Testing a Legendary Art under a Legend

I had fallen asleep while waiting for my test to begin. There were over 400 black belts at the week-long camp. Many had travelled thousands of miles from different countries to have the opportunity to attend. Over 15 instructors were brought in from around the world.

We had just gone through a week of training that started at 5:30 in the morning and often did not end until 9 at night.??The head of the Japan Karate Association, Masatoshi Nakayama, was present at the camp and for many this was the first opportunity to be tested by the legendary instructor. Unfortunately, it would also be the last time for those at the camp as he would pass away a few months later.??They were calling my name to go up before these masters, but I was peacefully asleep, sitting cross legged on the floor among the excitement and energy flowing in the room.??The origin of karate can be traced back over a thousand years. It is said that the Bodhidharma was at a Shao Lin monastery in China.

He observed that many monks may have had the mental strength, but lacked the physical strength to fulfill the rigid discipline of their religion. This was interfering with their studies. He devised a set of exercises not just to strengthen the monks, but also to give them skills in order to defend themselves and others.??However, the most significant and documented development of karate happened in the small chain of islands known as Okinawa. There are 140 islands and reefs, of which 36 are inhabited. The southernmost island, Yonaguni, lies within sight of Taiwan and the most-northern island is just off the tip of Kyushu, one of the main islands in Japan.??With hundreds of years of influence from China and regressive laws forbidding the people of Okinawa to own weapons, the people trained and developed what would later become known as karate.??Originally the art was called Te (hand), but later Gichin Funikoshi changed the name to karate (empty hand).

There are four basic styles of karate: goju-ryu, shotokan, wado-ryu and shyto-ryu; now, there are hundreds of branches of these four major lines.??As to what happened to me at the testing: someone woke me up, I leaped or maybe I should say staggered up in a sleep-induced state directly into the test and probably, because I needed to rely on my body memory as my brain was not fully awake, I had the best test of my life.

Four Basic Styles of Karate


This is literally translated as “hard, soft” style. It uses soft, round blocking techniques with strong counter techniques.??


The origins of this style are from Shorin ryu. The name comes from Gichin Funikoshi’s pen name, which he used for writing poetry. It is noted for its strong, deep stances, its circular blocks and its linear strikes. It is also the style that was first introduced and taught in Japan and then around the world.??


Translated, this means “the way of harmony”. It was created in 1939 and is a mix of jujitsu- and Shotokan-influenced moves. It places a strong emphasis on soft techniques and spiritual development.??


This very strong style was founded in 1928 and uses square-on stances and linear strikes.

Todd Hardy has studied and taught a variety of martial arts for over 38 years and has trained with many people from around the world. Would you like to comment on what you read here? Contact him at [email protected]

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