Consisting of a number of islands, Okinawa Prefecture is graced not only by its natural beauty but also by a unique history and distinctive culture.
In the 12th century, regional lords called aji emerged and exerted power from their fortified manors called gusuku. Soon power was divided among three small kingdoms. In 1429, Sho Hashi united the island and founded the Kingdom of the Ryukyus. During the 14th to 16th centuries, a period known as the "Golden Age of Trade,' the Kingdom flourished as a trade carrier for China and other nations. However, trade vessels were constantly threatened by Japanese pirates and the Okinawan sailors needed to protect themselves while in foreign lands. The unique martial arts of Okinawan karate and kobudo were born from this background. Over long years, the techniques of Chinese and SE Asian martial arts were incorporated into Okinawan karate and kobudo to establish the forms known today.
Varied distinct styles emerged during the heyday of the Ryukyuan kingdom: Shuri-ti forms were cantered in the Ryukyuan capital of Shuri, Naha-ti in the commercial carrier of Naha, and Tomari-ti in the Tomari district located between the first two. Each style had its distinguished masters who established the traditions preserved to our present day.
The techniques of karate and kobudo were, by their very nature, to be kept from the uninitiated. Thus, there are but few historical records and the arts were conveyed almost entirely through personal oral transmission from master to disciple. However, following dissolution of the kingdom and the 1879 annexation of Okinawa as a prefecture, new institutions came into effect and karate and kobudo were incorporated into the Meiji public education system. There followed a movement to present these arts to the general public: during the Taisho Era (circa 1910 - 1926), demonstrations were made throughout mainland Japan, and in the early Showa years (circa 1902's - 30's), demonstrations were given overseas. Post-WWII Okinawan Karate had been dominated by four main schools (ryu): Shorin-ryu, Gojyu-ryu, Uechi-ryu and Matsubayashi-ryu. Today, there exist many more sub-schools (ryuha) and factions (kaiha). Each boasts its own distinctive kata derived from the basic movements (kihon kata) common to all schools as the systematization of techniques of attack and defense.
Rigorous training over years cultivates both physical and spiritual strength. Thus these traditional arts contribute to building character, to fostering a sense of social responsibility, and to the healthy development of young bodies and minds. In offering the disciplines of both martial arts and sports, Okinawan karate and kobudo today give inspiration to people throughout the world.