Karate(kah-rah tay) Jp. "empty hand", before Funakoshi "China hand." A predominantly unarmed martial art emphasizing the use of various parts of the body as natural weapons in striking, kicking and blocking which developed in Okinawa. Some accounts make the case for a predominantly Japanese origin (or at least development) for jujutsu, Okinawa-te was clearly directly influenced by earlier Chinese martial arts, particularly certain styles associated with the Shaolin temples. This art was taught in secret among the populace of the Ryukyu Islands who often found themselves under occupation and forbidden weapons. Because of the secrecy and also because of the agrarian nature of the culture, very few written records exist which document the early development of karate. By the time of Gichin Funakoshi, founder of Shotokan karate and the first to teach karate publically and to carry it to the mainland of Japan, three somewhat different styles had developed, each associated with one of three major cities in Okinawa: Naha- te, Shuri-te and Shorei-te . These styles differed in various details such as depth of stance, relative emphasis on straight versus circular motion, soft versus hard power and importance assigned to particular kata. Most modern karate styles contain elements of more than one of these seminal styles. Among the natural weapons used in karate are the fist (several variations), fist edge, palm heel, both edges of the hand, the fingertips (several variations), elbow, forearm, instep, heel, the ball of the foot, the edge of the foot, the knee and parts of the head. Although predominantly an unarmed art, karate incorporates the use of various agricultural implements as weapons, such as pitchforks (sai), rice threshers (nunchaku), millwheel handles (tonfa), sickles (kama), sharpened coins (shuriken) and carrying poles (bo).
A variety of training methods are employed in karate, although the emphasis on a particular method may vary from style to style. At the beginning level, basic punches, blocks and kicks are practiced separately, and this practice can be carried on at a more advanced level with the addition of combination drills practiced for speed and/or power.
Another major training method in karate is that of kata or formal exercises. Karate kata are usually demonstrated as solo exercises. They have served as the primary means for encoding teaching over time. The emphasis on solo kata in karate connects in an important way with karate history--when one must practice in secret, one may have to maintain one's skill level without practice partners in a limited space. There are more than 50 kata in the massed karate canon. However, many styles include only a subset of this number. In general, the motions demonstrated in kata tend to be somewhat more exaggerated than their realistic applications; this serves the joint purposes of clearly illustrating the principles of motion involved and overtraining the responses so that approximations under conditions of stress are likely to maintain the essential elements.
Kumite or sparring is of several types. There are three basic catagories practiced by the majority of karate styles: sambon kumite (3 step sparring), ippon kumite (1 step sparring) and jiyu kumite (free sparring). The first two categories are pre-arranged drills. In sambon kumite, a sequence of three alternating identical attacks are blocked and, following the third block, a designated counter-attack is executed. This type of drill is most useful in the early to intermediate levels of training, where it helps build timing, effective defensive movements and poise under attack. One step sparring is a more advanced method where a single attack is blocked and and an appropriate counter-attack is performed. The techniques in one step sparring tend to be more advanced than those in three step sparring. Finally, free sparring allows partners to freely exchange techniques. Although this has become an almost universal element in karate training, it is interesting to note that Funakoshi strongly opposed the practice of jiyu kumite, feeling that it led to an inappropriately competitive spirit and distorted techniques. Jiyu kumite can vary in intensity from a no contact form, in which all strikes are pulled short of contact, through light contact forms on to various full contact forms. Most forms allowing contact either prohibit certain targets, use some form of protectived gear, or both.
Karate training methods include a number of specialized conditioning methods and drills. Traditionally, karateka practiced punching a makiwara or punching board; in some styles this has now been largely replaced by Western style punching bags. Other traditional conditioning methods include practincing finger thrusts into sand, dried beans or gravel, pounding the shins to reduce sensitivity, chopping a straw sheaf and wearing iron geta (high bottomed sandled). Karate incorporates a number of breathing exercises as well.
Finally, some karate styles engage in the practice of tameshiwari or practice breaking, where varying quantities of hard materials-such as boards, bricks and tiles- are broken with strikes or kicks. Traditionally, this has been considered a somewhat ostentatious practice, but it has become such a commonplace of demonstrations to recruit karate students that it is now widely accepted. Some styles even incorporate it into their competition and ranking structure (e.g., the Kyokushinkai).
Yoseikan Budo Home Page