Karate-Do: Way of the Empty hand.
Origins of Karate-Do
The exact origins of Karate are not really known, mostly because in the past, the art was kept secret from outsiders, and no written records were ever kept. We do know the location however: a small country south of Japan, formerly known as the Kingdom of the Ryukyus. Today, it is known as the Okinawa Prefecture.
History of Karate 23
Weapons Banned in the Ryukyus
Until the early fifteenth century, the Ryukyus were split into three independent kingdoms - Chuzan, Nanzan, and Hokuzan. These kingdoms were each struggling with the other two for dominance, until finally, Chuzan prevailed. The country was united under its king, Sho Hashi [1372-1439], who immediately after attaining power, established a non-military government. He issued an edict strictly prohibiting the possession of weapons, and called together statesmen and scholars from all over the nation to form a truly centralized administration.
Origins of karate Photo
The country lived in undisturbed peace for the next two hundred years. Then, in 1609, the country was attacked by the Shimazu (the military governors of the Satsuma fief in southern Kyushu, who considered the southern seas part of their domain). During Japan's civil war period [Sengoku, 1467-1568], the Shimazu forces had acquired an unequaled reputation for valor and ferocity. Only twenty or so years prior to their attack on the Ryukyus, they had given the great Imperial Regent, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a very difficult time in his attempts to unify Japan.
The formidable Satsuma samurai met with remarkably stiff resistance when they attacked the Ryukyus. A direct frontal assault on the port of Naha, the gateway to Okinawa, failed, and it was only after a detached force of the Shimazu army circled the island and made a surprise attack on the unguarded port of Unten that the invaders were finally able to gain a foothold. The situation then took a sudden turn for the worse, and Okinawa soon fell into Shimazu hands.
Makiwara Guy History of karate

Under the Shimazu, weapons were again banned, this time for the general populace and the upper classes alike. Most historians agree that Karate, the unique Okinawan form of weaponless combat, owes its creation to this second ban, because it forced the Ryukyus to invent a means of unarmed self-defense. However, some weaponless combat techniques must have been practiced before the Satsuma invasion, and so it is likely that this latest invasion simply spurred refinement of already existing techniques.
Origins of the Ryukyu's Unarmed Techniques
Since the Ryukyus were a tributary state of China, there had been periods of frequent contact between them and Fukien on the mainland. It is quite reasonable that Chinese wu shu [lit. "military art"] had been imported into the islands. Elements of wu shu were probably adapted and incorporated into indigenous fighting styles. Of course, some wu shu styles may also have been passed down intact, retaining their original forms. In this manner the two precursors of Karate-do, Okinawa-te and To-de, were eventually born. It is quite reasonable to assume that To-de referred to fighting forms embodying the Chinese traditions, and Okinawa-te to native combat techniques.
Makiwara Guy History 26
The history of martial arts in China can be traced back at least six thousand years. It is said that during the reign of the mythological Yellow Emperor [Huang-ti, ca. 2700 B.C.], soldiers fought off barbarian insurgents with razor-sharp swords. From then until the reign of King Wen [Wen Wang], founder of the Chou dynasty [ca. 1027 B.C.], China was in an extremely turbulent state, marked by ongoing warfare among nomadic tribes.
Funakoshi and Nakayama
During this period of strife, new stratagems and fighting techniques were constantly being invented out of a natural need to overcome enemies on the battlefield. These ancient fighting methods were systematized primarily through the efforts of three men, Ta-Shang Lao-ch'un, Ta-yi Chen-jen and Yuan Shih-t'ien, who founded what could be called the Three Primitive Schools of martial techniques. Their systems were passed down through generations of disciples, who added improvements and eventually came up with the highly refined techniques of today.
History of Karate 24
In the Three Kingdoms period [A.D. 220-80], three famous heroes, Kuan-yu, Chang Fei and Chao Yun, were able to rise in the world and perform great deeds for their countries through their prowess in martial techniques. Especially notable was Chao Yun, who, armed only with a spear, was able to drive back throngs of foes and lead his prince to safety. In succeeding periods, it became axiomatic that the commanders of large armies be men who excelled in the skills of their trade and who were very clearheaded and accomplished in strategy.
History of Karate
The next millenium witnessed the gradual evolution of two major styles of martial art: external and internal. Throughout the Yuan [1279-1368], Ming [1368-1644] and Ch'ing [1644-1912] dynasties, adherents of the two styles competed in polishing and perfecting them, in the process forming a number of branch schools. Needless to say, each style has their own particular strengths and weaknesses, and it is impossible to say which is superior. In China, these arts were practiced openly, and by the end of the Ch'ing dynasty they had become widely diffused among the general population. Eventually, they came to be looked upon with pride as national traditions.
The internal style founded by Chang-sen Feng places primary emphasis on the power of ch'i (ki in Japanese). T'ai ch'i, Hsing-i and Pa-kua are good examples of schools exhibiting characteristics of this style. In appearance, their movements have in them an explosive power which, applied correctly, can easily knock a man down.
The external style looks upon Ta-mo Lao-tsu [Bodhidharma] as its founder. In this style, which stresses the practical application of hand and foot techniques for blocking and attacking, are seen hard-soft and long-short techniques, that is, both thrusting and short, snapping techniques.

