Though Karate is often associated with Japanese martial arts, its true origin dwells in Okinawan combat techniques and Southern Chinese martial arts. It is basically a fusion of both arts and was introduced to Japan only in 1921. During this period, Karate was simply known as “Te”, or hand, as called by the Okinawans. Chinese influence is evident in the original symbol for Karate – the “Tang Hand” or Chinese Hand.
There were no specified or concrete Karate styles in the early days and simply generalized as Shuri-te, Naha-te and Tomari-te, named after the three cities in which they were formed. Each city had its own methods, principles, system and traditions of Karate.
The introduction, popularization and modernization of Karate to Japan are mainly credited to Funakoshi, an Okinawan master, venerably regarded by many practitioners as The Father of Modern Karate. Other prominent Karate experts in his time include Kenwa Mabuni, Miyagi Chojun, Choshin Chibana, and Motobu Choki.
Japan began introducing Karate as a subject in schools before the Second World War and soldiers in the army were often trained in the discipline. Competitions and different styles also started emerging as several universities started karate club programs during this period.
The popularization of Karate in the West has its roots in the American military occupation of Japan and Okinawa after the Second World War, and Japanese immigration to the United States.
Fundamentals of Karate:
Karate mainly stresses on volatile combat techniques such as punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes, and open hand methods. Grappling, joint manipulations, locks, restraints, throwing, and vital point striking are also parts of this discipline.
Karate training is divided into three main sections
Kihon refers to the study of basic techniques, movements and components
Kata or ‘form’, a fixed sequence of moves, is a series of movements and techniques linked together by the combatative principles that the kata expresses.
Kumite or ‘sparring’ evovles from well-defined kata to open attack and defense.
The Uniform Color of the Belt and Ranks:
The Karate uniform is white and comprised of the Kimono (shirt), Dogi or Keikogi (pants) and a belt (white or colored), a combination introduced by Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. The color of the belt is dependant on the rank and expertise of a practitioner. In accordance with commonly held standards, white belts are for beginners, and black for the highest rank. This, howver, may differ from one organization to another. Each rank may also have subdivions of its own even if the color of the belt is similar.
Styles and Variations:
Karate styles can be broadly classified into Traditional and Full Body Karate. Traditional styles are those that developed in the early period of the 20th century and include variants such as Shotokan, Goju-ryu, Wado-ryu, Shito-ryu, Kushin-ryu, and Shindo Jinen Ryu. Full contact karate includes styles such as Kyokushin-kaikan and Kansuiryu. Many of the styles have offshoots that developed into styles of their own. Although the concepts remain universal, each representation differ from one another.