Bodhidharma
Looking back from where we came allows us to understand ourselves and develop our future. Today there are countless styles of Karate, but all of them having origins dating back in time to the 6th century. Granted, there were self defense methods that date further back than the Greeks in 327 B.C., but it wasn't until around 525 AD that the earliest precepts of Karate can be first seen.
Born an Indian Prince of the royal family, Taishi Bodhidharma (aka Daruma Taishi, and Bodhi Dharma) was taught the best fighting arts of weapons and hand-to-hand combat of that day. Unsatisfied with his future, young Bodhidharma broke with India's caste system and began to study Zen Buddhism. After mastering this new concept, he left India on a journey across the Himalayans into China. Being the first person to attempt to introduce the art of Zen in China he was requested an audience with the Emperor Wu. Although the Emperor was interested in the Zen teachings, he didn't have the time or patience to undertake the studies, so Bodhidharma continued onwards to Northern China where he came across a small temple called Shaolin (small forest temple).
Here he began to teach the monks the concepts of Zen, but they were unable to withstand the rigorous demands of meditation and they were easy targets of the bandits who often came to rob the monks. Bodhidharma developed a new set of exercises called I-Chin or San-Chin meaning "three conflicts" which are physical, mental, and spiritual. Practicing these exercises daily, the monks soon developed great stamina and became known as the most formidable fighters in China.
After Bodhidharma died, the original 18 exercises were almost lost until a monk by the name of Dot Mor left the temple and taught a few followers the lessons he learned in Shaolin. He increased the original 18 exercises to 26 and at the same time watched the ways animals protected themselves and increased movements to a complete 50. The animal forms that were commonly used included the Crane, Snake, Tiger, Leopard, and Monkey. This art became known as Chinese Temple Boxing, or Kung-Fu/Gung-Fu and later progressed to Chinese kempo or tode.
Due to the island of Okinawa's proximity to China and Japan, it became a major trade route and experienced extensive cultural exchanges, as sailors often docked for weeks before moving on their journeys. Between 1477 and 1526 Okinawa was ruled by King Sho Shin (Sho Dynasty) who outlawed and confiscated all weapons and replaced its civil emissaries to Okinawa with military personnel, some of whom were learned in Chinese kempo (Tode). This ancient art was absorbed by the Okinawans, who could only use simple farm instruments and more often only their own hands and legs to protect themselves. Tode derived into Okinawa-te as the Okinawans developed and refined the fighting styles in secret, so as not to be discovered by the rulers. From this began the development of varying styles as practiced in the different cities and from which arose Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomari-te. Shorin-ryu was developed around the cities of Shuri and Tomari while Shorei-ryu came from the Naha area. Since these cities were only a matter of a few miles apart, the differences among the styles consisted of emphasis, not of kind. Shorin-ryu was quick and linear with natural breathing while Shorei-ryu emphasized steady, rooted movements with breathing in synchrony with each movement. The generic term used to describe all of the varying styles became known as 'kara-te', the Te meaning "hand" and the Japanese Kanji for "kara" literally meant both "china" and "empty". The later meaning took place in 1936 as the official meaning, as it is known today, Karate - meaning empty hand.
While the need for studying these fighting techniques lessened over the years, it nevertheless was passed on from generation to generation in secrecy. It wasn't until the late 19th century that Karate's popularity progressed, as it was taught for the first time in Okinawan schools as a means of physical education to build character and promote health. The first karate master to teach in Okinawan's schools was Anko Itosu.