A structuralist History of Karate and the Shorin-ryu school


The roots of the martial art known as Karate can be traced back to early Okinawa culture. Okinawa might be described as a sub-tropical paradise, barring the presence of typhoons which occur seasonally. The Okinawan people were seafaring merchants and explorers, and their constant contact with foreign cultures caused their indigenous fighting style to develop through the assimilation of various other techniques and styles from southeastern Asia and India.

In the twelfth century Okinawa was brought under a feudal system establishing castles and estates. The various power-centers were united by the conqueror King Sho Hashi. Sho Hashi, and the Hashi Dynasty, which lasted fifty years, established a weapons ban in Japan as a way to ensure their own power. Needless to say, this resulted in a powerfully growing interest in empty-hand martial arts. It is during this era that a vast amount of development occured in the Okinawan martial are that would evolve into Karate. The second dynasty, ryukyu.

In 1372 the Ming Dynasty expanded Okinawan trade and opened up the Okinawan-te art for greater assimilation, establishing trade with the ryukyu dynasty of Okinawa. Okinawa became both a commercial and cultural center. The greatest development, however, occured under the rule of the Satsuma Clan. The Satsuma Clan occupied Okinawa as military conquerors in 1609. They banned all weapons and utilized Samarai as their means of political and social control. During this time the Okinawan art, which had come to be known as Okinawan-te by the Samarai, developed to the point that it was possible to defend one's self against an armed Samarai and effectively fight a guerilla war against Satsuma clan. The Satsuma occupation continued until the late nineteenth century. Karate was driven underground and became a black art.

During the Satsuma Occupation a man named Sakugawa traveled to China and studied under KuSanku for six years. He returned to Okinawa in 1762 and introduced Kempo, the art which would soom become what we know as Karate. Sakugawa was given the title Satunuku, a Samarai title given for service to the king. No commentary can be found concerning his affiliation with both the crown and the Okinawan people who used his arts to resist opression. The Satsuma Clan opressed the aristocrats financially and economically more than they actually supressed random peasants. Many of the top names that appear in Karate History were Okinawan Natives who worked for, or at the very least acquiesced to, the Satsuma Clan.

Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura studied under Sakugawa for four years. He then studied at a Shaolin Temple for many years and, upon his return, established the Shuite or Suidi art that would later be known as Shorinryu.

During the early twentieth century the Meiji era and a national Japanese militaristic culture caused the art of Karate to be integrated into the public school system as their physical education program. After WWII, three recognized styles of Karate emerged: Shorin-ryu, Goju-ryu, and Uechi-ryu.

"Ryu" means "Teachings" or "Arts Passed Down" in Chinese. "Te" means "Hand." "Kara" is an alternate name for "Okinawan-te." Later, an alternate meaning for the word "Kara" was instated: "Empty." Thus, in modern days, "Karate" means "Open hand" and "Karate-do" means "Open hand path."

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