Karatedo (also known as karate), a martial art and a combat sport developed in Okinawa, is characterized as a striking art that uses kicking.
During the Taisho period, karate at first spread from Okinawa Prefecture to other prefectures and then to overseas countries after WWII. Today, karate is loved as a martial art, combat sport and sport with worldwide popularity. The currently prevailing karate can be divided into two categories based on the differences in match rules: "dentoha karate" (traditional-style karate), which adopts the "sundome" (non-contact) rules, and full-contact karate, which adopts direct-attack rules. There is also "bogutsuki karate" (included in the full-contact karate in a broad sense), in which practitioners wear protective gear when practicing karate.
The modern karate is a combat sport characterized mainly by a striking art, but the traditional Okinawan karate embraced grappling techniques called 'toitee, or torite,' as well as throwing techniques. Also, at one time the exercise of "buki jutsu" (the art of weapons), together with karate, such as "bo-jutsu," (the art of using a stick as a weapon) "sai-jutsu," (the art of using traditional Okinawan weapon) and "nunchaku-jutsu" (a traditional martial art with two linked fighting sticks), was long a general practice. Recently, karate has also seen the rise of circles that aspire to a return to comprehensive "taijutsu" (a method of using the body for self-defense) by incorporating skills adopted by other martial arts to compensate for lost karate techniques, as well as circles that promote karate's development into a new, comprehensive martial art (a mixed martial art).
Usage of the word 'karate'
Traditionally, in the main island of Okinawa during the Ryukyu Kingdom era, karate was called 'te' ('tee' in Ryukyu dialect) or 'toude' ('toudee' in Ryukyu dialect). It is said that the word 'te' referred to "kenpo" (martial art) peculiar to Okinawa, whereas the word 'toude' referred to kenpo, which had come from China.
However, beginning in around 1901, when schools and colleges in Okinawa adopted karate as a subject of gymnastics classes, the pronunciation was changed from 'toudee' to 'karate,' and karate came to represent Ryukyu kenpo in general, including 'te.'
Note that the meanings of 'toudee' (唐手) and 'karate' (唐手) are different.
In Okinawa, Chomo HANASHIRO used the word karate (空手) for the first time in 1905, by which he meant "karate kuken" (a martial art with bare hands, or an unarmed martial art). In the Japanese mainland, a 'karate' (唐手) club at Keio University (under Master Gichin FUNAKOSHI) used the word 'karate' (空手) for the first time in 1929 based on the philosophy of "ku" (空) (tentative self, ephemeral life) as espoused by Hannya Shingyo (Heart Sutra), and subsequently this usage spread. On October 25, 1936, it was decided at the meeting 'Roundtable Discussion by Karate Masters' (hosted by Ryukyushinpo) that 'karate' (唐手) would be changed to 'karate' (空手). Until the 1960s, it wasn't unusual that people would use the word 'karate' (唐手), but today the word 'karate' (空手) has taken root and become common usage. Also, since the 1970s the katakana word 'カラテ' (karate) and Romanized word 'KARATE' have often been used, mainly by organizations of full-contact karate. In this article, the word 'karate' (空手) is used as the standardized word.
Karate as a martial art originated during the Ryukyu Kingdom era, but so far no contemporary documents containing records of karate have been found. Therefore, the history of karate, as discussed here, is based mainly on the lore that old karate experts of the Meiji period had heard from their precursors.
There are many beliefs regarding the origin of karate, but the following are the most significant:
Introduced by the 36 Families of Kume' theory
It is said that in 1392, in the era of the Ming Dynasty, a professional group called the '36 Min families' immigrated from Fusian Province to the village of Kuninda in Naha City. They introduced advanced arts, science and technologies to the Ryukyu Kingdom, and according to this theory Chinese martial arts, from which karate originated, were introduced at the same time.
Developed from country mekata' theory
Mekata, a word from the Okinawa dialect, refers to 'dance.'
This theory asserts that a country-style Ryukyu dance having an element of a martial art developed into 'tee,' a martial art peculiar to Okinawa, which in turn developed into karate. This theory was espoused by Anko AZATO and his pupil, Gichin FUNAKOSHI.
Others include a belief that karate was developed from "Shima" (Okinawan sumo) and a belief that "jujutsu" (a classical Japanese martial art, usually referring to fighting without a weapon) of the Japanese mainland was introduced. All these theories were proposed after the Meiji period by karate experts and researchers, but none of them is supported by specific historical documents.
Prior to and after Toudee SAKUKAWA
It was in the days of Kanga SAKUKAWA (1782-1838), nicknamed as Toudee SAKUKAWA, that the word 'toudee' first appeared in Okinawan history. In 1806, Sakukawa, then 28 years old, went to study in China's Qing Dynasty and allegedly learned Chinese martial arts in Beijing.
It is considered that toudee, the root of today's karate, was the amalgamation of Chinese martial arts, which Sakukawa brought back to Okinawa's main island, into the traditional Okinawan martial art 'tee.'
After the days of Sakukawa, tee, while merging and assimilating into toudee, is considered to have ebbed away. Generally, the differences between toudee and tee seem to have blurred in discussions concerning the history of karate. Therefore, karate in a more limited sense dates from Sakukawa (more strictly speaking, however, Sakukawa was merely a master of toudee, or Chinese martial arts; when discussing the origin of karate as an art of Japan's martial skills, it has to wait until the era after Sokon MATSUMURA, a pupil of Sakukawa), but of course the history of karate as an Okinawan martial art as a whole, including tee, dates from periods prior to Sakukawa. We will discuss the history of karate in a broader sense below.
