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The philosophy behind karate is vast and complex. It stems from thousands of years of armed and unarmed combat. Techniques that were perfected hundreds of years ago are still being perfected over and over again by each new generation. Buddhism, Taoism, and the code of Bushido have all played parts in the development of the martial arts philosophy. Karate in its modern form was established around 400 years ago in Japan, with its roots mainly derived from Chinese Kung Fu.

This martial art has its roots in China, but was largely developed in Okinawa, Japan in the 1600’s as a method for self-defence due to weapons being outlawed. Karate can be translated to “empty hand.” There are many styles of Karate from traditional, to modern, western styles known usually as American Freestyle Karate, and Full-Contact Karate (Sport Karate), but many of the basic techniques are the same. Some of the more popular styles are:

  • "Shotokan” is considered the first technique of modern Karate and is one of the most widely used styles today. Practitioners use steady, powerful movements and center themselves in a deep horse stance.
  • "Cha Yon Ryu” is a modern style that incorporates kicking techniques, strong stances, and linear blocks and strikes with very direct movements.
  • "Goju-Ryu” is a style that incorporates Chinese Kempo techniques and incorporates hard linear moves and soft circular moves that combine like yin and yang. Movements are generally slower with a focus on breath.

Training in Karate generally involves four aspects, or fundamentals. These fundamentals are the different forms of movements that make up combinations and techniques practiced in Karate.

  • Kihon (Basic techniques)
  • Kata (Form or pattern)
  • Bunkai (Study of techniques encoded in kata or "kata application")
  • Kumite (Sparring or paired form).

People often confuse different styles of martial arts, and interchange the names of these martial arts. It can be easy to confuse Karate with other martial arts, especially because so many arts employ similar techniques.

  • Karate focuses on striking moves with an emphasis on open-handed techniques. While kicking is involved, the majority of Karate combinations involve the use of punches, knee, and elbow strikes.
  • Other martial arts involve different fighting techniques and the use of weapons. Aikido and Judo are two martial arts that focus on grappling on taking your opponent to the ground. Kung Fu is a Chinese martial art which has various styles that are inspired by animal movements, or by Chinese philosophies, and work to improve muscle and cardiovascular fitness.
  • While several martial arts use a ranking system depicted by a belt or sash, Karate has a specific system of colored belts. White represents the beginner with black representing a master.

Kihon translates to “basic techniques”, and is the foundation on which Karate is built. In kihon, you learn the Karate way of punching, blocking, kicking and movement.

  • Often you will do drills for your Sensei that may seem dull and boring, however, these blocks, punches, and kicks are vital to being able to perform Karate proficiently.
  • The basics include blocks, strikes, kicks, and different stances. Students will practice these basic techniques repeatedly so they become ingrained in the body and mind.

Kata translates to “forms” and builds upon the basic techniques you have learned. With kata, you learn to combine the basic techniques in a flowing movement.

  • Each kata is built around a specific fighting strategy for you to understand and practice against imaginary opponents.
  • "Cha Yon Ryu” is a modern style that incorporates kicking techniques, strong stances, and linear blocks and strikes with very direct movements.
  • Kata is a way for teachers to pass along knowledge of how to use Karate in practice. As a student, you will learn to perform a series of blocks, strikes, throws, movements, and kicks together with kata.

Bunkai translates to “analysis” or “disassembly”, and involves working with others to understand the real world application of a kata.

  • In bunkai, you analyze every movement in a given kata and develop possible applications in real combat situations. Bunkai is a transition step to kumite.
  • The concept of bunkai can be a little hard to understand because it involves you using kata to “fight” and “defend” yourself against an opponent that isn’t there. Think of it like using ballet steps being combined into a single choreographed dance which tells a story.

Kumite means sparring, and allows students to practice the techniques learned in Karat against one another, and oftentimes in tournaments.

  • In kumite, you learn to apply kihon and bunkai in a controlled environment. Kumite is one step closer to real combat, in that two practitioners will attempt to perform moves on each other.
  • Kumite is sometimes performed in turns, or in Du Kumite which is another step towards free fighting with a points system sometimes applied to certain attacks.

Karate punches use a straight punch technique with a twist of the wrist near the point of impact.

  • Always hit with your first two knuckles, and make sure that your elbow is not locked, because you may overextend it and get hurt.
  • Pull the fist that isn't punching back to your waist as you punch. This is called Hikite and if timed correctly, your punch will be stronger and sharper.
  • Incorporate kiai. Kiai is broken down into Ki, meaning energy, and Ai, meaning join. It is the sound you often hear when someone makes an attacking movement such as a punch. The purpose of kiai to release your stored energy, creating a greater impact on you attack.
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