masatoshi Nakayama. Upon Funakoshi’s death in 1957, his students began calling his style of karate Shotokan.
Toyama Kanken's karate training began at the age of nine in 1897 with Itarashiki, although he studied with Itosu Anko for 18 years, until the latter's death in 1915. In 1907 Toyama was appointed "shihandai" (assistant master) to Itosu at the Okinawa Teacher's College, and he and Funakoshi were the only two students to be granted the title of shihanshi (protégé). Some people believe that Toyama outranked Funakoshi, who did not have the rank of shihandai.
In 1924 Toyama moved his family to Taiwan, where he taught in an elementary school and studied Chinese Ch'uan Fa, which included Taku, Makaitan, Rutaobai, and Ubo. In early 1930 he returned to Japan and on March 20, 1930, he opened his first dojo in Tokyo. He named his dojo Shudokn meaning "the Hall for the Study of the Karate Way." Toyama taught what he had learnt from Itosu and the Ch'uan Fa and did not claim to have originated a new style of karate. In 1946, Toyama founded the All Japan Karate-Do Federation (AJKF) with the intention of unifying the various forms of karate of Japan and Okinawa under one governing organization. As Toyama did not view the Shudokan as a distinct style of karate, but merely a place for training, he did not appoint a successor. Thus, the organization he founded fragmented after his death in 1966.
All Japan Karate-Do Federation
Lee Won Kuk
When the Japanese occupied Korea prior to World War II, the Japanese outlawed many aspects of Korean culture including Korean martial arts. For years, Koreans were brought up as Japanese and as such, often traveled to mainland Japan. There, many took up the study of Karate-Do. When the Japanese occupation of Korea ended in 1945, many Koreans returned home. Those who studied martial arts in Japan began opening schools. These individual schools were called Kwans, and there were originally nine* set up between 1944 and 1953. The first Kwan to open up was the Chung do Kwan, founded by Lee Won Kuk in 1944, taught at the Yung Shin school gym, located in Okchun-dong, Seodaemun District in Seoul. This was the first documented use of the term Tang Soo Do.
Depending on who they studied with in Japan, each master referred to their art as either Tang Soo Do, which is the Korean pronunciation of the original kanji for Karate-Do 唐手道 or Kong Soo Do, which is the Korean pronunciation of the kanji for Karate-Do 空手道 as introduced by Funakoshi Gichin. Another term used was Kwon Bup, the Korean pronunciation of Kempo 拳法. As Korean culture regained strength, kanji was used less in writings in favor of hangul, native Korean. As such, the arts were written as Tang Soo Do 당수도 (can also be Romanized as Dang Soo Do) and Kong Soo Do 공수도 respectively.
In 1952, the Korean government ordered all the Kwans to unify under one common name. In 1955, the name Taekwondo was coined by Choi Hong Hi (1918-2002). Taekwondo was chosen because of its resemblance to Taekkyeon, an ancient Korean martial art, and the Koreans were attempting to remove any Japanese influence. The Korea Taekwondo Association was founded in 1960, and replaced by the Kukkiwon in 1972 as the World Headquarters of Taekwondo.
One Kwan that did not unify with the others was the Moo Duk Kwan, founded by Hwang Kee in 1945. Kee originally referred to his art as Hwa Soo Do before adopting the term Tang Soo Do. Kee had studied Taijiquan under Yang Kuk Jin, providing a unique base for his Moo Duk Kwan that separated it from other Tang Soo Do Kwans, which were primarily rooted in Karate-Do. The Moo Duk Kwan did evolve over time, incorporating many Shotokan kata which Kee learned through cross training with various martial artists. However, after numerous political rifts in the Moo Duk Kwan, Kee dropped the use of Tang Soo Do and coined the term Soo Bahk Do to describe his art, in honor of the Subak warriors of ancient Korea.
*Some people consider only the first five Kwans to be truly original, because they were founded prior to the Korean War in 1950. We include all nine Kwans that were established prior to the unification under the name "Taekwondo."