Karate is a system of unarmed defensive and offensive techniques. The
word “Karate” means “empty hands” in Japanese. Karate is one of
many martial arts whose defensive and offensive techniques are
performed without knives, swords or other weapons. The basic
techniques of Karate are punching, blocking, striking and kicking.
Each of thesebasic techniques has many variations, depending on
the situation and the persons involved.
HISTORY OF UNARMED FIGHTING SYSTEMS
Legend has it that early forms of unarmed defense were developed
by Buddhist monks in their journeys from India to China during
the third century B.C. Their beliefs prohibited them from using
weapons to defend themselves. But the roads and trails were full of
dangers from highwaymen and other thieves and murderers. As a
consequence, the monks developed different ways of defending
themselves without using weapons. By the time they reached
China, they had perfected secret and mysterious forms of unarmed
defense, and were believed by many to be masters of magical
powers and utterly invincible. The Shaolin fighting techniques are
thought to have been created by the first of these wandering
Buddhists. Even today, a popular syndicated television show
continues the legends of the Shaolin priests and their mysterious
powers. As word of these unarmed defense techniques spread to
other countries, each locale developed its own version, with
variations on the basic techniques. Thus in China, unarmed fighting
became “Kung Fu,” while in Korea, it became Tae Kwon Do. In
Okinawa, it became Okinawa-do (The Way of Okinawa) and in
Japan, it became Karate. In modern times, systems have been
developed which use combinations of Karate, Kung Fu, Tae Kwan
Do, boxing and kick boxing. Notable among these systems is Jeet
Kune Do, which was developed by the late Chinese television and
movie star, Bruce Lee.Unarmed fighting techniques were adopted by
many as a means of attacking and defeating an enemy when
weapons were either not available or were forbidden. Thus what
started as a holy man’s means ofpeaceful self-defense became a
“martial art” among other fighting techniques, such as kendo
(swordfighting) and was incorporated into Ninjitsu, the art of stealth.
During World War II, what American news commentators called
“Jiu Jitsu” was a combination of various fighting skills, including
Karate and Judo.
Karate became a sport in 1927 through the efforts of Okinawan
Karate Master Gichin Funakoshi, the developer of the Shotokan
style of Karate. Funakoshi worked out a system of scoring points
which enabled Karatekas to compete without injuring each other.
The Shotokan style is demanding, and requires great concentration
and hard work to master. Today, for many, Karate is primarily a
sport, although some people learn Karate neither for the sport nor
for self-control. Especially with the growing popularity of gang
membership, and with the fantasyland Karate techniques shown in
movies, many people mistake Karate for something that it is not.
In the words of Hidetaka Nishiyama, onetime head of the All
America Karate Federation, “Karate is not fighting. Fighting is
for animals. Karate is a way to stop fighting.” Nishiyama’s words
echo those of the legendary Chinese General Sun Tzu, who said
that the greatest general is the one who wins the battle without
loss of blood or life. The greatest Karateka, then, is the one who
always wins an encounter, but is never drawn into a fight.
So what is the purpose of modern Karate? Does it teach you to
beat up the members of your gang? No. The purpose of Karate
is to teach you self-discipline and a new way of looking at conflict.
This is not a mysterious concept. If you are so skilled that no one
can touch you no matter how hard he or she tries, what is the need
to fight such a person? As it is with many sports, Karate has taken
many forms in the United States. If you were to confine your
knowledge of Karate to what you learn in popular magazines such
as Black Belt, movies such as “Enter the Dragon,” “The Karate
Kid,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” or any of Jan Claude Van
Damme’s movies, you might get the idea that Karate is about
mysterious martial arts masters who live as gardeners, or psychotic
sociopaths who spend their spare time beating people up, or rough,
bloody fighters who claw their way to the top smeared with blood,
or lovable fantasy characters who kick and chop their way into your
This, fortunately, is only Hollywood’s version of Karate. True
Karate is something else altogether, as expressed by the great
Shotokan master and founder of the Japan Karate Association,
Master Funakoshi Gichin:
“The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the
perfection of the character of its participants.”
