Karate, as we know it today, is largely the product of a synthesis that took place in the 18th century between the native Okinawan art of te and the Chinese arts of Shaolin Temple boxing. From this mix of arts emerged a form of self defense unique to Okinawa; te which literally means hands.
Most of the characteristics of Okinawan karate-do appear in the use of fists, toes, elbows, and knife-hands. The development of the art of te accelerated with the subjugation of the Ryukyus in 1609 by the Satsuma clan of Japan.
All weapons were banned and the practice of any martial arts was punishable by death. Despite the enforcement of this ban for over three hundred years, the art of te was not lost. The forbidden art was passed down from father to son among the samurai class in Okinawa. It was also during this time that tools used for farming and fishing were developed into weapons of self-defense. Training went on in secret; devotees practiced in hidden and remote places, meeting between midnight and dawn for fear of informers.
Because of the secrecy in which te had to be practiced, there exists no evidence to indicate any clear-cut classifications of the various styles and types of karate during its formative years in the 18th century. Gradually, karate was divided into two main groups or styles-Shuri-te, and Shorei-ryu or Naha-te. Shorin-ryu developed around the villages of Shuri and Tomari, while Shorei-ryu came out of the vicinity of Naha.
The differences between Shuri-te and Naha-te lie in the basic movements and method of breathing. The basic approach in Shuri-te stems from training forms linked to natural movements. For example the movement of the feet in a straight line when a step is taken forward or backward. Breathing is controlled naturally during training. No artificial breath training is necessary for a mastery of Shuri-te. A steady and rooted movement characterizes naha-te. Unlike Shuri-te, the feet travel rather slowly on a crescent-shaped line. In Naha-te kata there is a rhythmical, but artificial way of breathing in accordance with each of the movements.
Naha-te is divided into two styles, Goju-ryu and Uechi-ryu. Shuri-te is divided into three styles-two are called Shorin-ryu and a third is called Matsubayashi-ryu. Matsubayashi-ryu is also called Shorin-ryu, the terms are used interchangeably and both are correct.