Karate was born in the Okinawan Islands as a form of self-defense, and, means “empty hands”. This was at a time when weapons were banned by the invading Japanese forces. It began as te (hand), a fighting style used by the natives of the Ryukyu Islands, and was later influenced by Chinese Kenpō, introduced through the Chinese families. These Chinese families had settled on Okinawa after trade relationships between China and the islands were established.
From three Okinawan cities with very different societal demands but closely spaced. These three cities were Shuri, Naha, Tomari. The three styles that emerged were:
Collectively, these styles were called Okinawa-te or tode (Chinese hand), and over time, the styles merged slightly to become just two: Shōrin-ryū, developed near Shuri and Tomari, and Shōrei-ryū, near Naha.
The label of te was ultimately lengthened to Karate-jutsu (Chinese hand art) because of increasing Japanese influence. It then changed to karate-do after an Okinawan master altered the meaning of the word kara (also pronounced tode) to mean “empty” rather than “Chinese hand.” karate-do translates into “the way of the empty hand.”
The common beliefs of where Karate started
Very little is known about the origins of Karate before it appeared in Okinawa. One of the legend says that about a thousand years ago it came from India, brought to China by a Buddhist monk called Bodhidharma. As per the legend, Bodhidharma arrived in Shaolinsi, where he taught Zen Buddhism as well – a style of temple boxing based on exercises designs to strengthen the mind and the body. The historical accuracy of this legend is debatable.
What is Karate?
Karate can be described as a martial art or a fighting method that involves a variety of techniques such as blocks, strikes, evasions, throws and joint manipulations. This martial art is divided into three aspects, viz., kihon (basics), kata (forms) and kumite (sparring).
The combination of two kanji (Chinese) characters form the word Karate: kara meaning empty, and, te meaning hand. Thus the word karate means “empty hand”. The suffix “do” is added meaning “the way / path”. This implies that karate is a total way of life going well beyond the self-defense applications. One is supposed to compete and strive to excel against oneself in traditional karate-do.
Karate is a martial art from Japan whose physical aspects seek the development of defensive and counterattacking body movements. Even though mental and moral aspects of karate target the overall improvement of the individual, the traditional themes of this martial art are fighting and self-defense. By persistent effort and discipline this can be facilitated. “You never attack first in karate” is how it can be described in one sentence for karate. This is the maxim of Gichin Funakoshi (1868 – 1957) from Okinawa. He is widely accepted to be the father of modern karate and brought it to Japan in 1922.
Presently there four main styles of karate are there in Japan: Shotokan, Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, and Wado-ryu. The Shotokan style has been considered to be developed by Gichin Funakoshi even though he never described it as a style. The name Shotokan was chosen by Funakoshi after the pen name used by him to sign poems that he wrote in his youth. This name he gave to his dojo. Powerful linear techniques and deep strong stances characterize Shotokan Karate.
Shotokan word, like the word karate, is composed of two different kanji characters: Shoto, which means “pine breeze”, and kan which mean “the place”. Thus Shotokan means the place of Shoto.
Karate as used popularly
Karate – the martial art of Japanese origin deals with attacks through evasive body movements and / or blocking. It also uses counter attacks using kicks, punches and strikes, along with joint locks, restraints and takedowns. The last three mentioned are used to a lesser extent. It has been practiced variously by people in the form of self-defense, fitness regimen and a sport.
Karate as a fitness and health regimen
It develops balance, coordination, aerobic fitness, strength and flexibility as a method of fitness and health regimen. Unlike many other physical activities it also challenges the brain, requiring constant mental alertness and agility.
Karate as a sport
The sporting element allows people of a sporting inclination to test their karate skills against others in a safe and controlled environment. Many championships are held globally.
The international federation of karate like World Karate Federation holds World Karate Championships every two years, across the world. Even continental karate championships are held across different continents of the globe. These championships are held for different categories and age groups.
In Olympics too karate has been included in Tokyo 2020 games.
Three elements of karate
The three elements in which karate is divided are: kihon (basics), kata (forms) and kumite (sparring). These three elements constantly overlap and rely on each other and are not considered separate.
Kihon covers the training of body movements and all the various stances like kicks, blocks, strikes, and punches that are used in kata and kumite. Techniques can be practiced in combinations or individually (to perfect a particular one) to improve agility and fluidity of movement.
Gaining an understanding of how the body moves in order to generate as much power as possible with the minimum effort is one of the key objectives of practicing kihon. The various defensive and offensive techniques that are used kata and kumite have this power then applied to them. The first step towards understanding the opponent’s movements and ultimately controlling them is by understanding how one’s own body works and control it.
Kata are the traditional predetermined forms or patterns of karate. There are 27 kata ranging from beginner to advanced in the Shotokan system. Appropriate to the level of the practitioner, each kata teaches various principles of movement and self-defense. Various exercise for improving breathing, balance and coordination are within the moves of the different kata.
The techniques practiced in kihon and kata that are applied against an opponent belong to kumite (sparring). Appropriate for practitioners of different levels, there are different formats of kumite designed for developing different skills. Everything is predetermined, and, the attacker and defender each know exactly which techniques will be used and when in the most basic and controlled forms (kihon, kumite). Then at the opposite end of the spectrum is jiyu kumite (freestyle sparring). In this the techniques are exchanged freely. This jiyu kumite forms the basis for competition karate.
Some techniques used in karate
Chokes are also called chokeholds or strangleholds. They can cause unconsciousness or death by applying grappling holds to an opponent or attacker’s neck. They are commonly used in combative sports, close-quarters and hand-to-hand combat, law enforcement, martial arts and self-defense.
- Joint locks
In order to break or dislocate bones, injure muscles, tear tendons or rip ligaments, joint locks manipulate wrists, elbows, knees, etc., beyond their normal range of motion. These grappling techniques force an opponent / attacker into a submissive, non-threatening position. They are also used in martial arts such as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Chin na, jujutsu and judo.
Involving the legs, knees, feet or toes the kicks are strikes. Depending on the intention of the practitioner, the power and/or speed, simple kicks, like the front, side, back or roundhouse kick, can generally be performed.
Strikes are meant to cause pain, injury or death to an opponent. They are characterized as a physical hit with any part of the body or an inanimate object. For martial artists, striking usually involves hitting with the legs or arms.
- Throws / Takedowns
In the past, throws were commonly associated with judo and takedowns with wrestling. However, with the spread of martial arts into mainstream America and the rise of mixed martial arts, throws and takedowns have become synonymous with most martial-arts-influenced combative sports like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, jujutsu.
- Weapon techniques
Martial arts weapon techniques are referred to as non-ballistic weapons. Historically, the earliest known weapons were simple clubs (wood, bone, stone). The individuals with clubs discovered they had an advantage over their unarmed adversaries. This led to armed conflicts in which both parties carried weapons.
There are also some other weapons that are being used like nanchaku and swords.