University of Michigan
Karate Club

Karate History - Origins


Although the ancient origins of karate are extremely vague, we do know that about 1400 years ago, Daruma (Bodhidharma), the founder of Zen Buddhism, used techniques basic to karate. According to legend, Daruma travelled from India to China to teach Buddhism. His training methods were so demanding that his disciples dropped from exhaustion. In order to build up their strength and endurance, he developed a method of training the mind and body. His training was taught in the monastery of the Shaolin Temple in China, where the techniques were refined and developed into fighting forms known as Shaolin Boxing.


In the 16th Century, Shaolin Boxing found its way to Okinawa from China. It combined with native Okinawan techniques to develop into several Okinawan styles. During several periods of Okinawan history, the owning and carrying of weapons was banned. Each ban resulted in great advancements in the techniques of unarmed combat. Secret training flourished, and the styles became more efficient and deadly.

Japan - Master Funakoshi

Master Gichin Funakoshi was the founder of modern karate. Born in 1868, he began to study karate at the age of 11, and was a student of the two greatest masters of the time. He grew so proficient that he was initiated into all the major styles of karate in Okinawa at the time.

In 1922, Master Funakoshi, then President of the Okinawa association of the Spirit of Martial Arts, was chosen to demonstrate karate at the first National Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo. This led to the introduction of the ancient martial art to the rest of Japan. At the urging of friends and officials, he remained in Tokyo to teach.

Modern Karate U.S.A. - Tsutomu Ohshima

Tsutomu Ohshima was one of Master Funakoshi's last direct pupils (1948-1953) studying under him while attending Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan. In 1955, Mr. Ohshima came to the United States and was the first person to teach Karate in this country. That same year he organized the Southern California Karate Association, which has grown over the years to become a nationwide organization, Shotokan Karate of America.

More about Mr. Ohshima.

Shotokan Karate of America

Shotokan Karate of America is now, as it was then, a non-profit organization that tries to maintain a high level of non-commercialism. Shotokan Karate of America, Inc. is devoted to teaching karate at its highest level, as a martial art. To this end, Shotokan Karate of America conducts lectures, seminars, and regularly scheduled intensive training sessions for all students, as well as a continuous training program for advanced students and instructors.

[geneology chart]
(courtesy Martin Berson)