The truth and falsehood of kinmu seisaku (ban on weapons)
Traditionally, the kinmu seisaku (a ban on weapons), which was implemented twice, has been cited as the reason that karate prospered in Okinawa's main island during the Ryukyu Kingdom era. The first kinmu seisaku was implemented during the time of King Sho Shin (who reigned from 1476 to 1526), whereby weapons across the nation were collected and strictly controlled by the Kingdom. The second kinmu seisaku was implemented after the invasion of the Ryukyu Kingdom by the Satsuma Domain (Shimazu Clan) in 1609. Traditionally, the belief that Okinawan people, who were deprived of weapons after two kinmu seisaku, tried to refine karate to confront the Satsuma Domain was repeatedly insisted as if it were a historical fact.
Recently, however, many researchers have questioned the correlation between the kinmu seisaku and the development of karate. Particularly, it is revealed that the kinmu seisaku by the Satsuma Domain (which came into effect in 1613 through a written notice to the Ryukyu Kingdom) was a relatively loose regulation, whereby the carriage of weapons such as swords was banned but ownership of weapons was not.
The first article of the notice was a ban on the ownership of guns. The second article acknowledged the private ownership of weapons by princes, sanshikan (the council of three ministers) and people belonging to the warrior class. The third article required the repair of weapons to be done in Satsuma Province through zaiban bugyosho (the place of a magistrate in Ryukyu). The fourth article required the ownership of swords, etc., to be reported to and certified by zaiban bugyosho. As can be seen above, they didn't ban the ownership of weapons (except guns) or the practice of weapons. Actually, even after the invasion by the Satsuma Domain many famous masters specializing in Ryukyu-style swordsmanship, spear skills and archery are identified. Also, some critics point out that the idea that an unarmed person counterattacks weapons such as guns and swords is unrealistic in the first place, and that it is unlikely that the warrior class in the Ryukyu Kingdom practiced karate based on such an unrealistic reason. The theory that karate developed due to the kinmu seisaku is therefore refuted by some researchers as 'completely groundless fiction invented in the streets' (Ryozo FUJIWARA).
The era of tee
The "Kyuyo" (the chronicles of Ryukyu) introduces an episode in which, during the sixteenth century, when Jikki KYOAHAGON was assaulted by an assassin he kicked the assassin in the groin through an art of 'kushu' (空手), which is considered to be an unarmed (bare hands) martial art prior to toudee, although there is no clear depiction of such an art. Also, the names of a handful of seventeenth-century martial artists have been passed on by word of mouth, but there are no clear descriptions of what kinds of martial arts they practiced. It was during the eighteenth century that the names of many specific martial artists were clearly identified as practitioners of tee. They include Master Nishihira, Master Gushikawa, Michinobu SORYO, Shinunjo TOKASHIKI, Yomasa AOI and Choken MAKABE.
Also, it is known that "Oshima Hikki" (the notes of Oshima, 1776), which Yoshiteru TOBE, a Confucian scholar at Tosa Province, wrote based on interviews with Ryukyu warriors who had been washed up to Tosa, reads that Koshokun, a Chinese martial artist, showcased the techniques of the martial art called 'kumiai-jutsu' when visiting the Ryukyu Kingdom in the previous year. It is considered that Koshokun was a military attaché to the Chinese palace who visited the Ryukyu Kingdom as one of the Sakuho Shisetsu (entourage of Chinese diplomats for the creation of peerage) in 1756, and there is a theory that the beginning of karate can be traced to this visit by Koshokun to the Ryukyu Kingdom. However, another theory suggests that kumiai-jutsu wasn't a striking art like karate but a type of jujutsu (a grappling and throwing art), and the picture of kumiai-jutsu remains a matter of speculation.
The era of toudee
The name 'toudee' came into use in the nineteenth century. However, the differences between toudee and 'tee' have become blurred. It is said that until the beginning of the Meiji period 'tee,' which had existed prior to toudee, was called 'Okinawa-te' or 'uchina-dee,' and that it was distinguished from toudee, but it isn't known what differentiated the former from the latter. The following were famous toudee practitioners after the nineteenth century: in Shuri City, Kanga SAKUKAWA and his pupil Sokon MATSUMURA, Master Morishima, and Yamashiro ABURAYA; in Tomari City, Taka UKUYOSHI and Zo TERUYAKI; in Naha City, Isei KOGUSUI and 長浜筑登之親雲上.
Particularly, Shokon MATSUMURA, also known as 'Ryukyu's Musashi MIYAMOTO (a famous swordsman),' is said to have been the greatest karate artist in the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom. He worked as a military attaché to the King of Ryukyu and allegedly served as the king's martial-arts coach.
Around the same time, traditional Japanese martial arts, which were introduced to Okinawa via Satsuma Province, allegedly influenced the development of toudee. In the late Ryukyu Kingdom era, some of the Ryukyu warriors learned swordsmanship, such as the Jigenryu line and its offshoots, from Satsuma officers staying in Ryukyu, and some of them, like Sokon MATSUMURA, migrated to Satsuma Province to master the Jigenryu line. The karate technique 'makiwara tsuki' (punching the punching board) is said to have been modeled on the 'tachiki-uchi,' (hitting a hard wood stick to train for attack power), a technique adopted by the Jigenryu line. Also, there is a belief that the concept 'killing with one thrashing' espoused by karate was fostered under the influence of the Jigenryu line.
