Japanese Name
Japanese 空手道
Kana spelling からてどう
Modified Hepburn Karatedō
Kunrei-shiki Karated
Nihon-shiki Karatedō
Missing image

Karate or karate-do (空手道) is a martial art of Okinawan origin. Rather than being the product of any one person, culture or era, karate is a synthesis of various Okinawan fighting methods, enhanced intermittently with various forms of Chinese kung fu. In modernity, it is categorized by some as budo, introduced to the Japanese main islands from Okinawa in 1921 by various Okinawan practitioners who migrated to Japan during the early 20th century.

Karate emphasizes striking techniques, such as punching and kicking, knee/elbow strikes and open hand techniques. However, grappling, joint manipulations, locks, restraints, throwing and vital point striking are inherent in the finer points of the kata. Simple punching and kicking is too one dimensional to be called true karate.

In general, karate training is divided into three major areas, kihon, kata and kumite. Kihon (基本) is the study of the fundamental moves, the basic components, required to perform the art. Kata (型) means 'form' and is a series of movements and techniques, linked together by the principles that the kata expresses, represented as a fixed sequence of moves against imagined opponents. Kumite (組手) means 'sparring' and develops from well-defined kata to open sparring.

It is important to remember that the kihon/kata/kumite division of curriculum is by no means a complete representation of the sum of the art, nor is it the most 'traditional' approach. There are many different expressions of karate technique found in different styles, teachers and cultures, and none may be regarded as inferior or superior without a thorough experiential knowledge of the art.



Originally, karate was written as 唐手 ("Tang hand" from the Chinese Tang dynasty or by extension, "Chinese hand") reflecting the Chinese influence on the style. The current way of writing the characters means "empty hand" and karate-do thus means "the way of the empty hand." The name can be interpreted literally, or as a philosophical reference to the concept of the Void (Tao). Karate is a mixture of indigenous Okinawan fighting arts, and empty handed Chinese fighting arts, brought to Okinawa by political envoys, merchants and sailors from Fujian Province. The Okinawans called the discipline "te", or hand, or chinese hand. There were no particular styles, but a network of practitioners with their own individual methods and eclectic traditions. By locality, early styles of karate can be generalized as Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te, named after the three cities in which they were formed. Each city (and teachers who lived in them) had particular techniques and principles which distinguished its local karate from the others.

In 1820, Sokon Matsumura blended two styles of te (Shuri-te and Tomari-te) into "Shaolin" (Chinese 少林) or "Shorin-Ryu" (in Japanese) or "Forest Style" (English). Styles per se did not exist, rather, karate was known by the local practicioners' particular flavor.

Gichin Funakoshi, a student of Anko Itosu, is generally credited with having introduced and popularized karate on the main islands of Japan. In some circles, he is referred to as the "Father of Modern Karate." This is accurate from the perspective that he worked specifically to introduce modernizations into karate, akin to those employed by Judo's Jigoro Kano and Aikido's Ueshiba Morihei. However, there were many other Okinawan karate men living and teaching in Japan during this time period. Funakoshi's peers included such notable figures as Kenwa Mabuni, Miyagi Chojun, Choshin Chibana, Motobu Choki, Kyan Chotoku, Kentsu Yabu and several others. Funakoshi's karate came from Anko Itosu's interpretation of Matsumura Shorin-ryu, which is commonly called Shorei-ryu. He was responsible for changing the kanji used for writing the name of the art; he did this to get karate accepted by the Japanese budo organisation Dai Nippon Butokukai. Like most martial arts practiced in Japan, karate made its transition from -jutsu to -do around the beginning of the 20th century. The "do" in "karate-do", sets it apart from karate "jutsu", much as aikido is distinguished from aikijutsu, judo from jujutsu and so on. The "do" suffix also implies that karatedo is a path to self knowledge, not just a study of the technical aspects of fighting. Finally, the name change also served to familiarize a foreign tradition during a time of fervent Japanese nationalism. Japan was occupying China at the time, and Funakoshi knew that the art of Tang/China hand would not be accepted, thus, the change to 'way of the empty hand.' This decision was confirmed at the so-called "Meeting of the Masters" in October of 1936, which included Chojun Miyagi, Chomo Hanashiro, Kentsu Yabu, Chotoku Kyan, Genwa Nakasone, Choshin Chibana, Choryo Maeshiro and Shinpan Shiroma.

