Historical Karate Film

Karate, Goju-ryu, Vancouver, Kitsilano, Kobudo, Shotokan, Lessons, Dojo
French Boxing Military 1900

The other day I posted a youtube video of a film from around 1900 of French troops practicing savate en mass on the dojo Facebook page. They were training outside and if you swapped out the background to Shuri Castle, then you might have thought they were practicing kata. As I mentioned in my facebook post, you could see the influence of European military and educational systems on the direction Okinawa Karate-do took in the early 20th century. Indeed, this influence is spelled out in Itosu Anko’s 1905 ‘Ten Precepts of Karate’.

Students practicing Karate at Shuri Castle

I’ll save that discussion for another blog post but getting back to the film of the French soldiers practicing savate. The film seems to have been shot somewhere around 1900; about ten years after the development of the motion picture camera. Searching through youtube and other sources such as the Library of Congress and the British Pathe, you can find several examples of western martial arts such as fencing, boxing, wrestling and savate around the same time or even a bit earlier (1). Indeed, there is a decent amount of material from this period on the topic.

A similar search for Japanese martial arts can turn up film of Judo, Sumo and Kendo during roughly the same period (1). This isn’t that surprising considering that Japan acquired the motion picture camera in the late 1890s. Yet, when I did a search for Karate-do and Kobudo, the earliest film I could find was Funakoshi Gichin’s kata demonstration (2) followed closely by the film shot by anthropologist Dr. Yanagi which featured Goju-ryu kata and training methods.

Below I’ve tried to document an example of Karate and Kobudo from each decade starting from the afore mentioned Shotokan and Goju-ryu film examples. If anyone stumbles across earlier film of Karate-do or Kobudo, do let me know. I’d love to see it.

Funakoshi Gichin Shotokan 1930s

Goju-ryu 1940s

Yamaguchi Gogen Goju-ryu 1950s

JKA Shotokan 1950s

1960s Taira Shinken Ryukyu Kobudo

Egami Shigeru Shotokai 1970s ?


(1)Thanks to Joseph Svinth who pointed this resource and other resources out on the Facebook group Martial Arts Studies.

(2) Although the film is labelled as 1924, it most likely was shot a decade later in 1934.