Karate: An Art and Self-Defence Discipline

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Origin and History

Among the various existing martial arts, karate is the most widely practised. It is said to have been developed in Japan and evolved as a means of self-defence during Okinawa’s occupation by Japan. The Japanese had banned the carrying of weapons and anyone found with a weapon was put to death. The locals had no option but to train their bodies until they became lethal weapons of self-defence.

The roots of self-defence go back in time to India. As history goes, a Buddhist monk, Budidharmi, on his visit to the Shaolin Temple, found his brother monks weak due to which they could not sustain long hours of meditation and prayer without getting distracted or falling asleep. To rectify this, he introduced a combination of empty-hand techniques and yoga, which became known as Shaolin Kungfu. This te (hand) technique was locally known as tang (Chinese hand) and was formally known as Okinawa-te (Okinawa hand).

Gichin Funokoshi (1868-1957) is known as the Father of Modern Karate. He had trained in Okinawa-te and found its training to be hard and lethal, so he improvised it into a gentler system and called it karate. Unlike Okinawa-te, karate focused strikes at skin level. This self-defence art moved from the aim of training like a warrior towards training for sports, physical fitness and spiritual development.

Karate styles

Karate was exported from China, and as it became pan existent, it underwent changes and karate styles came into existence. Karate as an art is an expression of the human body. There are stylistic differences, yet it remains basically the same art (karate). There are more similarities than differences among various styles. A straight-fist punch or straight-front kick does not change with styles or languages. The stylistic differences in the forms of karate are unimportant for students studying karate from a self-defence perspective. For these students “there are no best styles”.

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