The modernization and systemization of karate in Japan also included the adoption of the ubiquitous white uniform, the dogi or keikogi - mostly called just gi (pronounced 'ghee') - and colored belt ranks. Both of these innovations were originated and popularized by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, one of the men Funakoshi consulted in his efforts to 'modernize' karate. Ranking systems and their values differ greatly from organization to organization, which sometimes leads to confusion when trying to determine a relative standard for karate training and credibility. Photos of early Okinawan practitioners show the masters in the street clothes of the day, or sometimes in briefs. A student trained under a teacher for years, without any sort of tangible advancement. Many modern (Western) practicioners elect to leave ranks or the formailty of a gi out of their training practices, citing the tendency of students to focus too much on rank, instead of the art itself.

As it was adopted into modern Japanese culture, karate was imbued with some elements of the native gendai budo traditions. Classes often begin and end with brief periods of sitting meditation. Also, the repetition of precise, dynamic movements, as in kata, is considered by some to be consistent with zen meditation in its aims to maximize a student's composure, awareness, and physical presence (speed and power), while under stress. It is often referred to as a form of "moving zen." Karate teachers differ greatly in the way they acknowledge - if at all - the zen influence in karate-do. However, zen does offer an avenue for self reflection, which is necessary to keep learners balanced as they learn an art which is, at its core, concerned with the study of violence.

Following its introduction and popularization in Japan, karate was introduced into high schools before World War II. It was seen as an asset for building strong, able young men who would be serving their country soon. Many universities initiated karate club programs, which bred a notoriously violent and competitive setting. In such clubs, seniors brutalized the junior students, in some cases inflictied vicious beatings as a final 'rite' for those who chose to leave. Many of the distinguishing traits of "traditional" karate thought by Westerners to be "traditional" originiate from these clubs. The much misused catch all phrase of "Osu!" used in many dojos came directly from the club at Takushoku university. The word has no meaning or signifigance within karate itself.


Within karate there are presently a multitude of different styles or schools. These include:Shobayashi, Kobayashi-ryu, Matsubayashi-ryu, Matsumura Seito, Matsumura Motobu, Chito-ryu, Shorinji-ryu, Shorei-ryu, Shotokan, Shotokai, Goju-ryu ("hard-soft way"), Kyokushin ("ultimate truth"). Other mainstream styles include Shorinjiryu, Seido, Wado-ryu ("way of peace"), Uechi Ryu, Shito-ryu, Shudokan, Bushido Goju-Ryu, Genseiryu and Isshin-ryu (there are at least 3 different styles of isshinryu). Some organizations offer hybrids of karate styles such as the JIKC style.

Styles like Shotokan, Goju-ryu, Wado-ryu and Shito-ryu are labelled as 'traditional' because they were founded at or before the turn of the 20th century. Full contact karate includes Kyokushin-kaikan which was founded by Masutatsu Oyama and other offshoots of Kyokushin, so-called because emphasis in matches is placed on the amount of damage done rather than the quality of technique displayed (although this is also important). Most full contact karate styles or organizations have developed from Kyokushin karate.

There is great variance in the outer forms and principles among styles. For example, Shotokan karate is characterised by deep, long stances and rigid, powerful movements. At the other end of the spectrum, Wado Ryu prefers quick and subtle body movements (known as 'tai sabaki') to evade attacks and provide swift counter attacks. It is important to remember that karate is a physical representation of certain principles or techniques found to be useful in fighting. Although the representations may differ from style to style, the concepts themselves remain universal.

Karate as a sport

Since its introduction to Japan, karate has been adapted for practice as a competitive sport, although unlike other martial arts such as taekwondo or judo it does not possess Olympic status; there is no head organisation for Karate as whole and no uniform rules among all styles. Competition can be in either kumite or kata or kubudo; competitors may enter either as individuals or as part of a team.

In kata, points are awarded by five seated judges, according to the quality of the performance, in a manner analogous to gymnastics or ice skating tournaments. A good kata performance must perform all the movements correctly but also show a personal interpretation of the movements through one's variation in speed. When kata is performed as a team (usually of three), it is also important to match the timing of techniques as closely as possible.

