Okinawa, the southern islands of Japan, is home to Karate and takes pride in its unique culture. Do you fancy a memorable experience in Japan? Okinawan Karate lessons are a must. Discover and explore the history of Karate itself, take some trial lessons, visit some sightseeing spots after you learn the basic Karate techniques!
1. History of Okinawan Karate
Okinawan Karate has an interesting history.
According to legend, Okinawan Karate originated in India. Around 527CE, an Indian Buddhist monk called Bodhidharma travelled to the Shaolin Temple in China’s Honan Province. There, he taught monks an Indian martial art which included self-defence techniques. Over the centuries, these techniques developed throughout China. Chinese martial artists visited Okinawa and passed these techniques down to the locals.
At this point in history just as Karate was being developed in Okinawa, the Okinawan Kingdom was conquered by the Satsuma Clan of Japan. Subsequently, Okinawa was banned from using any weapons. It was under these circumstances that a contemporary Karate style was developed in secret. The empty-handed technique. In Japanese, “kara” means “empty” and “te” means “hand”.
In the 19th century, a Karate master named Sakugawa introduced the Dojo concept of training. One of his students, Sokon Matsumura, became a military officer and worked as a bodyguard for the Okinawan Royal Family. He developed the Shuri-te technique.
In 1903, one of Matsumura's students, Itosu Ankoh, introduced Karate to Okinawan schools. In 1922, a student of Itosu, Gichin Funakoshi, impressed the Japanese Royal Family who was then visiting Okinawa and he was invited to perform in Tokyo. Afterwards, he decided to stay in the mainland of Japan to teach Okinawan Karate. Some of his students passed down Funakoshi's techniques and others developed new skills, philosophies and teaching methods in Okinawa. Since then, Karate has grown into an international art practiced all over the world and will even debut in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
2. Where can you go to take Okinawan Karate lessons?
Experiencing Okinawan Karate has now become a trend amongst international visitors. Over 400 Dojos (places for training) are located around Okinawa. However, to think that you will find one easily is perhaps being over-optimistic. Here, I have listed some foreigner-friendly Dojos for you. Why not pick one from my selection?
Ageshio Japan offers a variety of courses. If you want to try out the primary Okinawan styles in one go, the 4-day trial course will be best for you. You can learn the techniques of Shorin-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, Uechi-Ryu, and Kobudo. The Shorin-Ryu is a popular Okinawan style of Karate and is one of the oldest forms; The Goju-Ryu features a combination of hard and soft techniques influenced by different Chinese schools; The Uechi-Ryu is a half-hard and half-soft style; The Kobudo is a practice with Okinawan weapons including spears and boat oars. You can receive an original Ageshio certificate upon completion of the course. The course costs 20,000 JPY and runs 2 hours in the evening.
For those who can not afford four days, a one-day experience course is available.
The lesson lasts 4 hours from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm and includes a lunch break.
It costs 11,000 JPY and includes the lesson fee, Karate kit rental, Karate kaikan entrance fee, lunch, a souvenir, a pickup service, a certificate, a drink, and a message card.
They even offer many more exciting courses.
Okinawa International Karate Study Center
The Center is situated in Murasaki Mura, a giant replica village, that was built for a historical TV drama series many years ago. Each of the schools’ masters teaches the basic moves, the history and the philosophy of Okinawan Karate. The center mainly provides group lessons. Private lessons are also available upon request. Lessons are basically tailored to your needs.
Open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm.
Weekend sessions are available upon request.
Class: 1-4 persons: The fee is 2,575 JPY per person for a 1-hour class.
5+ persons: The fee is 1,620 JPY per person for a 1-hour class.
3. Top 4 Must-Visit Historical Okinawan Karate Hot Spots
Okinawa is the birthplace of Karate. If you want to know more about this unique martial art, there are many exciting places to visit. Enjoy your adventure!
The Chanan Cave
According to Okinawan legend, this is the place where a shipwrecked Chinese man called Chanan (or Anan) took refuge. He started teaching various fighting techniques. Many of the old Karate masters gathered to learn from him. The cave is now regarded as a sacred place. It is located at the cemetery behind Ameku Shogen-ji temple.
*The cave does not have address. The map indicates Ameku shogen-ji temple:392 Uenoya, Naha-shi, Okinawa
The Monument of Kyan Chotoku
Kyan Chotoku (1870-1945) studied under Sokon Matsumura. He had the nickname, "Chan Migwa", which means, small-eyed boy, due to his poor vision, and small and slim body. He had a significant influence on the style of Karate. The memorial stands near the Hija river where he used to live.
The Memorial of Gichin Funakoshi
Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) is known as the father of modern Karate and is famous for introducing Okinawan Karate to Japan. He famously said "Karate ni sente nashi" meaning there is no first attack in Karate. These very words are engraved on the monument.
The Okinawa Karate Museum
The museum is located on the 2nd floor of the Karate Dojo. It exhibits over 500 materials and photos from Karate masters, including Karate weapons and tools. The inside of the museum resembles Ali Baba's cave. It’s really fun! You can sense the passion the founder Mr Hokama felt with each of his collections. It's well worth visiting.
4. How to train for Okinawan Karate
Did you know that Okinawan Karate is different from Japanese Karate?
Okinawan Karate has ten basic moves which are easy and fun to learn. Karate Dojos teach various types of moves and techniques according to your level and interest. The instructions and video below will help you to get a grasp of what Okinawan Karate looks like and to see if it is right for you.
Why not try three basic moves (Ichi, Ni, San)?
Ichi: This is the first move. Throw a punch straight from your waist with your left or right hand. Your thumbs are facing upward; imagine hitting your opponent’s stomach area with the top of your knuckles. Then, go back to the basic stance.
Ni: Kick your right or left leg forward, using the sole of your foot, as if you are hitting the groin area of your opponent.
San: Throw a punch upward, pointing your right or left hand up towards the ceiling, and move your fist as if you are hitting your opponent’s stomach.
Also, you can try other moves using Youtube below.
Enjoy Okinawan Karate!
Okinawa flows with the spirit of Karate. Just wandering around Naha city and you will feel the Okinawan Karate vibes! Without a doubt, the Karate experience is unmissable if you want something unique, fun and valuable when visiting Japan. Go for it and make every moment special!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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