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Karate: From China

In this day and age it would seem unnecessary to state that Karate is from China: Okinawans went to China to learn or learned from Chinese instructors who visited Okinawa. The kanji for Karate literally meant "China Hand". In Japan, the kanji was eventually changed to "Open Hand" because Japanese have a way of ignoring Chinese influences on its culture. It was a case of rewriting things to suit a purpose.

Karate masters were not simply unarmed Japanese samurai. They were members of Okinawan society, many of whom were sent to China to receive an education which included martial arts training.

The closest art to Karate on mainland Japan was Ju Jutsu, which also originally came from China. However, Ju Jutsu was usually learned in conjunction with armed arts (such as kenjutsu, sojutsu and archery). Karate during the 1800's was largely taught using the empty hands, although most instructors during that time separately learned weapons arts. The unarmed nature of Karate reflected the fact that gentlemen of the upper and administrative classes in Okinawa generally did not carry weapons, not because they could not but because it was not necessary or appropriate to do so.

If Okinawans found it beneficial to learn from Chinese instructors, the question we should ask is whether it might be beneficial for us to do so as well. Kanryo Higashionna and Chojun Miyagi , among many others, went to China to learn.

Has Karate become a complete art? Or have Karate people decided that the "Kara" in Karate really means "Empty" or even "Okinawa"? If it was somehow wrong for the Japanese to not recognize the Chinese roots of the art, is it equally wrong today to merely state the fact without further studying it? I think that we in Karate can learn a lot from Chinese martial arts... if authentic Chinese martial arts can be found.


Charles C. Goodin