Since antiquity, man has been faced with the necessity of defending himself. Hand-to-hand combat developed as a necessary means of physical survival. The many varieties of martial arts in existence today are the result of the diverse cultural settings in which they developed.
The martial arts became associated with philosophy and meditation when Buddhism spread from India to China nearly 5,000 years ago. The Buddhists supported a holistic philosophy of discipline, which led to the development of Chuan-fa (Kung Fu), a form of fighting requiring both physical and mental discipline. In time, Chuan-fa spread to the neighboring island of Okinawa. There, the native martial arts were combined with Chuan-fa to become what we now practice as Karate. In Okinawa, Karate was originally developed as a weaponless form of self-defense through bitter necessity, when weapons were taken away from citizens by ruling class.
By the 20th century, the Okinawan martial arts included numerous schools emphasizing different techniques and approaches to self-defense. In 1922, Gichin Funakoshi, the President of the Okinawa Martial Arts Committee, was invited by the Japan Ministry of Education to give a karate demonstration in Tokyo. The demonstration was a success and the first formal introduction to mainland Japan would become part of karate history. Funakoshi moved to Japan to begin promoting the art in the university system. Here it was transformed to include more structured methods of teaching for large classes, techniques and kata forms became more standardized, and the physical fitness aspects of karate were emphasized.
Karate quickly spread throughout Japan, and by the 1930s, most major Japanese universities had karate clubs. As master Funakoshi and his students further developed the art, emphasis was placed upon its spiritual aspects including self-control, discipline, and self-evaluation. Funakoshi’s dojo, the Shoto-kan, named after Funakoshi’s pen-name, would later become the adopted name of the style which he and his students had developed. Funakoshi would later become known as the founder of modern karate, having developed it and promoted it to a worldwide audience.
In 1955, the Japan Karate Association (JKA) was organized by Funakoshi and his top students to aggressively develop and promote Karate throughout Japan. Masatoshi Nakayama was named Chief Instructor of the JKA and served in that position until his death in 1987. One of the founding members of the JKA was our AAKF founder Hidetaka Nishiyama. One of the many innovations made by the JKA was the development of the Kenshusei – the legendary Instructor Training School, which Nishiyama supervised. The Kenshusei would produce many legendary karate masters that further promoted the art to a worldwide audience.
By the late 1950’s, karate started to gain attention worldwide. The JKA’s approach had led to a more scientific and competitive approach to the training and, in 1957, the first All Japan Karate Championship was held. By the 1960’s, karate competitions were becoming prevalent.
After the Second World War, U.S. military bases in Japan and Okinawa had exposed to the art to many American GIs stationed there. Karate inevitably spread to the U.S. and Japanese masters began moving there to start their own schools. In 1961, Sensei Nishiyama moved to California and permanently established his dojo and begun his lifelong process of promoting Traditional Karate worldwide through his organizations – the AAKF and ITKF.
As Karate has become more popular, new sports have appeared that use karate-based kicking and punching actions. While Traditional Karate emphasized highly developed techniques and the concept of todome, or “finishing blow”, the newer karate sports focused primarily on kicking and punching actions to score points in competition. Sport Karate lacks the martial/budo principals espoused by traditional karate practice.
Despite the many political divisions that caused splintering of the original JKA organization, the clear differences between Traditional and Sport Karate served as a catalyst to unite and clarify the vision of traditional practitioners. It was the desire the preserve the legacy and quality of its original meaning that the term “Traditional Karate” became prevalent. Traditional Karate, as practiced today, is an art, a sport, and proven method of self-defense. The art continues to develop both technically and spiritually through the efforts of its best practitioners and organizations such as the AAKF and ITKF. Worldwide, participants number in the hundred of thousands, and the number continues to grow.