In short, Shotokan Karate is not so much a way of fighting as it is a
way of life. More attention is paid to strengthening one’s character
than to strengthening one’s punch. Many years ago, Mr. Takiyuki
Mikami, an international champion and today a thoughtful, modest,
brilliant instructor in the International Shotokan Karate Federation,
shamed a group of rowdy American black belts who were students
in a club he visited each month. He walked out onto the floor
dressed in a sport shirt, a pair of slacks, and loafers. With his hands
in his pants pockets, he invited the four best black belts to attack
him, all at once. Mr. Mikami was 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighed
about 130 pounds. None of the black belts ever got close enough to
land a punch, strike or kick. Mr. Mikami blocked every technique,
without even bothering to take his hands out of his pants pockets,
smiling all the time. After about ten minutes, when the four black
belts were worn out and gasping for breath, Mr. Mikami walked
toward them, still smiling, and told them that it was time for them
to earn the belts they wore. He did foot sweeps and sent all of them
to the floor. Then he walked away laughing. His hands had never
left his pockets. Mr. Mikami’s performance had taught all of us
that sometimes, a real Karateka needsonly to injure an attacker’s
pride in order to stop an attack. As you learn Karate, you will
participate in seven elements of training, each of equal importance:
Centering or meditation exercises, done to help you control your
emotions and develop your powers of concentration
Body conditioning, including strength, power, endurance,
stamina, and flexibility exercises.
Practicing the various stances (right forward, left forward,
kibidachi, back stance, etc.).
Practicing the basic techniques of punching, striking, blocking,
hooking and kicking by learning the precise bodily movements
involved. Punching, striking, hooking, blocking and kicking a
“makawara” board (a tapered 4x4, covered with burlap) and other
devices to toughen your knuckles and feet and to develop power
in the basic techniques.
Kumite (sparring), to develop the ability to combine techniques
spontaneously, according to the needs of the situation.
Learning and performing the “Kata” or “Heian,” which is a
choreographed, formalized fight sequence done with an imaginary
opponent. Katas are performed with great precision, and combine
all the techniques of Karate into a system of flowing movements.
In the Japan Karate Association (which teaches
the Shotokan style) there is a different Kata for each rank
HOW TO TRAIN FOR KARATE
It is impossible to learn Karate without the help
of a trained instructor. As described by Mr.
Mikami, the Shotokan school, for example, has a
rigorous training program for instructors, which
includes (for Chief Instructor) three years at the
home dojo in Japan. A 4th degree black belt is
required in order to enter the Chief Instructor
school. After three years of study, work and intense
instruction, a candidate is given one chance
to pass the Chief Instructor’s test. Only if you pass
this test will you be made a 5th degree black belt
and a Chief Instructor. For these people, Karate is
not a game. It is a way of life.
While there are many people who claim to be
experts in Karate (and there are many “storefront”
Karate studios all over the United States), one has
only to watch a real Master to understand the difference
between the pros and the amateurs. Many black belts are gifted,
but few are Masters. As it is with any sport or physical skill,
championship performance demands unswerving dedication to the
sport and superb natural physical skills in performing. It is truly
breathtaking to watch the real Karatekas perform their art.
Below is a description of how to perform two of the many
variations possible for each basic technique. Be sure to warm
up with stretching exercises for the neck, chest, shoulders, arms,
upper back, lower back, hips and legs before beginning any
Straight punches are practiced as follows. Stand with your feet a
comfortable distance apart, knees slightly bent and leg muscles
Assume a left forward stance:
1. Stand with your left foot forward, with the left leg bent at the
knee so that your knee is over the second joint in the left big toe.
Turn your left foot slightly inward at the toe.
2. At the same time, extend your right leg backwards at a shallow
angle from the direction of your opponent, with the right knee
slightly bent and the leg muscles tensed. Turn the right foot slightly
outward at the toe. Turn the pelvis slightly to the right. Feel the
stance and become aware of its strength. It provides you with the
stable foundation you need to perform Karate techniques. Now
perform the punch:
1. Make a fist by curling the tips of your four fingers so that
you fold them into the palm of the hand. Clamp the thumb across
2. Extend your left arm straight out in front of you, hand open
and pronated (palm toward the floor). Bend your right arm at the
elbow so that your right fist rests on the side of your pelvic bone.
The right hand should be supinated (palm toward the ceiling).
3. Start the punch by rotating the hips in a counter-clockwise
direction while straightening the right leg. Do this in slow motion
until you get a feel for the movement.