The methods of training employed in the external style teach how to strengthen the mind and body according to the Ekikin and Senzui sutras. Senzui refers to "washing away the dust of the mind" to uncover its true light. Ekikin, which is composed of characters reading eki ["change"] and kin ["muscle"], means to "discipline and toughen the body ". It is said that these two sutras together give one the power to move mountains and the ki to envelop the universe.
These methods of training were the original form of training in the martial arts. Both styles eventually spread throughout China and they are still popular there today. The external style crossed the sea to the Ryukyus, where it probably blended with those indigenous forms it most closely resembled.
The Need for Secrecy
With weapons banned, the practice of weaponless combat methods was soon shrouded in secrecy, for the Ryukyus were understandably reluctant to have it known that such things even existed. Fighting methods, and especially matters pertaining to Karate instruction and training, where kept carefully concealed from the eyes of the Satsuma suzerains.Funakoshi
This practice is not confined to Karate; kendo and many other martial arts share this characteristic. However, the others pale in comparison to the great lengths taken by the Ryukyus to guard their art; which included a self-imposed ban against keeping written records. In the Meiji period [1868-1912], when the need for concealment no longer existed, the centuries-old tradition of keeping Karate practice and instruction secret remained deeply rooted among the people.
Makiwara Guy History of Karate 45

Virtually nothing is known about those who created Karate and how it was transmitted because of this secrecy. What little is known is known only due to word of mouth, and even then was kept exasperatingly vague. There were no dojo like there are today and no professional instructors. The famous teacher Matsumura was a military officer serving the Ryukyuan king, and Uehara, who is said to have challenged Matsumura to a match, was a metal craftsman. Master Azato, who Funakoshi trained under, was a tonochi, a position similar to being lord of a small fief. Itosu, who Funakoshi learned the Heian, Tekki, and other kata from, was the private secretary to the Ryukyuan king.
This custom of secrecy persisted in Okinawa until the 1950's. This helps explain why there are such widely different variations in what was originally a single kata. In addition, there is always the potential problem of a student's misinterpreting a kata, thereby altering its transmission and causing distortions.

The Beginnings of Modern Karate-Do
In 1892, Ogawa Shintaro, the Prefectural Commissioner of Education, invited Maste Itosu to attend a meeting of school principals and to lead his students in a demonstration of Karate. The ministry immediately recognized the value of Karate-Do training and granted permission to include Karate in the physical education programs of the First Public High School of Okinawa and the Officer's Candidate School. This is probably the first time that Karate-Do could be openly practiced, but as implied above, the need for secrecy was still very much ingrained in the teachers even then.
In May of 1922, Funakoshi was asked to introduce Karate to Japan at large at the First Annual Athletic Exhibition, held in Ochanomizu. The demonstrations were very successful, and Funakoshi spent a lot of time travelling to demonstrate and teach Karate-Do to all who asked him to do so. This is where Karate truly became widespread as a martial art.
After this time, Mabuni travelled many times to Japan in an attempt to spread his knowledge of the art. In 1928, he moved to Osaka, Japan and started teaching there. Around the same time, the Butokukai (the governing body for martial arts in Japan at the time) started registration for all Karate schools. Master Mabuni named his style Hanko-Ryu ("half-hard style"), which he changed in the 1930's to Shito-Ryu in honor of his two foremost teachers, Itosu and Higashionna. (The first kanji character in "Itosu" sounds like "shi" and the one in "Higashionna" sounds like "to". "Ryu" basically means "style" or "school".)

"The greatest thing that can ever happen to you is to be loved and the greatest thing you can do is to love. Therefore Love others!". Makiwara Guy.