By the way, karate circles and organizations did not appear until the end of the Taisho period, when karate was introduced to the Japanese mainland. Previously, karate was merely divided into three loose groups by areas in which karate was popular: Shuri-te, Tomari-te and Naha-te. This grouping, however, shouldn't be taken seriously because there were cases in which Shuri warriors learned Shuri-te, Tomari-te and Naha-te simultaneously.
Disclosure of karate (唐手) (Meiji period)
Traditionally, toudee was passed down in secret among the warrior class of the Ryukyu Kingdom, but upon the disappearance of the Kingdom based on the overthrow of the Ryukyu royal family in 1879, toudee too was in danger of disappearing. Except for a handful of affluent families, the warrior class of the Ryukyu Kingdom, a champion of toudee, soon went into ruin, leaving them no room for the practice of toudee. Certain discontented warriors fled to China of the Qing Dynasty (diasporas to Qing), and some of them led independence campaigns there. The Civilization Party (reformists) and the Resolute Party (conservatives) cut each other's throats, shaking the foundation of the warrior class.
It was Anko ITOSU who saved toudee from this critical situation. Based on Itosu's efforts, toudee was initially adopted as a subject of gymnastics classes at Shuri jinjo Elementary School in 1901 and then at Okinawa Kenritsu Dai-Ichi Middle School (presently Shuri Senior High School) and the Normal School (college of education) of Okinawa in 1905.
On this occasion, the pronunciation was changed from 'toudee' to 'karate.'
Toudee survived the danger of disappearance through Itosu's introduction to the general public and through the adoption of characteristics that were more similar to sports than to martial arts. Itosu's passion for reforms also extended to the creation and refinement of "kata" (the standard form of movement, posture, etc., in martial arts, sports, etc.). For example, he created the kata called 'binan' (the form of peace) for children and students to ensure easier learning while getting rid of dangerous techniques such as attacks to vulnerable body parts and the breaking of joints due to the existing kata.
Apart from this movement, some Okinawans who went to China opened a toudee training hall in China, while others learned Chinese martial arts there and brought them back to Okinawa. Examples of the latter are Isei KOGUSUKU, Kanryo HIGAONNA and Kanmon KAMICHI. Some modern researchers, however, have begun to cast doubt on the introduction of Chinese martial arts by the latter group, as it has become widely known, due to the dissemination of books and videos about Chinese martial arts, that the martial arts they introduced to Okinawa don't resemble Chinese martial arts very much, and because prototype Chinese martial arts weren't identified despite several dispatches of investigative teams from Japan to China after the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
To the Japanese mainland (Taisho period)
According to the latest studies, it is said that karate was first introduced to the Japanese mainland during the Meiji period by former Ryukyu warriors who boarded at the Tokyo residence of Tai Sho, the Marques of Okinawa. They, upon invitation, gave a karate demonstration at the residences of other domains, or taught the techniques of striking and kicking arts at training halls of the Yoshin-ryu school or the Kito-ryu school, or on the streets.
However, full-fledged karate education developed after the Taisho period, when Gichin FUNAKOSHI and Choki MOTOBU migrated to the Japanese mainland. At the First Gymnastics Exhibition in May 1922, which was hosted by the Ministry of Education, Funakoshi gave a karate demonstration. This was the first public exhibition of karate in the Japanese mainland. This demonstration drew great attention from martial artists in the mainland, such as Jigoro KANO, a judo expert. The following June, Funakoshi was invited to the Kodokan Judo Institute, where he gave a karate demonstration and explanatory session to more than 200 black-belt judo experts, including Jigoro KANO. Funakoshi then settled in Tokyo and taught karate there.
At about the same time, Choki MOTOBU stole the show in the Kansai area by showcasing his karate skills before the public. In November 1922, during a leisurely visit to Kyoto, Motobu happened to notice a fight show between experts in judo and boxing and appeared in the show without prior application, and with one thrashing he defeated his challenger, as Russian boxer. He was 52 years old at that time. This incident made the headlines in newspapers and magazines, and it is said that karate, which had been known only to some of the martial artists, became known nationwide overnight. The following year, Motobu began to teach karate in the Kansai area. Inspired by the actions of Funakoshi and Motobu, university students set up karate clubs at their universities, one after another.
In Okinawa, the Karate Study Club was set up in 1924 and developed into the Okinawa Karate Club in 1926, whereby karate grand masters in Okinawa gathered together to promote the exchange of karate techniques and carry out collaborative research on karate on a trial basis. Many karate superstars were among the participants, such as Chomo HANASHIRO, Choyu MOTOBU, Choki MOTOBU, Chotoku KYAN, Chosin CHIBANA, Kenwa MABUNI, Chojun MIYAGI, Juhatsu KYODA and Kenki GO.
The birth of karatedo (early Showa period)
In the early Showa period, Kenwa MABUNI, Chojun MIYAGI and Kanken TOYAMA migrated to the Japanese mainland and taught karate there. In 1933, karate was acknowledged by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society) as one of the Japanese martial arts. This was a revolutionary event since karate, which had developed in a small region like Okinawa, was certified as a Japanese martial art, but at the same its significance was tainted by the fact that karate was categorized as one variety of judo/jujutsu and by the humiliating condition that karate ranks and titles should be judged by judo experts.
