What is Karate

"The Way is not static and dead;
Learn from the old Masters,
Do not worship them;
Learn from your Teachers,
Do not blindly follow them;
Learn from your Students,
Do not assume you know all the Truth."

Meaning and origins

Karate is a system of empty hand fighting developed intially on Okinawa Island and later in the rest of Japan mainland. It is based upon punching, kicking, blocking, and striking. Karate involves simple motions that depend upon proper timing and distancing in order to be effective, rather than complicated techniques. Hand techniques are more often used rather than legs because it is considered that a hand blows are faster and more precise. Advanced practitioners often use combinations of both hand and leg techniques as it is more effective in sparring and self defence.

Karate literally means "empty hand" - "kara" empty and "te" hand - but often the idea of emptyness is referred to as "empty mind". One has to be calm and in harmony with himself and the surrounding world in order to be able to react appropriately in dangerous situations. This idea can be trasfered and applied also to the every day life.

There are many styles of karate. It is considered that originally there were three styles of karate which left Okinawa almost at the same time. They are Shotokan, Goju Ryu and Shito Ryu ('ryu' - school). The founder of Shotokan style (or Shotokan Ryu as some people refer to it) is the late Funakoshi Gichin (in japanese the family name comes first in order). The name 'Shotokan' was given by Funakoshi's students as an appreciation to their teacher. 'Shoto' means 'wind in pine trees' and it is the poetic nickname of Master Funakoshi which he used to sign his poetry. 'Kan' means 'building'.

Methods of training

The traditional traning in karate consists of three different methods. Basic techniques or "kihon", formal exercises called "kata" and sparring "kumite". The basics teach the practitioners the proper form of the karate technique and are an excellent exercise for the whole body. Kata is basically a prearranged sequence of moves and techniques. It helps for better understanding of the concepts of karate. It also helps to develop good balance and sense of orientation. Many people call kata "the heart of karate". In Shotokan there are 26 official katas. The third method of training in karate is kumite. This is when practitioners apply and practice their skills through sparring with a partner. There are several forms of kumite starting with the most basic prearranged combinations and ending with the free sparring. A serious karate-ka (karate practitioner) should include in his/her training program all of the three training methods.

The Shotokan Tiger

When Gichin Funakoshi was a young man, he enjoyed walking in solitude among the pine trees which surrounded his home town of Shuri. He would often walk up Mt.Torao and meditate among the pine trees under the stars and bright moon. Mt.Torao is a very narrow, heavily wooded mountain which, when viewed from a distance, resembles a tiger's tail. The name "Torao" literally means "tiger's tail". And it is because of this that people think Funakoshi chose the tiger symbol. However there is another story that explains where the tiger comes from. Apparently Funakoshi was asked to write the 1st book about karate. The man who asked him was an artist called Hoan Kosugi. It was decided that if the book was written, Kosugi would design the cover. In Japanese "tora no maki" is an official document of an art. Funakoshi's book would be "tora no maki" of Karate. "Tora" also means tiger.

The Twenty Precepts of Gichin Funakoshi:

  1. Karate-do begins and ends with a bow (courtesy).
  2. There is no first attack (move) in karate. (In karate the initiative does not exist).
  3. Karate is a great assistance (an aid) to justice.
  4. First you must know (control) yourself, then you can know (control) others.
  5. Spirit is more important than technique.
  6. Always be ready to release your mind.
  7. Misfortunes arise out of negligence (laziness).
  8. Do not think that karate training is only in the dojo.
  9. It will take your entire life to learn karate.
  10. Put your everyday living into karate (put karate into everything you do) and you will find "myo" (the subtle secrets, the ideal state of existence, exquisite beauty).
  11. Karate is like hot water; if you do not heat it constantly, it will again become cool water.
  12. Do not think about winning; think rather that you do not have to lose.
  13. Move (change) according to (depending on) your opponent. (Victory depends on your ability to distinguish vulnerable points from invulnerable ones.)
  14. The secret of combat resides in the art of directing it (clever fighting, trying every strategy).
  15. Think of the hands and feet as swords.
  16. When you leave home, think that you have numerous opponents waiting for you. (It is your behavior that invites trouble from them.)
  17. Beginners must master basic stances; natural body positions are for the advanced.
  18. Practicing karate correctly is one thing; engaging in a real fight is another.
  19. Do not forget to correctly apply: light and heavy application of power, expansion and contraction of the body, and slowness and speed of techniques.
  20. Devise at all times. (Always think and devise ways to live the Precepts every day.)


  • Shotokan Karate: A Precise History, Harry Cook, 2001 , Dragon Associates, Inc
  • Shotokan's Secret: The Hidden Truth Behind Karate's Fighting Origins, Bruce Clayton, Black Belt Communications (July 1, 2004)
  • Karate Fighting Techniques: The Complete Kumite, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Kodansha International (JPN) (May 1, 2004)
  • Shotokan karate international kata (Shotokan karate international) Vol1&2;, Hirokazu Kanazawa, Ikeda Shoten (January 1, 1981)
  • Karate-Do Nyumon: The Master Introductory Text, Gichin Funakoshi, Kodansha International (JPN); Reprint edition (December 1, 1994)
  • Karate-Do Kyohan: The Master Text, Gichin Funakoshi, Kodansha International (JPN); New Ed edition (April 1, 1973)
  • Karate Jutsu: The Original Teachings of Gichin Funakoshi, Gichin Funakoshi, Kodansha International (JPN) (August 1, 2001)
  • Karate-Do: My Way of Life, Gichin Funakoshi, Kodansha International (JPN); New Ed edition (July 1, 1981)
  • The Heart of Karate-Do, Shigeru Egami, Kodansha International (JPN); Revised edition (July 1, 2000)
  • Dynamic Karate: Instruction by the Master, Masatoshi Nakayama, Kodansha America; Reprint edition (February 1, 1987)
  • The Shotokan-Karate Dictionary, Schlatt Books (January 1, 2001)
  • Advanced Karate-Do: Concepts, Techniques, and Training Methods, Elmar T. Schmeisser, Damashi Pubns (November 1, 1994)
  • Channan : Heart of the Heians, Elmar T. Schmeisser, Trafford Publishing (April 22, 2004)
  • Bunkai: Secrets of Karate Kata Volume 1: The Tekki Series, Elmar T. Schmeisser, Palmerston & Reed Publishing Company (July 1, 2000)
  • The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi, iUniverse Star (January 1, 2004)

Master Gichin Funakoshi

"Karate is like hot water. If you do not give heat constantly it will again become cold."

A brief karate dictionary

Click here to download the PDF file.

Competition Rules

Click here to download the SKIF cometition rules in PDF file.

Click here to download the WKF cometition rules in PDF file. Most of the mixed-style karate competitions use the same or very similar to the WKF competition rules.


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