[The photograph shows Okinawan Karate Masters in Okinawa in connection with the 2019 Day of Karate, who represent all three umbrella karate systems after kata demonstrations at the "Karate Kaikan", which opened 2017 as Okinawan Karate's world center to convey the origin of karate and to propagate its essence.]
[The following text below is taken from the book "Analysis of Genuine Karate - Misconceptions, Origins, Development, and True Purpose", ISBN: 9781594398438 (print) • ISBN: 9781594398445 (eBook)]
For centuries Okinawa's indigenous fighting art, Te, was practiced mainly in the towns of Shuri, later called Shuri-Te [首里手], in Naha, later called Naha-Te [那覇手], in its port village Tomari, later called Tomari-Te [泊手], and in Itoman. In the mid-1930s the term “Kara-Te” [空 手] was introduced to replace the initial term Te [“hand”]—initially as “China-hand,” to be renamed into the more neutral term “open-hand,” when Japan was engaged in its historic conflict with China and references to Chinese martial arts were not welcome in imperial Japan’s militaristic world view. During this entire time, for more than 500 years, even for 1,000 years, karate was exclusively practiced in Okinawa and was essentially unknown in mainland Japan.
Though Okinawa’s legendary karate authorities did not promote a distinction of the art into different “styles” and rather promoted its overarching purpose of forging individuals into entities of defense and offense, karate “styles” were introduced for a variety of reasons in the decades preceding WWII; a request for “styles” by mainland Japan’s martial arts officials and the reason to not offend them politically being one of those. Hence, carefully avoiding any possible reference to Chinese influences on Okinawan Te, Okinawan karate masters explained some kata, when demonstrated to visiting Japanese royalties, martial arts officials or political dignitaries, as being representations of the above mentioned three town-specific Te-”styles.” Later, the town-specific karate systems were named as Okinawa Shorin Ryu (practiced as Kobayashi Shorin Ryu at OBI in Virginia Beach), Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu, which became the only three official Okinawan karate systems - which are better called "karate systems" than "karate styles": a karate system is like a language, and you can use different languages to articulate the same thing.
Shuri-Te was considered to be the most indigenous style of Te, less influenced by Chinese martial arts. It is based on Matsumura Soken Sensei’s and his teacher Sakugawa Sensei’s teachings in the 1800s. Out of Shuri-Te, Shorin Ryu [少林流] originated as probably the oldest Okinawan karate system, named into “Shorin Ryu” instead of “Shuri-Te” by Chibana Chosin Sensei in 1933. Shorin Ryu is also the common ground of its sub-systems Matsubayashi Ryu, Kobayashi Ryu, Shobayashi Ryu, Matsumura Orthodox Ryu, Isshin Ryu (a style overlapping Goju Ryu as well), Seibukan, and a few others.
Naha-Te and Tomari-Te based karate, combined with both, ch’üan fa and Okinawan and Chinese kenpo [拳法; pronounced “kempo” and meaning “fist method”], evolved into Goju Ryu and Uechi Ryu, the other two Okinawan systems.
Though karate legend Miyagi Chojun Sensei gave the name “hard-soft” to the style in the mid-1930s, Goju Ryu [剛柔流] is based on Higaonna Kanryo Sensei’s teachings more than half a century before that. In the late 1930s Miyagi Chojun Sensei appointed Yamaguchi Gogen Sensei to promote Goju Ryuon in Japan, which lead to the rapid growth and popularity of a Goju Ryu derivative on the mainland, including the style’s official recognition as one of the “ancient martial arts”—a position that strangely enough was not awarded to any other Okinawan karate style, which represents a decision that can only be understood within the big picture of governmental cultural integration efforts at that time.
Uechi Ryu [上地流], initially named Pangainun Ryu, was introduced to Okinawa and Japan in the early 1920s by its initiator, Uechi Kanbun Sensei, who like Goju Ryu predecessor Higaonna Kanryo Sensei, studied Chinese martial arts in Fuchou, China, in addition to studying Okinawan Te. In the 1940s, during the Chinese-Japanese war, either he himself renamed this style “Uechi Ryu”because, as stated earlier, Chinese references, terms, or connotations were not welcome in Japanese martial arts, or his students renamed it in honor of its creator after his death. Over the following decades, his son, Uechi Kanei Sensei, created and promoted a systematic curriculum and initiated the worldwide spread of this style.
Today, as was the case for centuries, dentou ["genuine"] Okinawan karate is preserved, practiced, and passed on to the generations in machi dojo [small, privately owned schools, often family-owned]. Every Okinawan karate style/system has its administrative headquarters and central training hall, called honbu [pronounced “hombu”] dojo, led by its presiding 10th Dan sensei; as well as other associated, but independent machi dojo, sometimes led by 10th Dan sensei as well—today totaling around four hundred all over the Okinawan islands.
[As Download you find a table showing Okinawan Karate Intangible Cultural Asset Holders 1997-2020].