Karate – The Empty Hand

So, I’ve recently revitalized my interest and studies in Martial Arts, which is what inspired me to start this. I want to write a brief series of blog posts on the various systems and styles of Martial Arts I’ve encountered, and their individual awesomeness. I’m going to start the posts off with Karate (since that is what I have studied the longest.)

Karate is possibly the most prolific “style” in the U.S. So much so, that many Americans group all Asian martial arts under its banner. What most people don’t realize, is that Karate is broken into many different styles, which are in turn broken into different schools or organizations within those styles. The teachings and philosophies of these different schools are quite varied as well.

There are generally two facets of Karate in every style: “kata” or forms, and “kumite” or sparring. Both of these should intertwine with each other. In too many modern dojos (karate schools), kata are taught for mere demonstration or simply for formality’s sake.  However, true karate-ka (Karate practitioners), will use the kata to perfect technique.  All techniques learned in kata, should have application.  Through kumite, a karate-ka practices using those techniques, learning timing and judgment.  Both training techniques are used to train and develop a powerful fighter.

Traditional Karate styles are known for their direct power. Most Karate strikes use a concept called “kime” or focus for power. The basic theory behind the Karate strike, is that the entire body is always stronger than just a single part of the body. The karate-ka “pushes” against the ground, leveraging his center of gravity under the opponent, “channeling” the force through his body by a rapid rotation of the hips, and whipping out the strike. The karate-ka also synchronizes his breathing with the strike. Taking in air during the movement phase, and when the strike hits, quickly pushing the air out by immediately tightening the stomach, pushing from your center, and drilling your “ki” into your opponent. It takes years to master this technique, but it is the basis (with some variation) of every move in Karate. The karate-ka who develops this ability, will strike with quick, powerful, precision. Which is part of the typical Karate ideal of dispatching an opponent with as few moves as possible.   i.e. The one hit KO.

Unfortunately, because of karate’s fame and proliferation, many do-“joes” have sprung up as a result.  (“Rex-kwon-do” anyone?)  Many of these teach watered down, sport-only versions of karate include dazzling flips, jump kicks, and all-around fanciness. —Not that these things are bad in and of themselves. Seeing these kinds of events can be quite fun. However, it should be noted, that this form of “Sport Karate” is usually ineffective on the street, and it is quite different from the Traditional Karate spirit:   Simple. Direct. Effective.

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