10 things to know about Karate
“Looking to get started with Karate? Here is a beginner’s guide to help you understand everything about Shotokan Karate.”
EXPERTISE SHARED BY SOMERTON’S KARATE INSTRUCTOR RHODA YATES
WHAT IS KARATE?
Karate-Do (Do means the way of or path) is a form of Japanese martial arts and a way of life which encourages peace. The sport is a physical conditioning developing your body, mind and spirit, with techniques requiring strength, agility, focus and coordination.
WHO INVENTED SHOTOKAN KARATE?
Shotokan is named after the pen name of its founder Master Gichin Funakoshi.
His father sent him to learn Karate from two masters in Okinawa to strengthen his physique because he was a “sickly child”. He was later invited to demonstrate his art to the Japanese Naval Forces as many Japanese more popularly studied the indigenous art of Judo.
A good treatise for Westerners on the philosophy of Shotokan is written by CW Nicol born in Neath, Wales called Moving Zen in the 1960s. In it he recounts the strenuous training at JKA headquarters. He became a Japanese citizen living there as a naturalist/environmentalist for which he renounced his British/Canadian citizenship.
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WHAT ARE THE PHILOSOPHIES OF KARATE?
A popular expression in Karate, attributed to Master Funakoshi is Karate ni sente nashi which means “there is no first strike in Karate”. This is a simplistic translation of a far deeper concept regarding self-defense. As your sensei (teacher) would tell you “Talk is easy but you have to train hard to experience the true meaning of this.” As with many deeper concepts there are many levels of training and as a shodan (rank). One level of understanding can be found in this essay on LinkedIn, but remember that your body has its own level of understanding; we are not just cerebral beings.
Various mystical philosophies of the Orient refer to Chi or Ki as the life-force or energy within the human body. Martial arts frequently seek to harness that force in the service of self-defense. This is profoundly grounding in that it connects us with our inner being in a fully mindful way. It is in the movement to evade a strike or in the execution of a manoeuvre to riposte a blow that we must connect with our life-force and our will to live. In this simulated dance of life and death we paradoxically find peace and a release from the constant distractions of modern life. It is profoundly mindful and very harmonious with Zen Buddhist practice. This builds coordination, balance, heightened awareness and a capacity to concentrate our own energy to serve the greater good.
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WHAT ARE THE MUST-KNOW KARATE TERMS?
There are quite many terms you need to know. For example, Karate begins and ends with rei (bow) indicating respect, to the shomen (or front of the dojo - often with a picture of the founder) to one’s sensei and otagai ni rei to one another. This site has some translation help with some of the many basic terms used in Dojo rituals.
The term oss/osu used in the Dojo (it is the only word allowed to students as there is no talking in class; the instructor can invite questions, but it is impolite to interrupt the lesson), is a word of military origin but it could be classified as a form of aizuchi (terms used by the Japanese to demonstrate active listening to the speaker). We do not have a versatile Western equivalent but maybe “unhuh” is similar.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON KARATE MISCONCEPTIONS?
Karate moves are often seen in movie fight scenes, but some of them can actually be misleading. Those scenes might make you think that Karate is all about kicking, punching and breaking bricks. However, Karate is so much more than that. It is about self-defense. It is not just about showing one’s physical strength, but it also has its psychological side. The balance between the physical and psychological side of Karate is an art.
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WHAT TO EXPECT AT MY KARATE TRAINING?
Karate training consists of kihon (basic techniques consisting of strikes and blocks), kata (movements against imaginary opponents to practice prescribed movements that look like a dance but one that is quite fierce), and kumite which is a form of sparring in its basic form but eventually becomes free sparring. Just as a senpai (teacher or master) once said, training is like making a sword; kata polishes it, kihon sharpens it, and kumite dulls it.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF KARATE?
Karate is beneficial in many ways, here are some of the reasons that make Karate a great exercise:
• Burning calories
• Improving strength and power
• Improving balance, flexibility and agility
• Improving mood and mental health
• Building confidence and patience
• Becoming disciplined and respectful
• Defending yourself, of course
WHAT ARE THE RULES OF KARATE ETIQUETTE?
Dojo etiquette is fairly complex. Just getting the bow right is already very difficult. There is hierarchy so if you bow to a senior belt or senpai, technically your head should incline more or lower than theirs. Do not flop over as this is disrespectful. Just hands by the side (not in prayer like namaste) and straight from the hip flexors. Senior instructors may just tilt the head briefly but students should bow to them. If you arrive a little late, you should kneel and bow and remain in seiza (proper sitting) until the sensei acknowledges and allows you into the class. Clubs vary though; some recite Dojo Kun in English, some do it in Japanese and some do not bother.
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IN WHAT WAYS DO KARATE INSTRUCTORS HELP ME?
I was fortunate to train in a Summer Camp under the distinguished Master Nakayama-Sama who wrote the Best Karate series of books detailing the principles and practice of kata and Dynamic Karate, which elaborates the technical aspects of Karate. Nakayama-Sama was a student of Master Funakoshi and I will forever be grateful for the gift of his wisdom and insight as I have not yet found any martial art that so meticulously explains the kinetic aspects of the application of force better than what I learned from him through my sensei and others who passed his knowledge on to so many around the world.
HOW TO CHOOSE A KARATE SESSION BEST FOR ME?
Here is how you should choose a Karate instructor best for you. First, ask yourself, why do you want to have a Karate session in the first place? Do you want to lose weight or train for self-defense?
At Somerton, there are many professional Karate instructors. It is very important to get an expert that understands your goals and helps you achieve them. They will customise your programme, keep you motivated and elevate your sporting journey.