NV_What is Karate-Do?

Karate is a scientific and philosophical art of fighting that developed in the Orient over a period of many centuries. The literal translation of the Japanese characters “kara” and “te” is “empty hand”. Karate is an unarmed martial art, but the concept of empty hand includes also the philosophical meaning of rendering oneself empty of selfishness, wickedness, and worldly attachments. The Japanese word “do” means “way” or “path” and implies the practice of a lifestyle aimed at spiritual development.

As a fighting art, karate makes use of every part of the body for self-defense. Attacks are evaded or blocked and countered by punching, striking, kicking, joint twisting, or throwing the opponent in such a way as to neutralize the attack. Karate techniques, applied with full power by an expert, can cause fracture, internal hemorrhage, unconsciousness, or death.

Modern karate has three basic aspects. For some, it is a martial art of self-defense, for others it is a form of physical exercise, and for still others, it is a sport.

As an art of self-defense, karate has a long and established history as an effective means of unarmed combat, incorporating techniques for defense against single, multiple, armed and unarmed opponents. These centuries-old techniques have in recent years been analyzed scientifically and refined for maximum efficiency. Diligent training in these traditional techniques will prepare the modern student of karate both physically and psychologically to defend against any antagonist. As a martial art, karate also trains the mind and spirit of its participants to develop the qualities of character needed to deal with adversity and conflict of any kind.

The use of karate techniques for aggressive or offensive ends is strictly prohibited and philosophically condemned. Karate’s defensive techniques are highly developed, and can involve every part of the body. Though most of these techniques are performed with the hands or arms, the feet and legs are also frequently used, and at more advanced levels blocking may be executed with other parts of the body as well.

Karate is an excellent form of physical exercise and discipline. Karate training works all the major muscle groups and contributes to all aspects of physical fitness. Strength, endurance, flexibility, coordination, balance, and agility are all enhanced by regular training. Mental and physical self-control and alertness are also developed.

Sport Karate is a relatively new phenomenon. Because of the danger of the fully applied Karate techniques, students could not test their prowess against each other without inflicting physical damage. Strength of properly executed techniques was tested by breaking boards and tiles, or in combat itself. In recent decades, training techniques were developed to enable students to practice safely with each other. Contest rules were established to provide karate players with the opportunity to compete against others and test their skills in both sparring (kumite) and forms (kata). Fighting in these competitions is often restricted to advanced students who can perform karate techniques with the skill and self-control needed to avoid harming their opponents.

While Karate can be a satisfying and very exciting sport, as a martial art it aims to develop not only physical prowess, but also the character of its participants. Karate training emphasizes discipline, self-control, respect for others, sincerity, effort, and etiquette. A student who has undertaken dedicated training with a qualified instructor will progress both physically and mentally. By exerting this positive influence on the lives of its participants, Karate can make a significant contribution to society as well.

A striking feature of Karate is the opportunity it provides for all people to participate. There are no restrictions as to age, gender, or level of fitness. Karate programs have been established for the mentally and physically handicapped as well.

One need not even have a partner to practice. In the old days, Karate training was limited to kata—formal exercises that consist of a series of prearranged defensive and offensive techniques, performed in a set sequence against multiple imaginary opponents. Kata training is still a major aspect of Karate. These kata can be practices alone, as can all basic Karate techniques. For sparring, a partner becomes necessary in order to develop timing and distancing, but in the beginning no partner is needed.

If one wishes to practice only to stay fit and train the mind and body, self-training can suffice. A student who seriously wishes to master Karate as a martial art must do so at a proper dojo (training hall), however, with a qualified instructor.

Because one can train without a special training place, equipment, or a partner, Karate offers great flexibility to its participants. Those who are very weak or have special limitations can develop at their own pace. Physical and mental development may be accomplished in a gradual and natural way; the student may even be unaware of the great progress being made.

Great strides in development are made possible through Karate training, but growth takes time. If one practices for six months or a year in any martial art, some physical and spiritual development will occur, but to gain insight into the martial art, mastery of its techniques, and the refinement of the virtues of courage, integrity, humility, and self-control takes ten to twenty years, and frequently a lifetime.

The Japanese word for martial art is “budo”. The character “bu” is written with the character for “stop” inside a character signifying conflict. Thus, “budo” is the way of stopping conflict, both within oneself, and between oneself and others. Karate is a martial art, or budo. The meaning of this should be carefully considered, and the fists should never be used heedlessly. “To win one hundred victories is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.”