A couple of months ago, I posted on our facebook page, www.facebook.com/karatevscheeseburger, a picture of Jackie Chan training Jaden Smith from the movie, The Karate Kid. I asked there on the post, “My son asks me why the title is THE KARATE KID when he doesn’t see Jaden’s moves in his Karate classes. What would you say if you were me?”

I received a lot of varied responses and then there was one that made sense. This guy said, “Karate is from Kung Fu – White Crane style.” Hmmm… could be. And so I received some private messages from Karate Fans who I have befriended over the course of this site’s circulation asking me about a feature on Karate’s history. So I thought that I would love to write about it. It’s actually a very rich topic but I’ll see what I can do with my earthly powers. I will write about it every now and then so as it keep it interesting.

Let me start with the Chinese monks in the Shaolin Temple back in 6th Century. During this century, the Chinese were taught Kung Fu in the Shaolin Temple. Between 618 – 906 AD, this fighting art came to be known as Tode. “To” was in reference to the Tang Dynasty. Note that “To” later on came to mean being connected to China. It was also read as “Kara” in Kanji. It was during this period that Kung Fu fluorished across Asia. In 1372, Okinawa, a series of islands between China and Japan, formalized a relationship that allowed China to trade with Okinawa and this allowed the spread Kung Fu to Okinawans. As an Imperial token of good will to  Okinawa, Chinese merchants and artisans offered to settle in Okinawa and bring their professions and culture there. These came to be known as “the thirty six families.” These immigrants also broguth with them a more modern version of Chinese Kung Fu. As a result, there were two versions of weaponless fighting systems by the 1400s in Okinawa – Tode and Kung Fu.

Warrior Monks Of Shaolin Temple

By 1477 the new ruler of the Sho Shin Dynasty of Okinawa banned all weapons out of fear of an uprising. This also drove the practitioners of Tode and Kung Fu to go underground. These ancient forms continued to live on and evolve as they were practiced secretly.

In 1629, the Satsuma Clan of Japan invaded the Okinawan Islands. During the occupation of the Satsuma Clan, the practitioner of Tode and Kung Fu, merged their fighting styles and called it “Te”, which basically meant “hand” when translated. This was caused by a need to defend themselves against the Samurai warriors of the Satsuma Clan.

danIn 1875, the fear and oppression in Okinawa was lifted when Japan officially integrated Okinawa into their sovereignty. After this event, the martial art of “Te” started to reveal itself to the world. Before the turn of the 19th century, “Te” was changed to “Karate”.

Remember that “Kara” was in reference to “China”? So there you have it. Karate initially meant “China Hand”. It was adopted by Okinawans and then later on by Japan itself. Of course, “Karate” was literally translated in the Japanese language as “empty hand”. It’s amazing how “Kara” would have different meanings in Chinese and Japanese but would have significant relationships in the history of Karate.


The resistance of the local Okinawans using Karate or Okinawan Te during the invasion of the Satsuma Clan is also another great topic. But let’s leave that for another article. In the meantime, it’s just great to appreciate the resilience of the first Karate practitioners and ensuring the survival of the Karate we love despite all the obstacles.

They definitely chomp cheese!

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