The Shotokan karate style
Karate was originally an art practiced by various members in the Okinawan islands purely as a self-defense mechanism. Much of the basis came from travelers to China who would train and then bring parts of their training back and teach it to others. In 1917 Gichin Funakoshi founded the Shotokan style and standardized it in such a way that it could be publicly taught. This insured the longevity of the art and brought it into the public eye. Shotokan karate has now evolved from its purely self defensive roots to encompass many of the mind-body training elements of Jujitsu and Kendo. Both of which are ancient fighting techniques native to Japan.
Shotokan karate is commonly thought of as a hard style martial art with sharp powerful motions. However, as practitioners progress through the ranks more fluid elements such as grapples and throws begin to be introduced. Similar to other karate styles Shotokan is taught through kihon (Basic techniques of blocking, punching, kicking, and combinations), kata (Sequences of techniques which simulate combat situations), and kumite (Sparring).
Some thoughts on karate
These bits and pieces are from different editions of Sugiyama Sensei's book "Karate - Synchronization of Body and Mind"
Karate or Karate-Do?Recently, many people have begun using the term Karate-do instead of just Karate. Why? The reason arises from the fact that all Japanese martial arts emphasize mental values more than physical ones.
For example, Japanese sword fighting is called Ken-do instead of Ken-jitsu. The term Ju-do is used instead of Ju-Jitsu and Aiki-do is used instead of Aiki-Jitsu. The difference becomes clear when we understand that in Japanese, Jitsu simply means a technique while do means a way of life. The famous philosopher Confucius (551-478 B.C.) uses the concept of do in a saying which reveals the depth of its meaning. Confucius said, "If I could be taught in the morning how a human being should live his life, I could die that very evening." In this saying the term "how a human being should live his life" is described by the Chinese equivalent of the term "do."
Japanese martial artists have found that there's a limit to how far physical development can carry you, and to get beyond that limit you have to depend on mental development. Therefore, they try to live and control their lives by the mental development and the mental concepts they practice. When the weaponless combat technique of Okinawa was introduced on the Japanese mainland by Ven. G. Funakoshi, it was strongly influenced by the Japanese Zen philosophy as were other martial arts.
This influence has meant that Karate goes far beyond mere fighting techniques. In fact, the word "Karate" represents the essence of the Zen philosphy. It implies the process or act of ridding one's self of one's ego - of attaining a state of mind that is affected by nothing... a state of mind that is, in itself, state of nothingness.
Reflecting this, Ven. G. Funakoshi said that "the ultimate goal of Karate does not lie in victory but in perfection of the character of the participants." It is to emphasize this belief and philosophy that people use the term "Karate-do" instead of just "Karate". But, whichever term you use, the real meaning is understood when, after much practice, you finally do arrive at that state of mind which is disturbed by nothing.
That nothingness means that you can concentrate better because you're not disturbed by by things going on outside your mind and body. This is concentration you can use not only in Karate but in other areas of your life as well.
What is Karate (physically)?Karate is a weaponless martial art which can also be enjoyed as a sport. Every part of body is used as a weapon to punch, kick, strike and throw the opponent.
What is the difference between Karate and the other weaponless martial arts?The first principle of Karate is to dispatch one's oponent with one blow and wager one's life on that blow.
How can you create this much power in karate?Through kime (focus). In basic training, we practice synchronizing the entire body to support one point which contacts the opponent's body for one moment only. We try to concentrate all our power on that one point.
Karate, mental aspect:We think that there are limits to the strength of our body and mind without really trying hard to find these limits. With proper training, these mental and physical barriers can be removed to reveal surprising power which we never expected. Karate is a Japanese martial art (Bu-Do), which was devised to overcome our weaknesses and limitations by bringing out our hidden or unnoticed potential.
What is the difference between self-defense and a Japanese Martial Art?When acting in self-defense, you are acting in your own interest. You, yourself, are the subject to be protected. This, of course, is instinctive and easy to do. When practicing a Japanese martial art, someone else or something greater than yourself is the subject to be protected. This means you must have a altruistic love of others instead of just an egotistical love for yourself. This is the Gedatsu of Buddhism which means "getting out of yourself."
Which is better?In fighting (not only physical competition, but commercial and mental competition as in business, school, etc.) if you think first about your own personal safety or well-being, you will worry and wonder what to do. Often you cannot make a decision properly or quickly and will miss the good chances. But if you deny your existence in this world and act for love (your honor, loved ones, country, people, etc.) you will be decisive and be able to focus great power.
The word Karate is derived from "nothingness" (mu) of Zen Buddhism. This "nothingness" is freedom from the psychological obstruction of fear coupled with complete ability and disposition to use physical techniques. Mu is the very essence of Karate.