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After the Meiji Restoration, Kano developed Judo: a modern fighting art devoid of feudal associations.
Funakoshi followed suit: introducing an Okinawan fighting art to mainland Japan. It was called 'karate' (China hand).
When you read a little more about the origins of the Okinawan art, there is usually some mention of karate being adapted from Chinese martial arts.
This final point is most curious.

Feudal China

China maintained a feudal society for millennia.
In such an environment, martial arts tuition was not something casual.
Teachers were very choosy about who they taught their arts to.
A student misdemeanour could result in serious consequences for the unfortunate instructor.


China invented modern paper and kept it secret for 700 years.
They created weaponry during The Warring States period that wasn't 'developed' by the West until The Middle Ages (centuries later).
Yet, we are asked to believe that Chinese martial artists taught their skills to the Okinawan people...

Okinawan karate became more sophisticated by continuing relationships with Chinese combat arts experts, Okinawans began concentrating on some of the finer details, especially those of the Chinese internal arts like taijiquan. These arts stress subtle muscle movements and the stretching of tendons and ligaments. Anything that reflected a Chinese influence would have been highly regarded and recognised as advanced.

(Dave Lowry)


Why would Chinese warriors share their skills with Okinawan peasants?
Doesn't the story sound just a little bit unlikely?

A far more plausible explanation: Chinese fishermen shared their peasant fighting abilities with Okinawan fishermen.


How much martial skill does a fisherman possess?
In feudal China, is a peasant going to learn high level combat skills?
Who from?


A Chinese soldier would only be taught the basics; what they needed to know.
To invest in complex training requires money and time. And the Chinese are notably frugal (and practical) when it comes to money.
Advanced martial arts were reserved for officers and nobility.

Feudal Japan

Forget China and think about feudal Japan...
Would a Japanese samurai teach a peasant how to fight?
Combat skills were never shared with peasants; it would be suicidal.
The peasants outnumbered the nobility. Only a fool would teach them how to fight.
Yet we are expected to believe that Chinese warriors taught combat skills to Okinawan peasants?

Partial knowledge

The Japanese are famous for their ability to innovate, adapt and develop the ideas of other cultures.
They do this very well.
However, they can only work with what the knowledge they have access to.

Knee injuries

If the questions regarding the karate origin story give rise to offence, look at all the knee injuries suffered by many karate students...
What happens when a fighting art is developed without many of the key principles, insights, skills and training methods?
People fill in the blanks with what they know.
Misconceptions are inevitable.

I was admitted to a select special research program in karate... here the innermost secrets of karate are introduced to future teachers. After a few months, it became obvious that many of the most 'secret' techniques were ones I had already learned in my first 2 years of basic training in the internal arts.

Many karate people had to wait 5-20 years before being taught the same material.

(Bruce Frantzis)

Chinese myths

Many Chinese martial arts tell the same origin story: an ancient master watched a fight between a bird and a snake.
From this they developed the system.
Oh really?
How can every story be true?
The answer is simple: the story is a creation myth.

The origin of tai chi

What is the origin of taijiquan? Who knows?
Various authors provide credible seeming accounts but there is no actual evidence to substantiate the stories.
As with Okinawan karate, the real origin of the Art may be quite humble.
Does anyone really know the truth? Does it even matter?


There are 4 traditional styles of taijiquan: Chen, Yang, Wu and Hao.
But it is important not to get too hung up on taijiquan styles.
The Tai Chi Classics were written by
Chang San-feng, Wang Tsung-yueh and Wu Yu-hsiang.
Wu created Hao style, but there are no known styles attributed to Chang or Wang. How come?

What is the truth?

Who knows?
Nobody knows the truth.
At best we can be sceptical of history. Treat stories as being stories.


Oral tradition, eye witnesses, books and manuscripts are not reliable sources of information.
Anyone can get a book published.
If you cannot find a publisher, you can pay for it to be published yourself.
History should be treated with scepticism.

Scepticism is healthy

What is 'history'?

  1. The branch of knowledge dealing with past events

  2. A continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person

  3. The record of past events and times

  4. A past notable for its important, unusual, or interesting events: a ship with a history

  5. A systematic account of any set of natural phenomena without particular reference to time: a history of the American eagle

None of these definitions mention the key factor: 'bias'. History is an interpretation of what occurred. It is not fact.

Point of view

Quite often, the ruling power at a given time re-writes history. They give their version of what happened, their perspective.
Do the Japanese see Hiroshima in the same way that the Americans do?
It seems unlikely.


The presence of the mind at the centre of everything causes bias.
We are fundamentally subjective.
Everything we experience is filtered through our memories and our perceptions.
No one is objective.
We accept or reject a historical perspective relative to whether or not it pleases us.


If somebody puts information in a book, people have a tendency to accept it as being accurate.
Why is this?
Is a written story any less true or false than a legend? Why do we accept one and reject another?

A University essay relies upon reference to prior essays and research. The past insights are seen to somehow authenticate and validate the present.
This is quite an odd convention.

Barry was telling us a story about the woman who always cut the end of the ham and somebody asked her why she did it. She said, "Well I don't know, my mother always did it that way." And they asked her mother and she said, "I don't know, my mother always did it." And they asked grandma, and she said, "Well, I did it because otherwise it wouldn't fit into my biggest pot."

(Chungliang Al Huang)

Page created 18 January 1997
Last updated 14 December 2016