What Is Karate?

 

"True karate is this: that in daily life one's mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility, and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice." --Gichin Funakoshi

Karate can also be described as a martial art, or fighting method, involving a variety of techniques, including blocks, strikes, evasions, throws, and joint manipulations. Karate practice is divided into three aspects: kihon (basics), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring). The word karate is a combination of two Japanese characters: kara, meaning empty, and te, meaning hand; thus, karate means "empty hand." Adding the suffix "-do" (pronounced "doe"), meaning "way," i.e., karate-do, implies karate as a total way of life that goes well beyond the self-defense applications. In traditional karate-do, we always keep in mind that the true opponent is oneself.

History of Karate

Karate history can be traced back some 1400 years, to Daruma, founder of Zen Buddhism in Western India. Daruma is said to have introduced Buddhism into China, incorporating spiritual and physical teaching methods that were so demanding that many of his disciples would drop in exhaustion. In order to give them greater strength and endurance, he developed a more progressive training system, which he recorded in a book, Ekkin-Kyo, which can be considered the first book on karate of all time.

The physical training, heavily imbued with Daruma's philosophical principles, was taught in the Shaolin Temple in the year 500 A.D. Shaolin (Shorin) kung-fu, from northern China, was characterized by very colorful, rapid, and dynamic movements; the Shokei school of southern China was known for more powerful and sober techniques. These two kinds of styles found their way to Okinawa, and had their influence on Okinawa's own original fighting method, called Okinawa-te (Okinawan hand) or simply te. A ban on weapons in Okinawa for two long periods in its history is also partly responsible for the high degree of development of unarmed fighting techniques on the island.

In summary, karate in Okinawa developed from the synthesis of two fighting techniques. The first one, used by the inhabitants of Okinawa, was very simple but terribly effective and, above all, very close to reality since it was used throughout many centuries in real combat. The second one, much more elaborate and impregnated with philosophical teachings, was a product of the ancient culture of China. These two origins explain the double character of Karate--extremely violent and efficient but at the same time a strict and austere discipline and philosophy with a nonviolent emphasis.

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