Karate is a Japanese word meaning “empty hand”. It is a highly scientific art making the most effective use of all the parts of the body for defensive purposes. The ultimate aim of karate is the perfection of character through arduous training and strict disciplining of mind and body.
In the 1920s, Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1955) observed that the art had developed a Japanese/Okinawa character. Thus the Japanese way of writing Karate was more appropriate. Furthermore, he recommended that the art should be labelled Empty Hand since the weapons used by a Karate-ka (a karate practitioner) were his natural weapons, viz., hands, arms, body, legs, feet and brain.
As well as being an excellent means of self-defence, karate is an ideal form of exercise. It develops strength, speed, coordination and alertness, and is renowned for its therapeutic value.
ORIGINS OF KARATE
Unarmed combat reaches back to before recorded history but ancient origins of the art are obscure, often couched in the folklore of a variety of cultures of the world. Various forms of unarmed combat were practised in India and China, in Formosa and Okinawa, an island south of Japan. On Okinawa, empty hand fighting developed in secret for a time, because of the influence of Japanese feudal lords who had conquered the island and prohibited their subjects from carrying weapons. This banning of weapons caused many of the people to begin practising unarmed forms of combat in secret.
Modern karate dates from the time when the late Master Gichin Funakoshi (then the head of the Okinawa Martial Arts Society) was requested by the Education Ministry of Japan in May 1922 to conduct performances of karate in Tokyo. The new art was enthusiastically received and was introduced into a number of universities where it took root and began to flourish.
Because karate was practised secretly in the past, a number of schools or styles developed. Today there are numerous schools in Japan, the most prominent being, The Japan Karate Association (Shotokan), Go-Ju-Ryu, Shito-Ryu and Wado-Ryu. Most of the leading schools have their headquarters in Japan and have branches in other countries.
KARATE AS A SPORT
Tournament karate is a game of reflexes which demand superb timing, speed, technique, strategy, sportsmanship and control. During tournaments, all blows, although focused strongly, should be halted just short of contact. While very exciting to watch, tournament karate is considered by most of the masters as a stepping stone and not an ultimate goal in the development of the karate-ka. Karate has spread rapidly not only among the younger generation as a sport for improving strength but has also become a popular means of exercise for middle-aged men and women to keep fit and trim. An increasing number of karate venues for children have also been established.