Although the island of Okinawa is regarded as the birthplace of karate, it’s origins can be traced back further, to China.
In the sixth century, the legendary Indian monk Bodhidharma, is said to have travelled to China to spread the doctrine of Zen Buddhism. Having been refused an audience with the emperor, he settled in the Shaolin monastery. Here he found the monks too physically weak to follow his strict meditation regime. To remedy this, be began to teach a series of physical exercises.
At the time, monasteries were centres for learning and were frequented by political and military leaders who saw the possible martial applications of the exercises being taught. Over time the exercises developed into a fighting system that was to become known as kung fu.
As a result of the Second World War, many of the top karate experts were either killed or stopped training. As Japan gradually recovered after the war and formal training resumed, it became apparent that much knowledge had been lost. In 1948 a meeting was held between some of the remaining top karate practitioners in Japan to pool their knowledge and standardise what was being taught. This meeting resulted in the formation of the Japan Karate Association (JKA) in 1949, with Funakoshi as chief instructor.
From the 1950’s on, karate began to receive increasing international attention, mainly through exposure to American servicemen stationed in Japan after World War II, and also through Japanese students travelling abroad to study. Martial arts organisations in countries around the world began to request visits from instructors from the JKA, and so the internationalisation of karate had begun.