A Brief History
The only definite information on the origins of modern karate is that it originated from the island of Okinawa.
Okinawa is one of the 60 small islands south of mainland Japan and owing to its strategic location; the Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, and other foreigners often visited it.
Likewise, many of its natives visited, worked and studied in these countries.
This facilitated the exchange of goods and services and of course, knowledge.It is unclear whether this exchange of knowledge had a truly significant influence on the development of the indigenous fighting system, Okinawa-te. One theory is that karate was a fusion of Tegumi (an indigenous wrestling method) and Chinese Kung Fu.However, there is little doubt that necessity had the strongest role in Okinawa-te’s maturation into what is known today as karate.
Okinawa had always experienced problems between rival kingdoms, but in 1429, the kingdoms were united and inorder to maintain this unity, a decree was issued which banned possession of all weapons.
This seemed to work fairly well for almost 200 years, however, in 1609, Okinawa was, without much resistance, conquered by the rulers of the Satsuma Domain of Kyushu. Of course, there was no incentive for the new rulers to permit the Okinawan’s to own weapons and they went even further by forcing them to check out their farming implements (which could double as weapons) each morning and return them each evening.
Without weapons to defend themselves and their families, the Okinawans began to develop the art of empty-handed combat in earnest. It was taught and trained in secret through the beginning of the eighteenth century. Much of the training was done at night while the oppressors of the Okinawan people slept and therefore, the practitoners trained in
the sleeping garments (the predecessor to the modern karate “gi”).
Over the years the prohibition against karate training began to diminish and legends began to develop.
Although there are too many to describe in this brief history, the most notable would definitely include Sokon Matsumura (aka Bushi Matsumura) who taught many great instructors including Azato and Itosu. These two gentlemen became the instructors of Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan.
Stacks Image 273 Gichin Funakoshi was born premature and frail and was given to his maternal grandparents to raise. While attending primary school, he became friends with the son of Yasutsune Azato and shortly thereafter, began receiving karate instruction from the greater master. According to Funakoshi, after he had trained a couple of years, he realized that his health had improved tremendously and that he was no longer frail. It was at this time, he began to contemplate making Karate-do “a way of life”.
Gichin Funakoshi became a schoolteacher, but continued to train at the house of Master Azato and also under a number of other great instructors. At the time, there were not many formal “schools” of karate and many karateka sought and received instruction from a number of great masters. These masters also shared information amongst themselves, often not seeing themselves in competition with each other, but as kindred spirits with the same love of martial arts.In 1922, an Okinawan schoolteacher named Gichin Funakoshi introduced Karate to Japan where he met Hironori Ohtsuka a Japanese Jujitsu master.
The Japanese adopted this newfound Okinawan art and worked very hard to make it their own exporting it to other countries throughout the world.
This exporting of Karate by Japan gave rise to the commonly held belief that the Japanese invented Karate, when in fact they learned it from an Okinawan schoolteacher hundreds of years after the Okinawans developed it.
At the age of 5 in 1897, he started training in Shinto Yoshin Ryu Jujutsu with Chojiro Ehashi, who was his mother’s uncle.
Unlike other schools of jujutsu, this line of study stressed atemi strikes (to the vital points) and kicking as well as incorporating the throws and groundwork.
In July 1922 he began to train with Gichin Funakoshi at a dormitory for Okinawan students. Gichin Funakoshi is widely regarded as the founder of modern karate do and founded the Shotokan style of karate.
It is widely believed that Ohtsuka also trained with the likes of Motobu and Kenwa Mabuni (Okinawan Karate Masters), as well as other schools of jujutsu and kendo.He was certainly on good terms with Gogen Yamaguchi of Goju Kai, and Morihei Ueshiba of Aikido.
In May 1934 Hironori Ohtsuka registered his own style of Karate, which he called “Wado Ryu”. (Wa = peace, Do = way, Ryu = school)
The reasons for this may be explained by a quote from Ohtsuka himself:
“Martial Arts in the present must place peace and welfare of the society as its objective”
Although Wado Ryu was recognized as an independent style. Its origins were developed by Ohtsuka’s continuous study of all martial arts, formulating the “Wado” techniques by combining his own innovations and natural movements found in the other martial arts.
Below is Ohtsuka demonstrating junzuki in his book of Wado Ryu.
In 1972 Ohtsuka was historically awarded with an honour never before bestowed upon any Karate master, the president of the
International Martial Arts Federation, a member of the Japanese royal family, presented Ohtsuka with the title of “Meijin” – the first excellent Marital Artist in Karate (10th Dan) it was the greatest title possible.
Hironori Ohtsuka Meijin peacefully passed away on 19th January 1982, at 90 years of age. Throughout the entire world where Martial Arts are practiced he will always be remembered for his enormous contribution and individual devotion to Wado Karate.