In kumite there are two fighters paired in a timed fight, usually ranging from two to five minutes. Scores are awarded either by technique or hit location. Allowed techniques and hitting locations vary from style to style. Further, kumite can be either half-contact (as in Shotokan) or full contact (as in Kyokushinkai).

In the United States, karate tournaments are a popular part of the sport, ranging in size from small local gatherings to national events. They are typically divided into classes by skill, age and event type ( for example kata, kumite and weapons-kata), and have rules depending on location and the chief style(s) involved.

Karate in the West

Karate, like jujutsu, judo, aikido, and the koryu, came to America and then to the rest of the world through two primary paths: Japanese immigration to the United States, where it stayed largely inside the Japanese American community, although to a lesser degree in Hawaii; and by specialized study by members of the police and the military. It would be accurate to say that the biggest boost to the popularization of karate in America came with the American military occupation of Japan and Okinawa after World War II; once American soldiers had assimilated the discipline, they returned to the States and began to disseminate it.

The rise in popularity of kung fu movies among the public propelled karate and the other martial arts into a newfound popularity, but at a cost. The sudden swell in interest also brought with it a considerable amount of misinformation, misconceptions, and outright con artistry, to karate. Although legitimate teachers (Okinawa, Japan and the West) have helped to expand the knowledge and practice of the art, they are becoming increasingly hard to find among the crowd of 'commercial' dojos which teach watered down, misunderstood approaches to the art, usually under the auspices of "Grandmaster (insert name here)." It is not uncommon to encounter schools which offer contracts that guarantee a certain belt rank after a certain number of hours of attendance or fees paid. Refer to McDojo.

Many "freestyle" schools in the West (particularly the USA) sell a highly compromised interpretation of the art, and should not be regarded as emblematic of karate. The freestyle approach is oriented heavily towards sport competition, which includes point fighting and demonstration of forms (aka, kata) for entertainment value. Martial practicality is eschewed in favor of gymnastic and musical fashion. As a result of this competitive emphasis sparring is the most prominently featured aspect of many schools.With the removal of practical techniques and the prominence of high and vulnerable kicks, American freestyle karate has essentially been rendered into a bastardization of karate and sport style tae kwon do. The ineffectual hand techniques and high, rapid kicking constitute a limited skill base which is potentially finite and very predictable. When the "forms" practiced are compared to the self defense techniques taught in these schools it becomes obvious that the two have little or no relation to each other.

See also

Notable Practicioners

External links


Study & Research
Karate-Do.net - International Traditional Karate Webzine (http://www.karate-do.net)


Wado Ryu (International Federation of Wado Ryu Karate-Do Organisations) (http://www.wado-ryu.jp/home1/home1.htm)
JKA PAKISTAN  (http://www.jkapak.netfirms.com)
Mushindo UK (http://www.mushindo-kempo.org.uk)
Shito-ryu Shukokai Karate Union (http://www.shukokaiunion.com)
Shito-ryu Shukokai Karate Union Europe (http://www.shukokai-europe.org)
Shito-ryu Shukokai Karate Union Greece (http://www.shukokai-greece.org)
KDS Karate-Do Shotokai (http://www.karatedoshotokai.com)
SKV (http://www.karate.ch/core/index.htm)
SKR (http://www.jka-karate.ch/index.htm)
SKO (http://www.ifk-schweiz.ch/ifk/index.html)
DKV (http://www.karate-dkv.de) Kempo (http://www.hatamoto.de)
DJKB (http://www.deutscher-jka-karate-bund.de/)
DTKV (http://www.dtkv.de)
DKO (http://www.kyokushin.de/)
KB (http://www.karate-austria.at/)
SKI (http://www.karate.at/skioe/kanazawa_hirokazu.html)
Norway JKA (http://www.norwayjka.no/)
South Africa (http://www.karate.co.za/)
IKO Iran (http://www.kyokushincanada.com/iko3/IranKyokushin_IKO3.htm)
Uechi-Ryu Patagonien (http://cablemodem.fibertel.com.ar/diegokarate/)
Karate4arab (http://www.karate4arab.com/)
Israel Shotokan (http://www.karate.org.il/eng/eng_index.html)
Shorin Ryu Israel (http://www.geocities.com/senseijs/)
KWF South Africa (http://www.karatenomichi.co.za/index.php)
Pacific Shotokan (http://www.psk-iskf-jka.org/)
Nepal Kwanmukan (http://www.nkkda.org.np/)
Russian ryu (http://karate.tomsk.ru/English/prez_1.html)
Seido Juku (http://www.seidojuku.com/)
wado TW (http://www.wado.idv.tw/)
ISKF TW (http://www.skif.org.tw/hotnews.htm)
Goju-ryu HK (http://www.geocities.com/Pipeline/9776/home_eng.htm)

