Education Series

History of Karate Part 1 – Okinawan Karate


Karate is from Okinawa. Okinawa is 300 miles from the southern coast of Japan, 300 miles from Taiwan, and 400 miles from mainland China. Today Okinawa is part of Japan.

Okinawa is properly called the Ryukyu Islands, and there are over 100 islands, but most of them are not populated. The largest island is named Okinawa. The capital city of Okinawa is Naha.

Karate comes from Okinawa, dating back to the 14th century, and has only recently come to Japan (since 1917), and Korea as Taekwondo (1953). Okinawan Karate (we do Matsubayashi Shorin-Ryu and Goju-Ryu Karate), is a family affair. Rather than an emphasis on rank, martial arts are studied as a path to self-betterment, and are meant to be undertaken for a lifetime. A black belt is the rank of a beginner who has learned all the pre-requisites, and is now ready to begin the serious study of Karate.

Okinawan Karate has been profoundly influenced by Chinese Kung Fu, both by Okinawans going to China to study and returning, and also by Chinese Envoys who came to share culture and education. Okinawa became a tributory kingdom of China in the 1400s, and had formal trading relations with Thailand and other asian nations as well.

There are many many kinds of Karate in Okinawa.


History of Karate Part 2


The characters above read Karate-Do, or Way of Karate.

Karate was brought to Japan from Okinawa by Gichin Funakoshi, an educated gentlemen chosen to introduce Karate to the Japanese because of his refinement, education, culture, and ability to speak Japanese so well.

At that time, Okinawa was thought of as a backwater in Japan, far away, and with a funny language (Uchinaguchi, the Hogen or dialect of Okinawa, sounds very different than Japanese, and although they learned Japanese in school starting in the late 1800s, the older generation usually spoke the Hogen more, and spoke Japanese with a thick accent if at all.)

Karate made a great impression, especially to Jigoro Kano, founder of Judo. With his support and so much interest, Karate spread out quickly, especially in Japanese Universities.

In Japan, Karate came to be taught in large groups, and they developed specialty drills and methods of teaching those large groups effectively. Also, especially within the Wado-Ryu school, competition sparring was developed, which has become the basis of modern World Karate Federation Kumite which we practice today.


History of Karate – Modern Karate

There are an incredibly large number of Karate organizations in the world today.  We will focus on the ones we are part of only.


WKF, The World Karate Federation, is the largest worldwide Karate organization, and the only one accepted by the IOC (International Olympic Committee).  There are 188 member nations.


PKF, The Panamerican Karate Federation, is our regional branch of the WKF.  Each country from Canada to Argentina is a member, and field teams for WKF competitions.


USA Karate is our National Governing Body for Karate.  Though there are many organizations for Karate in the USA, this is the only one accepted by the USOC (United States Olympic Committee), and is the most regulated and respected.

In my experience, being part of a quality organization is well worth it.  You find the best, most consistent, most fair judging at tournaments affiliated with USA Karate because there is a thorough certification process and ongoing training is required.

I am a Coach, Kata Judge, Kumite Referee, and Certified 4th Dan through USA Karate (USA National Karate Federation),

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NCKF, the Northern California Karate Federation, is our regional association.  I maintain the website where you can learn more about NCKF, at

Martial Arts Academy BG WX is proud to be part of NCKF, KRA (Karate Referee Association,, USA Karate, and WKF, the best organizations for Karate in the modern day.


My name is Tony Johnson.  I founded our 501c3 non-profit, and I am the Sensei/Sifu (teacher) of Martial Arts Academy Bujutsu Gakuin Wushu Xueyuan.  Please allow me to answer any questions you may have.  (707) 364-6478. and


Martial Arts Education – Taekwondo

As we have learned, Karate comes from Okinawa. Gichin Funakoshi and other Okinawans brought Karate to Japan in the early 1900s (1917-1922).

There were several Koreans who studied with Funakoshi Sensei in Japan who then later returned to Korea, bringing Karate with them. In Korea, they called it Taekwondo (Hand Foot Way), and they truly had superior kicks because kicking games (Taekyon) were very popular in Korean (similar to hacky sack).

Originally, they even used the Korean pronunciation of the Japanese Kata (Pyung-Ahn instead of Pinan/Heian for instance). Eventually, however, most Korean organizations created their own forms to separate themselves from Japanese Karate for Nationalistic reasons.

We consider the founder of Taekwondo to be General Choi Hong-Hi, in 1955, but the exact creator and the exact date are very much debated.


The fancy kicks were never valued much in Okinawa, however, and today they are only practiced in Okinawa for tournament practice where groin contact is forbidden.

All kicking is inherently risky because you are on one leg and your balance is less, however, the legs are bigger and heavier than the arms, so if you can land a kick with proper timing, it can be devastating. Never underestimate a good kicker.


Martial Arts Education – Judo


The founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, studied several styles of Jujutsu including Tenjin Shinyo-Ryu and Kito-Ryu. He loved martial arts, and saw them declining in popularity quickly.

Many schools in his day were doing only prearranged partner drills (Judo kata are done with a partner), and were very esoteric. He included randori (free practice) drills, which was part of his training, to keep the techniques lively. This is still practiced today in Judo, and is the basis of Judo competition like in the Olympics.

Kano was an educator by profession, including holding high posts in the government as director of education. He helped judo and kendo become part of public schools. Kano was the first Asian member of the International Olympic Committee. He did not push for Judo to become an Olympic sport, however, feeling that Judo was much more than competition.

