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Wado RyuChina, Okinawa and Kushanku

Other than the seemingly endless discourse and discrepancies on the history of karate itself, perhaps no other subject within the area of martial arts has generated as much historical variance as that of Kata.

Neither Japanese nor Okinawan in origin, the most accurate of historical records tell us that the earliest forms of kata probably originated in India, during or just after the time of the enlightenment of Buddha. As Buddhism spread outside of India, it established its strongest foothold in China, a nation deeply awash in a history of mysticism, spirituality, and -- war. While emphasizing unity of all living things, Buddhism's devotees, acolytes and priests were, nonetheless, not insulated from the internal and external strife and conflict that marked their country's early history, and as their monasteries and faith came increasingly under attack, defense became a necessity. It was that necessity that gave birth to the now-legendary Warrior Monks of the Shaolin.

It is now strongly believed that the earliest forms of bujutsu and karate ascended from the remnants of the defensive systems borne of the Warrior Monks of Shaolin, and subsequently disclosed to the upper classes of citizenry of the island of Ryukyu, or, Okinawa, in the mid-1700's. Introduced by emissaries of China's ruling class, (known as the Sapposhi) as trade flourished between the two kingdoms, Okinawa's governing class quickly, and vigorously cultivated these arts as a means of domestic law enforcement. In fact, historical records show that in 1756, one such emissary dispatched by China made a far more lasting impression on the Imperial Courts of Okinawa than all others before him -- an impression that would carry his name and his namesake down through the centuries, weaving it forever into the fabric of traditional karate we know and practice even today -- his name was Kushanku.

"Described as an expert of the Chinese hand art of Kempo (more specifically, kumiai jutsu), shipping records reveal that Kushanku, with a retinue of aides traveled to Okinawa with the Ching Sapposhi, Guan Ki, during his trade excursion in 1756. The historian Shiohara's description of Kushanku's demonstration of his fighting art leaves little to question, and the description remains the most reliable chronicle surrounding Chinese civil fighting traditions in early Okinawa. There can be no doubt that Kushanku and his disciples gave a public display of the Chinese fighting disciplines, and were likely engaged in transmitting to people of wealth, position and power." (Patrick McCarthy)

Today, it can be said that the essence of all kata we practice lay deep in the historical mists of those early years in the mountains of Okinawa. Hundreds of years later, it would be an Okinawan who would travel outside the Ryukyu kingdom, and bring the long-secret art of Te to the shores of Japan; his name -- Gichin Funakoshi; the man who would become known as The Father of Modern Karate, and the man who would also become the first sensei for another Father of Karate; Hironori Ohtsuka, Meijin -- Master of Masters.

To continue your exploration of the Kata of Wado Ryu, click on any of the links below.

Kihon Kumite Kata / Butokukai Kata / Wado Ryu Kata / China, Okinawa and Kushanku  / Kata Home

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