In 1929, a karate club at Keio University, where Gichin FUNAKOSHI taught as a grand master, announced that the Chinese spelling of karate would be changed to '空手' based on the philosophy of 'ku (空) (tentative self, ephemeral life)' espoused by Hannya Shingyo (Heart Sutra), and this spelling was authorized by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai in 1934.
Also, it was decided that the suffix '-do,' which was adopted by other Japanese martial arts, would be added to karate, with 'karate-jutsu' being changed to 'karate-do.'
It is said that behind those reforms there was also a willingness among karate practitioners to pander to the militaristic climate of the time (the former Chinese spelling of karate '唐手' could be associated with China). Incidentally, it has been discovered that Chomo HANASHIRO began using the word '空手' in 1905.
Karate, in the Japanese mainland, concentrated on a striking art by getting rid of the techniques called 'toutee,' which had characteristics similar to jujutsu, so as to differentiate karate from judo, partly because karate was classified as a variety of judo by the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai. At the same time, supplementary arts of weapons, such as bo-jutsu and nunchaku-jutsu, were abandoned. Some karate circles made alterations to the posture and movement of kata or embraced Japanese-style names for kata. Additionally, new types of kumite (paired karate kata) were created by karate practitioners in the Japanese mainland, because Okinawan traditional kumite weren't fully introduced, resulting in the birth of modern karatedo. As for the evaluation of these reforms, some acknowledge that reforms contributed to the popularization of karate in the Japanese mainland but others criticize that reforms resulted in deviation from the traditional way of karate.
Ban on martial arts and the resumption of karate
During the period of allied nations' occupation, the activities of karate grew stagnant temporarily because of the 'Notice of Ban on Martial Arts such as Judo and Kendo' issued by the Ministry of Education under the orders of the General Headquarters (GHQ). However, because the word 'karate' wasn't printed in this notice, the MOE was persuaded to announce that karate wasn't banned, and karate was able to resume its activities earlier than other martial arts.
The birth of national karate organizations and kyogi karate (karate for tournaments)
Although attempts to introduce karate tournaments (matches) were pursued before WWII, an organizational effort to promote tournaments wasn't achieved because some karate experts rejected the idea of a tournament. However, in 1954 Kanbukan (presently the All Japan Karatedo Federation Renbukai) hosted the first National Karatedo Tournament under the "bougtsuki karate" (karate with protective gear) rules, followed by the first All Japan Student Karatedo Championships (under the traditional-style (sundome) rules) in 1957, which was hosted by the All Japan Student Karatedo Federation established in 1950. In 1957, the Japan Karate Association hosted the National Karatedo Championships.
In 1962, the karate expert Tatsuo YAMADA hosted the first Karate Competition at Korakuen Hall, whereby karate practitioners with gloves fought games under direct-attack rules, ahead of the ensuing full-contact karate.
In 1964, the Japan Karatedo Federation (JKF) was established. In September 1969, the first All Japan Charted Contest, hosted by the JKF, was held at the Nippon Budokan under the traditional-style (sundome) rules. That same month, Masutatsu OYAMA, the founder of Kyokushin Kaikan, who, having become skeptical of traditional-style karate, was pursuing the realization of karate tournaments under direct-attack rules based on his own philosophy, generated a great buzz throughout the karate realm by hosting the first Open Tournament All Japan Karatedo Championships at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Yoyogi, whereby contestants, who were prohibited from wearing any protective gear, fought with bare hands and bare feet under direct-attack rules (attacks to the face were prohibited, except with kicking). The JKF, meanwhile, hosted the first International Karatedo Championships the following year.
The upsurge of organizations and circles, and the diversification of karate
As can be seen above, karate steadily developed on the national and organizational levels. On the other hand, since joining the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, karate--traditionally, karate is said to have no schools and circles--saw an increase in the number of organizations (schools) and circles. In 1948, the Japan Karate Association (Shotokan-ryu school), the largest organization, was set up in Tokyo by pupils of Gichin FUNAKOSHI and was upgraded to a legal entity on April 10, 1957 by the Ministry of Education. In 1958, Motonobu HIRONISHI and others, who were opposed to karate tournaments, reconstructed the Shotokai school, which had existed prior to WWII, and parted company with the JAS. Other organizations and circles experienced similar schisms and fragmentations. Some karate experts such as Kanken TOYAMA espoused the philosophy of karate with no affiliation, but they failed to become the mainstream.
Also, backed by practitioners who were dissatisfied with the JKF's so-called 'sundome (kime)' match rules, there emerged organizations and circles that advocated full-contact karate--as represented by the Kyokushin Kaikan founded by Masutatsu OYAMA--which was characterized by a direct-attack style (attacks to the face were prohibited), and these organizations came to have power in the karate realm. However, the Kyokushin Kaikan, which was known for its bond of solidarity when Masutatsu OYAMA was alive, split into several factions, which called themselves 'Kyokushin,' and after the death of OYAMA many members left the organization and set up their own circles. Also, as represented by Daido Juku Kudo (derived from the Kyokushin Kaikan), there emerged organizations and circles that, while serving as the antithesis of the modern karate that concentrates on the striking art, sought the return to a comprehensive martial art like the traditional Okinawan karate, by incorporating grappling and throwing techniques into karate.
