What Is the History of Karate?

In the past few years, karate has grown into one of the most popular martial arts in the world. It can be traced back to the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa where it was developed as a form of self-defense. Karate is an art of self-expression and defense that has evolved over thousands of years. This blog post will take a deep dive into the history of karate, exploring its origin and evolution, major influencers, and its current influence in the world.

The Origin and Evolution of Karate

Karate has its roots in the martial arts practiced by people in East Asia and Okinawa. There are various schools of thought on the exact origins and evolution of karate, but most trace its development to the Ryukyu Islands of Okinawa.

During the Ryukyu Kingdom period (the late 1400s to mid-1800s), martial arts were used for combat and self-defense, especially by warriors and samurai for purposes of physical and spiritual cultivation. During this time, three main styles evolved: Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te.

Shuri-te, named for its roots in the city of Shuri, Okinawa, was developed by the legendary Master Matsumura Sokon. Naha-te, named for its development in the city of Naha, can be traced back to Master Itosu Ankō. Tomari-te, named for its development in the city of Tomari, was pioneered by Master Higaonna Kanryō. These three styles formed the foundation of karate as an art of self-defense.

The late 1800s saw a revolution in Okinawan martial arts with the incorporation of Chinese martial arts. The infusion of kung-fu was a major influencer in the evolution of karate, and the fierce fighting style still permeates its execution today.

In 1924, Funakoshi Gichin presented karate to a national audience by introducing kata (forms) and kumite (fighting) at the Japanese All-Style Martial Arts Demonstration in Tokyo. Funakoshi is often seen as the father of modern karate, as well as the creator of “Shotokan” karate (named for his pen name Shoto).

Modern karate takes on many forms and incorporates different elements from its history. A student can choose from traditional styles such as Shotokan and Shito-Ryu, or more competitive variants such as Kyokushin, Koshiki Karate, and Goju-Ryu.

Major Influencers in Karate History

Throughout its history, karate has been influenced by a variety of individuals. Below are some of the major influencers:

  • Matsumura Sokon: Matsumura Sokon was a legendary Okinawan martial artist who — together with Bushi Matsumura Soken — was responsible for leading the development of Shuri-te. Matsumura was a master weapons specialist and is credited with creating many katas that are practiced even today.
  • Itosu Ankō: Itosu was a student of Matsumura Sokon, who led the development of Naha-te from Shuri-te. He is known as “The Father Of Modern Karate”, for his innovations such as the popularized Pinan Kata series.
  • Higaonna Kanryō: Higaonna Kaoru was responsible for transforming Tomari-te into what would later become modern Goju-Ryu Karate. He is credited with blending hard and soft techniques (Hitingu hard and neigingu soft) together to create his style.
  • Funakoshi Gichin: Funakoshi Gichin is often referred to as “The Father Of Modern Karate”. He was responsible for introducing karate to a national audience during his presentation of kata and kumite at the Japanese All-Style Martial Arts Demonstration in Tokyo in 1924.

Karate Around the World Today

Karate is no longer just an Okinawan martial art and has spread all around the world. There are now numerous competitive forms such as Kyokushin and Koshiki karate in addition to more traditional forms such as Goju-Ryu and Shotokan.

Kyokushin practice focuses on full contact sparring that involves strikes with feet and hands. There are various organizations such as World Kyokushin Budo Kai that oversee competitive tournaments across the globe. Koshiki karate is another tournament style which utilizes full contact Karate with strikes to any area including head shots. Here too, an international governing body known as World Koshiki Karate Federation oversees these tournaments worldwide. Many universities include both Kyokushin and Koshiki Karate as part of their curriculum for students who want to learn more about the martial art.

In addition to these competitive styles, more traditional forms such as Goju Ryu and Shotokan karate remain popular today. Both forms focus on meditation and discipline alongside physical practice; students are typically required to learn and master several katas (forms) before they can progress to more advanced techniques. The International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF) and International Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate Federation (IOGKF) are two major governing bodies that oversee traditional practice across the world.


Karate is a diverse martial art with a long history steeped in tradition but with modern influences that put it at the forefront of martial arts today. Its fierce style has made it popular among practitioners all around the world—from perfecting kata to full contact sparring, each practitioner brings their own story and purpose to their practice that helps contribute to this incredible martial art’s future success.

The Origin and Evolution of Karate: Answering Frequently Asked Questions

Karate is a popular martial art that originated in Okinawa, Japan, and is now practiced around the world. It is a discipline that combines physical techniques such as punches and kicks with mental focus and discipline. In this blog post, we will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about the origin and evolution of Karate.

1. What is the history of Karate?

The history of Karate dates back to the Ryukyu Kingdom, which was located on the island of Okinawa, Japan. During this time, martial arts were developed and practiced by the Okinawan people for self-defense. Karate, which means „empty hand,“ was developed as a way to defend oneself without weapons.

In the early 20th century, Karate was introduced to Japan by Gichin Funakoshi, who is credited with popularizing the art form. Karate was later introduced to other parts of the world, and it is now widely practiced around the world.

2. What is the difference between Karate and other martial arts?

Karate is a unique martial art that focuses on striking techniques such as kicks, punches, and knee strikes. Unlike other martial arts, Karate does not include grappling or wrestling techniques. Karate also places a strong emphasis on mental focus and discipline, which sets it apart from other martial arts.

3. What are the benefits of practicing Karate?

There are many benefits to practicing Karate. Some of these benefits include improved physical fitness, increased flexibility, and increased strength. Karate also helps to improve mental focus and discipline, which can be applied to other aspects of life such as work and school.

Practicing Karate can also help to build self-confidence and self-esteem, as students learn to defend themselves and improve their physical abilities. Karate can also provide a sense of community and belonging, as students train and spar with one another.

4. How is Karate practiced?

Karate is typically practiced in a dojo, which is a training hall specifically designed for martial arts training. Students will typically wear a gi, which is a white uniform that is worn during training and competition.

Karate training typically involves a combination of physical exercises such as running, jumping, and stretching, as well as striking techniques such as punches, kicks, and knee strikes. Training also includes forms, which are prearranged sequences of movements that simulate an actual fight.

Sparring is also an important component of Karate training. During sparring, students will practice their striking techniques with a partner in a controlled environment. This helps to prepare students for real-life situations where self-defense may be necessary.

5. What are the different styles of Karate?

There are many different styles of Karate, each with their own unique techniques and philosophies. Some of the most popular styles include Shotokan, Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, Wado-ryu, and Kyokushin. Each style has its own unique history and is practiced by its own community of practitioners.

6. Can Karate be used for self-defense?

Yes, Karate can be used for self-defense. The techniques learned in Karate training can be applied in real-life situations to defend oneself against an attacker. However, it is important to note that self-defense situations can be dangerous, and it is important to always try to avoid violent situations whenever possible.

7. Is Karate safe?

Karate is generally safe when practiced in a controlled environment with proper supervision. However, as with any physical activity, there is always a risk of injury. It is important to always follow proper safety precautions and to listen to your body to avoid injury.


Karate is a fascinating martial art with a rich history and culture. Whether you are interested in improving your physical fitness, building confidence and self-esteem, or learning self-defense techniques, Karate has something to offer for everyone. By understanding the origin and evolution of Karate, you can gain a deeper appreciation for this unique martial art and all that it has to offer.

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