Kara is the Japanese for empty while te means hand and do translates as the way, or path. So Karate-do is The Way of the Empty Hand. It is a martial art in which the ultimate purpose is not to seek to win, but to work towards perfection of character, self-control and self-discipline by the accumulation of experience through training.
It is also a form of self-defence using all parts of the body which, by hard and systematic training, become effective and powerful weapons. Karate encompasses whole body movements which develop balance, flexibility, co-ordination, speed and power. This is achieved through the constant practice of the basic movements (Kihon) which, due to their variety and complexity, can be considered as a complete art form themselves.
Oriental fighting arts can be traced back over 2,000 years. The Japanese island of Okinawa came in to contact with many of these combat systems, especially those of China. Some of their features were added to a native Okinawan fighting art. In the 1600's the Japanese invaded Okinawa and banned the carrying of weapons, and so the warrior-class secretly trained themselves in unarmed self-defence, using and improving the ancient techniques.
Thus modern Karate is the outcome of centuries of interchange between China, Okinawa and Japan. It only came to be taught openly to the public in the early 1900's. The founder of modern Karate, Gichin Funakoshi from Okinawa, first demonstrated his powers to the Japanese public in 1922 in Tokyo. Funakoshi established his first Dojo in Japan in 1936. The Japan Karate Association (JKA) was created in 1955 with Funakoshi as the Chief Instructor. The name Shotokan is derived from Funakoshi's pen-name, Shoto and the Japanese word for hall, kan.
The Japanese first brought Karate to Europe in the late 1950's. Kanazawa Sensei, 10th Dan, is generally recognised as the greatest Shotokan Karate instructor alive today. Shotokan Karate is the original and most popular style of Karate and differs from other styles by combining swift and dynamic techniques with controlled (non-contact) and powerful strikes.
There is no first attack in Karate. Every Karate move always begins with a defence. Karate is based on respect, discipline, relaxation and calm awareness. An aggressive, emotional attitude is contrary to the philosophical and practical nature of the martial art. Funakoshi said that "The spirit of Karate is lost without courtesy". In Karate one learns the values of kindness, sincerity and self-control.
The students are taught to be bold and gentle, and to have confidence and humility. These contrasting combinations eventually lead to total harmony of body and mind. This is the true aim of Karate.
Karate is the ultimate in unarmed self-defence. It is designed to disable with one move; it has techniques against all forms of attack and has been developed through centuries of harsh experience. Most importantly, it trains the mental and emotional skills of combat, as well as the physical.
Strength and size are not important in Karate - it can be performed well with whatever strength you have, by relying on technique, speed and co-ordination. Karate teaches you how to avoid possible confrontations - it is far better to de-fuse or to avoid a dangerous situation than to confront it.
Karate consists of three aspects: Kata, Kihon (basics) and Kumite (sparring). Kihon involves the systematic training of various blocks, strikes, punches and kicks. Kumite is the application of the techniques learned in Kihon. The sparring is all pre-determined and is non-contact, being carried out with great control.
Kata are formal exercises consisting of pre-determined defensive and offensive movements, performed in a sequence. They are performed by oneself against a series of imaginary attacks by several opponents. The secrets of Karate are hidden in these beautiful compositions of lethal movement.
They are the means by which the fundamental techniques of Karate are transferred to each generation. There are 27 kata in Shotokan - a new kata or series of kata are learnt after each grading.
Karate is for everyone - men, women and children; old or young; fit or not. Every girl or women should know what to do if attacked. Women in the lesson get the same training as the men. Children can benefit from the self-discipline, and the skills acquired will improve their self-confidence and character. The training is non-competitive. Older people have gained their black belts after 60 and have practised the art into their 80's.
Older students receive the same training as younger people, although naturally the instructor will not demand the same level of endurance. Everyone's training is with oneself - the instructor only expects the best that you can achieve; there is no competition with anyone else in the lesson. You can adjust your training to suit your own stamina and abilities, but the harder you train the more you will benefit.
Beginners wear a white belt. The belt colours for all the grades up to 1st kyu are shown overleaf. Training twice a week adults can grade every 3 months and should reach black belt within 4 years. However, thinking always of the next grade is contrary to the true spirit of Karate. In reality, obtaining a black belt is merely the start of one's training, not the culmination.
Karate is one of the most balanced and complete ways of keeping in good physical condition. Karate incorporates the use of the entire body in which legs, hips, spine, shoulders and arms are co-ordinated to develop balance, flexibility, poise, speed, strength and stamina. No other form of training uses as many parts of the body to such an extent. Karate is not seasonal and so one's condition can be maintained throughout the year.
Other forms of training, where exercise for the sake of exercise is done, become a chore after the first enthusiasm passes and are invariably dropped. However, Karate becomes more interesting and rewarding as you progress, without any limit. Even after decades of training, students will still be learning and improving their techniques - this is very rare in any sport.
Karate is a means of developing friendship. At its best it is also a means of gaining self-understanding and self-confidence. It is an art form through which one can express individuality. Karate is also a bridge to other cultures and times, and it establishes a contact with one's mind and body that is rare in Western education.
The true rewards lie in the improvement of mind, body and character. Without this threefold development, mastery of the techniques will be impossible. Great personal effort and mental concentration are needed to learn Karate, but the rewards are enormous.