When people hear the term “martial art” they generally think of Karate. One of the most popular martial arts, Karate had its roots in China, developed in Okinawa, and was later brought to Japan by Gichin Funakoshi. Karate originated in Okinawa in the 1600s. It was developed from imported Chinese martial arts skills and refined as an advanced means of self-defense because weapons were outlawed on the island. It was originally called Te, meaning “hand.” Later, masters adopted the name Karate, meaning “empty hand” or “Chinese hand” (depending upon which characters are used to write the word).
The word Karate is formed by two characters, the first one kara (empty) and the other te (hand). Kara may be explained several ways. The first way is that through the practice of karate, self-defense techniques are learned, where no weapons are used, other than hands, feet, or other parts of the body. A second way, as explained by Master Funakoshi, “Just as it is the clear mirror that reflects without distortion, or the quiet valley that echoes a sound, so must one who would study Karate-do purge himself of selfish and evil thoughts, for only with a clear mind and conscience can he [she] understand that which he [she] receives. This is another meaning of the element kara in Karate-do.” Another meaning given by Funakoshi is that of always striving to be inwardly humble and outwardly gentle. Finally, Funakoshi also talks about the elemental form of the universe, which is emptiness (kara, ku), “and thus, emptiness is form itself. The kara of Karate-do has this meaning.” It is clear that Karate is much more than mere self-defense techniques.
Toward the end of the 19th century, Gichin Funakoshi trained with various karate masters, and then devised his own system, which he named Shotokan. He spread the style to the Japanese mainland and eventually to the West. Master Funakoshi, inspired by traditional martial arts from the main Japanese islands (such as Kyudo, Kendo, and Judo) modified Karate, which until that moment could have been called Karate-jutsu (a fighting art), and emphasized its philosophical aspects combining Karate techniques with traditional Budo (the martial way). The word Budo is formed by two Chinese characters. Bu is formed by two symbols, a symbol that means to stop is drawn inside another symbol of two weapons, two crossed halberds. Thus, bu means to stop conflict. As stated before, do means a way or a life philosophy. In Master Funakoshi’s own words: “Since Karate is a Budo, this meaning should be deeply considered, and the fists should not be used heedlessly”.
Today it is common to find both “traditional” and “competitive” styles of karate. Traditional styles being the formal Okinawan styles, and competitive styles being those involved mostly in tournament competition. Karate is based upon powerful linear kicks and punches. It is considered a “hard” martial art since its blocks and attacks are direct and forceful. Many different styles fall under the karate banner. All include hardstyle kicks, punches, and blocks, but some emphasize linear movements, while others emphasize circular movements. In virtually every style, kata (patterns) practice and kumite (sparring) play an important role in training.
Karate is about Self-Defense, NOT a Weapon!