History of Okinawa Karate & Kobudo
Okinawa is composed of many small islands, each having a beautiful landscape and unique culture and history. In the 12th century, Okinawa was divided into many regions, each with its own ruler who built a gusuku (castle) and controlled the neighboring villages. Later, these regions unified into three main kingdoms. In 1429, King Sho Hashi united these three forces, creating the Ryukyu Kingdom. During the 15th and 16th centuries, known as the golden trading era, the Ryukyus developed into a major trading center between China and other neighboring countries. However, during this period there was the threat from Japanese pirates and, for purposes of securing one's own safety abroad, bujutsu (martial arts) was of vital importance. From this historical background, Okinawa's unique karate (formerly referred to as "ti") and kobudo were originated and perfected. Today's karate and kobudo came to be as a result of combining the good qualities of the martial arts of China and the other Southeastern Asian countries with the Okinawa "ti" through interchanges.
During the Ryukyu Kingdom period, the Shuri "ti" was developed with the Shuri Castle as its origin. The Naha "ti" flourished in the commercial city of Naha, and the Tomari "ti" was developed in the Tomari village area which was located between the previous two regions. Famous bujins (martial arts experts) originated from each region and their tradition has been passed on to today. As karate and kobudo were forbidden by the lords, their techniques were kept secret and very little literature regarding these techniques was written. Their traditions were conveyed either verbally or by individual instruction.
After Okinawa was officially incorporated as a prefecture of Japan, new laws reduced the need for secrecy, and the education system of the Meiji era (1896-1912) adopted karate and kobudo as part of its physical education program. Since then, karate and kobudo have been performed in public. In the Taisho period (1912-1926) they were introduced to mainland Japan, and in the early Showa period (1926-1988) they spread overseas.
After World War II (1945), Okinawan karate was divided into four ryuhas - Shorin-ryu, Goju-ryu, Uechi-ryu, and Matsubayashi-ryu. Currently, there are many ryuha and kaiha changing their styles and techniques, but the karate and kobudo of each ryuha and kaiha have their own kihon kata (basic kata) from which the attack and defense techniques are logically derived.
The rigorous training cultivates physical power and a keen mind, thus contributing to the well-being of the society. Karate and kobudo have greatly influenced education. They can be enjoyed as sports or used as self-defense arts. The diverse elements and characteristics that made karate and kobudo popular throughout the world have instilled inspiration in the hearts of millions of people.
- Reprinted and edited from the 1997 Okinawa Karate & Kobudo World Tournament brochure.
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