various "foot fighting" and empty-hand systems of Southeast Asia and China.
Being seafaring people, the Okinawans were constantly in contact with mainland Asia especially China. By the mid 1340's, Okinawa entered into a trade relationship with China. The trade and political friendship allowed the Okinawan people to observe many aspects of China, one of these were the Chinese boxing systems. Furthermore, by the late 1300's, many Chinese families and businessmen settled on Okinawa. These families brought with them a variety of skills, including Chinese martial arts.
Through the 1400's, the island of Okinawa experienced great turmoil. Initially, the island was unified as the Kingdom of the Ryukyus by King Sho Hashi in 1429. At this time the Okinawan's were still allowed to posses weapons. In 1470, King Sho Hashi killed all members of the former dynasty and this made him and his heirs the legitimate kings of Okinawa. He soon feared that there will be an uprising and he might be overthrown. This prompted him in banning all weapons by the local people of Okinawa. This atmosphere honed the early development of empty hand combat systems. These systems gradually developed into systematic martial arts and were practiced in secret. It was used to conduct guerrilla-type war with the Japanese samurai that lasted into the late 1800's.
Thus form this turmoil emerged the three main styles of Okinawa te. Shuri Te from the viilage of Shuri surrounding the shuri castle, Naha Te from the commercial and trading area of Naha and Tomari Te from the village of Tomari, an area just between the castle community in the hills and the Naha lowland port area. Shuri-Te style utilised the external system of Shaolin boxing, while Naha-Te incorporates the use of internal Taoist techniques. Tomari-Te appears to be a mix of both the internal and external fighting systems.
Tode or Okinawa-te was developed secretly, and this prevented the Japanese from killing the deadly art's practitioners and teachers. Tode remained underground until the early 1900's, when it was brought into the Okinawan school system's physical education program. In 1609, Okinawa was invaded by the Japanese Satsuma Samurai clan, for refusing to recognize Japan's newest Shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. This resulted in the further ban of carrying weapons by the Okinawa people. These factors increased the importance of further developing the martial arts as a means of survival and accelerated the growth of Karate or Okinawa te as it was called earlier.
Constant trade with other Asian countries necessitated frequent sea travel and also the threat of Japanese pirates. This was also one of the contributing factors for the development of martial arts as a necessary and survival skill.
Since karate was practiced as hidden arts and never revealed to the uninitiated, there is a distinct lack of written records or literature. The tradition was to either convey the skills orally or through private teaching. However, following Okinawa's annexation by Japan, the implementation of new legal and other systems, and the concurrent introduction of the Meiji system of public education around 1880’s, karate was introduced into the school curriculum. The same era saw the first public demonstrations of the martial arts. From 1910 through to the pre-war years around 1940’s came the first spread of karate to areas overseas.
From the aftermath of WWII, four major styles or ryuhas of Okinawan karate emerged namely Shorin Ryu, Goju Ryu, Uechi Ryu, and Matsubayashi Ryu. Many ryuhas emerged from these major forms each having its own katas, offensive and defensive techniques and theoretical roots.
The Okinawan karate traditions incorporates many years of strict discipline to cultivate both body and mind help polish a practitioners character, giving rise to stronger, emotionally healthier people for the betterment of society. Karate-Do is a cultivation method that can be used to shape and build a person’s characteristics and behaviors, which will produce a better and more peaceful society.