Kata and kumite
Kata and kumite are basic components of karate, and since early times it has been the standard practice to exercise both skills. As for which one is more important than the other, opinions have changed with the times. Previously, the practice of kata was valued most, but recently there has been a growing trend toward kumite due to the introduction of tournaments. Against this backdrop, divergence between the former and the latter has become a problem.
Kata refers to karate's solo practice and demonstration style. In kata, practitioners exercise or demonstrate various techniques in a particular sequence, with the duration of each kata varying from several seconds to several minutes. It is said that through kata practitioners do not just master karate's basic skills and posture, but also acquire the body movements peculiar to karate--which is a prerequisite for the practical application of karate--such as kumite. There were originally several dozen kata; however, some of them disappeared, and some were invented after the Meiji period (e.g. binan). The patterns of kata that practitioners learn differ depending on Shuri-te, Tomari-te and Naha-te, or among organizations and circles. Also, there are differences in the same kata depending on the organization and circle, or between Okinawa and the Japanese mainland. Examples of kata adopted by Shuri-te are naifanchi, bassai, kusanku and so on. Examples of kata adopted by Tomari-te are naifanchi (ancient-style), wanshu, rohai and so on. Examples of kata adopted by Naha-te are sanchin, seisan, seishu, super-rinpei and so on. Today, tournaments for kata are also held, and the practice and demonstration of kata itself has become a game. As kata is applied to tournaments, it is expected that the completion degree of kata will be improved.
List of Naha-te- and other-style kata
Kumite refers to the face-to-face karate practice style (sparring), mainly done as a duo.
There are 'yakusoku kumite' (prearranged sparring), where players try techniques alternately based on designated procedures; 'jiyu kumite' (freestyle sparring), where players use techniques freely; and 'kumite shiai' (kumite match), where players fight to decide who is the winner and who is the loser.
The oldest authorized, preserved kumite is the 12-set prearranged kumite, which was presented by Choki MOTOBU during the Taisho period; no kumite prior to this one has preserved, although kumite have been practiced since the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
There is a description that a kumite called 'ko-shu' was demonstrated in front of an ambassador from the Qing Dynasty who had visited Okinawa to create King Sho Tai as a new rank, but it isn't known what the 'ko-shu' was. Before WWII, except for a handful of cases such as Choki MOTOBU (see above) and Kentsu YABU, the main menu of karate lessons was the practice of kata, and kumite was used only to analyze kata for quick review. As for freestyle kumite, only a sort of street fighting called 'kake-dameshi' (test of strength) existed. Incidentally, the yakusoku (prearranged) kumite practiced today have been created mainly by students in the Japanese mainland since the Showa period. As for kumite match, its history is short; kumite matches were fully developed after WWII.
As for the styles of kumite matches, three styles mentioned below are considered the mainstream, and detailed points concerning rules differ according to the organization and circle.
The match style called 'sundome,' or 'kime,' is one in which the contestants, as a general rule, should stop a punch before it hits the opponent's body deeper than his/her skin to prevent injury. This style is adopted mainly by traditional-style karate organizations and circles that are affiliated with the JKF. In some matches, players are required to wear protective gear, but direct attack isn't allowed. However, in many matches, including those hosted by the JKF, contestants are virtually allowed to punch the opponent's body, whereas they should try to limit any damage by quickly withdrawing the punch (called 'hikite'). This is not compatible with the concepts stated by rules, but it is winked at.
On such occasions it's common practice that the referee won't acknowledge that a contestant 'hits' (punches) the opponent until the opponent has become so damaged as to cause the discontinuation of a match, or until the degree of hikite is judged to be inappropriate. The match style called 'full-contact' is one in which the contestants are allowed to use direct attacks. Contestants wear no protective gear and fight with bare hands and bare feet. Attacks to vulnerable parts, however, are prohibited, such as punches to the face, kicking the groin and kicking the knee joints. This is full-contact karate in a more limited sense.
Kyokushin Kaikan and others
The match style (called 'bogutsuki karate') is one in which contestants are required to wear protective gear but are allowed to use direct attacks. This style is adopted by the organizations and circles of bogutsuki karate (karate with protective gear) and koshiki karate, a variety of bogutsuki karate.
Karate organizations and circles (schools)
Unlike Judo, which is united under the Kodokan Judo Institute, karate has many organizations (schools), and the types of kata, practice methods and match rules differ significantly, depending on the organization.
Karate organizations can be roughly divided into two groups: traditional-style (dentoha) karate and full-contact karate. According to Anko ITOSU, karate can be traced back to the two schools introduced from China: the Shorin-ryu school and the Shorei-ryu school.
It is widely accepted that the former became Shuri-te and the latter became Naha-te, but considering that the existence of those two schools hasn't been confirmed in China, the historical validity of this account has yet to be established. Today's karate organizations were set up after karate was introduced to the Japanese mainland. The oldest school that can be found in documents is "Nihon Denryu Heiho Motobu Kenpo" (Japan's traditional tactics of Motobu Kenpo), or the Motobu-ryu school, which were named in the Taisho period by Choki MOTOBU. The Shotokan-ryu school, which is associated with Gichin FUNAKOSHI, is actually as old as Motobu-ryu, but Funakoshi never identified himself with any organization (school) during his lifetime; the name 'Shotokan-ryu' was coined as a common term after WWII. In 1931, during the early Showa period, Chojun MIYAGI called his circle the Goju-ryu school.
