Who Invented Karate? (History Explained for Beginners)

Martial arts feel like one of those practices that have been around for centuries. The techniques. The drills, the specific terms within each style of fighting.

Many of them, especially many of the more popular or famous martial arts, such as Kungfu, Karate, Jiu-Jitsu, and many others, feel like they have been a part of many people’s lives for hundreds of years.

Who Invented Karate?

Certainly, the history of traditions that surround them seems to go back that far!

However, whilst there are certain aspects of many of these martial arts that date back centuries, perhaps even longer, it can come as a surprise that many modern versions of the martial arts that we know today have a recorded history that starts in the 19th and 20th century when many of the practices start to become formalized and officially recognized by the wider martial arts world.

Interestingly enough, this also means that many of these modern martial arts have at least one major figure that can be attributed to how these different martial arts are recognized, or at the very least, several people who helped set the modern practices by which many other martial artists are recognized,

In other words, many martial arts will have one or a few people that ‘invented’ the modern forms of these ancient practices, for lack of a better term.

In this article, we are going to cover the history and founding of one of the most famous martial arts styles out there: Karate, also known as Karate-Do.

We’re going to cover some of the recorded histories of this martial art, as well as discuss who exactly became known as the father of the modern version of it.

We’re also going to discuss a few of Karate’s other most influential figures in its 100+ years of modern history. After all, a discipline like this does not become a worldwide phenomenon simply on the shoulders of one man, and Karate is no different.

History Of Karate

As we stated in the introduction, whilst their modern versions are somewhat recent, many aspects of them have histories that predate them for quite a long time, even if they might be unrecognizable by the modern forms that they have taken.

Karate is considered to be a fighting style (see also ‘How To Win A Karate Fight‘) that is part of the indigenous people of the Kingdom of Okinawa family of martial arts.

During the late 14th century, trade relations between the Kingdom and Ming Dynasty in China brought with it several things, one of them being Chinese martial arts such as Kungfu.

History Of Karate

As many Chinese families moved to the kingdom as part of cultural exchange, many aspects of Chinese science and culture would be shared with local communities and would continue to be developed and learned by the people of Okinawa for centuries to come.

This was especially the case as restrictions on weaponry would change and restrict their carrying throughout that time.

It is important to note this large period, as it also demonstrates that, when we are discussing the founding of the original school of karate, it is virtually impossible to identify a single person or school that we can track the lineage of to the modern-day.

Despite there being several styles of Karate by the 15th century (or Te as it was known at the time in Okinawa), many people who practiced this martial art had their methods of practicing and utilizing it.

By the time we come to the late 18th and 19th centuries, there are many styles of older Karate that have since been recognized as their distinctive schools, such as Motobu-ryū Shōrin-ryū, making it very difficult to pinpoint when exactly the transition between these older styles and modern Karate takes place.

So, who can we consider the person who founded modern Karate as we know it?

The Father Of Modern Karate – Funakoshi Gichin

The person who is widely credited for both the popularization of Karate across Japan, as well as the founding of the Shotokan style, is Gichin Funakoshi who is considered the father of modern Karate.

Funakoshi was taught by both Ankō Asato and Ankō Itosu, both masters of their respective forms of Karate. Through their teachings, Funakoshi would develop his school of Karate, Shotokan.

Whilst he had many students, only a few could be considered masters that had the experience and knowledge to pass on these teachings.

Funakoshi, in one of many attempts to help spread the teaching of Okinawan martial arts, which had only recently been absorbed into the Empire of Japan, would regularly travel to mainland Japan to demonstrate Karate to those who would listen.

On one occasion in 1922, Funakoshi and one of his pupils, Makoto Gima, were invited to demonstrate Karate by Judo Master Jigoro Kano, another Japanese martial art that had gained widespread popularity and interest thanks to him.

It was this meeting that would help make Karate popular in mainland Japan, and which would eventually lead to its worldwide practice. 

Other Important Figures

Whilst Funakoshi might be one of the most important names in Karate, he is by no means the only name. Many others master both before and after, vital to understanding the history of this martial art.

  • Ankō Asato was one of Funakoshi’s first Karate teachers and was considered by his pupil to be one of the greatest experts in Okinawa on the art.
  • Ankō Itosu is another of Funakoshi’s mentors, who also developed the Ten Precepts of Karate, and is considered an important document in the spread of Karate’s popularity
  • Makoto Gima was one of Funakoshi’s most well-known students. Being Funakoshi’s assistant at Judo master Jigoro Kano’s demonstration, he is one of the most important figures of 20th-century karate.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the history of Karate is both a very old tradition, as well as a quite recent invention, strangely. We hope this article helps you appreciate this martial art just a little more!

Christopher Anderson
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