What is Karate?

Karate is a Japanese martial art whose physical aspects seek the development of defensive and counterattacking body movements.  The themes of traditional karate training are fighting and self-defense, though its mental and moral aspects target the overall improvement of the individual.  This is facilitated by the discipline and persistent effort required in training.   If karate had to be described in only one sentence, then the most suitable one may arguably be "You never attack first in karate."   This is a a maxim of Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), the Okinawan who brought karate to Japan in 1922, and who is accepted as the father of modern karate.

The word karate is a combination of two kanji (Chinese characters): kara, meaning empty, and te, meaning hand; thus, karate means "empty hand." Adding the suffix "-dō" (pronounced "daw"), meaning "the way/path," karate-dō, implies karate as a total way of life that goes well beyond the self-defense applications. In traditional karate-dō, one is supposed to compete and strive to excel against him/herself.

Today there are four main styles of karate in Japan: Shotokan, Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, and Wado-ryu.  Shotokan, though never described as a style by Gichin Funakoshi, it has been nevertheless considered as his.  Actually  Shotokan  was the name of his dōjo, chosen after the pen name used by Funakoshi to sign poems written in his youth. Shotokan Karate is characterized by powerful linear techniques and deep strong stances.  It is the style taught at the Tulane Karate Club.

Like the word karate, Shotokan is also composed of two different kanji :  Shoto, meaning "pine breeze" and kan, meaning "the place", thus Shotokan means the place of shoto.

Objectives and Values

"In traditional karate victory is not an ultimate aim. Tradition karate is an art of self-defence which uses only and in the most efficient way human body. It employs mainly blocking, blowing, punching and kicking techniques?"

The purpose of Traditional Karate is to develop well-balanced mind and body, through training in fighting techniques. Traditional Karate also shares the ultimate aim with Budo, which is to cultivate great human character of a higher class that prevents any violent attack before an actual fight occurs.

Budo originates in the practice of physical fighting; however, it has a significant effect on the spiritual and physical development of a human since Budo philosophy and ethics are absolute requirements for the study of techniques and improvement of skills. Elements such as manners and etiquette were not adapted from outside elements nor are they independent from the physical training, but existed within the system since the origin of Budo and were integrated to the technical improvement:

  • Seriousness

    Budo training must be done in a serious manner, because its techniques are derived from severe life-or-death situations, where one must win the fight in order to survive. This is why Budo practitioners are required to have a serious mind set. Only in such a condition can one possibly achieve extreme levels of mind and body far beyond ordinary levels. This is apparent in competitions. For example, a Kumite (sparring) match is carried out in Ippon-shobu (one perfect “finishing blow” determines the winner) format. Because only one definitive technique can conclude a match, competitors are driven to learn the importance of serious attitude.

  • Humility

    To achieve a higher level, Budo requires a practitioner to keep a humble mind and behavior. This allows one to always learn something from anyone. Once one thinks that he or she is better than others, the possibility of improvement ceases. This is the basis of the high importance of respecting instructors as well as training partners in Budo.

  • Calmness and Discipline

    As already mentioned, the original Budo techniques were designed for the critical situation where one may or may not survive. Under such a condition, it is difficult for anybody to keep a calm mind; the ability of clear judgment or physical reflex slows down, and often one may find himself immobilized due to nervousness. Therefore keeping a calm mind is a crucial concern in Budo practice, and this is why a training session begins and ends with a period of meditation. In addition, Budo’s rigorous and disciplined training makes a practitioner confident about his techniques and gain mental stability. According to the recent research by sports psychologists, this method is recognized as most effective in avoiding mental fluctuation.

  • Skillfulness

    In Budo, the proper technique and power are generated by skill, rather than relying only on muscular strength. Techniques are delivered from the center of the body so that it can utilize a quick and efficient reflex of the entire body. In the same way, Traditional Karate requires an integrated physical action controlled by the center of the body,starting from the feet on the floor. Proper training develops a body with each part moving in proper sequence without unnecessary moves, and as a result, allows one to build a well-balanced body.