With a question like “What’s the best martial art for me?” there’s no clear-cut answer. Figuring out what you want to do requires a ton of research and exploration into different styles, and sometimes you don’t know the right questions to ask, or how to get the answers to them. There certainly is no such thing as a “one size fits all” martial art, either. However, one discipline that can certainly meet plenty of expectations and uses is karate.
With 50 million practitioners worldwide, karate is the second-most practiced martial arts discipline in the world, behind only taekwondo. Meaning “empty hand,” karate has its origins in the islands of Okinawa hundreds of years ago. Travelers from the Chinese mainland brought in variants of their native martial arts, which were adapted by the locals into a style called te. The art evolved into several different styles and developed over the coming centuries, but mostly remained on Okinawa until its introduction to mainland Japan in the 1900s. From there, it was streamlined and ultimately popularized into what it is today.
As its name suggests, karate is an empty-handed sport, making use of no weapons, only one’s feet and hands to commit strikes. The art itself incorporates a variety of self-defense techniques, as well as sparring and competitive elements, and a certain philosophy that aims to make practitioners humble, confident, disciplined, and respectful. Master Gichin Funakoshi, founder of the dominant Shotokan karate style and the father of modern karate, once said, “The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory nor defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.” Indeed, setting forth on a journey with karate means becoming a better person over the course of your experiences with karate.
Karate training consists of three parts – kata, kihon, and kumite. Each aspect is essential to the knowledge and understanding of the practitioner, as well as their overall growth in the sport.
Kihon refers to “fundamentals,” and involves the repetition of various basic elements of karate until it becomes second nature to the practitioner. From basic stances and strikes, to breathing and the most basic of forms, practicing kihon will eventually evolve into muscle memory for the karateka. Every karateka goes through kihon, and it may seem boring at first, but mastering the basics will lead to the success of advanced, higher training. It’s an essential lesson for anyone to learn, that the seemingly mind-numbing basics are always important no matter what.
Kata refers to “form,” and represents the technical, step-by-step movements that a karate practitioner must master. Each of these movements are designed to teach practitioners how to throw, punch, block, sweep, and maintain proper form all throughout these moves. Katas demonstrate the dynamic flows from one stance to another, and do not require a partner to execute.
Finally, kumite is the sparring aspect of karate, and comes in a variety of structures, ranging from sparring that allows only a set of pre-arranged moves – great for practicing drills – to free sparring.
Why karate, of all the possible martial arts you could take? First, there’s the applications for self-defense. Many martial arts are aggressive and focus on submissions and takedowns. Karate is designed primarily around defensive maneuvers, and indeed encourages its practitioners to be peaceful and never initiate an attack.
On top of that, karate is excellent for fitness and health. The extensive aerobic training, sparring, form training, and other physical aspects of karate all contribute to endurance, strength, coordination, and flexibility. On top of that, a good karate dojo discourages injury during sparring, so even if you are receiving kicks and punches while fighting another, you’re not in danger of getting severely hurt.
You’ll also learn plenty of discipline. Karate instruction teaches respect for one’s instructor, and one must learn to follow the instructor’s advice and commands because they are superior in experience and training, and know exactly what they’re talking about. In doing so, karate may teaches respect for one’s superiors. In addition to that, there will also be respect for one’s peers, as drills and sparring require trust in one’s partner in order to ensure that things are carried out correctly.
Finally, karate is a lifestyle, inseparable from the way you live your life. Every lesson karate teaches is centered not only on improving one’s physical prowess, but also on one’s mental and emotional states as well. You’ll learn a lot about yourself – your own strengths and weaknesses, and how you can evolve past your shortcomings. You’ll also become more confident and determined, as you constantly improve yourself. If there’s an art that can accomplish such comprehensive character growth in a person over the course of his training, that’s definitely karate.