By Prof. Sara Grimes
UMass Shotokan Karate Club
The principle aim of Shotokan
Karate is peace: A positive approach to other people and society
through continuous training in karate under the guidance of a
qualified instructor in the tradition of Gichin Funakoshi.
The founder of modern karate for whom our Shotokan
style is named, Gichin Funakoshi (1870-1957) expressed this aim
in the words: "Karate ni sente nashi -- In karate there is
no first attack." Masatoshi Nakayama (1913-1987), Mr. Funakoshi's
successor, amplified this basic principle when he said: "Karate
ni sente nashi is a wish for harmony among people."
The literal meaning of the word karate is "empty
hand." This definition comes from Mr. Funakoshi who introduced
the character "kara" meaning "empty" to replace
its homonym in Japanese meaning "Chinese." The earlier
"Chinese hand" definition of karate reflects the historic
roots of the art but seemed outdated to Mr. Funakoshi for a number
of reasons. He sums up his definition of karate as "empty
hand" in Karate-Do Kyohan by saying:
"Finally, in a fundamental way, the form of
the universe is emptiness (kara), and, thus, emptiness is form
itself. There are many kinds of martial arts, judo, kendo, sojitsu
("spear techniques:), bojitsu ("stick techniques"),
and others, but at a fundamental level all these arts rest on
the same basis as Karate-do. It is no exaggeration to say that
the original sense of Karate-do is at one with the basis of all
martial arts. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form itself. The
kara of Karate-do has this meaning."
Another meaning of the "kara" or "empty"
in karate can refer to its nature as a weaponless martial art:
The karateka holds no weapon in his or her hand -- hence empty
hand -- but rather develops the whole body as a weapon itself
through practice in punching, striking and kicking techniques.
The mind, also, is an essential part of karate practice which
aims to improve the mental, physical and spiritual well-being
of its participants. This is reflected in one of Gichen Funakoshi's
basic maxims: "The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory
or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants."
With the basic aim of self-defense, karate trains
a person to deliver a kick or punch to the target with force and
speed which is concentrated on impact in a moment known as "focus"
when all the muscles of the body are tensed and the mind is concentrated.
The physical application is not so much muscle power as it is
breath control and reaction/reaction force in the body.
Karate training takes place in a formal atmosphere
of a dojo, or place to study the way, which reflects the traditional
oriental culture in which it is rooted as a martial art. As such,
the emphasis in training is as much on etiquette and self-control
as it is on physical ability. Training generally is divided into
the practice of basic techniques, kata or form and sparring. Kata
is a series of defensive and offensive techniques followed in
a set. In sparring, blows are stopped just short of contact so
that power is always maintained with control. Students after class
often recite the dojo kun, or principles of karate: Seek perfection
of character, be faithful, endeavor, respect others and refrain
from violent behavior.
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