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Origins of Karate

Karate literally means ‘empty hand’, although the correct term is karate-do, or ‘way of the empty hand’. Karate comes from Okinawa, one of the Ryukyu Islands that form a chain stepping stones between Japan and China. Because of their geographical position, it was there that the cultures of Japan and China met and fermented. In 1609, the island of Okinawa was invaded by Japanese troops. To prevent insurrection, the ruler of the island was taken back to Japan as a hostage and the Japanese quickly set up a police force in the capital, Naha to super military class and confiscate all arms. The Japanese were confident that , without weapons, the Ryukyu islanders could not rebel.

But the invaders had not reckoned with the ancestral heritage of this island race – that of their martial arts. Because of Okinawa’s close trade ties with China. The kung fu styles and methods of the latter country had mixed with islanders’ indigenous fighting arts.

Those unarmed arts were known as Okinawa te, which means ‘hand’. The Ryukyu islanders, after consulting the old monks in the mountains, began to toughen their knuckles and elbows on straw pads and wet sand. Graduating to tree trunks, they pounded their fists into the trees day after day until eventually huge calluses built up on various parts of their bodies.

The armour of Japanese troops and even of the samurai, was made from lacquered bamboo and leather thongs. So when the Okinawans decided the time had come to fight back in guerrilla attacks, their deadly hardened fingers easily penetrated the armour of their oppressors, killing them instantly. When the Japanese sent mounted troops to quell the outbreaks of rebellion, the islanders devised a series of lethal kicks, executed while flying through the air. So even a mounted enemy proved to be n obstacle. The farmers played their part in fighting back by transforming agricultural implements into deadly weapons. The handle of a rice grinder, called a tonfa, was used to parry the blows from samurai sword. The sickle for cutting the crops, known as kama, made an excellent weapon against spear and sword attacks.

It was the transformation of these farming implements that today has given rise in the martial arts to Okinawan kobudo – the study of the classical weaponry of Okinawa.


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What is Karate?

What Is Karate? "True karate is this: that in daily life one's mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility, and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice."

 --Gichin Funakoshi.

 

 Karate can also be described as a martial art, or fighting method, involving a variety of techniques, including blocks, strikes, evasions, throws, and joint manipulations. Karate practice is divided into three aspects: kihon (basics), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring).

The word karate is a combination of two Japanese characters: kara, meaning empty, and te, meaning hand; thus, karate means "empty hand." Adding the suffix "-do" (pronounced "doe"), meaning "way," i.e., karate-do, implies karate as a total way of life that goes well beyond the self-defense applications. In traditional karate-do, we always keep in mind that the true opponent is oneself.

Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi has said that "mind and technique become one in true karate." We strive to make our physical techniques pure expressions of our mind's intention, and to improve our mind's focus by understanding the essence of the physical techniques. By polishing our karate practice we are polishing our own spirit or our own mentality. For example, eliminating weak and indecisive movements in our karate helps to eliminate weakness and indecision in our minds--and vice versa.

It is in this sense that karate becomes a way of life, as we try to become very strong but happy and peaceful people. As Tsutomu Ohshima, chief instructor or shihan of Shotokan Karate of America, has put it, "We must be strong enough to express our true minds to any opponent, anytime, in any circumstance. We must be calm enough to express ourselves humbly."

One of the unique features of karate training in SKA is what we call Special Training--a series of intensive practices during which we try our best to "face ourselves" and polish our mentality or spirit.