Karate means ‘Empty Hand’ and is sometimes referred to as Karate-do, (The Way of the Empty Hand). Karate was developed in Okinawa where it served as a self-defense for use against thieves and marauders. At the time Karate was not just empty hands – it also included the use of weapons such as the quarter staff and rice flails. From Okinawa, the system was introduced to Japan in the early 1920’s by a school teacher named Gichin Funakoshi. Other Okinawan masters followed him over and introduced their own styles of practice. The Japanese themselves modified some of the Okinawan styles with the result that there are now many different styles throughout the world. The style of Shotokan is by far the largest of these.
Modern-day Karate is almost entirely a blocking and striking system, using high energy kicks, punches, strikes and blocks. Training consists of three parts. The first, being basic technique (Kihon), in which the class forms lines and advances up and down the training hall (Dojo) practicing their fundamental techniques. Secondly, there is formation training (Kata). This is the name given to an extended series of combination techniques that represent symbolic defense against multiple assailants. The third and final part of Karate training is sparring (Kumite). There are many parts to kumite, starting with the basic attacks and defenses leading up to the very advanced. The most advanced form of Kumite is free-fighting (Jiyu-Kumite), and although it is called ‘free’, it still has a strict set of rules that the students must abide by. There is also Competition Karate (Kata and Kumite), but participation in Competition Karate is an optional element.