The History of Karate


Written by Verdict Community member Taylor Dow

The history of Karate can be traced back to Okinawa, a small island located south of mainland Japan. Okinawa was a trade and commerce center, bringing together different cultures and martial arts styles. As a result, the people of Okinawa developed their unique style of martial arts that was heavily influenced by Chinese martial arts in the 15th century. It is a popular form of self-defense and a competitive sport that has gained worldwide recognition. The word "karate" comes from the Japanese words "kara," meaning "empty," and "te," meaning "hand," thus translating to "empty hand."

Okinawa, located south of mainland Japan.
Okinawa, located south of mainland Japan.

The origins of modern Karate can be traced back to the late 19th century when Okinawan masters began teaching martial arts techniques to the general public. Among the most influential of these masters was Gichin Funakoshi, who is considered to be the father of modern Karate. Funakoshi founded the Shotokan style of Karate and was instrumental in spreading the art to mainland Japan.

Gichin Funakoshi teaching a Karate class.
Gichin Funakoshi teaching a Karate class.

During the early 20th century, Karate continued to develop and evolve. New styles and techniques were created, and the art began to spread to other countries, including the United States. In the 1960s and 70s, Karate became an international sport, establishing influential organizations such as the World Karate Federation and the International Karate Organization.

Today, Karate is practiced by millions worldwide as a form of self-defense and a competitive sport. There are many different styles of Karate, each with unique techniques and training methods. Some of the most popular types include Shotokan, Goju-Ryu, and Wado-Ryu.

As Karate continued to evolve at the end of the 1900s, the UFC rose around the same time. Many fighters with Karate backgrounds went to MMA to prove the martial art's effectiveness. One of the most well-known karate-based fighters in the UFC is Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson. Thompson is a black belt in Karate and has won multiple kickboxing and karate championships. His style incorporates Karate, kickboxing, and Muay Thai elements, and he is known for his fast footwork, lightning-fast kicks, and evasive movements. He has been successful in the UFC, earning wins over top fighters like Jorge Masvidal and Johny Hendricks. Lyoto Machida is another UFC fighter who uses Karate as his primary style. Machida is a black belt in Shotokan karate known for his elusive movements and powerful strikes. He has won multiple UFC fights and a UFC championship with his trademark karate-style kicks, including a stunning knockout of Randy Couture at UFC 129.

Stephen Thompson lands the body kick on Gilbert Burns. Credit: AP Photo/John Locher.
Stephen Thompson lands the body kick on Gilbert Burns. Credit: AP Photo/John Locher.

The history of Karate is fascinating, spanning several centuries and multiple cultures. From its origins in Okinawa to its spread worldwide, Karate has become a widely practiced and respected martial art. Today, it continues to be a popular form of self-defense, a competitive sport, and exciting addition to the UFC. Its principles of discipline, focus, and respect continue to be valued by practitioners around the globe.

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