There are varied opinions of the history of Karate. What follows is an interpretetion of the history and so may vary from other sources of information.
Guchin Funakoshi was the founder of modern day Karate. The name Shotokan Karate (his style) was officially named by his students in the year 1936, But its roots can be traced back to around the year 600 AD, Over1400 years ago. This history was passed down through the years by word of mouth.
The man who was accredited of founding the basics of Karate is said to be Daruma he was also the founder of Zen Buddhism. Daruna is supposed to have walked on his own from western India to China. A journey of several thousand miles over mountains (Himalayas) unbridged rivers and wasteland.
Later when he journeyed to the Shaolin temple (later known as the Shorin-Ji Kempo) with a group of followers several people fell by the wayside, he realized they were not very fit so he introduced them to his system of exercise to increase their strength and endurance, also their ability to protect themselves.
Through war and trade between China and the islands of Japan this form of exercise was introduced to the Ryukku islands of the coast of Japan, Okinawa being the main island in this group where they changed the exercises to suit them selves, it was known as Okinawan-te (te, meaning hand).
In the year 1429 AD it was alleged that king Shōhashi of Chuzan banned the practice of all martial arts, so its practice was carried out in secret, not even the person’s family knew. This practice was still carried on until 1905 AD.
It is known that in the year 1609 AD the Satsuma clan banned all weapons so their only form of defense was their hands so they perfected there art.
Guchin Funakoshi was trained in secret by Azato sensei and later by Itosu sensei. He became a teacher at a middle school in Shuri (a town on Okinawa) where with the permission of his teachers he taught Karate, as a subject of physical education. This was the first time Karate was officially taught openly on the island. The year was 1905. It was then known as reimyō tōte (miraculous karate) and also known as shimpi tōte (mysterious karate). He worked his way up to a professor physical education at the Okinawan teachers college.
Through the visits of the Japanese navy, Karate was heard about in Tokyo the capital city of Japan, Guchin Funakoshi was asked to give a demonstration of Karate with some of his students at the national exhibition of athletics in Tokyo in the year 1922.
Guchin Funakoshi stayed in Tokyo to teach Karate for the next 23 years leaving his wife on Okinawa. Karate became popular with people from all walks of life but mainly with the students. By 1930 most universities in Tokyo held their own classes in karate; the first was at Keio University even the Nihon College of medicine held regular classes.
Guchin Funakoshi formalized the training in to three different types of Fundamentals, Kata and Kumite and basics. He also changed the names of moves and Kata from Chinese and Okinawan pronunciations to Japanese naming the art karate-dō (Kara meaning Chinese or empty, te meaning hand and dō the practice of the art) empty hand later being adopted as the official translation of karate.
Guchin Funakoshi also published the first book of karate in 1935 it was called Karate-dō Kyōhan and is still used today.
In 1936 his students built his first Dōjō (training hall) in Tokyo and named it Shōtō-Kan after Guchin Funakoshi (Shōtō being his pen name when he wrote poetry its literal translation meaning pine waves and Kan meaning house). The name Shōtōkan karate became known as the style of karate Guchin Funakoshi taught.
In 1937 several styles of karate joined forces to form the Japanese martial arts association (J.K.A) with Guchin Funakoshi as its chief instructor.
Guchin Funikoshi left Tokyo in 1945 after Japan lost the war with America and went to live with his wife on the island of Okinawa until her death in 1947. He then moved back to Tokyo to teach Karate. During this time U.S.servicemen became interested in karate. The U.S. government heard of this and in 1952 sent a team of U.S air force physical training instructors to learn the art of Karate. It became a regular event, with other countries joining in later.
The J.K.A held their first karate tournament in 1957 the year Guchin Funakoshi died. His students Enoeda sensei and Nakayama sensei came to this country a few years later and formed their own school karate spread all over the country. This formed the basis for the English Shōtōkan karate Association (E.S.K.A) and the English Karate Association (E.K.A) which govern karate in this country today.
This version of the history of Karate was written by Steve Collyer.
Books used for reference:
Karate-dō my way of life. By Guchin Funakoshi.
The beginners guide to Shōtōkan Karate. By John van Weenen.