4. At the same time, extend the right arm slowly to the front,
while rotating the forearm counter-clockwise. When your
arm is fully extended and level, your right hand should be
pronated (palm toward the floor). Be careful not to hyperextend
the arm—you may injure your elbow joint if you do. Position your
arm so that an imaginary straight line running the length of your
arm will go directly between the first and second knuckles of your
5. At the same time you are straightening the right arm, bring
the left arm back, make a fist with your left hand, rotate the
forearm counter-clockwise and bring your left fist to your left side
the way your right fist was at the beginning of the punch.
6. Now bring your right arm slowly to its original position by
your side while extending the left arm to its original position.
Repeat the motion slowly for 20 repetitions in order to get the
feel of the technique. Performed correctly, the motion should flow
smoothly, with the arms rotating as the punch is performed, and
rotating again as the arms return to their starting positions. When
you have become accustomed to the movement, try punching with
the other arm. Then alternate arms.
7. Now gradually increase the speed as you straighten your arms.
Work for precise form and smooth movements. Imagine that the
entire force of your body is concentrated into the first two knuckles
of your fist.
8. As you increase the speed of the punch, also concentrate
on contracting every muscle in your body at what would be the
point of impact if you were actually punching somebody. This is
the physical component of what is called “focussing.” If performed
properly, it will focus all of your power at the point of impact.
9. Slowly add speed to the punch without
sacrificing form. Alternate arms at top
speed for 20 repetitions.
10. Do NOT run off and start breaking
boards or trying to break bricks. Such
activities are NOT Karate. They are
carnival stunts. They can also split the
cartilage in the knuckles, resulting in
loss of finger movement and considerable
THE RISING BLOCK
This technique is used to block punches to your abdomen, chest and face. The top of
your forearm will collide with the bottom of the opponent’s forearm. Note that in this
technique, the bony ridge of your forearm will strike against the soft muscular tissue ofyour opponent
’s forearm. Several perfectly executed rising blocks and your opponent’sforearm will be so sore that he or she will have trouble making a fist. Here’s how it’s
1. Assume a right forward stance, with legs and feet in the opposite positions
as described in the left forward stance above. Then perform the block as
follows. Start with your left arm extended toward your opponent and your
right fist at your right side as it was when you started the punch described
above. Hips should be almost facing the front.
2. Start the block by rotating the hips to
3. Slowly and simultaneously
bring the left arm back and
down so that the fist ends at your
left hip, while at the same time
bringing the right arm up, staying
close to the body, elbow
bent, until it reaches a point
where the fist is still clenched
and the palm is turned toward
the front, slightly above and in
front of the forehead. The forearm
should be at about a 45-degree
angle to the floor.
3. Return both arms to their original positions and repeat the motion slowly
until you get the feel of the technique.
4. Slowly increase your speed. Imagine that an opponent is performing a
straight punch to your chest or face. The rising block is used to block such
5. Now try the technique with the left arm, slowly at first, then with increasing
speed, focusing each time.
6. Alternate both arms for 20 repetitions.
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING
Most Karate Associations recommend a plain white cotton Gi
(uniform). They come with a white belt, which you can dye different
colors (green, purple, brown, black, etc.) as you go up
through the ranks. The Gi is a traditional Karate uniform, and
provides touch, durable, loose-fitting comfort and a full range of
motion for all limbs.
The Gi also “reports to you” when you have performed certain
techniques correctly. For example, when you do a straight punch
or a rising block, focussing the punch should bring a cracking
sound as the inside of the arm of the Gi pops against your forearm.
Also, the fist that is brought to the side will make a cracking
sound as it collides with the side of the Gi. When the real
pros do these basic techniques, every movement is accompanied
by a sharp crack of the Gi.
The belt must be tied in a certain way. Here’s how:
1. Start by holding the belt vertically in front of you, with the two ends held
by the right hand. Then Wrap the belt around you, so that the two ends
come around from behind. This will put the belt across your abdomen, around
the sides, with the ends coming around to the front.
2. Pull the two ends of the belt forward to make sure that you have an equal
amount of belt for each side. Otherwise, when it is tied, one end of the belt
will hang down lower than the other.
3. Cross the right end over the left end, then tuck it under the belt next to your
body and then up. Change hands and pull tight.
