The history of the martial arts is long and intricate. Myth, legend and documentation are intermingled. Many teachers unite and form a single art, and a single teacher's students may create many new arts from the single root. It is easy to get confused following the many branches of an art's development. Add to this difficulty the current proliferation of new hybrid arts as people without credentials or authorization splinter off from their root styles or organizations.
Some of the most persistent legends are in regards to Boddidharma, (known as Ta Mo in Chinese, or Daruma in Japanese). He is credited with starting the martial art practices known as Shaolin Kung Fu, or even with starting the Temple itself, as well as many other feats. While no proof linking Boddidharma to the martial arts directly can be found, he was none-the-less very important to the development of this sect of Buddhism, and is considered and elder ancestor of the Shaolin order, revered and remembered still at that remote mountain temple. He did indeed introduce exercise into the meditation rituals of Shaolin, probably based on the exercise forms of his native India, namely Yoga, or Yoga-like practices. Whether he actually invented Praying Mantis Kung Fu, fought wild animals on his foot-trek across the Himalayas and developed fighting forms based on these exploits, or stared at a wall so long that his eyes burned their image into the cave wall, or any other of the great legendary feats, is not confirmed as fact, and is not really important. What we DO know is that he existed and was important in the growth of Shaolin, which subsequently became a bastion for the development of Chinese martial arts. (See Rich's Shaolin pages for more on this.)
Likewise, no single individual can be isolated as wholly responsible for the transformation of a tiny island known as Okinawa into the world's Karate Mecca. What IS known is that Okinawa, a part of the Ryukyu island chain, lay in the path of travelers and traders going from China to Japan. Military men and fishermen alike ended up on this small island, some on purpose, others having drifted away from the Chinese shore where they were fishing. Among them were perhaps Kusanku (Koshankun), Chinto, and other purported military men, (after whom kata are named, supposedly based an the fighting style of these men). Also credited are fishermen who came from China to Okinawa, and who had supposedly been taught Chinese Boxing by monks who had fled the Shaolin temple when it was burned during the many changes of ruling family in China.
Details are difficult to pin down with any accuracy, as you might see, but much research has been done, and continues to be done, attempting to document the direct links. However, while their may be a dearth of detail, the connection is clear in the movements themselves. The most convincing of the research findings are in the form of similarities between some of the arts practiced in the two countries. What we know for certain is the following.
In Okinawa there evolved a fighting art called te, meaning "hand". With the influence of the Chinese, who once subjugated the Ryukyu’s, or Okinawan islands, Te was renamed Kara-te, meaning Chinese hand, or in the Ryukyu dialect, "To-de". Various villages developed different versions of the new hybrid art of Karate, according to the teachers and the various Chinese influences. Among the village arts, two primary branches developed, and became known as Shuri-te and Naha-te. (Some of the older Okinawan fighting arts that did not change due to Chinese influence are known as “Uchina-di”, or “Okinawa hand”. The older purely Okinawan styles are further distinguished as “Koryu Uchina-di”, or “old style Okinawan hand”.)
In the late 1800’s the Japanese government underwent what is known as the Meiji restoration, wherein the feudal era of the Samurai and the class system were eradicated. The kingdom was unified and their once divided nation now included Okinawa now among its many provinces. In the early 1900’s, this Okinawan fighting art of karate was introduced into Japan by Funakoshi Gichin, Motobu Choki, and others. Because of fierce nationalistic pride and a long history of war between the two nations, the Japanese tried to deny any connection with things Chinese. So, by the 1930’s the kanji (character of Japanese writing derived from the Chinese written language) was changed from the ‘kara’ representing the Tang Dynasty and implying the meaning of “Chinese” to another kanji pronounced the same way but meaning "empty" instead of "Chinese". It is obvious merely by tracing the name that the oriental arts of China, Okinawa, and Japan are intertwined inextricably.
Meanwhile, on Okinawa, the art continued to be practiced in secret, maintaining its identity as a blend of indigenous Okinawan te and Chinese kung fu or Chuan Fa. Further divisions continued to evolve in teaching methods from one master to another, and with the Japanese love for categorizing things, it was not long before a call to name all the individual variants arose. Though the kata and methods may have varied, until the 1950’s in Okinawa, it was all just Karate, though a village name may have been attached occasionally as previously mentioned. Now, however, following what the Japanese mainland and the Nihon Butokukai (Japanese Martial Arts Board) had done in the mid to late 1930’s, individual masters began to name their systems.
One such master, who had studied both the Naha and Shuri systems, as well as the Koryu Uchinadi of the Motobu family, was Toma Shian. As a founding member of the Zen Ryukyu Butokukai (All Okinawa Martial Arts board), his blend became known as Seidokan, which was originally just the name of his dojo.
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