The history of Karate is full of uncertainty and myths, and dates back over 1000 years, but some popular theories are as follows:
The original founding father is believed to have been a young Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma, who used karate as a method of self-defence whilst traveling from India to China, as his religion prevented him from carrying weapons.
Modern karate similar to that which is practiced today, originated in Japan in the Ryukyu Islands, an area which is now Okinawa. "Karate" is the Japanese word for "empty handed" which was the word used to describe this empty handed (without weapons) style of fighting.
As the island was also regularly invaded by foreign miliatry forces who did not permit the possession of weapons, Okinawans continued practicing their empty-handed fighting discipline, and even learned to use their everyday tools as a kind of weaponry.