Afterwards, many karate masters gave names to their circles: Kobayashi-ryu (Karatedo) by Chosin CHIBANA in 1933, Shito-ryu by Kenwa MABUNI in 1934, Shindo Jinen-ryu by Ryosuke KONISHI in 1937, Shinshu Wado-ryu Karate-jutsu by Hironori OTSUKA in 1938, Shorinji-ryu Karate-jutsu by Isamu TAMOTSU in 1955, and Seijin-ryu Karatedo by Kazuo KIKUCHI in 1957.
Dentoha (Traditional-style) karate
In a broader sense, dentoha karate (traditional-style karate) comprises literally traditional karate organizations, namely koryu karate (old-style karate), hondo karate (karate in the Japanese mainland, such as organizations affiliated with the JKF) and Okinawa karate. Occasionally, bogu karate is included in this category. It is also referred to as 'dento karate' (traditional karate). In a narrower sense, it refers to karate as associated with the JKF, which adopts sundome rules, as well as organizations affiliated with JKF. The classification below is a rough guide, and many organizations and circles overlap each other.
For detailed information, please refer to the page on Dentoha karate.
Koryu (old-style) karate (koden karate)
Koryu karate is a form of traditional-style karate, which, without aspiring to tournaments or sport, focuses on old karate styles. It is characterized by the practice of traditional kata and kumite, an emphasis on traditional Okinawan exercise methods and the complementary use of the art of weapons (buki-jutsu).
The schools of koryu karate include Kojo-ryu, Motobu-ryu, Shindo-ryu and so on.
Dentoha karate in a narrower sense (JKF karate, Sundome karate)
Generally, it is often the case that dentoha karate refers to "hondo karate" (karate on the Japanese mainland). Hondo karate organizations are affiliated with the JKF, focusing on tournaments and the promotion of karate for sport-like use. It is also known as 'sundome karate' because the JKF adopts sundome rules.
It is sometimes referred to as 'tournament karate' or 'sport karate.'
As schools (organizations) of hondo karate, the Goju-ryu, Shotokan-ryu, Wado-ryu and Shito-ryu schools, which are normally called 'the four largest schools (organizations)' due to their scale, are well known. Recently, match rules have been revised to a great extent: the introduction of the point system that makes game judgment more sport-like than before, the use of different colors for wrist guards (blue and red, where previously both players wore white wrist guards and a red belt was used to distinguish a red player from a white player), and--in a more minute aspect--changes in the numbers and standing positions of referees.
It is considered that these reforms have been promoted for the Olympic Games, but it would appear very difficult for karate to become an Olympic event because the Olympics has already introduced taekwondo, but karate and taekwondo apparently have no distinctive differences as sports.
The phrase "Okinawa karate" refers to karate organizations and circles that are based in Okinawa. Recently, it has often been the case that Okinawa karate is used as a kind of brand and the antithesis of hondo karate, which has become a sport. Protesting the decision of the JKF, which is led by organizations on the Japanese mainland, to remove Okinawan kata from the authorized kata, Okinawa karate has stayed away from hondo karate. However, some organizations and circles of Okinawa karate are affiliated with the JKF, such as Ryuei-ryu school. Like koryu karate, Okinawa karate is characterized by practice of traditional kata, emphasis on traditional exercise methods, and the complementary use of buki-jutsu (art of weapons) and toitee-jutsu (grappling).
The organizations of Okinawa karate include Okinawa Goju-ryu, Uechi-ryu, Kobayashi-ryu (karatedo), Shorin-ryu, Shorinji-ryu, Matsubayashi-ryu, Motobu Udonde, Okinawa Shogen-ryu, Ryuei-ryu, Kingai-ryu and so on.
Full-contact karate, also known as 'jissen (actual fighting) karate,' refers to karate organizations that adopt direct-attack rules instead of the so-called sundome rules. The Kyokushin Kaikan, a founding father of full-contact karate, is the most famous, but in a broader sense the varieties of karate shown below are also included. The history of direct-attack rules is far older than that of sundome rules.
For detailed information, please refer to the page on full-contact karate.
Full-contact karate in a more limited sense (Kyokushin karate)
In a more limited sense, full-contact karate refers to organizations that adopt the rules by which 'all direct-attack techniques other than a punch to a face are allowed,' as represented by Kyokushin Kaikan and its offshoots. Recently, however, there has been an increase in the number of organizations that allow a direct attack to the face with the hands (a punch to the face) in portions of their matches, such as International F.S.A Kenshin-kan and the Kyokushin-kan. Also, because the number of practitioners in the children's, juvenile and senior segments is increasing nowadays, it is more common that players other than advanced practitioners will wear headgear and guards.
Organizations in this category include the offshoots of dentoha karate; Byakuren Kaikan, a offshoot of Shorinji Kenpo (a modern Japanese martial art based on Shaolin kung fu); and International F.S.A Kenshin-kan, in addition to the offshoots of the Kyokushin Kaikan.
