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Early History of Karate-Do

It is commonly accepted among karate researchers that what is known as karate today originated from the southern Shaolin Temple Fuchou in the Fujian province in China. It was last destroyed in the 1800s during the Boxer Rebellion. From there it made its way to the Ryukyu Islands namely, Okinawa. It is in Okinawa where these original Chinese martial arts became intermingled with local defensive forms and practices.

Some karate historians1 question the validity that the Southern Shaolin Temple in Fuchou ever existed and claim that it was a myth perpetuated by specific group interests. To date there is no official documentation proving the existence of the temple in Fuchou.

Renshi Sensei Hudson – Mt Julien

Renshi Sensei Hudson – Mt Julien

Matsumura, Saku, Itosu, Funakoshi, Obata

Matsumura, Saku, Itosu, Funakoshi, Obata

Karate historians agree that Toudi Sakugawa (1782-1838) was the grand father of Okinawan karate do. Very little is known or recorded prior to Sakugawa. However, it is believed that Sakugawa was under the tutelage of Koshukun (1756-1762) a Chinese envoy to Okinawa who is acknowledged as the author of Kunkudai and Peichin Takahara (1688-1755).

A notable student of Sakugawa was Sokon Matsumura (1796-1893) who also received tutelage from Kushukun, has also been attributed with creating the style known as shurite or shorin-ryu and the development of Gankaku (Chinto).3 Funakoshi states4 that Matsumura also studied under the Chinese military attache Iwah. Noteworthy students of Bushi Matsumura were Ankoh Azato (1827-1906), Ankoh Itosu (1830-1915), Choki Motobu (1871-1944), Chosin Chibana (1885-1969), Chotoku Kyan (1870-1945).

Itosu maintained the discipline of Gusukuma's style (shurin) while Azato maintained Matsumura's style (shurite/shorin-ryu).

Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) studied under Matsumura, Azato and Itosu.5 However, he apparently also studied with his contemporary Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1957) from which he learned the 5 Heian (pinan) katas when he was 51 years of age.6 This is in contradiction to Funakoshi’s statement that he learned the Heian katas from their creator, Itosu.7

Funakoshi’s principal students were Shigeru Egami, Toshio Kamata, Isao Obata, Masatoshi Nakayama and Tsutomu Ohshima.8

Funakoshi developed a strong presence at a number of Japanese Universities such as Keio (Isao Obata), Hosei, Waseda and Takushoku (Takudai). Other universities were aligned with other karate styles such as Wado Ryu, Shito Ryu. Keio University was regarded as a very prestigious university with students from wealthy well to do families.

The Japan Karate Association was formed in 1949 with Funakoshi as the honorary Chief Instructor and Isao Obata as Chairman. A dispute broke out between those who had some wealth and those who did not, over whether the JKA should turn professional and charge students to attend classes and pay instructors. Obata and other karate groups eventually quit the JKA.

Matsumura, Saku, Itosu, Funakoshi, Obata

Nishiyama, Obata, Unknown

In 1964, after the great karate demonstration at the Nippon Budokan Hall (the year of the Olympic games in Tokyo) the All Japan Karate Organisation was formed. This organisation included members of the JKA and other karate styles. Obata was elected Chairman. Peace did not remain with all groups leaving the All Japan Karate Organisation, except for the JKA under Nakayama, to form the Federation of All Japan Karate Do Organisation (FAJKO).

Obata’s group joined a number of smaller schools forming the Rengokai, which is the association which represents Chidokan in FAJKO. FAJKO reformed into the Japanese Karate Federation (JKF) in the 1990s. Chidokan, through its association with Rengokai remained the only shotokan group left in JKF.

* Edward Hudson A Brief History of Chidokan Karate-Do

  1. Harry Cook.
  2. Classical Kata of Okinawan Karate Patrick McCarthy Ohara Publications 1987 p28.
  3. IBID p29
  4. Karate-Do Kyohan The Master Text Gichin Funakoshi Kodansha International 1974 p8
  5. IBID p8
  6. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants - The Kenwa Mabuni Story Patrick McCarthy p14.
  7. Karate-Do Nyumon Gichin Funakoshi Kodansha International 1994 p22.
  8. Political Rivalries in the Martial Arts by David W Clary Black Belt Magazine

Last Modified 2018/03