FBSKUI British Shotokan (http://www.fbskui-karate.org/)
Karate Union of Great Britain (shotokan) (http://www.kugb.org/)
Scottish Karate Governing Body (http://www.scottishkarateboard.org.uk/)

Scottish Karate Association (Shitoryu / Shukokai and Shotokan) (http://www.scottishkarateassociation.co.uk/)

ABSP Portugal Budokai Shotokai Association (http://absp.homeip.net/)
SanShin-Kan\Israel (http://www.sanshin-kan.com/)
Go-Kan-Ryu Karate (http://www.gkrkarate.com/)
United States Karate-Do Kai (http://www.uskk.org/)
United States Karate-Do Kai (Europe) (http://www.uskke.org/)
Ohtsuka Amateur Karate Foundation (http://www.akfkarate.com/)
Traditional Karate Research Institute (http://www.tkri.org/)

Honbu Dojos
Association Country Chief Instructor
Shinseidokan (http://www.shinseidokan.com/) Australia Kyoshi Mike Clarke (http://www.shinseidokan.com/)
Japan Karate Association JKA (http://www.jka.or.jp/) Japan Sugiura (http://www.jka.or.jp/english/e_perso3.htm)
Shotokan Karate-Do International Federation (http://www.skif.jp/), Japan Kanazawa (http://www.karate-dojo-vulkaneifel.de/kanazawa.html)
Wado Ryu (http://www.wado-ryu.jp/home1/home1.htm) JAPAN

Hironori Ohtsuka II (http://www.wado-ryu.jp/home1/home1.htm)

International Karate Organisation IKO (http://www.ikohonbu.com/), Japan Matsui (http://www.kyokushin-rheinmain.de/kancho.php)
International Shotokan Karate Federation (http://www.iskf.com/), USA Teruyuki Okazaki (http://www.fortunecity.com/olympia/baylor/285/okazaki.html)
International Traditional Karate Federation (http://www.itkf.org/), American Amateur Karate Federation (http://www.aakf.org/), USA Hidetaka Nishiyama (http://www.karatevid.com/article-nishNat.htm)
Shotokai-Karate (http://www.shotokai.com/) Japan/USA/Brazil Hironishi (http://www.shotokai.com/ingles/index.html)
Shotokan of America SKA (http://www.ska.org/) USA Ohshima (http://www.shotokai.com/ingles/index.html)
Karatenomichi (http://www.kwf.jp/e/f-sh.html) Japan Yahara (http://www.kwf.jp/e/f-sh.html)
Deutscher Karate Verband (http://www.karate-dkv.de/) Germany Karamitsos (http://www.geocities.com/karate_swo/karamitsos.html)
Associao Budokai Shotokai de Portugal (http://absp.homeip.net/) Portugal Antnio Cunha (http://absp.homeip.net)
DJKB (http://www.deutscher-jka-karate-bund.de/) Deutschland Hideo Ochi (http://www.karate-ochi.de/)
World Seido Karate Organization (http://www.seido.com/) USA Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura (http://www.seido.com/do/kaicho/)
United States Karate-Do Kai (http://www.uskk.org/) USA Hanshi Phillip Koeppel (http://www.uskk.org/hombu/history.html)


bg:Карате bs:Karate ca:Karate cs:Karate da:Karate de:Karate es:Karate fr:Karat ia:Karate it:Karate he:קראטה hu:Karate nl:Karate ja:空手道 no:Karate pl:Karate pt:Carat ro:Karate sl:Karate fi:Karate sv:Karate zh:空手道


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