NV_Principles of Karate

The essence of Karate is the merging of the physical, the mental and the spiritual.

The physical principle of Karate is to deliver the greatest possible force, concentrated at the point of impact, with maximum speed.

Karate does not require the same type of muscular strength that is used to lift a heavy weight. The force of a Karate blow is generated by several muscles brought into play in a proper sequence. For instance, the abdominal and pelvic muscles are powerful, but slow, while the muscles of the extremities are fast, but weaker. To gather maximum force, the muscles of the hip and abdomen are activated first; this power is then transferred through the extremities to the point of impact.

The time required to pass this power through the body becomes shorter through constant training. Eventually, the process seems merely a blur.

Speed is of great importance, as is the concentration of power. Even a great amount of strength will accomplish little if it is diffuse. A small amount of strength, properly concentrated on a small area, can be incredibly powerful. In Karate, this concentration is called “focus”. The muscles of the body are tensed, but only at the instant of impact, and power is directed toward the point of contact.

Another important principle of Karate is the use of reaction-force. In physics we learn that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In Karate, we punch or strike with one hand and withdraw the other simultaneously, adding the power of reaction-force to the technique being employed. The rotation of the hips is also employed to add this force to techniques.

Mental attitude is of great importance in Karate practice. The Karate masters applied two phrases to describe the proper attitude: “mizu no kokoru” (a mind like water), and “tsuki no kokoro” (a mind like the moon). To respond to an opponent, the mind has to be as calm as an undisturbed pond, maintaining the properties of clear flowing water. And, just as moonlight shines equally on everything within its range, we must be calmly aware of our environment to be prepared for any possible move by an opponent.

In most of Karate’s defensive techniques, the attacker’s hand, foot, or other weapon is struck, deflected, or in some way thwarted so as to render the attack harmless. A special characteristic of Karate techniques is that they are performed with “focus.” This means that the entire power of the body is concentrated for a very brief time at the point of contact of the technique, and then withdrawn.

Another special characteristic of Karate is that even attacking techniques can be used directly for blocking. The intention of offensive techniques in Karate is to render the attacker either unwilling or unable to continue his aggression. Offensive techniques are never to be used against an opponent whose attacks pose no threat.

As a sport, Karate is divided into two aspects: kata (forms) and kumite (sparring). Kata are formal exercises that consist of a series of prearranged defensive and offensive techniques, performed in a set sequence against multiple imaginary opponents. The kata include all the various techniques used in Karate for punching, striking, blocking, kicking, and body shifting. The proper execution of a kata involves the use of appropriate timing, rhythm, speed, focus, awareness, and spirit, as well as the performance of correct techniques in proper sequence.

Kumite may be prearranged or free-style. In prearranged sparring, the attacker announces the target and the technique to be used, and the defender endeavors to block the attack and counter it. One, three, or five attacks may be made, depending on the type of sparring being practiced. All attacks in both prearranged and free-style kumite are stopped approximately one centimeter—or about one half inch from the target.

Free-style sparring, or Jiyu-kumite, resembles boxing in its action, though with a much greater variety of techniques involving both hands and feet. Attacks are stopped short of contact, for obvious reasons. A fully focused Karate technique could permanently injure, cripple or kill an opponent. The ability to focus a strong technique just short of contact is a test of proficiency for the Karate athlete.

More highly regarded than technical skill in Karate is the development of character, sincerity, discipline, respect for others, and self-control. Students show respect for their instructor and each other by bowing. Students bow upon entering or leaving the dojo, to the teacher at the beginning and end of class, and to each other whenever two students practice together or spar.

Since the beginnings of Karate, the development of virtue has been emphasized. Gichin Funakoshi, the father of modern Karate, said “a true student of Karate is one who will practice daily throughout his lifetime and never find the necessity to use his knowledge in anger against another. The ultimate aim of the art of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”