Karate; A blend of Tegumi and Chinese Hand?

In connection with this article, it is recommended to read this article first: Tegumi.

Karate; A blend of Tegumi and Chinese Hand?

The question is: Did karate develop from a mixture of tegumi (Okinawan’s local fighting method) and Kenpo (Chinese hand)?

Theory 1: A fusion of two styles.

The development of karate is indeed believed to have been influenced by both tegumi, the local fighting method of Okinawa, and Kenpo, a Chinese hand technique. It is widely recognized that Okinawan martial arts, including tegumi, underwent a process of evolution and cross-cultural exchange over time. The Chinese influence, particularly from various styles of Chinese martial arts, played a significant role in shaping and refining the techniques, principles, and philosophies of karate. Therefore, it can be said that karate emerged as a fusion or synthesis of Okinawan fighting methods like tegumi and Chinese martial arts.

Kenpo or Chinese hand already had forms/kata (eg: Seisan, probably the oldest kata introduced to Okinawa) when it arrived in Okinawa. This kata included kicking, punching, and grappling, so why merge tegumi with Kenpo?

The blending of tegumi with Kenpo in the development of karate can be attributed to several factors. While Kenpo did bring its own forms (kata) that included throws, joint locks, and grappling, it is important to recognize that the context and application of these techniques might have differed between Chinese martial arts and Okinawan tegumi.

The integration of tegumi with Kenpo served to adapt and refine the techniques to suit the unique circumstances and needs of the Okinawan people. Tegumi, with its indigenous roots, provided Okinawan practitioners with a fighting system that was well-suited to their physical attributes, environment, and cultural context.

By combining the strengths and principles of tegumi with the techniques and forms of Kenpo, Okinawan martial artists sought to create a comprehensive system that incorporated striking, grappling, throws, and joint locks. This fusion aimed to enhance effectiveness in self-defense, combat, and personal development.

Moreover, the blending of tegumi with Kenpo reflects the open-mindedness and adaptability of Okinawan martial arts. It signifies a willingness to incorporate and integrate effective techniques from various sources, continually evolving and refining the art to meet the ever-changing needs and challenges of combat.

In summary, the mixing of tegumi with Kenpo in the development of karate allowed for the adaptation, refinement, and synthesis of techniques to create a well-rounded martial art system that encompassed the strengths of both indigenous Okinawan fighting methods and Chinese martial arts. It was a process of building upon existing foundations while tailoring the techniques to the specific context and requirements of the Okinawan people.

Theory 2: Two styles with different directions.

Let’s start with Gichin Funakoshi’s statement.

Gichin Funakoshi recalls (From the book: My way of life)

It was from kempo that the present-day karate evolved. It was first known as “Okinawate.” And I recall, when I was a child, hearing my elders speak of both “Okinawate” and “karate” (the kara in this case referring to China). I began then to think of Okinawate as an indigenous Okinawa fighting art and of karate as a Chinese form of boxing. In any case, I perceived a clear distinction between the two.

Gichin Funakoshi’s is quite clear, there are two different styles, “Okinawa-te” and “karate (Chinese hand)”, with a clear distinction between them. Funakoshi’s statement suggests that “Okinawa-te” (probably Tegumi) was considered an indigenous fighting art of Okinawa, while “karate” was seen as a Chinese form of boxing.

Keep in mind that historically, karate was written using Chinese kanji characters. As a result, the term “karate” carries the meaning of “Chinese hand” in its origins.

Based on Funakoshi’s perspective, it can be inferred that tegumi, as an indigenous Okinawan fighting method, may have been associated with “Okinawa-te” rather than directly linked to “karate (Chinese hand)” or Kenpo. This indicates that the development of karate may have been influenced primarily by Chinese martial arts, with “Okinawa-te” representing the native fighting system of Okinawa.

It is important to consider different viewpoints and historical accounts, as the evolution and origins of martial arts can be complex and subject to interpretation. While tegumi and Kenpo may have had separate paths in the development of karate, the blending of different influences over time has contributed to the unique characteristics and techniques of modern karate as we know it today.


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