What is Karate?
Karate (translated as ‘empty hand’) is an ancient method of unarmed fighting with a moral warrior code emphasising punching, striking and kicking. It was developed on the Island of Okinawa (now part of Japan) by fusing local fighting skills with techniques from near-by China. It was practised as an art of self-defence by a small elite group who closely guarded their methods, only passing them on to a few trusted students.
But in the early 1900s karate was introduced into Okinawan schools and masters, like the founder of the Shotokan style, Gichin Funakoshi, later took it to mainland Japan where it quickly became established alongside traditional Japanese martial arts such as Judo and Kendo (sword-fighting).
The art spread as a strict, disciplined way of life. Later a new type of sparring was developed to allow safe competitive fighting where blows were pulled short of contact to avoid injury. This new sporting side greatly enhanced karate’s appeal and from the 1950s it spread rapidly around the world as the main Japanese karate organisations sent senior instructors abroad to teach. Millions of men, women and children of all ages and backgrounds now practice Karate and clubs compete in national and international tournaments. But many karate styles like Shotokan still emphasise the traditional moral codes, ways of training and self-defence techniques developed by the masters of past centuries.
What training consists of
Training in traditional Shotokan karate is based around three essential elements:
Kihon (basics), Kata and Kumite (sparring).
Kihon or basics are the building blocks of karate. You learn how to punch, strike and kick; block, avoid or parry attacks and how to put different combinations of all these together. Locks, throws and take-downs are also included. These central techniques are continually drilled until they are second nature, honing and disciplining the body, developing muscle memory. These are continually practiced improving speed, accuracy and reaction timing.
Kata are pattern of movements, lasting from 40 secs to 1 minute, which consist of sequences of combinations. Kata is practiced as a fight between multiple imaginary opponents. It develops a student’s technique through movements, balance and control.
There are 26 different kata in the Shotokan style which are progressively taught to students as they become more experienced. The different fighting skills within the kata are also practiced separately (Bunkai- Application) with an opponent.
Kumite, or sparring, (Fighting). This is developed in stages to allow the students time to develop their speed of attack, distance and timing. It starts with a 5 and 3 controlled step movement. This progresses to one attack and free fighting, which is used in a sporting tournament with set rules and a referee or in a self-defence situation. Students learn the skills and principles through structured exercises using training partners as opponents.
KKE classes are always based around these three essential elements of Kihon, Kata and Kumite and as training progresses the level of complexity and skill taught in each area increases.
A typical training session will nearly always begin with warm up exercises and stretching to get the body ready for training. Body strengthening and breathing exercises are also taught.
Specialist training to prepare for competition fighting or kata performance is offered for those wanting to enter tournaments.
Sessions always begin and end with formal bows of respect. Strict etiquette, behaviour and discipline is always required within the Dojo.
Jewellery should be either removed or taped over in the dojo as it can cause injury.
The instructor is addressed as Sensei.
The belt grading system
Karate uses a system of different coloured belts awarded for the different levels of skill and development attained by students. There is a syllabus with regular exams – or gradings – where students demonstrate their ability in the three essential areas of kihon, kata and kumite.
There are nine different grades from white (beginners) to black belt. However, gaining a black belt is regarded as just having learnt the essentials! There are up to 10 black belt levels. Training at least twice a week is recommended to make steady progress with a black belt taking 3/4 or more years to achieve.
What you get out of Karate
Fitness – Karate training develops a high degree of strength, endurance, flexibility and co-ordination
Confidence – Karate trains the mind as well as the body by improving concentration, discipline, determination and confidence. Students often find karate helps them in other areas of their lives such as work and study
Self-defence – Karate was originally designed as a system of personal self-defence and students learn effective methods to protect themselves if attacked within a strict moral code based on the important philosophy of ‘no first attack’
Competitive sport – Modern sparring allows karate students to use their fighting skills to safely compete against each other. Kata are also performed competitively. There are numerous opportunities to take part in tournaments around the country and even abroad
Social network – A karate club is a ‘family’ where you can make friends and enjoy social occasions. Karate is now a world-wide fraternity and KKE is very much part of this with strong links to clubs around the UK and abroad. Senior instructors, from around the globe including Japan, are invited to teach special courses.