History Of Karate-Do

There are no known written records about the origins of the martial art known as karate-do . it is known however that it came to Okinawa from China. The origin of this Chinese method of fighting is found in a discipline set by the Indian monk Boddhidharma who is also known as Da Mo in Chinese and Daruma Taishi in Japanese. He left the western shores of India, (Kerala) for China, his destination being the Shaolin Temple . Boddhidharma was well versed in Kalarippayattu a martial art of South India, rich in Yogasans or Yogic Postures that bring forth the union of the body and the mind.

Boddhidharma, who is considered the 28th patriach in the tradition of Gautam Buddha and the first patriach of the Zen Sect, was surprised when he saw that the trainee monks could not withstand the rigorous training necessary for his type of Buddhism. It was therefore felt that in order for the monks to bear the rigors of travel, they needed to not only have a healthy body and mind, but also learn to defend themselves against both wild creatures as well as thieves and bandits. Boddhidarma's task was therefore to shape them up. The method that he set for the monks is laid down in the Ekkin Sutra of the Dhamapada or the holy scriptures of Buddhism. By conjecture we understand that the martial arts of the Shaolin Monastery also spread with Buddhism along the silk route with the merchants of China, many of whom also learnt the art from the monks.

Amongst the regions where Buddhism spread were the Ryukyu Islands, a group of Islands now called Okinawa, which is off the coast of Japan and where Chinese influence through trade and culture was the greatest. Okinawa originally consisted of the small kingdoms of Chuzan, Nanzan and Hokuzan. Being unified by King Sho Hashi of Chuzan in 1429, a prohibitory order was issued banning all Ryu Kyuans from possessing weapons. A similar order was also promulgated in 1609 by Shizuma of the Satsuma clan of Kageshima after they gained control of Okinawa. Therefore the only method of self defence was the method called To-te or Hand of Chinese origin, yet unknown to mainland Japan and hence practiced secretly. This martial art underwent great development in the Ryukyu Islands or Okinawa especially the provinces of Shuri, Naha and Tomari. In Okinawa it became Okinawa-te. Upon coming to know about this art, the rulers from mainland Japan banned its practice. It is because of these bans that the art got its mystique and legends of great karate warriors were born. Since it could not be learned legally there were no dojos nor any professional instructors. The only ones who taught the art did so because of their interest in it and accepted a few students in secret. There was therefore no emphasis on written descriptions of techniques. The arts took on a local hue and came to be known as Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te after the provinces.

The calligraphy for Bushi Do or the Way of the Warrior

Supreme Master Gichin Funakoshi

Often considered as the father of Modern Day Karate was born into a Samurai Family in 1868. He was very weak as a child and to improve his health his father took him to Azato Yasutsune, a good friend who knew the martial arts. During Funakoshi's childhood the art was banned and at first he was Azato's only student. He trained under both Azato and Itoso Yasutsune who were great warriors. Years later he also trained under a great many other Senseis like Piechin Kiyuna, Niigaki and Sokon Mastumura. With the martial art training Master Funakoshi's health not only improved but he became a very adept martial artist. By the time he completed his education and became a teacher himself, Master Funakoshi was appointed Chairman of Shobukai the Martial Arts Association of Okinawa.

Over the years exponents from both Shuri-te and Tomari-te developed their own schools to the extent that one could see the differences between these schools and the art practiced in the Naha prefecture. The Shuri and Tomari schools kept more to the hard-line training methods and became known as Shorin-ryu. The school was named after the place of the monks who brought the art to Okinawa via the Shaolin temple. Not to be outdone by their compatriots from Shuri and Tomari, the exponents from Naha called their school Shorei ryu or The School of the Enlightened Spirit.

It was only in 1902 when Shintaro Ogawa, the commissioner of schools in the Kagoshima Prefecture, after witnessing an exhibition of karate, submitted a report to the Ministry of Education in Japan about the benefits of training in karate, that karate became a part of the curriculum in schools and began to be practiced freely in Japan. The martial art gained tremendous popularity after Master Funakoshi performed in Okinawa before the Crown Prince of Japan in 1922. This exhibition of the empty-handed art of fighting led to him being invited to perform at the Royal Court in Japan. The response to his demonstration in Japan was so great that he was persuaded to stay on in Mainland Japan. Amongst those who persuaded him to stay on was Master Jigoro Kano the founder of Judo who gave him the necessary help to teach the art for the first time in Japan.

In his early days in Tokyo, Japan, Master Funakoshi stayed at a dormitory for Okninawan students, living in a small room by the entrance. His humble character could be seen as he would clean the place while the students attended class during the day and he would instruct them in karate-do in the evening.

