A Brief History of Karate
by Tony Johnson
For long centuries in Okinawa, only the samurai class (Pechin) and their descendents could practice openly: martial arts were forbidden to the common man. However, training went on in secret. The best techniques that could be gathered from the Chinese envoys and the resident masters of martial arts in Okinawa were cobbled together to form what has become known as a truly formidable fighting art: Okinawa-Te.
The root idea of modern karate is best expressed by the "Father" of Japanese Karate, Gichin Funakoshi: "Karate ni Sente Nashi" - Karate is for self-defense only (characters at left). The peaceful farmers and villagers studied the arts as a means of defense against renegade samurai.
Influences of other fighting arts came from both envoys sent from China to establish trade and civilize the Ryukyu islands (the formal name of the Okinawan islands) with Chinese culture and from Okinawan men and women who went to the south of China and returned. The arts of striking with the fist were long practiced in Okinawa (called "Okinawa-Te"), and these arts were combined with the superior techniques of the Chinese to form the new art.
There were generally considered two main types of karate in Okinawa: Shorin (Shaolin family) and Shorei (more influenced from Chinese internal training methods). As karate became no longer a secret and was popularized in Okinawa at the turn of the century, there was an increasing intermixing of these methods as, for the first time, many masters were able to collaborate, practice together, and send their students to learn from each other for further refinements and specialized skills.