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Karate-Do (空手道) is a Japanese martial art, introduced from Okinawa in 1922. In Japanese, Kara means empty; Te means hand; Do means the way, thus "Karate-Do" means "the way of the empty hand". Shuri-Te, Naha-Te, Tomari-Te are the three styles of Te (Hands) that Karate descended from.
Originally, Karate was written as 唐手 ("Tang Hand" from the Chinese Tang dynasty or by extension, "Chinese Hand") due to the influence of Shaolin on the native Okinawan fighting styles that Karate originated from, since merchants and sailors from Fujian Province were traveling back and forth to Okinawa. In 1820 Sokon "Bushi" Matsumura blended the three styles of Te ("Chinese Hand") into "Shaolin" (Chinese 少林) or "Shorin-Ryu" (in Japanese) or "Forest Style" (English). However Matsumura's own students broke the style back down again into more branches and their students continued this break down adding or subtracting whatever suited them. Gichin Funakoshi a student of one of Matsumura's students named Yatsutsune "Ankoh" Itosu changed the meaning of "Chinese Hand" to 空手 "Empty Hand" since no weapons were used. He did this in 1929 to better reflect the philosophies of the art; and try to get it noticed and popularized by the Japanese mainland. Thus he founded Shotokan from Itosu's version of Matsumura Shorin-ryu which is commonly called Shorei-ryu.
Karate, like jujutsu and judo, most likely came to America through two primary paths: Japanese immigrants to Hawaii and the mainland, where it stayed largely inside the Japanese American community, although to a lesser degree in Hawaii, and by specialized study by members of the police and the military. It would be safe to say that the biggest boost to the popularization of karate in America came with the American military occupation of Japan after World War II; once American soldiers had assimilated the discipline, they returned with it to the States and began to disseminate it.
Like most martial arts active in Japan, Karate made its transition to Karate-Do at the beginning of the 20th century. Karate-Do does not, contrary to its Chinese relatives, include the use of weapons. Any weapons used are strictly within the Okinawan tradition, kobudo, the use of modified farming tools and common implements as weapons, since 'normal' weapons were banned in Okinawa. Within Karate and Karate-Do, there are a multitude of different Ryu's (styles or schools). The most renowned are Shaolin (Shorin-Ryu, "Forest style"), Shobayashi ("small forest style"), Kobayashi ("young forest style"), Matsubayashi, ("pine forest style"), Matsumura Seito ("Orthodox Style") and Matsumura Motobu ("Street Style"). From these came the more popular styles we have today such as Shorinji-ryu (Kempo) and Shorei-ryu as well as Shotokan ("pine wave") and Goju-ryu ("hard-soft way") also Kyokushin ("ultimate truth"). Other mainstream styles are Seido, Wado Ryu ("way of peace"), Uechi Ryu, and Shito ryu as well as Isshin-ryu
The Shotokan style of Karate is characterised by deep, long stances to provide stability and powerful movements. At the other end of the spectrum, Wado-Ryu ("way of peace") prefers quick and subtle body movements (known as 'tai sabaki') to evade attacks and swift counter attacks. The Wado-Ryu style was introduced to the west by Sensei Tatsuo Suzuki.
Karate is a hard martial art and emphasises striking techniques (i.e. punching and kicking) over grappling. Karate can be divided into two major parts, kumite and kata. Kumite (組手) means sparring and develops from well defined forms to the free form named randori. Kata (型) means forms and is a fight againt imaginary enemies, it is a fixed sequence of moves.
Yakusoku Kumite, starts at Green Belt (Yon-Kyu) two opponents usually square off and fight until a clean point is scored as indicated by one of two seated judges by coloured flags or seen by the standing referee. At this point sparring is stopped and the point is awarded. Points systems vary but in general a half point (wazari) is awarded for a single punch or for a kick to the body. A full point (ippon) is given for an attack such as a head kick, any attack following the opponent being taken to the ground or a combination techniqure (renrakuwaza).
Jiyu Kumite looks more like a brawl or street fight. It is the more serious side of the martial arts being done more for defense or close combat "Real Time" training than for sport. Although it has certain elements of control the fighters do push thereselves to be their best (No points are awarded).
In Kata points are awarded by five seated judges similar to either gymnastics or ice skating tournaments depending on the quality of the performance. A good Kata performance should perform all the movements correctly but also show a personal interpretation of the movements through one's variation in speed. When Kata is performed as a team (usually of three), it is also important to match the timing of techniques as closely as possible.
In Kumite there are two fighters paired up in a five minute fight. There are certain scoring areas all being worth the same amount of points. There are also different levels of fighting which I will discuss later.