About the birth of Okinawa karate

  Many research studies have been presented so far regarding the birth of karate. However, regarding when and in which shape karate was born, it is impossible to give a clear affirmation. One of the reasons for this is that literature historical records are very rare.

  In 1994, the Okinawa Prefecture Board of Education has organized the results of the various origin theory researches published so far.

  1. Karate originates from “Ti”, the original Okinawan martial art which later was influenced by martial arts from China and other nations.
  2. The origin of karate traces back to the time of King Shō Shin (1477-1526), when Aji local rulers were gathered to reside in the surrounding of Shuri Castle and a sword hunt occurred. It was also influenced by the weapon prohibition enforced following the invasion of Ryūkyū by Satsuma in 1609.
  3. At the time of Satto, trade with China started in 1372. Later, Chinese martial arts were introduced and formalized to match the natural features of Okinawa. Thus karate was born.

  The above three points of view are commonly referred to when it comes to the occurrence of karate.


Regarding Shurite, Tomarite and Nahate

  In contemporary documents, it is often mentioned that until styles were formulated karate was divided into Shurite, Tomarite and Nahate. However, the terminology regarding these 3 “Ti” appeared for the first time in 1927.

  This year, the chairman of Kōdōkan Kanō Jigorō was invited to visit Okinawa by the Okinawa prefecture judō black belt association. As a part of the welcoming events, a karate demonstration was organized. Organizers were Miyagi Chōjun and Mabuni Kenwa of the “Okinawa Karate Club”. At that time, the names “Shurite, Nahate and Tomarite” were used as a matter of convenience. Demonstrators were Hanashiro Chōmo, Kuba Kōsaku, Kyan Chōtoku, Miyagi Chōjun, Mabuni Kenwa, etc.

* Karate is written “Chinese Hand”.


The birth of styles

  Most of today’s Ryūha or styles were established in recent times.

  In November 1930, one of the top students of Miyagi Chōjun (1888-1953), Shinzato Jin-an participated in a dedicatory demonstration at the Meiji Shrine in Tōkyō during which he performed the kata Sanchin. At that time, he was asked the name of his school. As a consequence, Miyagi later named his system Gōju-ryū from the line “Hō gō jū dontō – Mi zuiji ōhen” (The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness – The body should respond at all times) taken from the “Ken no Taiyō Hakku” (8 summary poems of the fist) found in the Okinawa Den “Bubishi” or the Okinawan version of the Bubishi. It is the oldest Ryūha of karate.

  Chibana Chōshin (1885-1969) studied under Itosu Ankō in the line of Tōdi Sakugawa and Matsumura Sōkon. In 1919, he opened a dōjō in Shuri Torihori and start teaching. Enthusiastically promoting karate, he named his system Shōrin-ryu in 1933 and in 1948, he established the Okinawa Shōrin-ryū Karatedō Association.

  Uechi Kanbun (1877-1948) studied Southern Shaolin fist under the expert Shū Shi Wa for 13 years in Fushou, Fujian Province. After returning to his home Okinawa, he moved to Wakayama in mainland Japan and established the Pangainun-ryū karate jutsu research society in 1932. This is when he genuinely started teaching karate. In 1940, he renamed his system Uechi-ryū.

  Matsubayashi-ryū was formed by Nagamine Shōshin (1907-1997). He took the first character “Matsu” of the names of the forefathers of Shurite and Tomarite, respectively Matsumura Sōkon and Matsumora Kōsaku. The system was named Matsubayashi-ryū in 1947.

  Nicknamed Chanmī-gwa, Kyan Chōtoku (1870-1945) moved to live in Yomitan Village in the vicinity of Hija River. There he raised many students. From there were born various schools among which Sukunai-hayashi-ryū, Chūbu-shōrin-ryū, Shōrinji-ryū among others.

  Soken Hōhan (1870-1945) studied with Nabi Tanme, the grandson of Matsumura Sōkon. He later names his system Matsumura Shōrin-ryū.

  Nakamura Shigeru (1891-1969) studied under Itosu Ankō and Hanashiro Chōmo. He later named his system Okinawa Kenpō and spread his style mainly in the northern part of the main island of Okinawa.

  Isshin-ryū is a style that was influenced by Shurite and Nahate while Gōhaku-kai (Okinawa Gōjū-ryū & Tomarite Karatedō Association) inherits the traditions of Nahate and Tomarite. There are some other systems that were taught and passed on secretly like Ryūei-ryū and Motobu-ryū.

  Following the Pacific War, the regulation towards schools became less severe. Kaiha (branch) were created from Ryūha (style) and dōjō were also formed without becoming a Kaiha. Today, there are 431 dōjō and more than 100 Ryūha and Kaiha.


The purpose of karate

  Karate is no longer only the karate of Okinawa. It has spread worldwide as karatedō which is a source of great pride for Okinawa citizens who were born and raised in the cradle of karate.

  As karate was incorporated in the school curriculum, one can wonder what the purpose of teaching karate to children is. The Okinawa Prefecture look at this purpose through 3 different points. The first point is to train karate as a sport that develop a healthy physical body. The second point is to acquire a self-defense method practicing karate as a martial art. The third point is to discipline the “heart” through karate training. These three objectives are inseparable and important points when it comes to teaching and training karate.


Kata of Okinawa karate and kobudō

About Bushi, Samurē and Shizoku

Okinawa karate demonstration

Interviews of 16 Okinawa karate masters




  1. Karatedo and kobudo preliminary survey report, Okinawa Prefecture Board of Education (1994)
  2. Okinawa karate exchange promotion project, Okinawa Tourism Resort Bureau (2005)
  3. Okinawa karate kobudo encyclopedia, Kashiwa Shobo (2008)


Note: names are listed without titles.