What is Karate? The History of Karate

What is Karate? is a question asked by millions of people world wide. Often understood by the masses as a martial art propagated by Mr Miyagi and involves catching flies with chop sticks and standing on drift wood in crane stance.

The origins of Karate trace back to the ancient travels of Buddhist monks throughout Asia. Unarmed and often attacked during their travels, a weaponless form of self defence became necessary for their survival.

The early influence of these holy men led to the development of a unique physical activity known as Martial Arts.

One very well known establishment for the practice of martial arts named the Shaolin Temple—famous for its academy lifestyle, where monks selected to enter become very skilful and renowned for their creditable deeds.

Martial arts practice infiltrated throughout the Asian frontier; mainly in China and then later imported to Japan.

So what is Karate?

Karate was founded in the Ryukyu Kingdom, or now formally know as Okinawa, and is a fighting art developed from methods called ‘te’. ‘Te’ literally means hand, and in ‘Karate Do’ translates to ‘Open Hand Way’. These ‘te’ predominantly use striking techniques including punching (including elbow strikes), kicking (including knee strikes),  maneuvering footwork, grappling and throwing.

Karate was then further developed by Chojun Miyagi Sensei who founded ‘Goju Ryu Karate do’ which translates to the ‘hard soft style open hand way’.

For more information about ‘What is Karate?’ there are a series of 5 videos on on Youtube from a lecture conducted by Charles C. Goodin Sensei from the Hawaii Karate Museum.

1 Karate in the Ryukyu Kingdom and Hawaii


2 Karate in the Ryukyu Kingdom and Hawaii


3 Karate in the Ryukyu Kingdom and Hawaii


4 Karate in the Ryukyu Kingdom and Hawaii


5 Karate in the Ryukyu Kingdom and Hawaii



I hope this answers your questions around ‘What is Karate?’. If you have anything else you would like to add feel free to comment below. Sharing is caring 🙂

About Jay Killeen

I began training in 2004 under the guidance of James Duggan Shihan. I have since achieved my Nidan in Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai. My favourite kata is Sanchin and I enjoy the challenge of kumite against great opponents.


  1. I know the videos take a while to go through but there is great stuff in there for someone interested in the history of karate. Try not to stay up all night watching it 🙂 Sleep is important.

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