The evolution of karate began over a thousand years ago, possibly as early as the fifth century BC when Bodhidharma arrived in Shaolin-si (small forest temple), China from India and taught Zen Buddhism. He also introduced a systematised set of exercises designed to strengthen the mind and body, exercises which allegedly marked the beginning of the Shaolin style of temple boxing.
Bodhidharma's teachings later became the basis for the majority of Chinese martial arts. In truth, the origins of karate appear to be somewhat obscure and little is known about the early development of karate until it appeared in Okinawa.
Okinawa is a small island of the group that comprises modern day Japan. It is the main island in the chain of Ryukyu Islands which spans from Japan to Taiwan. Surrounded by coral, Okinawa is approximately 10 km wide and only about 110 km long. It is situated 740 km east of mainland China, 550 km south of mainland Japan and an equal distance north of Taiwan.
Being at the crossroads of major trading routes, its significance as a "resting spot" was first discovered by the Japanese. It later developed as a trade centre for south-eastern Asia, trading with Japan, China, Indo China, Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo and the Philippines. In its earliest stages, the martial art known as "karate" was an indigenous form of closed fist fighting which was developed in Okinawa and called Te, or 'hand'. Weapons bans, imposed on the Okinawans at various points in their history, encouraged the refinement of empty-hand techniques and, for this reason, was trained in secret until modern times. Further refinement came with the influence of other martial arts brought by nobles and trade merchants to the island.
During this time, Japan invaded these islands and its warriors found themselves confronted by the fierce retaliation of skilled practitioners of this secret art.
'Te' continued to develop over the years, primarily in three Okinawan cities: Shuri, Naha and Tomari. Each of these towns was a centre to a different sect of society: kings and nobles, merchants and business people, and farmers and fishermen, respectively. For this reason, different forms of self-defence developed within each city and subsequently became known as Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te. Collectively they were called Okinawa-Te or Tode, 'Chinese hand'.
Gradually, karate was divided into two main groups: Shorin-ryu which developed around Shuri and Tomari and Shorei-ryu which came from the Naha area.
"It is important to note, however, that the towns of Shuri, Tomari, Naha are only a few miles apart, and that the differences between their arts were essentially ones of emphasis, not of kind. Beneath these surface differences, both the methods and aims of all Okinawan karate are one in the same" (Howard, 1991).
The Chinese character used to write Tode could also be pronounced 'kara' meaning empty or void. With this meaning closely linked to the ideals of Zen Buddhism and the dislike by the japanese of anything chinese, the name was replaced with kara te - jutsu or 'Chinese hand art' by the Okinawan Masters. Jutsu was later changed to karate-do. The Do in karate-do means 'way' or 'path', and is indicative of the discipline and philosophy of karate with moral and spiritual connotations. Some modern practitioners state that this transferred the art to from self defence to a sport, Like Jujitsu to Judo, Kenjitsu to kendo. However this is not correct. The significance of this change is to state that karate is more than a means to injure another person, it has moral grounds, Without this we are teaching nothing more than how to be common thugs. From this point on, the term karate came to mean 'empty hand'.
Main Schools of Karate
Due to the popularity of karate in the world today there are many schools or styles. Some are legitimately created by masters of karate, while others are ways of feeding egos and gaining higher grades or money. The oldest schools are Shorei ryu, Shorin ryu, Uechi Ryu, Ryuieryu. These all okinawan styles. From Shorei ryu came Goju Ryu and To'on Ryu. From Shorin ryu came Shotokan and other styles still called shorin ryu. From a combination of Shorei ryu and shorin ryu came Shito Ryu. From a combination of Shotokan, shorin ryu and Jujitsu came Wado ryu. From a combination of shotokan and goju ryu came Kyokushinkai The four main styles recognised by the World Karate Federation and the Japanese Karate Federation are Goju Ryu, Shotokan, Shito Ryu and Wado Ryu.
For a more detail list of masters and their lineage click here.