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.
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