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A Brief History of Karate Styles

Karate is a Japanese martial art developed in Ryukyu Islands and influenced by Chinese martial arts, especially Fujian White Crane. It predominantly uses striking techniques such as kicking, punching, kicking, elbow strikes, and knee strikes. It also uses open hand techniques including knife-hands, palm heel strike, and spear hands. In some modern styles, grappling, joint locks, vital point strikes, and restraints are also taught.
There are over 75 style of Karate, the four prominent among them being Shotokan, Shito-ryu, Wado-ryu, and Goju-ryu. Of these, the first three styles originated in Okinawa’s Shuri region while Goju-ryu originated in the Naha province.


Shotokan is a defense mechanism style that teaches some basics, forms, and sparring. It is an authorized style of Karate that stresses powerful strikes, sparring techniques, and long stances designed to end a fight quickly. In short, it teaches you to give devastating blows before your opponent realizes that you are even considering such a move.
The credit for Shotokan karate’s birth and popularity belongs undoubtedly to Gichin Funakoshi. As an elementary school student, he learned both Okinawan karate and Shorin-ryu karate. He compiled techniques from these two styles to form an independent style, which came to be known as Shotokan. The name is a combination of his pen name ‘shoto’ meaning pine waves and ‘kan’ meaning house.


Shito-ryu style was founded in by Kenwa Mabuni in 1931. Mabuni learnt Naha-te and Shuri-te from two legendary martial arts experts, Kanryo Higonna and Itosu Anko. The emphasis of both the styles were distinct even though both followed hard-soft format. Mabuni combined the two techniques to formulate Shito-ryu style.
The style was founded by Otsuka Hidenori in 1920, a student of Gichin Funakoshi. He combined Okinawan karate’s striking techniques with movements of jujitsu, besides focusing strongly on evasion through body shifting. The style has shorter punches and higher stances than Shotokan.


Goju-ryu is an Okinawan karate style founded in 1930s by Miyagi Chojun. The term Goju-rye means ‘hard-soft style,’ which refers to the technique it uses. It uses a combination of closed hand linear motion (hard) and circular motions (soft), which resembles Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang.
The history of the style is somewhat vague due to lack of availability of proper documentation. However it is believed that a Japanese martial arts master called Kanryo Higashionna formulated
the Goju-ryu style. In 1873, he went to China and practiced martial arts from various teachers. Later on he returned to Japan and combined what he learned in China with what he already knew about Okinavan karate to make a new style of his own. After his death, his best student, Chojun Miyagi, continued to develop and refine the style. It was in 1930 that Miyagi decided to christen the style


Karate styles keep emerging over time and geography, hence mapping the exact number of styles is impossible. Styles also vary according to the philosophy and guidance of masters teaching them.