Many people are introduced to Karate by lavish displays, competitions, or movie fight scenes. Bricks and boards are broken by hand to demonstrate the awesome power behind the art form. However, scholars and true followers of Karate know a different side.
To get a clear concept of this martial art, one must examine its origin and the people that helped create it. A simple translation of Karate means “empty hand.” Thus you have the people who say it refers to a weaponless fighting style. Despite the fact this is a true statement, it is a poor translation.
By studying Buddhist teachings, one will discover there is much more to the concept of “emptiness” than what is found in Western thought. The eastern way of thought says that emptiness is a transcendence of all things. It is like a mirror which can reflect all things, but remains free of all things.
Additionally, Karate itself is not a true martial art, since that denotes it’s to be used for war or violence. Rather it is a physical expression which allows people to find themselves by immersing themselves in its art.
Schools of Thought
With the vast array of styles and types of Karate, it might be hard to select one over another. As a way to guide people in their approach to understanding Karate, the two major schools of thought will be discussed instead. These schools are Shuri-te and Naha-te.
Suri-te is one of the largest classifications of Karate. It is characterized by straight movements and lines to the forms of Kata it employees. Feet move in a straight pattern and the breathing is natural.
Given these characteristics it is often done with more speed than the other school of thought known as Naha-te. Shuri-te is further broken down into three categories, which can be better grasped once a person is involved in the art.
Where Shuri-te is fast, Naha-te is more balanced and powerful. The katas it employees follow a curved line rather than straight. The breathing techniques are not natural. Instead, they are practiced and controlled. Many times they are assigned to specific moves.
Naha-te is further broken up into two smaller categories. Again, this is only better understood by the practitioner of the art and will not be covered here.
What is a Kata?
In many martial arts, Katas are used in training. A Kata is an arrangement of preset movements that utilize the techniques taught by the instructor. Blocks, punches, and kicks, are all tied together in these styles for all levels of the form.
Katas will teach the technique of the move as well as allow the practitioner to immerse themselves in the movement. This is a crucial element in Karate. Over the centuries, katas have been practiced and refined. The goal of this is to find the ultimate form of expression.
Katas will use a variety of movements that are scientifically based to give the maximum channel of power. By combining physical strength with speed and balance, these moves have the potential to break boards and bricks. The use of these objects to break is a clear indication on how well you’ve mastered the katas.
On a more philosophic note, katas are seen as natural movements of the body. The beginning stance and ending stance are typically identical. This promotes the beliefs of coincidental movements. This further validates the natural state of each position used.
What is Kumite?
Aside from kata, the other traditionally accepted form of Karate is kumite. This is a free style format which can utilize the moves taught in the kata forms. Kumite is the style used when two practitioners are pitted against each other at the same time.
Unlike the kata element of Karate, Kumite concentrates the training of endurance and physical power of the body. This is not to say the spiritual elements are not a factor, rather their role is more subtle.
Elements of training
For those interested in the physical benefits of Karate, there are certain criteria instructors will work with you on. The following discusses each of these areas in more detail. It should be noted that this section is focused more on the physical side of Karate. It should not be taken as the only thing trained in Karate.
Form & Balance
Many moves executed in Karate require keeping your balance. Kicks often leave the practitioner standing only on one foot. An instructor will look to improve how you carry yourself and improve you through the forms and training.
A high center of gravity will give you a greater deal of speed. Your feet are closer together allowing for a quicker response. Although it is beneficial to have speed in the art, this will cost a price. You will have less stability and therefore less power in your strikes.
A lower center of gravity gives that stability allowing for more force to be put behind a punch or kick. This in turn sacrifices speed. Since your feet must be farter apart, it makes it difficult to respond.
By balancing your center of gravity, it is possible to achieve the desired outcome. This outcome is a full expression of power and energy. This also provides the ground work needed to progress through the natural movements of Karate.
Speed vs. Power
A constant balancing act is being perfected when dealing with power and speed. The blending of both these elements is what gives the destructive force that is displayed when breaking a board.
The speed at which you kick or punch will amplify the force you exert when striking. However, the more speed you add tends to sacrifice the amount of force that can be used.
On the other end of the scale, if you add more power you’ll most likely sacrifice speed. Karate looks to find the best movements to combine these two factors together. This is why so many moves found in Karate have lasted for hundreds of years. Once the maximum result is reached, it is hard to improve upon it.
This is the end goal of movements in Karate. Only by expressing the greatest amount of energy can you seek perfection. This concept is demonstrated with broken bricks and boards in Karate displays. This concentrated force demonstrates becoming part of the movement.
Building Muscular Strength
The body is your most powerful tool when practicing Karate. This is why building strong yet flexible muscles are crucial in the art. Certain martial arts will put a focus on skill over physique. Karate believes that a strong person has an equally strong body and mind and it makes no excuses.
Rhythm & Timing
Performing the preset katas is more than a set of memorized movements. To seek the ultimate potential of one of these forms it must flow. The rhythm and timing of these elements work towards this goal. By perfecting the rhythm of the forms, you’ll find the timing when sparring.
These aspects further connect Karate to its roots. Remember, this is less of a martial skill than it is a gateway to find truth. Only when you have rhythm and timing does this art form become a free expression and less like a memorized dance.
The tanden is the area of your body that includes your lower stomach and hips. This area is given special attention since most of your power comes from this region. Not only that, it also is where your center of gravity is located.
To be more specific, the tanden is located directly behind your belly button. Scientifically it’s thought of as your center. Spiritually it is viewed as the source of your energy. Since this coincides with so much of Karate’s principles, it’s easy to why special focus is paid to this region.
What you need
As with all martial arts it is recommended that you seek a professional to train you. This will include a fee, but special deals are typically offered to new students. The pricing of this will vary depending on your area and instructor.
Included in the fee you pay will provide the majority of what you need to learn. A teacher, training facility, and additional equipment are typically located on sight. More advanced students may invest in the creation of personal equipment that they may train with at home. Only with the instructor’s guidance should this be done.
The clothing or uniform is the standard gi and belt utilized by most martial arts. This can range between $20 and $60. This cost will vary based on size and availability. Some facilities don’t require the gi for beginners. Many times a t-shirt, track shoes, and comfortable running shorts/pants, are all that is required. Your training facility will give proper advice on clothing.
Martial arts are a great way for people to change their lives. Not only does it promote better health, but it instills confidence in the individual. In addition, it gives the person fundamental tools they can use in their every day life.
The goal of Karate has been described simply as, “You learn to fight, so that you don’t have to fight.” This is an important lesson to teach. Not only is the art teaching the most efficient way to use your body, but it tempers the individual with the need for responsibility.
Even though many of us are drawn to Karate’s ability to break boards, instructors of the art don’t mind this view point. They know that by guiding a person in Karate these notions will be reformed. In the process, they will mold that individual to become a better person.
Karate is a very open form. Anyone with a desire to learn is welcome. Age and gender play no role on who can learn the craft. All you need is the desire to apply yourself.