Karate may be defined as a weaponless means of defence. It consists of dynamic offensive and defensive techniques using all parts of the body to their maximum advantage. Karate can also be described as a martial art, or fighting method, involving a variety of techniques, including blocks, strikes, evasions, throws, and joint manipulations.
Karate practice is divided into three aspects:
- kihon (basics)
- kata (forms)
- kumite (sparring)
In each category the beginner is given instruction at the most basic level until the techniques become spontaneous to him. As the student progresses technically, he progresses physically and his practice demands greater stamina. At this stage he involves himself with the more intricate and difficult katas and more dynamic forms of kumite. As the student approaches black belt level, technique, stamina, speed and coordination become natural tohim as a result of strong practice. It is at this stage that the serious student discovers that he has only just begun his study of karate. The object of true karate practice is perfection of oneself through the perfection of the art.
“True karate is this: In daily life one’s mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility, and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice.”
Master Gichin Funakoshi
The word karate is a combination of two Japanese characters: kara, meaning empty, and te, meaning hand; thus, karate means “empty hand.” Adding the suffix “-do” (pronounced “doe”), meaning “way,” i.e., karate-do, implies karate as a total way of life that goes well beyond the self-defence applications. In traditional karate-do, we always keep in mind that the true opponent is oneself. Karate as self-defence is one of the most dynamic of all the martial arts. The trained practitioner is able to coordinate his mind and body perfectly, thereby allowing him to unleash tremendous physical power at will. Therefore, it is not the possession of great physical strength that makes a strong practitioner; rather it is the ability to co-ordinate mind over body. Upon developing this ability, even the smallest person finds that he has within himself the power to deliver a devastating blow to any would-be attacker.
The values of karate to modern man are numerous. In our everyday lives we often forget the value of exercise to both our physical and mental health. The practice of karate tones the body, develops coordination, quickens reflexes, and builds stamina.
Also, the serious practice of karate develops composure, a clearer thought process, deeper insight into one’s mental capabilities, and more self-confidence. In this, karate is not an end, but a means to an end. It is an activity in which advancing age is not a hindrance. Rather it encourages proficiency in the keen coordination of mind and body. Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi has said that “Mind and technique become one in true karate.” We strive to make our physical techniques pure expressions of our mind’s intention, and to improve our mind’s focus by understanding the essence of the physical techniques. By polishing our karate practice we are polishing our own spirit or our own mentality. For example, eliminating weak and indecisive movements in our karate helps to eliminate weakness and indecision in our minds.