Hard style karate was developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Okinawa by bodyguards to the Shō royal family. Shuri-te was the form perfected in the Okinawan capital and is the precursor to modern Shotokan Karate. It drew from Chinese White-Crane styles as well as local, traditional martial arts.
The Okinawan king was a figurehead controlled by Japanese Satsuma lords, placed there to keep and eye on the Sho family.
The use of weapons by Okinawans was banned so the king’s protectors had to have a way of fighting armed opponents with their bare hands.
The bodyguards tailored shuri-te style to be as damaging as possible in a short space of time, and to be effective at fighting multiple enemies.
The karate we practice today is still applicable to defending a person standing at your back. Even the dojo we train in is an approximation of the palace throne room.
Early shuri-te master’s life spans far exceed even the Japanese emperors at the time. The apparent health benefits lead to the martial art eventually being adopted into the school system in Okinawa and later in Japan.
Master Gichin Funakoshi was responsible for taking karate out of the secretive Okinawan halls and into the wider world.