The Zen Buddhist monk Bodhidharma is commonly considered the originator of the martial arts including karate. In the sixth century he travelled across the Himalayan Mountains from India arriving in Honan, province of China. He proceeded to start up a monastery for his disciples to develop and practice their religion.
Eventually Bodhidharma noted that although his disciples were strong mentally, they were weak physically and were always suffering under the attacks of bandits and muggers. Bodhidharma decided to develop a defensive fighting system for his monks to solve this problem. He used the precepts and principles of animals to develop his fighting system, such as the tiger the monkey, the leopard, the crane and the snake.
Bodhidharma also employed various breathing techniques of the animals to better the health of the monks.
As time went on, merchants from Okinawa came to China where they traded silks and spices and met with Bodhidharma and his monks. Eventually they too learned some of the martial arts systems and took the knowledge back to Okinawa. At the time all metal weapons were outlawed in Okinawa. Through a few modifications ordinary farm tools became weapons and the techniques learned from Bodhidharma helped to defend the farmers from the ruthless samurai.
The Japanese were introduced to karate in the early 1920’s and have since developed it to its present state.
In Japanese “HEI WA” translates into “Universal Peace”