Karate was developed in Okinawa, an island between China and Japan which was ruled by China at the time, but now is part of the country of Japan.
Karate was developed from Kung Fu and Kempo (Chinese Boxing) by the Okinawan farmers in order to fight the Chinese occupiers, and later the Japanese aggressors. As such, Karate was designed to be swift and violent, quickly dispensing of an enemy using foot and hand strikes and not getting involved in grappling, though the opponent may be held on to for a short amount of time in order to prevent them from dodging an attack.
Karate did not take on a spiritual side until the 20th century with the development of Karate-do in which students study Karate as a means of self-improvement. (The beginner should note that most training centres practice Karate-do but simply go by the name "Karate") Karate is fragmented into many different forms or schools, and although many of these forms only differ very slightly from one another, some do differ in significant ways, such as the use of circular blocks (which sweep the attacking limb out of the way) or linear blocks (which meet the attacking limb directly with the intent of damaging it). Thus, the beginner should make sure to ask questions about any specific aspect of martial arts which is important to them when choosing a training centre.
Qwan Ki Do - A Vietnamese style which relies primarily on striking techniques, but is more acrobatic than Karate
Though Kempo is often categorised as a style of Karate, in its original form it is a style of Kung Fu, being practised at the Shaolin Temple as early as the seventh century.
Its common association with Karate stems from the fact that Kempo was brought to the island of Okinawa in the 16th century and was therefore very influential in the creation of Okinawa-te, which later became Karate.
It is also known as Chinese Boxing because while it utilises swift and powerful hand techniques, the feet are used only for moving the practitioner out of harms way and not for attacking.
Ch'uan Fa (also commonly spelled "Quan Fa") - Mandarin pronunciation of the ideographs which are pronounced "Kempo" in Japanese; it is the same art. Ken Fat - Cantonese pronunciation of the ideographs which are pronounced "Kempo" in Japanese; it is the same art.
I've recently come across a very professionally run Karate club in the North West of England with a very knowledgeable instructor, not only regarding Karate but also regarding sport and Physiology training in general, particularly stretching and flexibility.
The instructors name is Irfan Ansari and his website is