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Karate -- An Okinawan Cultural Treasure

Karate is many things to many people. But we should not forget that it is first and foremost an Okinawan cultural treasure.

Last Friday, I gave a Karate history/culture lecture to an Okinawan Studies class at a local college. Every time I give such a lecture, whether at a college, a cultural center, or even a dojo, someone invariably asks, "Is Karate Okinawan? I always thought it was Japanese."

While it is true that Okinawa has been a prefecture of Japan for well over 100 years, Karate developed in the old Ryukyu Kingdom. It might be difficult for some teachers from Japan to give much credit to a Kingdom that was formally abolished and absorbed. After the annexation, Okinawa became one of the poorest prefectures in Japan, one of the reasons so many Okinawans migrated to Hawaii, the United States and South America.

Today, far more people practice Karate outside of Okinawa and Japan than inside. Each of us -- whether Asian, American, European, African, Australian, etc. -- has the chance to preserve Karate as an Okinawan cultural treasure. Karate does not exist in books, photographs, weapons or artifacts. It only exists in the lives of the students who practice it.

As such, this cultural treasure is inside each and every of us. Style or system does not matter. The roots of all forms of Karate are in Okinawa. We are, or could be, ambassadors of Karate. What a great responsibility! People will see the art through us and by our actions.

Okinawan elders in Hawaii have often told me, "If you want to study Karate, you should also study the Okinawan culture." I give the same advice to all my students.

Study the culture that produced this treasure you carry inside yourself.


Charles C. Goodin