Karate: One of the Best Martial Arts in The World

The History of Karate, the Origins of An Ancient Martial Art

While this style of fighting is largely associated with Japan, its roots can be traced back to the Chinese, Indian, and Tibetan priests, over 1,400 years ago to Daruma, who is the founder of Zen Buddhism. The Zen Buddhist founder travelled all the way from India to China, teaching Buddhism to his followers while teaching them techniques that he developed in order to strengthen both the mind and the body. These techniques were deemed to be the foundations of basic Karate. When he traveled to China, he taught the monks at the Shaolin temple, where the technique became known as Shaolin boxing. From China, the art crossed over into Okinawa Japan, by Master Mabuni and Funakoshi. In Japan, the style became known as “Okinawa Te”. It is this refined self-defense system that was taught and eventually perpetuated by many Japanese servicemen stationed around the world. 

Karate is a Japanese word that can be divided into the words “Kara”, a term meaning “empty”, and “te” meaning “hand”. The system is a combination of attack and defense using the hands, feet, elbows, fingers, i.e., all parts of the body in order to practice movements which can be used to defend oneself. The movements have been said to be specifically calculated to be optimal for the human body to achieve. In this ancient art, it is often not the size and strength of the opponent that wins matches, but rather, speed and knowledge of the movements. 

When practicing karate, students are to wear a white karategi, a piece of lightweight loose cloth consisting of a jacket, pants, and a belt which is called an obi. The obi is a thick cloth type of belt which is worn around the waist and tied with a square not. The Obi colors differ depending on the skill level of the karate practitioner. In certain traditional dojos, black belters or higher skilled practitioners wear a traditional Japanese clothing called the Hakama which are skirt-like pleated pants instead of the white karategi.

The Types of Karate: Exploring the Different Forms of the Sport

The Okinawa-te became a form of fighting especially in the underground development of fighting styles since the general population was not allowed to bring their own weapons around during the Okinawa period. There are three unique styles, i.e., the Shuri-te, Naha-te, and the Tomari-te which were all named after the cities where these styles were practiced. The art of karate amassed huge popularity with university students when Gichin Funakochi demonstrated it in Japan in 1917. Modern masters in Karate, Nakayama, Obata, Noguchi, and Watanabe were introduced to Karate here in the college and university set-up. When Funakochi died, his students named the style of karate they practiced as “Shotokan”, after “Shoto” the name Funakochi used to sign his poems during his younger days. Today Shotokan Karate is one of the most practiced styles of Karate around the world. 

Rules in Karate: What you Need to Know Before Starting

To win in a Karate match, you must defeat your opponent using punches, kicks, and throws that will score points. The competitor with the most points wins the match. Competitors are usually placed according to their weight and age and are required to wear the traditional Karate suit called “gi”, and wear either a blue or a red belt in order to distinguish the two competitors from each other, rather than wearing their respective belts signifying their ranks. They also wear gum shields, body protection, shin pads, and foot protectors. Scoring is limited to striking the head, face, neck chest, abdomen, side, and back, and is awarded especially when a fighter’s attack lands using good form, timing, accurate distance, excellent application, awareness, and a magnanimous sporting attitude. More points are awarded to jodan kicks, which are kicks delivered to the upper level part of the body (Ippon 3 points). Three points are also awarded if a technique is performed on a fallen or thrown competitor. Waza-ari or two points is awarded for chudan or mid level body kicks, and Yuko or one point is awarded for Chudan or Jodan Tsuki or mid or upper level punches. One can win the match by having more points at the end of a fight, by leading by 8 points, if your competitor is disqualified or if your opponent is unable to carry on in your fight.  

Understanding the Karate Belt Colors Ranking System

The dan is the term used by Japanese dojos to describe the level of one’s expertise with a particul subject. In Karate, this is manifested by the form of colored belts. Although beginners in most martial arts usually begin with a white belt, progressing to the last level of  black, the ranking system used in the art of Karate usually varies among dojos, schools, and styles. The colors typically grow darker as one advances through the ranks and typically have ten ranks in between. 

In a general order however, the belt colors rank as follows:

Belt colors and ranking in order:

  • White
  • Yellow (some schools use a White 1st degree instead)
  • Orange (some use a White 2nd degree)
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Purple (some schools use a blue and red mix instead)
  • Red
  • Brown
  • Brown 1st degree
  • Black 1st degree (A black 1st degree belter usually has to wait for one year before he or she is allowed to test for 2nd degree.)
  • Black 2nd degree (A black 2nd degree belter can run a school recognized by ITF)
  • Black 3rd degree
  • Black 4th degree
  • Black 5th degree
  • Black 6th degree (A Black 6th degree belter requires a minimum of 20 years in training)
  • Black 7th degree
  • Black 8th degree
  • Black 9th degree
  • Black 10th degree, (A black 10th degree black belter is called a Grand Master. A grand master must have practiced the martial art for more than 40 years in order to be awarded with the title.

