The essay below has been re-printed, with images added, with the kind permission of Paul Sexton Sensei, Rokudan, Canada.

By: Paul Sexton

Dated: July 2006:

Essay for Godan Grading

            As long as men and women have been on the earth, they have been involved in physical conflict. An organized system of physical combat goes back to as early as 2500 BC in Africa where pictures of empty-hand and weapon techniques are recorded on Egyptian tomb walls. Much of the historical information has been lost, but existing records show that in Asia a physical combat system was combined with philosophical beliefs leading to the development of modern day Karatedo.

            Karatedo is not a martial art whose ultimate aim is to win. It is based on hard physical training that demands strict mental discipline by which one attempts to mold an ideal character through physical and spiritual trials.


  The ‘do’ of Karatedo comes from Budo. Budo (martial way) began as a way of fighting with weapons such as the sword, where defeat meant death.  At this early stage, it was just fighting technique. Continuous and often bloody effort was made to find a better way of winning and thus living. It was found that, because of emotional involvement, such as the fear of death, and self-consciousness, much of what was learned in practice was forgotten in the heat of battle. It was discovered that only when the mind is free from the emotions of fear and self-consciousness, that one can freely use clear judgement, and pretrained mental and physical reflexes.  This was the beginning of Budo.

            Modern day Karatedo has its roots in China. In the 6th century (527 AD), a Buddhist monk named Bodhidarma, traveled from India to China, where he taught the Shaolin monks Budhist philosophy, meditation, correct breathing, and stretching techniques called the 18 hands of Lohan. It is believed that the monks combined these stretching techniques with local fighting knowledge into a system to defend themselves called Shorin-ji Kempo. It was this method that eventually reached the Ryuku Islands and developed into Okinawan-te, the precursor of modern day karate.

            A Chinese colony was established in Okinawa whose members shared their knowledge of philosophy and martial arts. In addition, over two hundred years ago, Mr. Sakagawa from Shuri, traveled to China and then returned to Okinawa to teach what he had learned. He was known as Karate Sakagawa during his time. Later, a Chinese expert by the name of Kushanku came to Okinawa with a few of his students and introduced a type of kempo. There were many other examples of this shared knowedge that helped develop the Okinawan martial arts.

            Another factor that developed the Okinawan Martial Arts of Tode (Chinese hand) was the banning of weapons by King Shohashi of Chuzan in the 14th century and again by  the Satsuma clan of Kyushu when they occupied Okinawa in 1609.  Tode was the only means of protection left to the Okinawans, so it was developed secretly. It remained secret until the late 1880s when it was first introduced to the public at the Shuri Teacher’s School.

            In 1916 or 1917, Gichin Funakoshi demonstrated karate at the Butoku-den in Kyoto, Japan. Later, in 1922, the Japanese Ministry of Education held its first national athletic exhibition in Tokyo where Mr. Funakoshi was asked to demonstrate karate again. After this, Karate became very popular in Japan, especially among the students who formed many university clubs. Many other Okinawan masters followed Master Funakoshi to Japan to teach karate. Mr. Funakoshi became known as the father of modern karate.

            Tode, as it developed in Japan, acquired the traditional ideas of Budo. In 1931, Master Funakoshi changed the name “Tode” to “karate” by adding the character for “ku” also pronounced “kara”- meaning nothingness or freedom from consciousness of self.  This came from Zen terminology and emphasized the focus on the philosophical side of Budo. The “de” of “Tode” meaning hand, can also be pronounced “te.”  The once secret techniques, were analyzed and perfected using a modern understanding  of human physiology and body mechanics to become modern day karatedo.

Currently there are numerous schools of karate. All karate schools can be placed into one of two basic categories: the Shorei group (from around the Okinawan city of Naha) which aims mainly at strengthening muscles and building physical stamina. It is characterized by forceful and firm movements. The second group, the Shorin group (from around the Okinawan  city of Shuri) also emphasizes physical development, but stresses agility and quickness of movement.

The most prominent schools of karate are the Shotokan group from the Shuri –te school; the Goju group from the Naha-te school; the Shito group who are influenced by the Naha –te and Shuri-te schools; and the Wado group who formed an independent group after studying under Master Funakoshi.

Much of modern day Karatedo is focused on sport karate. It is important that we continue to develop Karatedo while maintaining the mental/ spiritual side of Budo in our martial art. If we don’t, we will lose one of the most important aspects of Karatedo, the mental training that allows us to rise above our fears and emotional self-involvement. People must aspire to Budo and recognize the Budo Yonklai which is our first real enemy: Surprise, Hesitation, Fear, and Doubt. We must deal with these enemies inside ourselves before we can conquer our external adversaries. If we can do this, people 100 years from now will be able to write about a meaningful improvement in Karatedo rather than a steady decline into just impressive physical sporting techniques.

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