The Karate

The Karate | Karate History | Karate Origins | The Karate Styles | Karate Goju Ryu | Karate Practice | What’s in Karate Name | Karate in America | Gichin Funakoshi | Tatsuo Shimabuku | Karate Influence | Karate Stances | Return to Our Roots | Karate Shito Ryu | Karate Shotokan Ryu | Karate Wado Ryu | Uechi Ryu Karate

Karate or karatedo, is a martial art developed from indigenous fighting methods from the Ryukyu Islands, Chinese kempo, and classical Japanese martial arts. It is known primarily as a striking art, featuring punching, kicking, knee, elbow strikes, and open-handed techniques, but grappling, joint manipulations, locks, restraints/traps, throws, and vital point striking also appear. A karate practitioner is called a karateka.

The “kara” of Karate-do was also interpreted by Gichin Funakoshi to mean “to purge [oneself] of selfish and evil thoughts, for only with a clear mind and conscience can [the practitioner] understand that knowledge which he receives.” Funakoshi also believed that one should be “inwardly humble and outwardly gentle.” Only through humility could one be open to Karate’s many lessons, by listening and being receptive to criticism.

He considered courtesy of prime importance. He believed that “Karate is properly applied only in those rare situations in which one really must either down another or be downed by him.” To Funakoshi, it was not unusual for a practitioner to use Karate for real perhaps once in a lifetime, as Karate practitioners should “never be easily drawn into a fight.” To him, one strike by an expert could mean either life or death.

Karate Symbol

He who misuses the techniques brings dishonor upon himself. He also believed in conviction, that in “time of grave public crisis, one must have the courage…to face a million and one opponents.” He believed that indecisiveness was a shameful trait.

Some people argue that, due to the generic meaning of “karate” (i.e., “empty hand”), any unarmed combat system or sport could accurately be called karate. This is a controversial argument, complicated by attitudes toward philosophy and competition, questions of lineage and primacy, and questions of nationalism and identity.

Chinese Hand: Karate was originally written as Chinese hand in kanji, but was later changed to a homonym meaning empty hand. The word “karate” was used for some time verbally before it was written.

The first use of the word karate in print is attributed to Anko Itosu, who wrote it with the kanji (Tang Dynasty hand) rather than the present usage of (empty hand). The Tang Dynasty of China ended in AD 907 (centuries before Funakoshi), but the kanji representing it remained in use in Okinawa as a way to refer to China generally. Thus, the writing of “karate” was originally a way of expressing “Chinese hand,” or “martial art from China”.

Actually, no evidence exists linking the use of the character with the origins of karate. In the past, people did not necessarily have specific Chinese characters in mind when they spoke of karate.

Empty Hand: The original use of “Chinese hand,” “Tang hand,” “Chinese fist,” or “Chinese techniques” (depending on interpretation of 唐手) reflects the documented Chinese influence on karate. In 1905, Hanashiro Chomo (1869–1945) began using a homophone of the logogram pronounced “kara” by replacing the character meaning “Tang Dynasty” with the character meaning “empty”.

In 1933, the Okinawan art of karate was recognized as a Japanese martial art by the Japanese Martial Arts Committee known as the “Butoku Kai”. Until 1935, “karate” was written as “唐手” (Chinese hand). But in 1935, the masters of the various styles of Okinawan karate conferred to decide a new name for their art. They decided to call their art “karate” written in Japanese characters as “空手” (empty hand).

The Way and the Hand: Another nominal development is the addition of do (道:どう) to the end of the word karate. Dō is a suffix having numerous meanings, including “road,” “path,” “route,” and in this case, “way.” It is used in many martial arts that survived Japan’s transition from feudal culture to modern times, and implies that these arts are not just fighting techniques but have spiritual elements when pursued as disciplines. In this context, do is usually translated as “the way of,” as in aikido (合気道:あいきどう), judo (柔道:じゅうどう), and kendo (剣道:けんどう). Thus, “karatedo” is more than just “empty hand”; it is “the way of the empty hand”.

Gichin Funakoshi (船越 義珍) said, “There are no contests in karate.” In pre-World War II Okinawa, kumite was not part of karate training. Shigeru Egami relates that, in 1940, some karateka were ousted from their dojo because they adopted sparring after having learned it in Tokyo.

Karate competition has three disciplines: sparring (kumite), empty-handed forms (kata), and weapons forms (kobudō kata). Competitors may enter either as individuals or as part of a team. Evaluation for kata and kobudo is performed by a panel of judges, whereas sparring is judged by a head referee, usually with assistant referees at the side of the sparring area. Sparring matches are typically divided by weight, age, gender, and experience.

International competition is well organized. The World Karate Federation (WKF) is recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as being responsible for karate competition in the Olympic games. The WKF has developed common rules governing all styles. The national WKF organisations coordinate with their respective National Olympic Committees.

Styles of karate differ greatly in their focus or lack thereof on kihon. Kihon may be practiced as “floor exercises”, where the same technique or combination is repeated over and over again as the students move back and forth across the floor. Additionally, kihon may take the form of pre-arranged partner drills, or work with punching and kicking bags/shields/dummies, etc… Some styles have a small set of basic techniques that are practiced consistently every single class. Others might have scores of techniques that are each only practiced every couple of months.