Here is a quote from a speech Kano gave in 1934:
“Nothing under the sun is greater than education. By educating one person and sending him into the society of his generation, we make a contribution extending a hundred generations to come.”


Martial Arts Education

In Memoriam – Miyako Tanaka Price

Tanaka Sensei passed in May of 2014.

I did a weekend seminar several years ago with Tanaka Sensei on the Naginata, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have not had the time since then to continue training with her in Atarashi Naginata-Do or Tendo Ryu – she was one of the senior masters of both styles. She made a profound impression on me, and I had always hoped to find time to continue training with her, or at least send some of my black belt students to work with her in the future.

Tanaka Sensei was Naginata Hanshi, and spread both styles in America, Canada, and Europe. Her knowledge, wisdom, enthusiasm, and friendship will be sorely missed by people around the world.


Martial Arts Education – Kendo

Kendo is the modern sport form of swordsmanship in Japan. Competitors wear armor and use bamboo swords (shinai) to insure safety. Kendo is extremely common in Japan, and offered as Physical Education in most schools.

There are 8 ways to score in Kendo:
1- top of head,
2 – left of forehead,
3 – right of forehead,
4 – throat,
5 – left wrist
6 – right wrist
7 – left side of body
8 – right side of body

All of these parts are protected by armor so that they can be struck. Kendo descends directly from the Samurai, who were originally horsemen. The hakama (looks like a pleated skirt but it is pants), was actually worn to protect your legs – this was the Japanese equivalent of chaps. We do practice in armor with bamboo swords as part of our comprehensive Japanese Swordsmanship class.

Our lineage is through Yamashibu Hanshi, 8th Dan Kendo.
Yamashibu Hanshi was famous for spreading the Seitei Iai (standardized forms of drawing the sword), especially throughout Europe. (there is still a large tournament named after him in Europe to this day!)


Martial Arts Education – Sumo


Amateur Sumo is very common in Japan, and practiced by people of all ages. There are only a couple of rules in Sumo. You cannot step out of the ring, and if anything but the bottoms of your feet touch the ground, you are out. (Also, if your belt comes off, you lose, and if you fail to show up you forfeit). The reason we all think of Sumo wrestlers as really big guys, is that in professional sumo, there are no weight divisions. Whatever your size, you all fight together (according to your rank and achievement in Sumo). Sumo has been around for hundreds of years, and was standardized into almost its present-day form in the 1600s. Now many foreigners, usually with a background in wrestling, judo, sambo, etc., are excelling in Sumo in Japan as well.


Martial Arts Education – Kyudo


Kyudo – Japanese Archery. Archery is the original art of the Samurai, going all the way back to the 12th century.  In fact, the way of the samurai, Bushido, was originally called the way of horse and bow.

There is a very popular book called “Zen in the Art of Archery”, but please ignore it, its author largely misunderstood kyudo. A far better book is “One Arrow, One Life” by Kenneth Kushner, ISBN-13: 978-0-8048-3246-5. This book was written especially as an introduction for beginners, without too much technical language, by one of the few true western masters, and comes highly recommended by my friends at the Chozen-Ji in Hawaii, a temple that practices Zen through the study of martial arts. The book is itself a work of art, presenting deep concepts in a very accessible way. If you want a more complicated book on the subject, check out Jackson Morisawa’s book – it is more technical. Jackson Morisawa is also a master calligrapher, his art appears in “One Arrow, One Life” as well.


Martial Arts Education – Kung Fu / Wushu


Wushu literally means Martial Arts (written the same was as Bujutsu in Japanese).

Kung Fu is time and energy (skill acquired through effort). These are broad terms for martial arts from China.

China is a big place with a lot of people. There are hundreds of different styles, as diverse as the people who practice them.

At Martial Arts Academy, I teach 7 Star Praying Mantis Kung Fu, a traditional art from Shandong Province in Northern China, created in the 1600s. I am a 9th generation teacher.

This art was originally only for experts as it begins at a difficulty level close to where most arts leave off. I recommend having at least 2-3 years of some form of movement discipline before attempting to learn our style. (Having a black belt in our Okinawan Karate would be the ideal way to prepare to learn our Kung Fu).

In my school, we love weapons, and in Kung Fu, everyone must start learning the staff right away, then we specialize in one of the four basic weapons next (staff, broadsword, spear, straight sword), before moving into the more exotic weapons.


Martial Arts Education – Qigong (Chi Kung) & Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan)


Taiji is now very well-known as health exercises. Studies done in the 50s in China revealed that people who practiced exercises like Taiji were much healthier longer than those who did not, however, the traditional long forms could easily take 10 years to learn. Wanting to spread out the benefits, they created the Beijing 24 Movement Short Form (one expert on the panel that created this form was Fu Zhongwen, my teacher, Sifu Tim McFarland’s, teacher in China.

This shortened form can be learned in much less time, allowing more people the great benefits that come from practice.

Qigong is singular exercises and exercises in sets that are easier to learn than even the simplest Taijiquan forms, and provide many of the same benefits.

I have also produced a DVD for home practice of Qigong.


Martial Arts Education – Kobudo


Kobudo literally means “ancient martial ways”. This word is mainly used in Karate circles to refer to these 5 Okinawan weapons:

Bo (Staff)

Sai (Iron Truncheon)

Tonfa (Side-handled baton)

Kama (Small Sickle)

Nunchaku (Flail)

I periodically teach weapons seminars on these and other weapons, and I love to teach them in private lessons too. We typically offer a review twice a year.

Weapons training offers significant and tangible benefits for your empty hand skills. Each weapon teaches a slightly different but related skillset that will really help you!