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Karate systems are predominantly empty handed civilian martial arts that can trace their origins to the old Ryukyu kingdom ( present day Okinawa prefecture in Japan ). Karate is a modern word, first coined in the early 20th century and is literally translated as »empty hand«. The obvious meaning of this is »fighting without weapons« but Chinese character used for »empty« also has great significance in Buddhist philosophy andconnotes intuitive action with an »empty mind«, an important concept in the Asian martial arts.

Before it was systemised and reffered to as karate, the empty handed Okinawan arts were known as »toudi« in the Ryukyu language, meaning Chinese hand or simply as »di« or hand. Due ta a lack of historical records, the early development and history of karate is obscure but what evidence does exist, points to an organic blending of Chinese and otherSouth East Asian boxing and grappling methods that were further refined to suit the tastes of Ryukyu fighters.

The structure of karate and the nature of its long, coreographed solo kata are distinctly Chinese in form and mark it as distinct from mainland Japanese systems. Stylistically, karateis predominantly focussed on percussive striking techniques, using the hands and feet as its primary weapons with trapping and grappling to supplements this. Training is based on the learning and interpretation of the principles recorded in the solo patterens in relation to actual combat. Traditionally karate practitioners also did a good deal of body conditioning exercises.

Karate was transmitted from Okinawa to the Japanese mainland in the early 20th century and further evolved there before spreading across the globe. From the start karate was very individualistic and passed down in numerous streams by different masters, each emphasising some aspects more than others. In this sense the word karate is simply a blanket term for many individual styles that have a similar origin. The most well known streams today are Shotokan, Wado ryu, Goju ryu and Shito ryu, collectively known as the »4 great styles« as well as the iconoclastic Kyokushin kai and the modern Okinawan forms of Shorin ryu and Isshin ryu.

Karate training sometimes also includes instruction in the various traditional weapons of Okinawa. These are an eclectic mix and look more like tools and fishing implements rather than dedicated battlefield weapons. This kind of training is commonly reffered ta as Ryukyu kobudo.


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