Early Okinawan karate, or tode (“China Hand”) as it was called, owes its origin to a mixture of indigenous Okinawan fighting arts and various “foot fighting” systems and empty-hand systems of Southeast Asia and China. Being seafaring people, the Okinawans were in almost constant contact with mainland Asia. It is quite likely that Okinawan seamen visiting foreign ports were impressed with local fighting techniques and incorporated these into their own fighting methods.
Interest in unarmed fighting arts increased during the 14th century when Chuzan King Sho Hashi established his rule over Okinawa and banned all weapons. A more rapid development of tode followed in 1609 when the Satsuma clan of Kyushu, Japan, occupied Okinawa and again banned the possession of weapons. Thus tode or Okinawa-te, as the Satsuma samurai soon called it, became the only means of protection left to the Okinawans. It was this atmosphere that honed the early karate-like arts of Okinawa into a weapon, enabling the island people to conduct a guerrilla-type war with the Japanese samurai that lasted into the late 1800’s.
So tode or Okinawa-te was developed secretly, thus preventing the Japanese from killing the deadly art’s practitioners and teachers. Tode remained underground until the early 1900’s, when it was brought into the Okinawan school system’s physical education program.