"China Hand"

June 21, 2005

Without a doubt, Chinese martial arts have had a strong influence on the development of other Asian fighting arts. Ancient China was the cradle of Asian culture, and many of its neighbors either paid tribute or were vassal states. Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, the various arts and crafts, calligraphy, sword making, and martial arts all found their way to neighboring nations. Countries like Japan, Korea, and Okinawa sent emissaries to study in China.

Today, perhaps due to national pride, most Asian countries claim that their particular martial art is indigenous and has been practiced for thousands of years. History, however, tells us different.

Karate came to Japan via Okinawa. Many of the Okinawan masters trace their lineage directly to China or to military envoys stationed in Okinawa. Many of the Karate Kata (Forms) which are practiced today still bear the name of Chinese warriors. Master Gigin Funakoshi was the first Okinawan Karate master to teach the art in Japan in 1921. Later, other masters introduced other Karate styles. Before the events that led to the second World War, the Chinese characters for Karate were written to mean "Tang Hand" (Tang Dynasty) and referred to Chinese hand. In 1936, due to the changing political climate, many of the leading Okinawan masters decided to change the writing of Karate to mean "empty hand." While the pronunciation remained the same, the characters were now different from their original writing. To teach an art with strong Chinese referents would have been political, if not actual, suicide, at a time when Japan considered herself the master of Asia.

Tae Kwon Do, a Korean martial art, is one of the most widely practiced styles. This system was developed in the 1960's by Choi Hong Hi, who had received a First Dan ranking (first degree black belt) in Japan. He had studied Shotokan Karate, the style that was brought to Japan by Master Funakoshi. Until Tae Kwon Do went through a revision in forms prior to the Seoul Olympics in 1986, many of the Katas that were practiced still closely resembled those of Shotokan Karate.

A Korean martial art system that is much older than Tae Kwon Do is Tang Soo Do. Tang once again refers to the Chinese dynasty, Soo means hand, and Do means way. As in Okinawan Karate, here too we have the same reference to Chinese hand.

Although this information is historically correct, it is well to note that while China did influence the development of other major Asian martial arts, these systems have taken on a flavor of their own and are now quite distinctive from the original Chinese methods.