Karate is scheduled to make its debut at the Olympics in 2021, but did you know that it originated in Okinawa? Practiced by 60 millions of people in about 180 countries, it has become one of the most popular martial arts in the world. Originally known simply as “ti” (hand) in Okinawa, Karate officially received its current name on October 25, 1936. The date has since been labelled “Karate Day”, and many events usually take place around that date including a Guiness Record winning, 3973-people simultaneous kata performance in 2016.
Let’s take a dive into the world of Karate!
How karate became karate
Karate was born in Okinawa. It first originated as a martial art called ti, which later incorporated influences from Chinese martial arts. It was then was introduced to mainland Japan, and became what we know today as “karate”. While the word “karate” already existed, it originally meant “Chinese hand”, reflecting the influence of the continent. The ideograms were changed to “empty hand”, due to the practitioners being unarmed, and also to refer to the Buddhist concept of “emptiness”. The character for “way” was then borrowed from Japanese budo to make the complete name: “the way of the empty hand”.
The art of peace
There are a number of differences between Okinawan Karate and the karate that is popular nowadays in mainland Japan and around the world, the biggest one being that Okinawan Karate is not competitive. While sport and competition have become an important part of many styles of modern karate, there is no such thing in Okinawan traditions. It’s because Okinawa karate is not a “technique” for fighting, but a “path” to train one’s body, and to cultivate a peaceful frame of mind.
To quote historical masters:
“There is no first strike in karate”
“Struck by no one, struck no one, make it a principle that nothing should happen.”
According to this philosophy of “uneventful-ness”, the goal is to achieve, through rigorous training, a mindset that enables one to “win without fighting”. Thus a karate practitionner is not supposed to strike first, and almost all kata start with a uke, a defensive move. The first thing one learns at a dojo is etiquette. Each practice starts and ends with a bow.
The essence of Okinawan karate is to train your mind and body, in order to develop mental strength, and to improve one’s character and attitude. Karate can be thought of as a way to reflect on and conquer oneself.
The birthplace of karate
There are many schools of Okinawan karate, all descended from one of the three major styles that originated in Naha, which was proclaimed “the birthplace of Okinawan traditional karate and kobudo” by the City Council in 2012. There are numerous dojos throughout the city.
Karate has become a popular tourist attraction for both domestic and international visitors, and there are even travel agencies that specialize in it now. Karate fans might also want to visit the newly opened Karate Kaikan in the neighboring city of Tomigusuku, which has a dojo, exhibition facilities, and a shop to promote the history and appeal of Okinawan karate both at home and abroad.
Many dojos offer trial lessons for you to experience some real Okinawan karate.
● Karate Kaikan
●Ageshio Japan (travel agency specialized in karate tours)
Karate Day's Inaugural Dedication is held every year on October 23, at the Karate Kaikan (Shurei no kan).
It features Karate and kobudo performances by high-ranked masters certified as Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties by the Prefecture.
The Commemorative Performance is held every year on the Sunday that is closest to Karate Day, usually on Kokusai Street ( in front of Tenbusu Naha).
It features performances by karate lovers from all over the world, and notably a collective kata performance that stretches over 1km! The 2016 edition set the Guiness World Record of the largest kata performance with 3973 participants.