Understanding the Purpose of Karate Kata

Translated into English, the Japanese word “Kata” literally means form. It is a series of movements which are choreographed in a very specific order and sequence. This can be practiced by either an individual or by a team. Usual Karate styles use beginner kata, intermediate kata, and advanced kata. It’s purpose is to teach the Karate student or practitioner the proper form and position. Throughout each position, each student is poised to visualize different scenarios in which one must use that particular motion and technique. There are many various kata which are used around Japan such as Ananku, Annan, Chinte, Happiken, Jitte, Fukyugata, Kanku, and many more which are capable of teaching deadly techniques not for appropriate use in competition. It teaches techniques such as standing joint locks, vital point striking, balance, weight distribution, and body control, which is where the practice of stance is applied. What unifies them all, however, is the original purpose of passing on techniques from one generation of practitioners to another while trying to keep these techniques a secret. This is why it is said kata techniques require a form of interpretation which they call “bunkai”. When training, one must always think about how these techniques can be used in actual scenarios, not in a mindless performance. It is here where one is actually does the practice of “training”.

Learning About What Goes on in Karate Games

There are different types of games in Karate, and it is usually varied by different naming usages. “Open” or “All styles” are events that are available to any who wish to enter with some degree of condition such as not allowing too experienced competitors. “Meets” or “Open Mat Day” have no medals or competition formats, rather, it is an informal event that is held in order for people to spar with others so that they may gain experience. “Smoker matches”, “Intraclub”, and “Interclub” games are a notch more formal, in the sense that opponents may be selected for you ahead of time. Similar to meets, these games do not award medals or trophies; instead, these are arranged by coaches to expose their students to competition before exposing them in front of a crowd type of event. The tournament format is a game format where fighters compete with one another in order to move forward to the next round. Some events do round robins, otherwise, losing fighters are eliminated from the tournament, save for the last two fighters who fight in the semi final round and fight for repechage for 3rd place. 

Other format types of Karate games may be classified according to it being a contact sport. There are Knockdowns where points are scored by knocking the opponent down to the floor, and where the game is continuous until there is a knockdown or a sweep. The only time the game is broken is during stoppages of clinches, aside from fighters leaving the area. The scoring is dependent on the effect of the strikes rather than the image of the techniques. There’s American Karate, which merges rules, and gloves from western boxing with karate. There’s Gloved boxing, which uses the knockdown karate rules, but uses boxing gloves and allows punches to the face. There is Bogu Komite, the most associated form of full contact karate to the traditional Koshiki Full Contact Karate. It is a type of karate competition that uses heavy protective padding in order to prevent injuries, scores points based on aesthetic techniques, and is a continuous competition. The full contact point karate is a competition very similar to non full contact competition karate (light contact and semi contact), where the only striking difference is a knockout is awarded as a win rather than it being a form of disqualification for excessive contact. Finally, there is the hybrid fighting type of karate which merges both striking (Karate) and grappling (Judo/Jujutsu) techniques. 

The highest level of Karate competitions is known as The Karate World Championships. It is organized by the World Karate Federation and is held in a different city every two years. Japan is ranked Top 1 in the Karate World Championships. Japan is followed by France in second, and the United Kingdom in third place ranking in the all time medal counts as of the 2016 Karate World Championships.

What Watching Karate is like in the Olympics

The sport has been as wildly recognized as far as world pop culture references go, such as Lil Wayne’s billboard top 100  hit “Karate Chop” in 2013, but it was only in 2016 in fact that the sport gained recognition from the International Olympic Committee as an Olympic Sport. Last August, 2016, the international olympic committee agreed to add karate to the 2020 Summer Olympics alongside baseball, karate, skateboard, and sports climbing. This will be its first appearance as an Olympic sport. The Karate division will feature about 60 competitors in the Kumite or sparring competition and 20 in the Kata division, with 50 per cent being split equally between men and women. The sport has been in the bid for the Olympics since the 1970s but was not able to receive the required two-thirds majority board to become an Olympic sport. 

According to the World Karate Federation, the Kumite competition is usually comprised of the following 5 weight classes for men and women:

Weight classes for men:
−60 kg, −67 kg, −75 kg, −84 kg, and +84 kg

Weight classes for women:
−50 kg, −55 kg, −61 kg, −68 kg, and +68 kg

For the Kata division, competitors will be judged according to the speed and power of the demonstrated techniques. Each kata demonstrator is assigned a belt, either blue or red, and take turns demonstrating his or her kata. The outcome is decided based on the majority of the five judges who vote with a blue or a red flag raise to signal the competitor they believe should be the winner.

It will be an especially exciting time for Karate in the year 2020 all around the world as the competition level is raised to an all time high for its devotees and practitioners.