The term martial comes from Mars, the Roman god of war.

Dictionary.com defines martial as “of, suitable for, or associated with war or armed forces”

Oxford’s English dictionary defines martial as “of or appropriate to warfare.”

My study of karate centers on my attempts to better understand to what degree karate kata are true martial arts. To what degree are kata suitable, associated or appropriate to warfare?

We know that the origins of many karate kata have no written record. Funakoshi and Nagamine both point to Chinese origins for many Shorin Ryu kata. Higashionna studied in China for a number of years before returning to teach Miyagi and others his Naha-te art.

When looking at the question of whether the origins of older Shuri-te and Naha-te kata were martial in nature, this really is a question as to whether some or many of these Chinese kata that have survived to the present had true martial origins. Were they designed to be used on the battlefield?

A better question is to what degree do kata teach movements that would be useful in being successful on a battlefield? Success on the battlefield means successfully evading attacks from multiple armed enemies, and killing them quickly. There should be an expectation that your enemies have some skill with their weapons.

I would argue that quickly killing multiple skilled armed enemies requires skillful use of a weapon.
For centuries, the weapons of choice for many armies were spears and swords.

So to what extent is it possible, that kata may contain some (or many) underlying true martial or military applications, movements designed for use with weapons of warfare.

Please note that I am not implying here that Okinawan kobudo, specifically kata that use household implements such as bo, sai and kama, were designed for armed combat, army against army. Household implements are not weapons of warfare. No military leader would ever choose Okinawan implements for use in warfare, when long bladed weapons are what are needed to be successful.

My question here is limited to the extent that the Chinese kata that were passed down in Okinawa may have had martial or military origins in China.

Has anyone else thought about this issue? Has anyone read a good source that makes this argument?

On a related subject, I have read that both Matsumura, and perhaps Itosu, due to their positions under the Ryu Kyu king, may have had official relations with Chinese Military authorities. Does anyone have good sources for this?

Kakushidi