A Brief History of Karate


Hello there and welcome to the introductory episode of this Modern Karate series. The goal of this video series will be twofold. One will be to make available high quality Karate instruction for participants of any skill level. The second goal is to help you and the general public at large re-imagine what contemporary Karate training should look like. Much of what you see in traditional Karate nowadays has lost touch with the practical self-defense roots of old.

Many adults view Karate as a pastime for kids. They don't think of it as a combative training for adults. In an era of modern combat of sports Karate and Kata specifically have a lot to offer. But these participants often don't even know it. We have all these old Kata, some of which date back hundreds of years. The problem is very few people understand what the purpose of Kata was and how to actually use it to train for combative activity, whether that's sport or self-defense.

In his interview with Jesse Enkamp, MMA Legend Lyoto Machida expressed an opinion that explains this perfectly.

Of course, of course you cannot say I cannot use something from Kata but actually I have used a lot of things from Kata, but I cannot like mix everything like and believe that if they train only Kata - for example some Kata you have a Hiza Geri but it only repeat once in the kata sometimes. Its better to do a part and repeat like a hundred times instead of doing 100 times Kata.

Lyoto there, said it perfectly it is better to isolate one technique from Kata and train that technique 100 times. Than it is to do the Kata 100 times. The approach we are going to take with this modern Karate training series will include Kata but not the same way you might see in a contemporary Karate school. In a traditional Karate school, students will practice Kata for days, months, even years, repeating the same movements hundreds or thousands of times.

They then will practice sparring or Kumite as a separate activity, usually with a ruleset that focuses on striking and very rarely will the two worlds of Kumite and Kata actually meet. But here's the thing Kata was never supposed to be what it is today. You see, Kata wasn't supposed to be the activity or even the training. No, Kata was a tool, a mnemonic tool, something to help you remember what it was you were actually being taught as Jesse Enkamp often says, in karate nowadays we tend to put the cart in front of the horse.

We focus on repeating the movements of the mnemonic tool instead of actually training practical combat techniques that the Kata encases. But how did it get this way? Historically, there were several steps that led to what modern contemporary Karate looks like.

You see, Okinawa was a place where various Chinese martial arts, as well as indigenous Okinawan forms of wrestling and combat were fixed to form what became Tode or Chinese hand. However, there were multiple occasions where the practice of martial arts was actually banned. First was in 1477 when King Shoshin came into power, the possession of weapons by the warrior class and nobility was actually banned it was at this time that Kobudo the practice of Okinawan weapons and Tode the precursor to modern Karate were taught in secret and practiced primarily by the nobility.

This ban on Tode was continued when the Satsuma clan invaded Okinawa in 1609. Already we have an extended period of time where Tode was forced to be practiced in secret. Because of the secrecy, the tradition of Tode was largely carried on in an oral tradition. Instead of written text, Kata was used and then refined to contain the combative techniques.

The importance of Kata was paramount for the survival of the art at that time, and as such, its emphasis began to grow. This focus on Kata became compounded in the early 1900s. Okinawa was now under the control of Japan, and the Japanese had a strong sense of nationalism as well as a dislike for the Chinese. Tode, meaning "Chinese hand" was renamed karate, meaning empty hand to make the name sound more Japanese. This was done at a significant meeting of prominent Tode masters in 1936 called "The Meeting of the Masters" in order to promote Tode, now Karate in Japan. Next in 1945 at the end of World War II many of Japan's martial arts were banned during Japan's occupation by the allied forces, but Karate was seen as an outside art - not one of Japan's core budo arts and as such it wasn't affected by the ban.

Largely under the influence of Gichin Funakoshi, Karate went through another change at this time to focus on developing the character and strength of its practitioners as well to become a sport that could be practiced during this ban on martial arts. It adopted the belt rank system and uniform of judo at the suggestion of judo founder Jigoro Kano, who was a friend and colleague of Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi's karate would later become Shotokan the world's most popular style of karate. This sportification and modernization of karate allowed it to spread globally.

Many US military servicemen would learn karate during their service in Japan and would later bring it back to the United States.

And that brings us to modern times the most popular versions of traditional karate mostly Shotokan have all but lost the self defense oriented focus of their roots. Kumite has become focused on competitive rulesets and the grappling elements of old karate have all but been forgotten. Most modern black belts don't understand what Kata was intended for. Some Karate schools have even dropped the practice of Kata altogether.

And that's why I'm here helping you I want you to see Kata for its true value in modern self-defense as well as combative sport. I also want to keep the tradition of Kata alive for future generations. I hope I can shift the public perception on the purpose and usefulness of Karate and Kata for self-defense and an era of modern combat of sports.

Thanks for joining me. I'll see you next time.