Bogutsuki karate (koshiki karate)
Bogutsuki karate refers to karate matches in which contestants wear protective gear when fighting. Originally, the history of bogutsuki karate is older than that of sundome karate and full-contact karate in terms of kumite match rules; the National Karatedo Tournament, karate's first national tournament, was conducted under bogutsuki rules. Some practitioners of bogutsuki karate communicate with full-contact karate and jissen (actual fighting) karate practitioners, whereas many bogutsuki karate circles are categorized as dentoha (traditional-style) karate. Protective gear such as Strongman and Super Safe are commonly used. Naturally, attacks to the face with the hands (punches to the face) are allowed. Incidentally, koshiki karate refers to one genre of bogutsuki karate that adopts a unique scoring system in which the referees take a longer time before they stop a player when he/she succeeds in performing a technique, and additional scores are counted for continuous techniques performed during this interval. Presently, circles have been divided into many factions due to differences of opinion about the types of protective gear and the degree of strength of attacks, a factor that decides the score. Meanwhile, bogutsuki karate is unique in that training halls belong to many circles, and many practitioners can accommodate various sets of rules. Representative circles include All Japan Karatedo Federation Renbukai, All Japan Koshiki Karatedo Organization, All-Japan Shorinji-ryu Karatedo Federation Renshin-kan, Chito-kai Federation, Seishin-ryu, All-Japan Kakuto Dageki Federation, Japan Bogu Karatedo Federation, National Bogu Karatedo Federation, etc.
For detailed information, please refer to the page on Bogutsuki karate.
Full-contact karate in the U.S. Originally, full-contact karate refers to a kickboxing-like professional karate, which started in the U.S. Players use no karate uniform and fight in shirtless conditions. One round lasts two minutes, and bouts are 12 rounds in world-championship tournaments for professional players. To differentiate it from boxing, American full-contact karate adopts a distinctive rule whereby a contestant is required to kick the opponent's body from the waist upward more than eight times per round. Players come not only from karate circles in the Japanese mainland and Okinawa but also from Korean taekwondo and Tansudo schools as well as original circles in Western countries including America.
Currently, it is categorized as one variety of kickboxing and is widely known as "full-contact kickboxing," but a karate background isn't strictly required as it was before, partly because it has matured as a game.
Sogo karate (kakuto karate, baritudo karate)
Sogo karate refers to karate organizations and circles that adopt mixed martial arts-style games, which incorporate not only striking and kicking arts but also throwing, sparring and grappling techniques.
Representative circles include Shinbukan, which is known for the most aggressive rules--no protective gear are used, and punches to the face are allowed in portions of matches; Daido Juku Kudo (currently they don't use Karatedo but use Kudo), an offshoot of the Kyokushin Kaikan that uses the Super Safe protective gear; Wajutsu Keishukai, an offshoot of Daido Juku; and Karatedo Zendokai.
Point & KO rule karate
Point & KO rule karate refers to karate organizations and circles that embrace not only the full-contact styles represented by Kyokushin karate but also the 'Point & KO' rules, whereby contestants' mastery of techniques is illuminated by adding technical points, regardless of the magnitude of damage, when a contestant performs an accurate kicking technique without allowing the opponent to defend. Point & KO rule karate incorporates traditional karate's speed and full-contact karate's destructive power to change karate styles that mainly focus on a strike to the chest and low kicks.
Representative circles include Sato Juku, which can be traced back to Kyokushin karate; and Kansuiryu Karate founded by Antonio INOKI and Yukio MIZUTANI, a karate expert known for serving as the prototype of a character in "Killer Martial Art in Tokai," a novel authored by Noboru SATO.
Kyu and dan rank certifications, colored belts and titles
Karate's kyu and dan rank certification system and colored-belt system are modeled on judo's systems.
It is said that dan ranks were introduced for the first time by Gichin FUNAKOSHI in 1924. As for belts, black and white belts were introduced first. The black belt was for advanced practitioners (with dan ranks) whereas the white belt was for novices. Many organizations have introduced the brown belt in-between (one to three kyu ranks). Additionally, below the brown belt, colored belts such as green, yellow and blue were originally introduced for children, but such colored belts have become common in the present day.
Detailed definitions of and requirements for kayo and dan rank certification and colored belts differ depending on the organizations, whereas in traditional-style karate the JKF authorizes dan ranks as 'certified dan ranks.'
Traditionally, the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai (DNBK) awarded titles, but after the DNBK was abolished by the GHQ/SCAP, which occupied Japan after WWII, organizations and circles came to award titles in their original ways. Titles comprise Hanshi (grand master), Kyoshi or Tatsushi (master) and Renshi (semi-master).
Some organizations do not use titles.
The above-mentioned information is merely an example, and detailed definitions differ according to the organization and circle.
It is generally believed that toudee during the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom didn't employ a karate uniform. Traditionally, practitioners exercised karate in shirtless conditions. This is obvious from pictures of karate practitioners taken prior to WWII.
Chotoku KYAN explained in "Kenpo Gaisetsu" (an outline of kenpo, 1929) that karate practitioners would exercise in shirtless conditions because 'they try to strengthen their skin and concentrate their mind on the balance of strength.'
