History Karate

The factual historical roots of karate are shrouded in mystery but it is generally accepted that the art migrated from China to Okinawa in the 1700’s and then onto mainland Japan in the 1930’s.

Three main styles evolved in Okinawa, Shorin-te (Shorin-ryu), Naha-te (Shorei-ryu) and Tomari-te. These in turn developed into the four main styles that are accepted by the official controlling body, World Karate Federation. They are (ref: http://www.karatebc.org/history/):

Shotokan was founded by Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957) in Tokyo in 1938. Funakoshi is considered to be the founder of modern karate. Born in Okinawa, Funakoshi first introduced Karate to Tokyo in 1921. In 1936, at nearly 70 years of age, he opened his own training hall. The dojo was called Shotokan and is characterised by powerful linear techniques and deep strong stances.

Wado-ryu, ‘way of harmony’, founded in 1939 is a system of karate developed from jujitsu and karate by Hienori Otsuka as taught by one of his instructors, Gichin Funakoshi. This style of karate combines basic movements of jujitsu with techniques of evasion, putting a strong emphasis on softness and the way of harmony or spiritual discipline.

Goju-ryu developed out of Naha-te, its popularity primarily due to the success of Kanryo Higaonna (1853-1915). Higaonna opened a dojo in Naha using eight forms brought from China. His best student, Chojun Miyagi (1888-1953) later founded Goju-ryu, ‘hard soft way’ in 1930. In Goju-ryu much emphasis is placed on combining soft circular blocking techniques with quick strong counter attacks delivered in rapid succession.

Shito-ryu was founded by Kenwa Mabuni (1889-1952) in 1928 and was influenced directly by both Naha-te and Shuri-te. The name Shito is constructively derived from the combination of the Japanese characters of Mabuni’s teachers’ names – Ankoh Itosu and Kanryo Higaonna. Shito-ryu schools use a large number of kata and is characterised by an emphasis on power in the execution of techniques.

Wellington Karate Academy practices mainly Shotokan traditional karate, but with strong influences from the other three styles.

The diagram below traces Kei Shin Kan back to Kanken Toyama, founder of the All Japan Karate Association, via Master Takazawa who passed away in 2010. Wellington Karate Academy instructors were members of Kei Shin Kan until 2005.


World Karate Federation

The World Karate Federation was formed in 1990 from former World Union of Karate Organisations members and is the largest international governing body of sport karate with over 130 member countries. It is the only karate organisation recognised by the International Olympic Committee and has more than ten million members. The WKF organises Junior and Senior World Championships.

New Zealand is an active participant in WKF local, regional and international competitions through Karate NZ, the only body entitled to grant official NZ representation.


Traditional Japanese karate emanated from Okinawa and China in the 1930’s, where it had been practiced for hundreds of years. Whilst the old practitioners may have been impressed with the athleticism of todays kumite and kata competitors, it is a moot point whether this would have equipped the modern day competitor for the life and death struggles of bygone eras. Karate is dynamic and continues to develop to meet society needs.