What Is Karate?
"True karate is this: that in daily life one's mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility, and that in critical times, one be devoted utterly to the cause of justice." - Gichin Funakoshi Sensei.
Karate can also be described as a martial art, or fighting method, involving a variety of techniques, including blocks, strikes, evasions, throws, and joint manipulations. Karate practice is divided into three aspects: kihon (basics), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring).
The word karate is a combination of two Japanese characters: kara, meaning empty, and te, meaning hand; thus, karate means "empty hand." Adding the suffix "-do" (pronounced "doe"), meaning "way," i.e., karate-do, implies karate as a total way of life that goes well beyond the self-defence applications. In traditional karate-do, we always keep in mind that the true opponent is oneself.
Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi has said that "mind and technique become one in true karate." We strive to make our physical techniques pure expressions of our mind's intention, and to improve our mind's focus by understanding the essence of the physical techniques. By polishing our karate practice we are polishing our own spirit or our own mentality. For example, eliminating weak and indecisive movements in our karate helps to eliminate weakness and indecision in our minds and vice versa.
It is in this sense that karate becomes a way of life, as we try to become very strong but happy and peaceful people. "We must be strong enough to express our true minds to any opponent, anytime, in any circumstance. We must be calm enough to express ourselves humbly."
History of Karate
Karate history can be traced back some 1400 years, to Bodhidharma Daruma, founder of Zen Buddhism in Western India. Daruma is said to have introduced Buddhism into China, incorporating spiritual and physical teaching methods that were so demanding that many of his disciples would drop in exhaustion. In order to give them greater strength and endurance, he developed a more progressive training system, which he recorded in a book, Ekkin-Kyo, which can be considered the first book on karate of all time.
The physical training, heavily imbued with Daruma's philosophical principles, was taught in the Shaolin Temple in the year 500 A.D. Shaolin (Shorin) kung-fu, from northern China, was characterised by very colourful, rapid, and dynamic movements; the Shokei school of southern China was known for more powerful and sober techniques. These two kinds of styles found their way to Okinawa, and had their influence on Okinawa's own original fighting method, called Okinawa-te (Okinawan hand) or simply te. A ban on weapons in Okinawa for two long periods in its history is also partly responsible for the high degree of development of unarmed fighting techniques on the island.
In summary, karate in Okinawa developed from the synthesis of two fighting techniques. The first one, used by the inhabitants of Okinawa, was very simple but terribly effective and, above all, very close to reality since it was used throughout many centuries in real combat. The second one, much more elaborate and impregnated with philosophical teachings, was a product of the ancient culture of China. These two origins explain the double character of Karate extremely violent and efficient but at the same time a strict and austere discipline and philosophy with a non-violent emphasis.
The Influence of Master Funakoshi
Master Gichin Funakoshi was the first expert to introduce karate-do to mainland Japan, in 1916. One of the few people to have been initiated into all the major Okinawan karate methods, Master Funakoshi taught a synthesis of the Okinawan styles, as a total discipline. This method became known as Shotokan (literally "House of Shoto," Funakoshi's pen name). Because of the great popularity of the style in Japan and, later, around the world, Funakoshi is widely considered to be the "father of modern karate-do."
Gichin Funakoshi is widely considered the primary "father" of modern karate due to his efforts to introduce the Okinawan art to mainland Japan, from where it spread to the rest of the world. Born in 1868, he began to study karate at the age of 11, and was a student of the two greatest masters of the time, Azato and Itosu. He grew so proficient that he was initiated into all the major styles of karate in Okinawa at the time. For Master Funakoshi, the word karate eventually took on a deeper and broader meaning through the synthesis of these many methods, becoming karate-do, literally the "way of karate," or of the empty hand. Training in karate-do became an education for life itself.
Master Funakoshi was the first expert to introduce karate-do to mainland Japan. In 1916 he gave a demonstration to the Butokuden in Kyoto, Japan, which at that time was the official centre of all martial arts. On March 6, 1921, the Crown Prince, who was later to become the Emperor of Japan, visited Okinawa and Master Funakoshi was asked to demonstrate karate. In the early spring of 1922 Master Funakoshi travelled to Tokyo to present his art at the First National Athletic Exhibition in Tokyo organised by the Ministry of Education. He was strongly urged by several eminent groups and individuals to remain in Japan, and indeed he never did return to Okinawa.
Master Funakoshi taught only one method, a total discipline, which represented a synthesis of Okinawan karate styles. This method became known as Shotokan, literally the clan or the house of Shoto, which was the Master's pen name for his poetry, denoting the sound of the wind blowing through pines and is synonymous with the Tiger symbol.
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