It was in Japan when Master Funakoshi was leading a students group doing research on karate at the Keio University that he proposed the change of name in order to make the art totally Japanese in nature. In the proposal he gave the name Dai Nippon Kempo Karate-do or Great Japan Fist Method Empty Hand Way . In the new name he changed the calligraphy symbolizing "to" or " China " (this character can also be pronounced as kara) to "Kara" or Empty and thus gave the art the name of Kara-te-do in short.


Calligraphy used earlier   Pronounced as "TO". This calligraphic character could also be pronounced as "KARA". Character symbolized ' China '
Calligraphy now used Pronounced as "KARA" also pronounced as "Ku". Character symbolized 'Empty'

The popularity of the art soon led to many masters from Okinawa coming to the mainland and setting up their own schools. Various masters like Chogun Miyagi (Goju ryu) and Kenwa Mabuni (Shito ryu), who propogated their own style, also came to mainland Japan and lead to the establishment of organizations based on different teaching methods. In Japan today, four major schools of karate-do are prevalent, namely Shotokan, Wado-ryu, Goju Ryu and Shito Ryu. The most popular style or school in Japan is Shotokan. Foremost among the Shotokan Organizations in the world is the JKA or Japan Karate Association.


Master Masatoshi Nakayama

After the demise of Supreme Master Gichin Funakoshi, the Japan Karate Association appointed Master Masatoshi Nakayama to head the Masters of the JKA. Nakayama Sensei authored many books on karate and was primarily responsible for setting the standard of the JKA and helped spread JKA throughout the world.

Nakayama Sensei was born in 1913 in the Yamaguchi Prefecture in Japan. He entered the famous Takushoku University in 1932. After graduating, he enrolled in the Institute of Eastern Studies at Beijing University , but withdrew from there in May 1946.

Two years later, JKA was established, and in 1958 he was made the Senior Master of JKA.

He passed away at the age of 74 in 1987.


Master Sugiura Motokuni

Master Sugiura was born on October 4th 1924, in the Aichi prefecture. After finishing school, he joined a karate club under the tutelage of Yosiaki Hayashi Sensei. In 1943, he became a student of Gichin Funakoshi Sensei. He studied karate until 1954 under Mr Masatoshi Nakayama, an alumnus of Takushoku University .

In 1951, he was given the responsibility of managing the instructors in JKA. In April 1956, he coached in various dojos, including the dojo headquarters of JKA.

In 1957, he was appointed the Director of the Japan Karate Association. 

He resigned as the Director of JKA in 1963 and took up a full-time job in physical education. 

In 1970, he was invloved in making videos of karate Kata for use overseas.

In 1975, he became the head of the Japan Martial Arts Society AND started publishing a column in the famous magazine, "Monthly Karatedo".

In 1976, he was promoted to professor at Asia University and received the 8th Dan from JKA which entitled him a seat on the board of the Technical Committee of JKA.

In May 1977, his thesis "A System of Karate-do" was accepted by Asia University.  He spent the next few years creating “Teaching Materials for Karate-do as Physical Education.” And in 1989, he drafted the supplementary karate guidelines for these materials.

In March 1990, Master Sugiura retired from his post at Asia University, and the next year was appointed as Chief Instructor of the JKA. In 1992, he received his 9th Dan.

One of Master Sugiura’s greatest gifts to the JKA has been his consistent focus on the basics: kihon, kumite and kata. As he emphasizes, kihon teaches us how to move, ensuring our technique is flawless; kumite teaches us how to concentrate, and how to best apply our technique for maximum power; kata teaches us both at once—and opens the way to the body-mind unity that is the soul of karate.


Shihan Ueki Masaaki (9th Dan)  
Current Chief Instructor of JKA


Birth Place : Tokyo, Japan
Birthdate : 24th March 1939
University : Asia University
Started Karate : 3rd year of high school

Motto : "Always remember the mind and body are one"
Major Tournament Wins

18th JKA All Japan Karate Championship (1975)
1st Place Kata
17th JKA All Japan Karate Championship (1974)
1st Place Kata
14th JKA All Japan Karate Championship (1971)
Tournament Grand Champion; 1st Place Kata; 2nd Place Kumite
11th JKA All Japan Karate Championship (1968)
Tournament Grand Champion; 1st Place Kumite; 1st Place Kata
10th JKA All Japan Karate Championship (1967)
1st Place Kata
9th JKA All Japan Karate Championship (1966)
2nd Place Kata
8th JKA All Japan Karate Championship (1965)
Tournament Grand Champion; 1st Place Kata; 2nd Place Kumite