What is Karate?

What is Karate?
The first in a series of articles, we will be covering different styles of Martial Arts to share the differences, from the broad sweeping categories down to some of the different specific styles of each art form.

We start the series with an investigation of KARATE.

For the longest time in the Western world, all Martial Arts was known as Karate, no matter what the style. Even today, if you look in local yellow pages you’ll find all Martial Arts listed under “Karate”. Many schools that teach a variety of Martial Arts styles label the word “Karate” on their doors, however speaking with the instructors reveals other styles being taught.

Most of these misnomers remain for name recognition. While many of the Chinese Martial Arts styles were first to arrive in America during the early 19th century from Chinese railroad workers, these artists kept to themselves and did not share the art with the Western world. It wasn’t until post-World War II that many in the Western world gained open exposure to Martial Arts. Because of the interactions with Japan after World War II, karate became the representation of Martial Arts to the non-Asian world.

The full name: kara-te-do represents three characters in the Japanese script. It can be roughly translated to the Way of the Empty Hand. As in many Martial Arts styles, it traces its roots back to Buddhist monks in China. The blending of the art form from China and the techniques developed locally by the Okinawans formed what is now Karate.

Because of the many weapons bans that have occurred over the Okinawans during their long history, much of karate is practiced with simply the hands. The weapons that are implored tend to be those the Okinawan farmers could find readily in their daily lives.

Karate is not the only art form from Japan. It shares that designation with Jujitsu and Judo, which we will talk about in later articles.

Some common characteristics of Karate are shorter stances with very “hard”, forceful, actions. It is rare in Karate forms to end a movement without a fist of some sort. On many of the moves, you will hear the Martial Artists let out a yell or “keya” as a means to focus their power on a final attack.

Students in Karate will practice basics such as punches, kicks, and stances for many hours. They will also learn short forms known as “kata”, where they attack imaginary opponents in a set pattern. Both help to teach the student how to properly form their attacks as well as combining them into a complete combat sequence.

Schools in Karate are normally called “dojo” and the instructors are “sensei”.

Today there are many styles that are derived from karate. While other forms have begun to see more attention, it is still one of the most popular styles available in the Western world. Styles that are derived from karate are recognizable by their uniforms, or "gi".

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