karate kanji

The Origin of Karate in Okinawa

Kara-te (meaning ’empty-hand‘ or without weapons) has existed in the Far East for many centuries. It originates from the small island of Okinawa which lies midway between China and Japan. Okinawa now forms part of Japan but over the centuries it has been fought over and governed by both China and Japan.

As a busy seaport it constantly had visiting merchants and travellers from both these and other eastern countries. This exposure to many different cultures and their various fighting forms led to the development and perfecting of karate. However the most important influences seem to have been the Chinese Shaolin monks and the various forms of Chinese “boxing”.

In the 17th century the Japanese invaded and occupied Okinawa. The Okinawan people fought their invaders at every opportunity and made life very difficult for the Japanese. So much, that the use and possession of weapons by the locals was banned. The islanders then had to fight without the help of weapons, using only their “empty hands”! It was during this period that karate became very refined and truly flourished.


Kanryo Higaonna Ankoh ItosuThe mid 1800s saw the emergence of karate into Okinawan society. Until this time it had been practiced and taught only in secret. The two most important Masters of this time were Kanryo Higaonna (or Higashionna) and Ankoh Itosu. These men are the founders of all the modern day karate systems. Both lived and taught in different cities and had different students. Most of the basic karate techniques they taught were the same although different aspects were emphasised.