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Karate is a martial art developed in the Okinawa island of Ryukyu Kingdom Japan, under the heavy influence of ancient Chinese martial arts "Kung fu" (particularly Fujian White Crane). It relates to the art of striking, with focus on punches, kicks, strikes and open hand techniques such as knife-hands and palm-heel strikes. Historical and some modern styles also use grappling, throws, joint locks and vital-point strikes.


Ryukyu Kingdom was a kingdom in the Ryuku Islands from 1429 to 1879. The history of Karate can be traced back to the 1300s when Chinese martial arts practitioners made their way to Okinawa (one of the islands under the Ryukyu Kingdom). In 1609, Samurai rulers of Japan invaded the islands and imposed a ban on weapons. As a form of resistance, groups of young male aristocrats began developing self defence methods that revolve around empty handed techniques, blending local and chinese martial arts. The earliest surviving written evidence of Karate in Okinawa was the mention of the word Tode in late 1700s. This Tode style were later known as Chinese hand, “唐手” which translates to “Tang Dynasty Hand” in Kanji. 


In 1879, the Ryukyu kingdom was formally annexed and dissolved by Japan to form the Okinawa Prefecture. At the turn of the 20th century, Ryukyuans from Okinawa who migrated to the Japanese archipelago to look for jobs introduced Karate to the mainland. In 1912 to 1926, Karate was taught in Japan and in 1922, the Japanese Ministry of Education invited Sensei Gichin Funakoshi to give a Karate demonstration in Tokyo.  In 1924, the establishment of the first university Karate club took place in Toyko’s Keio University and by 1932, major Japanese universities had Karate clubs. Sensei Funakoshi formed the Japanese Karate Association (JKA) which sent many instructors to introduce Karate all around the world. 


In 1935, the name was changed to Empty Hand “空手” as the Japanese wanted to develop it as a Japanese combat style. After World War ll in 1945, Okinawa became an important United States Military site and Karate became popular among people stationed there. Thereafter, Karate spread rapidly in the West through popular culture such as martial arts films. Following the inclusion of Judo in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, there was a growing interest in Japanese martial arts which propelled it into mass popularity around the world.


One of the key principle taught in Karate is the peaceful principle of “no first strike”. It is not concerned about victory, but instead emphasises on personal and character development. This principle is reflected in the personality of Okinawan people where there is a strong mentality of diplomacy over aggression during disputes.


Te was popular in three cities in particular, Shuri, Naha and Tamari. Throughout the years, different masters began creating their own Karate schools, known as Ryus, which lead to the formation of the 4 earliest and main styles; differing in lineage, stances, balance of hard and soft techniques and katas. 

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Styles of Karate

Other styles include :






Main difference in styles, emphasis as below :

Shotokan - long & deep stances, long range

Shito-ryu - upright stances, speed over power, long & middle range

Wado-Ryu - shorter stances, body shifts to avoid attacks

Goju-Ryu - sanchin stances, soft & circular blocks, close range 

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