As self-defense, karate is meant to be weaponless. Indeed, the word itself means empty hand (kara -- empty; te -- hand). This often comes as a surprise, since many people associate karate with violence, weapons and aggression. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. While some may use karate aggressively, this is a direct contradiction to its philosophical ideals known as karate ni sente nashi, or "there is no first attack in karate." These words, which the Okinawan grand master, Gichin Funakoshi, often repeated to his students, are inscribed on a monument dedicated to him in a Zen monastery near Tokyo. The words speak to the hearts of Okinawans. They are part of a cultural tradition in Okinawa that extols the virtues of peaceful conflict resolution.|
Karate-do (the way of the "empty" or "Chinese" hand) is Japan's most popular "hard" martial art and has millions of followers worldwide. It was originally developed in Okinawa as a means of self-defense after the Okinawan kings and subsequent Japanese rulers banned weapons. It was likely adapted from similar Chinese techniques that were being practiced in the 1600s but that dated back even further.
Karate is most recognized for its impressive array of hand and foot strikes; its demanding regimen of physical conditioning; its emphasis on breathing techniques; and its "kata" or rehearsals of striking, blocking and turning. The feet, legs, elbows, head and fists are used for kicking, punching, defensive blocking and other techniques. Intense concentration is used to focus as much strength as possible on the object of impact. To most of its followers, however, karate is much more than sport or a defense technique. It is deeply connected to a way of life that emphasizes self-discipline and spiritual awareness. Two types of contests are popular in sport karate: kata, where judges award points for technique and timing, and kumite, where points are awarded for well-timed attacking blows. In karate contests, opponents are not allowed to actually strike each other. They must stop just short of making contact.
Shoshin Nagamine, one of the grand masters of Okinawan karate, who was still perfecting the art into his 90s, wrote the following about karate's physical and philosophical aspects:
"Karate is training in self-perfection, a means whereby...there is not the thickness of a hair between a person and their deed. It is training in self-efficiency. It is training in self-reliance. Its rewards are here and now, for it enables a person to meet any situation with exactly the right expenditure and effort, neither too much or too little, and it gives you control of your otherwise wayward mind so that neither physical danger from without nor rampant passion from within can dislodge you."