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Karate is the Japanese phrase meaning 'empty hand' and is a martial art of self-defence. It uses attacks of the hands and feet, accompanied by special breathing and shouts, usually to vital parts of the body. However, karate is not used solely for the purpose of self-defence - it also motivates a strong sense of self-discipline and increases confidence.

Karate's Origins

Karate developed in Japan and its name came about as late as the 1930s. However, the style and technique of karate originates from the Chinese art of Shaolin Boxing, or Kung Fu. During the 1500s, this Chinese art was developed into the 'Tang Hand' on the Japanese island of Okinawa, so that the inhabitants could defend themselves against armed Japanese attackers. This Tang Hand was introduced to Japan by Funakoshi Gichin who gave it the modern-day name of 'Karate'. The style he practised became known as Shotokan, one of the most widely practiced styles there is. Other styles are Kyukushinkai, Gojo-ryu, Shito-ryu and Wado-ryo.

The Karate Method

Karate is similar to other martial arts, but stresses more the need for striking with lethal kicks and punches, rather than grappling and throwing, such as in Judo. At higher levels of karate, much attention is given to knowing the most vulnerable parts of the human body. Such areas can be attacked using hands, elbows, knees or feet. In actual fighting, as opposed to in competition, a correctly applied blow using any of these can be fatal. Many techniques are employed to toughen the hands of a karate trainee, or Karateke. Such exercises involve driving the hands into containers of sand, rice or gravel. All punches use the first two knuckles, as this keeps the arms and wrist straight, increasing the strength of the blow.

Along with the blows and kicks themselves is another element that karate employs called 'Kime'. This means 'focus of power'. This focus accompanies the crucial moment of nearly all karate moves. As the move is near execution - near the last inch of a punch - the Karateke tenses/focuses all their muscles in their body, from their fists, along their arms to their chest, their stomach, legs, buttocks, everything. This is so when the move connects, it has the attacker's entire body force behind it.

Karate stresses the need for extreme muscular control and focus in all its moves, but also extreme relaxation. The focus lasts only for around one percent of the entire move, the importance being that the trainee is relaxed and nimble the rest of the time. Otherwise, if tense, movement becomes hard and jerky, and the Karateke loses the speed of his/her attacks. Another key feature that accompanies moves is what is called a 'Kiai'. This means 'spirit shout'. This is a loud shout that accompanies and helps focus key movements, perhaps at the end of a long combination of moves, or in actual fighting, accompanying a final or lethal move.

The Belt System

The colouring of belts in order changes from school to school. The general outline goes as follows:

  1. White
  2. Green
  3. Purple
  4. Brown
  5. Black

In between white and green there may be orange, red and yellow. Some schools have more than two grades of purple - by using stripes in the belt - as well as a brown belt.

Some Basic Karate Terms

The language of Karate is chiefly Japanese. Here are some words that you could use to sound clever or even knowledgeable:

Age Ukea-gey-u-keUpward Block
Soto Ukeso-to-wu-keOutside Block
Uchi Ukeooch-ee-yu-keInside block
Gedan Baraiged-dan bar-eyeDownward Block
Yoko geri keageyo-ko geri kee-ya-geySide snap kick
Yoko geri kekomiyo-ko geri kek-o-meeSide thrust kick
Mawashi gerimoh-wash-ee geriRoundhouse kick
Mae gerimy geriFront kick
Ushiro gerioosh-ee-ro geriBackward kick
Dojodoh-joeA karate classroom
GigeeThe name given to the training costume worn by a karateke.
Kiaikee-ayeLoud shout/cry, 'spirit shout'
Kumekoo-mayFocus of power
Senseisen-sayThe name given to the teacher of a Dojo
Yudanshayou-dan-shaA black belt holder
1This term cannot be properly translated into any language from Japanese.

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