Karate (空手, Karate) or karate-dō (空手道, karate-dō?) is a martial art that developed from a synthesis of indigenous Ryukyuan fighting methods and Chinese kempo. “Karate” originally meant Te, or hand, i.e. Chinese hand, which was later changed to a homonym meaning ’empty hand’ in Japanese. It is known primarily as a striking art, featuring punching, kicking, knee/elbow strikes and open handed techniques. However, grappling, joint manipulations, locks, restraints/traps, throws and vital point striking also appear in karate. A practitioner of karate is called a karateka (空手家).

Originally, karate training did not use a ranking system, however, Gichin Funakoshi (船越 義珍 Funakoshi Gichin, 1868–1957) adopted the idea from judo founder Jigoro Kano using an identical scheme with a very limited set of belt colors.

As karate became more widespread there was a corresponding increase in the variation of rank numbers and belt colors. In traditional schools there are ten ranks of “color belt”, referred to as kyu, and five or more dan or “black belt” ranks, with ten being the most common, or eleven if the rank of probational black belt (shodan-ho) is used. It is common for extensive periods of time to be required to pass before being allowed to test for promotion, and Jyudan is frequently awarded only after a notable karateka has passed away.

  • Shodan-ho
  • Shodan
  • Nidan
  • Sandan
  • Yondan
  • Godan
  • Rokudan
  • Shichidan
  • Hachidan
  • Kyudan
  • Jyudan

4 Major Karate Organizations

  • Wado Ryu Karate
  • Shotokan Karate
  • Goju Ryu Karate
  • Shito Ryu Karate

Other Styles of Karate

  • Kyokushin Karate
  • Shorin Ryu Karate
  • Isshin Ryu Karate

History of Karate

Karate (Japanese: “empty hand”), unarmed-combat system employing kicking, striking, and defensive blocking with arms and legs. Emphasis is on concentration of as much of the body’s power as possible at the point and instant of impact.

Striking surfaces include the hands (particularly the knuckles and the outer edge), the ball of the foot, heel, forearm, knee, and elbow. All are toughened by practice blows against padded surfaces or wood. Pine boards up to several inches in thickness can be broken by the bare hand or foot of an expert. Timing, tactics, and spirit, however, are each considered at least as important as physical toughening.

In sporting karate and sparring (kumite) in training, blows and kicks are stopped short, preferably within an inch of contact. Sporting matches commonly last only three minutes, to a decision, if neither contestant has scored a clean “killing” point in the estimation of the judges. Contests of form (kata) are also held, in which single competitors perform predetermined series of movements simulating defense and counterattack against several opponents.

Performances are scored by a panel of judges, as in gymnastics. Karate evolved in the Orient over a period of centuries, becoming systematized in Okinawa in the 17th century, probably by people forbidden to carry weapons. It was imported into Japan in the 1920s.

Several schools and systems developed, each favouring somewhat different techniques and training methods. Karate, like other Oriental fighting disciplines, stresses mental attitude, rituals of courtesy, costumes, and a complex ranking system (by colour of belt). There is some overlapping of technique with other fighting styles.

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