A Brief History of Karate in Western Society

Karate originated from the Ryukyu Islands, now part of Japan. In the early 20th century, Japan and China experienced an era of cultural exchanges. This is when the martial art of Karate hit the Japanese mainland. In the early 1930s, nearly all of the major Japanese universities had a karate club. With the Ryukyu Islands eventually becoming Okinawa, Japan and with many United States military men being stationed there during the post-World War II period, Karate became well known to Western societies.

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood martial arts, Karate became commercialized in the 1960s and 1970s, with many popular martial arts movies. Karate, for many Westerners, referred to any striking-based Asian martial art. While Karate is a martial art full of philosophy and self-development, Karate has been thought of as a mysterious way of fighting where a single blow could kill an opponent.

The study of Karate takes a number of different forms. It can be studied as an art, sport, combat sport or self-defence training, with the more traditional karate practices placing an emphasis on the art and philosophy of the discipline. The self-development aspects that are held to a high regard by modern Japanese-style training places emphasis on traits such as perseverance, fearlessness, virtue, and leadership skills.

Many ex-US military men learned the art while stationed in Okinawa; opening martial arts schools, when they returned to America. During this period, Karate's popularity skyrocketed, with many forms of popular fiction using it in their storytelling. Due to the exotic nature of the martial art to Westerners, it was easy to captivate their attention with near-mythical details. Arguably, The Karate Kid films came at the peak of its popularity within Western pop culture.

Not only did Karate set the tone for the popularity of all martial arts in the West, a handful of very successful MMA fighters practice the art, from Chuck Liddell to Lyoto Machida and Georges St-Pierre. Although Karate was not voted into the 2020 Olympics, there is a good chance that it will be soon. These are only a few of the ways in which Karate has settled into Western society. As a discipline with many centuries of history, there is much yet to explore.

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