Blog > The Origin of Koryu Okinawan karate Budo, Bushido or Bu Ha

By Steve Lowe  - Koryu Kyudokan Chief instructor

daruma-bodhidharma1According to ancient Okinawan legend, Karate had its beginnings in India with a Buddhist monk named Daruma. Tradition says that Daruma travelled across the Himalayan Mountains from India to the Shaolin Temple in Honan Province of China. There he began teaching the other monks his philosophies of physical and mental conditioning. Legend has it that his teachings included exercises for maintaining physical strength and self defense.

This same monk known as Bodhidharma in India and as Ta Mo in China, is credited with founding the school of Buddhist philosophy known as "Ch´an" in China and as "Zen" in Japan. The Okinawans believe that the art known as Karate today came from those original teachings of Daruma through an Okinawan who visited or lived for some time in China at the Shaolin Temple.

Whether or not this is true, it is obvious that there are similarities in the Okinawan art of Karate and the language and martial arts of China. Further, we must assume that the Karate of Okinawa developed from trial and error of fighting experiences into a different and unique martial art.

Karate began as a common fighting system known as te (Okinawan: ti) among the Pechin class of the Ryukyuans. After trade relationships were established with the Ming dynasty of China by King Satto of Chūzan in 1372, some forms of Chinese martial arts were introduced to the Ryukyu Islands by the visitors from China, particularly Fujian Province. A large group of Chinese families moved to Okinawa around 1392 for the purpose of cultural exchange, where they established the community of Kumemura and shared their knowledge of a wide variety of Chinese arts and sciences, including the Chinese martial arts.

The political centralization of Okinawa by King Shō Hashi in 1429 and the 'Policy of Banning Weapons,' enforced in Okinawa after the invasion of the Shimazu clan in 1609, are also factors that furthered the development of unarmed combat techniques in Okinawa.There were few formal styles of te, but rather many practitioners with their own methods.

motubuOne surviving example is the Motobu-ryū school passed down from the Motobu family by Seikichi Uehara. Early styles of karate are often generalized as Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te, named after the three cities from which they emerged. Each area and its teachers had particular kata, techniques, and principles that distinguished their local version of the from the others.

Members of the Okinawan upper classes were sent to China regularly to study various political and practical disciplines. The incorporation of empty-handed Chinese Kung Fu into Okinawan martial arts occurred partly because of these exchanges and partly because of growing legal restrictions on the use of weaponry. Traditional karate kata bear a strong resemblance to the forms found in Fujian martial arts such as Fujian White Crane, Five Ancestors, and Gangrou-quan (Hard Soft Fist; pronounced "Gōjūken" in Japanese).

Further influence came from Southeast Asia—particularly Sumatra, Java, and Melaka. Many Okinawan weapons such as the sai, tonfa, and nunchaku may have originated in and around Southeast Asia.
Koryu karate was never meant to be anything other than a way of protecting oneself from the scourge of society, karate in its originality was never meant to be a form of budo or governed by the code of Bushido, these were very Japanese influences on karate once karate was exported to the Japanese mainland and ultimately exported back to Okinawa.

Karate or Ti was originally practised as a form of Bu (small war) and was never as Gichin Funakoshi Sensei put "about the development of the character of the individual". I suggest that quite the opposite is true, that the original purpose of Karate or Ti was the development of self protection abilities with developing a good character being a side product, born from developing the self through greater self confidence and ability to deal with aggression, Ego free.

Todi or Ti was blended with many Chinese systems with the sole intention of gaining greater knowledge in the fighting arts.  Never once was the development of the self mentioned. This was and still is a very Japanese indoctorine of conformity.

So when Sensei like Hanshi Patrick McCarthy or Sensei Simon Oliver and people like myself talk about Koryu karate or try to develop it, we talk about karate as it was for its original intent, that of THE DEVELOPMENT OF HOW TO DEAL WITH PHYSICAL AND AGGRESSIVE CONFRONTATION, not the karate doctored by Japanese conformity.


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