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History of Martial Arts

Compiled by Grandmaster Larry Sullivan 10th Degree Black Belt


To the best of historian's accounts the martial arts have been around for thousands of years, perhaps Able and Kane were the first to show us the "way". Since then mankind has raged war. With each war and conflict new form's of weapons, tactics, and defense were invented and reinvented to fit the type warfare being fought.


It is in my opinion that every race and nation throughout time has helped to evolve the martial arts. By raising armies and engaging in conflicts each battle brought with it new strategies and techniques Thus creating master instructors who categorized and taught the art of their particular expertise in warfare. We know the Roman Empire had such instructors which was 600 years before Bodhidharma introduced it to the Shao-lin monks.


The Shao-lin monks are the first who are accredited with categorizing martial arts moves for the sake of non-aggression, self defense, and physical fitness. It was their intention to teach this to the monks for self defense and a means of helping them achieve enlightenment, and not to armies. Most historians agree that the martial art movements were introduced to the monks in 600ad by a visiting monk from India named Bodhidharma.


Upon his visit he found the monks to be very physically weak. All their time was spent in meditation, which not only left them physically weak, but made them vulnerable to attack. They became easy prey for those who choose to rob them. For these reasons, he introduced the monks to basic physical movement, and exercise, which gave them the missing ingredient they needed to complete their journey to enlightenment of, mind, body, and spirit.


The Shao-lin arts were called ch'uan-fa, which meant Chinese boxing, or kempo, the way of the fist. As time went on the monks became infamous for their fighting skills and were sought out by others. It was also a part of their lives to leave the temple and wander the earth passing on to others their knowledge. It didn't take long for these teachings of the martial arts to find there way into Okinawa, Korea, and Japan.


As each country, and subsequent master learned the art of kempo they adapted the movements to fit their needs, and opinions of warfare. We know the Okinawa's, had the art of Kobudo as far back as the 1400's, but we have no written accounts until the early 1600's when the Japanese had successfully occupied Okinawa. It was the Japanese who started documenting the martial art skills of the Okinawa people. A Shogun was particularly impressed by a raid of Okinawa peasants armed only with farm tools who defeated a division of elite samurai warriors who were drinking Saeki on a beach.


It is because of these occupations that karate had to be taught in secret, it was karate that gave people a fighting chance against these invaders. If they were found out they would all be destroyed. This is why these techniques were taught in secret and passed on by actual teaching rather then writing down the information. It is also where the tradition of referring a student originated from. Potential students were usually referred to the father by a son, thus setting up the family structure we see in many martial arts today.

Eventually due to immigration and war, the martial arts were finding there way to the America's. In 1849 the Chinese were coming to America because of the gold rush. With them they brought their kempo and secret society of the Tongs. The Tongs were organized crime that had wars over gambling, drugs, and prostitution until the 1930's. They used hatchet men, who received that name, because they used meat cleavers, and hatchets as weapons. The Chinese kept their martial art to themselves until the 1960's when Bruce Lee opened up one of the first schools that accepted non-Asians.


At the turn of the century Jigoro Kano began teaching judo in the America's . He had first done a demonstration for President Grant in 1879, by the 1900's it will be introduced through political connections into universities and the naval academy. Eventually the police departments were also starting to learn some of the fundamentals of judo and jujitsu for the locking and submissive techniques it had to offer.


After World War II America began to see the introduction of many types of martial arts. Most of which were coming through the island of Hawaii. In the 1920's and 30's Okinawa, Japanese, and Chinese martial arts were being introduced on the islands, but schools didn't start up until the mid 1930's. In the 1953 James Mitose came to the mainland, and in 1954 Ed Parker started teaching kempo at Brigham Young University.


The Korean War Brought the art of Tae kwon do back to America through Jhoon Rhee who entered the U.S. in 1956. Despite all the different types of martial arts that were being introduced to America none were really catching on.

It wasn't until the 1960's that we started to see a martial arts explosion. This explosion can be contributed to many different factors: 1) free enterprise, capitalism and the entrepreneurial spirit of the U.S. that allowed the pioneers to market their skills, and services; and 2) The power of the movies and TV that helped launch such greats as Bruce Lee who caught the imagination of an entire generation, and nation.


Because of the advancement of the media reaching such large audiences, the theory of supply and demand was soon put into action. Karate schools began popping up everywhere. Most of these schools had good black belts, but not so good teachers, they spent most of their time training themselves, and turning most of their students into their personal (punching bags) sparring partners. It didn't take long for karate to get a bad reputation, hurting the business and schools that were delivering a good product and service. It didn't take long for the schools that were still standing began to make some changes. These changes have come about because the instructors realized they can't make a living continuing to do business the way they have been, with no students, or money to pay the rent. Thus with a little evolution, and the basic need to survive comes the birth of the professional karate schools, and with it the birth of the karate chain. (The only karate chain of schools before this time was Emperado chain of kajukenbo in 1950, in Hawaii.) The schools are now focused on the original teaching of the Shao-lin monks, to teach and develop your student's mind, body and spirit through the teachings of the martial arts.


The 1980's brought the fitness craze and karate was right at the forefront, chains of schools open everywhere. It was the largest growing business in the U.S. unfortunately it also had the highest failure rate. Because of this schools now began to realize the importance of business management, and karate takes another turn into the future. By the 1990's karate has become less focused on the physical and self defense aspects and more on the self-improvement and fad aspects of what the market dictated. This moved many schools more towards the left and made the schools "touchy feely" where you "nurtured" your students, these schools did well for a while but soon started to decline due to too much fluff and not enough substance. The lesson to be learned is don't lose focus of what your main product is, karate, self defense and physical fitness, the rest are bi- products as a result of your training. All are very important ingredients and you need a right as well as a left to stay centered.


To continue in this business for over thirty years you need to know how much of each ingredient is needed, when to add it or take it out, and for how long to do it. USA KARATE has been through many of these changes, and always succeeded, that's why we believe the only thing constant in life is change, and if you cannot change with the times, then the times will surely change you. With each change we learn to grow and except change, sometimes that means we have to let go in order to promote growth.

We are here to help our students become the best they can be. While keeping in focus the balance of mind, body, and spirit, personal growth, trend, fads, and sound business practices.


And in the history of the martial arts, and Sullivans's USA KARATE ... here is where you enter.

Welcome to your journey into martial arts history with Sullivans's USA KARATE.

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