4. Pull the end that now hangs to the right under the end that hangs to the left.
At the same time, pull the end that hangs to the left over the other end,
under it, and up through the loop that has formed.
5. Pull tight. If done correctly, you will see a laterally symmetrical knot with
the ends hanging loosely on both sides of the knot.
KARATE NOTES AND NEWS
The development of Shotokan Karate in the United States is directed by the International
Shotokan Karate Federation, which is the American branch of the Japan Karate
Association (JKA). The ISKF is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and operates
under the leadership of Chief Instructor Teruyuki Okazaki.
The ISKF has local organizations in
many major U. S. cities. It has promoted
true Karate in American colleges
and universities for over 30
years. Intercollegiate tournaments
are held under strict supervision.
Contestants must reach a specified
level of competence before they are
allowed to compete. Competence is
not limited to technique. It also includes
attitude and character development.
Another center for Shotokan Karate
is the Midwest Karate Association,
located in Minneapolis and operated under the direction of Robert Fusaro, the highest
ranking non-oriental in the Japan Karate Association. Mr. Fusaro, the son of an Italian
tailor, learned Karate while serving in the Army in the Pacific during the Korean War.
Don’t expect to see lurid headlines about ISKF or JKA champions. If you want lurid
headlines, buy a copy of Black Belt Magazine. Those who understand Karate know that
the true winners are the ones whose characters are strengthened through the discipline of
Karate. The real prize is inside.
In November, 2000 the Pan American Karate Federation sponsored the Junior Pan American
Championships. There are both male and female competions with ages ranging from
14 to 20. In the 14 -15 year-old category, the female gold medal winner was Sara
Anissipour of the USA and the male gold medalist was Brando Lozano of Mexico. In the
16 -17 year-old category, the female gold medal winner was Roxana Muro of Mexico
and the male gold medalist was Cesar Monagas of Venezuela. And in the 18 - 20 yearold
bracket for females the gold went to Ana Sofia Martinez of Venezuela with Antonio
Diaz of Venezuela winning the top spot for the boys in this same age group. In the 2000
competition, Venezuela won the most gold medals with a total of 14. The USA was
second with 7 gold medals. A total of 300 athletes competed and 16 countries were
If you are interested in learning more about shotokan Karate, the following books will
Nishiyama, Hidetaka and Brown, Richard C. Karate, the art of “emptyhand” fighting. Charles Tuttle and company, Vermont and Tokyo: 1959.
Gichin, Funakoshi. The Master Text. Tsutomi Oshima, trans., Kodansha
International Publishers: 1973.
Okazaki, Teruyuki and Stricevic, Milorad, M. D. The Textbook of
Modern Karate. Kodansha International Publishers: 1984.
WHAT TO DO
The following questions will help you to have a greater appreciation and understanding
of Karate. Write your answers in the spaces below the questions. If there is not enough
room, write on the backs of these sheets. Be neat, spell correctly, and write in complete
1. How did unarmed defense techniques develop? Why were they needed? Why not
just use a knife or a sword?
2. Why is breaking boards called a carnival stunt by some Karate instructors?
3. List the names of several Karate styles, and match them with the country of their
4. What does it mean to focus a Karate technique?
5. Describe the left forward stance in your own words.
6. Describe the rising block in hour own words.
7. Who is Takiyuki Mikami and what lesson did he teach to the overconfident black
8. Describe how Karate became a sport.
9. In your own words, describe the straight punch.
10. What is the ultimate purpose of Karate? What is the mark of a great Karateka? If
you go into Karate training, what should be your ultimate goal?
Short Answer Questions:
1. The purpose of Karate is to teach self ______
2. Created Jeet Kune Do style
3. One of several Karate styles developed in Japan
4. Name of board used in Karate practice
5. Destination of the monks who created Karate
6. Formalized fight sequence with imaginary opponent
7. Man who developed Karate into a sport
8. Country in which Tae Kwan Do was developed
9. Karate means ____ hands
10. Punch made directly at opponent
11. Name of the temple where Karate was first taught in China
12. Sparring in Japanese Karate
13. Head of the All America Karate Federation
14. Number of basic stances
15. Buddhist monks who created Karate came from here
16. Bone that strikes opponent’s arm in rising block
17. He shamed a group of American black belts
18. Name of Karate uniform
19. Number of basic techniques
20. An instructor must spend three years here