Karate is the Japanese phrase meaning “Empty hand” (Kara -empty + te -hand) and is a martial art of self-defence. It uses attacks of the hands and feet, accompanied by special breathing and shouts (see Karate Method), usually to vital parts of the body. But Karate is not solely for the purpose of self-defence, it motivates a strong sense of self-discipline and increases confidence.
Karate developed in Japan and the its name came about as late as the 1930’s. But the style and technique of Karate originates from the Chinese art of Shaolin Boxing, or Kung Fu. During the 1500’s this Chinese art was developed into the “Tang Hand” on the Japanese island of Okinawa, so that the inhabitants could defend themselves against armed Japanese attackers. This “Tang Hand” was introduced to Japan by Funakoshi Gichin who gave it the modern-day name of “Karate.” The style he practised became known as Shotokan, one of the most widely practised styles there is. Other styles are Kyukushinkai, Gojo-ryu, Shito-ryu and Wado-ryo.
The Karate Method
Karate is similar to other martial arts, but stresses more the need for striking with lethal kicks and punches, rather than grappling and throwing, such as in Judo.
At higher levels of Karate, much attention is given to knowing the most vulnerable parts of the human body. Such areas can be attacked using hands, elbows, knees or feet. In actual fighting (as opposed to in competition) a correctly applied blow using any of these can be fatal.
Many techniques are employed to toughen the hands of a karate trainee, or Karateke. Such exercises involve driving the hands into containers of sand, rice or gravel. Perhaps a less elaborate way, and more easily done, is simply doing press-ups on the first two knuckles of both hands. All punches use the first two knuckles, as this keeps the arms and wrist straight, increasing the strength of the blow.
Along with the blows and kicks themselves is another element that karate employs called "Kime." This means a "focus of power." This focus accompanies the crucial moment of nearly all Karate moves. As the move is near execution, eg the last inch or so of a punch, the Karateke tenses/focuses all their muscles in their body, from their fists, along their arms to their chest, their stomach, legs, buttocks… everything. This means that when the move (for argument's sake, a punch) connects, it has the attacker's entire body force behind it. A simple example is as follows. Hold out your arm straight and ask your friend to move it sideways whilst it is relaxed. He'll probably have no trouble in moving it. Now, tense your arm and your pectoral muscles and stomach, and ask him to do it again. It will be extremely difficult, or impossible.
Karate stresses the need for extreme muscular control and focus in all its moves, but also extreme relaxation. The focus or Kime lasts only for around 1% of the entire move, the importance being that the trainee is relaxed and nimble the rest of the time. Otherwise, if tense, movement becomes hard and jerky, and the Karateke loses the speed of their attacks.
Another key feature that accompanies moves is what is called a Kiai. This means "Spirit shout." This is a loud shout that accompanies and helps focus key movements, perhaps at the end of a long combination of moves, or in actual fighting, accompanying a final or lethal move.
The colouring of belts in order changes from school to school, and even from Dojo to Dojo. The general outline goes:
In between white and green there can be orange, red and yellow. Some schools have more than two grades of purple (eg purple and white, purple and two white stripes) as well as brown.
Some Basic Karate Terms
The language of Karate is chiefly Japanese. Here are some words that you could use to sound clever.
Age Uke (Ageeyuki) Upward Block
Soto Uke (Sotowuki) Outside Block
Uchi Uke (Oocheeyuki) Inside block
Gedan Barai (geddan bereye) Downward Block
Uke (ooki) Block
Yoko geri keage (yoko gerri keeyagee) Side snap kick
Yoko geri kekomi (yoko gerri kakowmee) Side thrust kick
Mawashi geri (mohwasheegerri) Round house kick
Mae geri (my gerri) Front kick
Ushiro geri (oosheerogerri) Backward kick
Geri (gerri) Kick
Dojo (doh-joe) A Karate classroom.
Gi (gee) The name given to the training costume worn by a karateke
Kiai (kee-aye) Loud shout/cry, "spirit shout."
Ki (kee) Spirit/soul/mind/inner-self. The term is not properly translatable into any language from Japanese.
Kume (koomay) Focus of power
Sensei (sensay) The name given to the teacher of a Dojo, or simply someone superior to you.
Yudansha (you-dansha) A black belt holder of any skill (there are many types of black belt)