I was speaking with my father the other day about the history of the word Karate. The Kanji used for ‘Karate’ now translates as “Empty Hand’, but most often clubs and associations use ‘Karate-Do’ meaning “The way of the Empty Fist’.
Here we have the Kanji for ‘Karate’ and ‘Karate-Do’.
Here is the Kanji for ‘To-Te’ and as you can see the first character is different.
However ‘Karate’ is a relatively new term and was referred to as ‘Tote’ or ‘Tode’ in Japan, and ‘Toudi’ or ‘Tudi’ in Okinawan dialect. The first is pronounced “Tang” in Chinese, and refers specifically to the Tang Dynasty, one of China’s great historical eras. In Japanese, it is pronounced either “tou” or “kara,” and came to mean China in general, and things of Chinese origin. In Japanese, “toude” means “China hand” and not “empty hand.” When Japanese say “karate,” it could be interpreted as either “empty hand” or “China hand.” However, the average modern-day Japanese person would not even think of translating it as “China hand.”
More on the origins of when and why it was changed later…