The 'tracks' of karate can be traced all the way back to India, where in 429 AD, an Indian noble by the name of Bodhidharma (Tashi Daruma, in Japanese) embarked on a journey to the northern most part of China. Crossing the Himalayas, on his mission to introduce 'Zen' Buddhism to the Chinese Buddhist practitioners. Little is known about this mysterious figure over the years, but in short we learn that he is responsible for teaching the Chinese monks of the Shaolin Temple the animal forms and other technique that would later blossom into the kung-fu we know it to be called today. Throughout the many years to follow, kun tao or kung-fu would see many adaptations and variations. With the application of many different studies such as acupressure and acupuncture, biorhythmic balances and chantras, kung-fu took on the notoriety of being a very effective martial art and survival art. As kung-fu grew in its popularity and uniqueness in China, other 'martial arts' were developing elsewhere in Asia. The Japanese had Kendo and Jui-jitsu and a little stretch of islands to the southwest had a survival art called tode.
The Island group is called the Ryukyu archipelago with the largest island being called Okinawa. The name 'tode' was an expression of 'the hand' and its use in defense and survival. The many techniques included grappling, joint locks, strikes and kicks, to name a few. One of the earliest practitioners of Tode was a gentleman, nicknamed for his art, Kanga 'Tode' Sakugawa. His art was a developing art during what was developing times for Okinawan history. The independence of the Okinawan people was lost in 1609 when the Satsuma clan of Japan took control of the islands for the Japanese Shogunate. With the occupation of Japanese samurai and their sword, the Okinawans had to learn how to adapt. Not willing to loose their art, they modified its practice and passed it on from generation to generation. Tode eventually became known as 'te'. This was the beginning of what we understand to be called 'karate'. With a few practitioners mastering the art, karate was recognized by its region, or origin of style.
Three distinct karate lineages were taking shape. They were Naha-te, Shuri-te and Tomari-te. Each being the name of the village or area of where that 'study' of 'te' could be found. Since our karate took the route of Shuri-te with influences of Naha-te, we will take that lineage to some examination.
One of 'Tode' Sakugawa's students, Sokon 'Bushi' Matsumura, was an outstanding karate man in his time. History has him as the one who was most responsible for giving us the distinct Shuri-te lineage. Many of his students would later modify and enhance their practice of 'te' to be named the different styles and 'ryu' we know today. Ankoh Itosu, a prominent student of Matsumura, was instrumental in the introduction of karate as a physical education program into the Okinawan regular school in 1910. Gichin Funakoshi, a student of Itosu, was responsible for introducing 'te' to Japan in 1921. It was at this time, 'te' was named 'karate'. The name is derived from 'kara' meaning 'empty' and 'te' meaning 'hand'. Another practitioner during this time, by the name of Choki Motobu, was also mastering his karate. He was a proud Okinawan with a noble family heritage, having a rather awry dislike for the Chinese and Japanese governments. Choki Motobu had a very peculiar physical strength and agility. One of his unusual feats was that of climbing trees while upside down! His nickname 'Saru-aji' meaning 'Monkey lord' was given to him by those who admired his agility. Much repute was to follow this man throughout his years of karate exploits. Due to his dislike of the Japanese government he opted out on the opportunity to be the one to introduce karate to Japan. Instead, he passed the honor onto his 'not-so-liked' colleague, Gichin Funakoshi. Motobu delighted in fighting in open public events, where he was revered as a true champion with many wins.
Years of growth and colaborating brought many styles of karate to an apex. At the same time, many styles of karate tried to stay 'true' to their lineage. With the world expansion and industrialization our history was entering into a time when karate would spread throughout the world like wildfire. In the aftermath of World War II, a young U.S. Naval enlistee by the name of Robert A. Trias returned home form the Pacific theater to be the first caucasian to openly teach karate in the USA. Thus, the beginning of a new era in karate as it spread throughout the continental United States.
O'Sensei Robert A. Trias
Roberta Trias-Kelley Hanshi
Grandmaster Trias with his daughter Roberta
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