From Kyan's statement, which reads, "Since childhood, I have practiced like this," it would appear that this practice dates at least from the early Meiji period, or probably from the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
This practice was not limited to Shuri-te; from the picture displayed above in which Chojun MIYAGI and Juhatsu KYODA exercise in shirtless conditions, it is considered that this practice was common in Okinawa, including Naha-te. The prototype of today's karate uniform is a judo uniform, which Gichin FUNAKOSHI borrowed when he gave a karate demonstration and lectures in 1922 at the Kodokan Judo Institute, under the management of Jigoro KANO. That is, the original form of the karate uniform was a judo uniform. Generally, judo and karatedo are regarded as separate martial arts, but they share common ground in terms of clothing. It is unclear when judo and karate uniforms became differentiated, but considering that a karate uniform was advertised in the first issue of "Monthly Karate" (1956), it would appear that the karate uniform was developed well after WWII, but there is also a possibility that it was produced before WWII.
Because karate's movement and practice procedures are different from those of judo, alterations were gradually added to the judo uniform, giving birth to today's karate uniform. Generally, there are differences in the specifications of uniforms for dentoha (traditional-style) karate and full-contact karate, as shown below.
(Detailed specs differ according to the organization and circle.)
The sleeves of the uwagi (jacket) are wrist-length. Even in sweltering summer heat, practitioners aren't allowed to roll up their sleeves.
However, at the discretion of instructors (masters) the practitioners are sometimes allowed to roll up their sleeves, but only during lessons.
The hem of the jacket features a built-in string, which practitioners knot after wearing the jacket in order to prevent the untidiness of the collar.
The length of a shitabaki (pants) should reach to the ankle.
Because many organizations and circles allow practitioners to sew on a removable patch with an organization/circle logo, badge, etc., on the karate jacket, practitioners can purchase karate uniforms from any source without being brokered by training halls (organizations/circles).
In many cases, the sleeves of the uwagi extend to around the elbow in length, but in some cases nearly sleeveless jackets are used.
The shitabaki (pant) is loose, and the legs nearly reach the floor.
Because an organization logo is featured on karate uniforms in advance, the practitioner should purchase uniforms from his training hall (organization).
Changes in teaching methods
During the Ryukyu Kingdom era, karate was taught in secret. For example, karate was taught at a remote cemetery or at night to avoid being conspicuous. Secrecy was promoted because karate practitioners had to be alert to Satsuma officers stationed in the Ryukyu Kingdom and because they wanted to avoid 'kake-dameshi' (tests of strength) in challenges by street fighters.
At that time, there were no training halls, and masters accepted only a handful of pupils. Unlike Japanese martial arts, karate had no textbooks, so techniques were passed on by oral tradition or through practical teaching from masters to pupils. The practice of kata was the main activity in lessons, and it is said that it took three years for a pupil to master one kata.
As for kumite, there was a kind of prearranged kumite, but no systematic free-style kumite (sparring) match existed. Those who wanted to try mastered techniques had to do so in street fighting such as kake-dameshi. After the Meiji period, karate's teaching methods were drastically changed. Karate was revealed to the public for the first time; it was adopted as a subject of gymnastics classes in junior high schools and a college of education in Okinawa.
Teaching styles changed from one-to-one lessons given by a master to a pupil to class lessons in which a host of students practiced the same movement and kata in response to orders from a master. Around that time, Anko ITOSU created the binan (peace) kata so that children could easily learn karate in schools. During the Taisho period, Okinawa Karate Club was organized in Naha and joined by Okinawan karate grand masters of the day, in which attempts at collaborative studies and coordinated exercises were made for the first time. Also during the Taisho period, books about karate were published for the first time by Gichin FUNAKOSHI and Choki MOTOBU. In the Showa period, various attempts were made, such as the naming of techniques, the creation of textbooks, research on kumite, and the introduction of matches and tournaments.
Also, the kyu and dan rank systems and colored belts systems were introduced, and the exercise system was steadily optimized. Karate experts who organized their own training halls also entered the scene, whereby karate was taught to legions of people.
However, as the modernization of karate has progressed there have also emerged critics that voice concern over the introduction of Western body motions and exercise theories.
In South Korea, karatedo was once called konsudo or tansudo, but it developed into a new martial art called taekwondo, which, being arranged and improved in the Korean style, focuses on a kicking art. A style that had combined Shotokan-ryu karate with another martial art rationally developed into taekwondo decades ago. Also, the number of practitioners of shin-karate, where a contestant is allowed to punch the opponent's face with the hands wearing 14-ounce gloves, has dramatically increased in recent years due to the popularity of K-1 tournaments. Many heavyweights who led the popularization of taekwondo of mid and late part of the 1940s, such as Master Yi Wong Gwok, the founder of Seitokan, mastered karate in Japan (mainly Shotokan-ryu karate, since, from the name 'Seitokan' the influence of Shotokan is obvious).
In an interview, the late General ウ・ジョンニム from Seitokan said to a journalist, 'I practiced konsudo; however, the name was conveniently changed (to taekwondo) afterwards by a faction led by General チェ・ホンヒ.'
Trias, who is said to have learned karate from a Chinese pupil of Choki MOTOBU in the Solomon Islands during WWII, opened his karate school in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1942.
In Europe, karate spread after the 1960's through karate instructors dispatched from Japan to Europe. It is reported that many instructors were instrumental, such as Hirokazu KANAZAWA (Shotokan-ryu), who taught karate in Germany and England, and Morio HIGAONNA (Goju-ryu), who taught karate in Portugal. In the USSR, the first karate club was set up at a university in Moscow in the mid-1960s.