Okinawa

Okinawa has always had strong ties with China, its close neighbor. Okinawan nobles sent their children to Fushin province to study literature, writing, culture, and the martial arts. Some believe that Okinawan martial arts originated in China and were brought back by returning nobles. Others claim that Okinawa had indigenous fighting systems which were influenced by Chinese styles.

In local legend, weapons were banned at several points in Okinawan history. One such instance, in the 15th century, wasn't so much a ban as a shortage. The native rulers, fearing rebellion, monopolized weapons production in order to stock their own armories. Depriving the population of weapons was a side effect - albeit one that favored those in power! The 17th-century Japanese conquerors imposed a genuine ban. The net result in both cases was that the martial arts flourished.

The Okinawans turned their tools and farm implements into weapons and developed fighting styles for using them effectively. They also honed their unarmed martial arts, or Te (pp. 169-170). The Japanese banned the practice of Te, but instructors and students survived, even thrived in secrecy. They trained to fight armed and unarmed opponents, parrying the attack and then launching a devastating counterattack with lethal intent.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Japan recognized the potential of Te as a form of military and fitness training. Japan imported instructors from Okinawa - starting with Funakoshi Gichin (p. 23) - and created the sport of karate-do. Karate's inventors soon changed the characters used to spell its name from "China" and "hand" to "empty" and "hand" (both pronounced "karate"), added a belt system based on the sport of Judo (p. 166), and established a formal body of instructors.

After World War II, the large U.S. military presence in Okinawa helped spread Karate in the West. Many servicemen studied karate-do in Okinawa and brought their skills home with them. Today, a wide range of martial-arts schools exist in Okinawa and many American servicemen still train while stationed there.

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