Karate not always had this meaning of empty hands, this modern phrase started in a meeting of the Okinawan masters sponsored by an Okinawan newspaper, at which the use of the T'ang character in the word Karate was discussed. The ideograph for Kara was altered to erase the Chinese connection for political reasons. So, the character "T'ang" (Kara) was replaced for "Empty" (Kara).
To understand this, we must first review our concept of Karate. Karate appears fearful and destructive to many people. By the same token, movies have contributed to popularising Karate in the wrong way. There are also many people who think that Karate is only a type of calisthenics or, perhaps, even an oriental type of dance. This shows, undeniably, the lack of a proper view of what Karate really is.
Karate is a martial art, for many it is a way of life, and it shares the common goal with Judo, Kendo, Aikido. These arts, also share things like: the tea ceremony, calligraphy, and Japanese flower arranging, to be cultivated through physical and spiritual training. It is also within reason to claim that Karate, as the original martial art, through physical and spiritual training and discipline, makes the impossible become possible, even to the unarmed, and helps one in pursuing the aim of his life. A physical training so strict naturally involves a demanding psychological training as well. Karate is a method of unifying the body and spirit and of making human life at once broader and deeper.
It is generally accepted that the origins of karate are to be found in India (525 A.D.). The credit is given to a Buddhist priest named Daruma Taishi,also known as Bohdidharma, who was the third child of a king and a brilliant student of Zen. Daruma studied the attacking techniques of animals and insects and the forces of nature, and, combining these with a special breathing technique, he created the basis for a legendary system of weaponless fighting and mental concentration. Daruma created in China the Shao-Lin temple in the province of Honan and in that monastery he instructed other monks in his particular style of unarmed combat.
The system developed at the temple gradually disseminated throughout Asia, spreading to Okinawa, Korea and Mongolia. By 1130 A.D., aspects of this system had even been incorporated into the indigenous military disciplines of geographically and culturally isolated Japan.
The Asia fighting arts were historically taught and refined in secrecy, as their practice was routinely prohibited in different regions. Consequently, various regionally and family-based styles and schools evolved, one of these being the Kempo style of Okinawa.
By 1901, Kempo was being taught openly in Okinawa, and in 1921, was demonstrated in Japan by master Gichin Funakoshi. There, under the name of Karate, practical applications of the system were further refined and united with the Zen-based philosophy of the Japanese disciplines. The popularity of karate as both a martial art and a sport spread quickly in Japan and beyond, contributing to the development of diverse systems and schools.