What is the History of Karate?

Go to the sub-heading, ‘History’ in this section for a detailed look at the history of karate as most of us now practise it. It’s important that we have a good understanding of how Karate has come along the various paths it has and the influences that have shaped it and expanded it’s repetoire, both as an art, sport and means of self defence.

What is Karate?

Karate has become ‘style’ oriented – in other words, those individuals who, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were so influential that their personal style became universally practised and governed within tightly controlled organisations. In many ways, these separations and tight control over style specific technique, has not helped either the development of karate, nor it’s standing in the sporting world, as evidenced by the fact that despite the millions of practitioners around the world, successive world Karate organising bodies have been unable to get it accepted into the Olympic Games. The 1970′s in the UK saw the rise of the ‘multi-style organisations, breaking the strangle-hold that the large, politically inclined style Associations had on the sport. The BCKA is one such organisation, with a variety of styles in membership, within which there may be more, or less emphasis placed of one aspect, such as competition (in all their various types), practical street defence, fitness development, or non-competitive training.

Karate is about as easy to define as fishing, which, ultimately, is about catching fish, but could happen in fresh water, salt water, in a boat (rowing boat or 100ft trawler), from a bank of a lake, or standing in a fast flowing Scottish river with a simulated fly as bait, specifically targeting one species; it could be done commercially, as a pastime, or competitively. Karate has as many hues. It is, at it’s core an ancient Eastern fighting system for engaging an enemy at war, or in peacetime; over the years, as the base system moved from Okinawa to Japan, it took on the ‘Do’ or path, becoming a system of personal development, with an attendant philosophical aspect and, post the second world war, it has become an entrenched, competitive sport, whilst as a spin-off from the whole system comes the attendant benefits of fitness, mental strength, personal development and the ability to defend oneself – open to all, irrespective of age, sex, or ability. It can be a pastime, or a financially rewarding career and few other pastimes, sports or artistic endeavours have within them so much variation and potential.

That all having been said, it is at it’s core an organised system for punching and kicking and defending against others who are punching and kicking – that’s it!

What are the different styles of Karate?

Within Karate, there have developed ways of performing blocks and strikes and these have become known as Karate ‘Styles’.  The principles however are the same, ie, to learn to avoid or defend against an attack. The oldest traditional styles are Goju Ryu, Shotokan, Shitoryu and Wadoryu, though there are now many more styles or derivatives. The vast majority of clubs will offer one style of Karate and a new member will therefore become familiar with training in the style of the club in which they first train.

What are the benefits of Practising Karate?
Many of the ‘outcomes’ have been outlined above, but below is a more detailed list
The promotion of physical fitness
A deeper mental awareness and self control
A practical method of self defence
A sense of respect towards, and an understanding of oneself and others
A strong social aspect where many friendships can be made.

How Long to get good?

Most people take up Karate to learn how to take care of themselves – as we say. However, self defence is ‘extracted’ from Karate, as many of the complex techniques are not suited to conditions outside the training hall (dojo). The main goal is to know, understand and be able to demonstrate the system in it’s fullest – this is the armoury that you can choose a ‘weapon’ suitable to the real life situation. Each person will progress at their own pace, often subject more to time constraints as much as ability. After six months you’ll feel confident that you know what it’s all about and after one year you’ll think you’ve been doing it for ten!

How Much Time Per Week?

One, preferably two classes per week is ample as a beginner and when you start to get to grips with the complexities then definitely two. Look for a club that has beginners courses which normally run for a few weeks, often up to the first grading, from which point a person will move up to an intermediate class, or into the main class which will often be split between more tan one instructor, working on groups of different abilities.

How do I measure my progress?

Karate is structured in similar ways to an academic process, where there are various steps or qualifications, for example GCSEs and A Levels, to be gained en-route to a degree. In the case of Karate, the steps are called Kyu grades and these must be passed in order to achieve the first Dan or degree of black belt. The number of kyu grades varies between associations, but in general there are less than ten, with the highest number being the lowest grade and 1st Kyu the final step. Beginners will wear a white belt, or possibly red whilst Kyu grades are designated by different coloured belts, for example orange, red or yellow for early Kyu grades and brown for the later ones. For a more detailed explanation of the Karate grading system, go to the Grading section of this mani menu.

How Fit Do I Have To Be?

Most new students, of whatever age, or sex come with mixed fitness levels. Some people may not have done any physical training since school, some may have given up another sport like football and some may be commited to a good physical training regime. Believe this, though, that everyone is in the same boat, as the physical demands, flexibility and need to develop co-ordination are unique in Karate and in a field of there own. Karate has developed, over 100 years, teaching methods proven to sensibly bring on people’s fitness, flexibility, co-ordination, conditioning, timing and reactions – it has all these elements.

Is Karate Suitable For Children?

Karate in the UK has more junior practitioners than seniors, which tells it’s own tale about it’s popularity and suitability for children. Karate is about discipline; the methods of instruction and learning require both dedication, physical effort, but predominantly mental control. As students we have to do as we are told, as well as learning to be self-disciplined. Children also learn to accept responsibility, as they develop a need to train safely with others and become more aware and self confident without becoming aggressive, or too full of their own importance. With the spin-off benefits of fitness and self defence skills you can see why so many parents enrol their children into Karate classes. Some schools are predominantly geared to teaching children.

A successful Shukokai style junior club squad...




Is Karate Suitable For Women?

Yes, absolutely. There can’t be a better sport or pastime that can have such a marked effect on confidence and fitness, whilst providing practical benefits in the arena of self defence. If competitive fighting isn’t your thing, then the Kata side of competition opens new doors to the potential of personal success.


Tanabe Rikako on her way to winning the ‘Women’s Individual Kumite’ title

53rd JKA All Japan Championships June 2010


How Do I Get Started In Karate?

The first thing is to find a club and there is no better way to start than to select a club in membership with the BCKA. Although, the Association was only established in 2010, it grows monthly and more clubs are being added all the time. Before going to watch a club session in action, do more research and try to establish what you would like to get out of the commitment. To achieve anything worthwhile takes a long haul and Karate is certainly no exception to that – in fact for those people who it ‘grips’ the tightest, it is a lifetime path, but we all started somewhere and there is a path available to suit  the attainment of most people’s goals.

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