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Karate is a martial art developed in the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa) from indigenous fighting methods called te (, literally: "hand") and Chinese kempo. Karate is a striking art using punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes, and open-handed techniques such as knife-hands (karate chop). Grappling, locks, restraints, throws, and vital point strikes are taught in some styles. A karate practitioner is called a karate-ka.
Karate developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom prior to its 19th century annexation by Japan. It was brought to the Japanese mainland in the early 20th century during a time of cultural exchanges between the Japanese and the Ryukyuans. In 1922 the Japanese Ministry of Education invited Gichin Funakoshi to Tokyo to give a karate demonstration. Keio University became the first Japanese university to open a dojo (training hall); by 1932, all Japanese universities had a dojo. In this era of escalating Japanese militarism, the name was changed from ("Chinese hand") to ("empty hand") – both of which are pronounced karate – to indicate that the Japanese wished to develop the combat form in Japanese style. After the Second World War, Okinawa became an important United States military site and karate became popular among servicemen stationed there.
The martial arts movies of the 1960s and 1970s served to greatly increase its popularity and the word karate began to be used in a generic way to refer to all striking-based Oriental martial arts. Karate schools began appearing across the world, catering to those with casual interest as well as those seeking a deeper study of the art.
Shigeru Egami, Chief Instructor of Shotokan Dojo, opined "that the majority of followers of karate in overseas countries pursue karate only for its fighting techniques...Movies and television...depict karate as a mysterious way of fighting capable of causing death or injury with a single blow...the mass media present a pseudo art far from the real thing." Shoshin Nagamine said "Karate may be considered as the conflict within oneself or as a life-long marathon which can be won only through self-discipline, hard training and one's own creative efforts."
For many practitioners, karate is a deeply philosophical practice. Karate-do teaches ethical principles and can have spiritual significance to its adherents. Gichin Funakoshi ("Father of Modern Karate") titled his autobiography Karate-Do: My Way of Life in recognition of the transforming nature of karate study.
Today karate is practiced for self-perfection, for cultural reasons, for self-defense and as a sport. In 2005, in the 117th IOC (International Olympic Committee) voting, karate did not receive the necessary two thirds majority vote to become an Olympic sport. Web Japan (sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs) claims there are 23 million karate practitioners worldwide.
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. One 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 te 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 wu shu into Okinawan martial arts occurred partly because of these exchanges. 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.
Sakukawa Kanga (1782–1838) had studied pugilism and staff (Bo) fighting in China (according to one legend, under the guidance of Kosokun, originator of kusanku kata). In 1806 he started teaching a fighting art in the city of Shuri that he called "Tudi Sakukawa," which meant "Sakukawa of China Hand." This was the first known recorded reference to the art of "Tudi," written as. Around the 1820s Sakukawa's most significant student Matsumura Sōkon (1809–1899) taught a synthesis of Te (Shuri-te and Tomari-te) and Shaolin (Chinese) styles. Matsumura's style would later become the Shōrin-ryū style.
Founder of Shotokan Karate
Funakoshi changed the names of many kata and the name of the art itself (at least on mainland Japan), doing so to get karate accepted by the Japanese budō organization Dai Nippon Butoku Kai. Funakoshi also gave Japanese names to many of the kata. The five pinan forms became known as Heian, the three naihanchi forms became known as tekki, seisan as hangetsu, Chintō as gankaku, wanshu as empi, and so on. These were mostly political changes, rather than changes to the content of the forms, although Funakoshi did introduce some such changes. Funakoshi had trained in two of the popular branches of Okinawan karate of the time, Shorin-ryū and Shōrei-ryū. In Japan he was influenced by kendo, incorporating some ideas about distancing and timing into his style. He always referred to what he taught as simply karate, but in 1936 he built a dojo in Tokyo and the style he left behind is usually called Shotokan after this dojo.
The modernization and systemization of karate in Japan also included the adoption of the white uniform that consisted of the kimono and the dogi or keikogi—mostly called just karate-gi—and colored belt ranks. Both of these innovations were originated and popularized by Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo and one of the men Funakoshi consulted in his efforts to modernize karate.