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Karate – history, styles and more

History of karate

Though karate, as we know it today, is only about 200 years old, its origins date back thousands of years. The martial art is said to derive from 17th century Okinawa, a time when weapons were banned by invading Japanese forces. Karate thus translates to ‘empty hands’ and was often practised in secret. Due to the lack of recorded information, not much is known for sure about the martial art before its arrival in Okinawa. Karate is heavily influenced by kung-fu and is believed to have begun as ‘te’, a fighting style used by Ryukyu Islands natives. One popular theory is that a Buddhist monk by the name of Bodhidharma taught temple boxing to Chinese monks to help strengthen them. Kung-fu is said to have evolved from this, and from kung-fu karate. At the turn of the 20th century, the secrecy around the martial art finally ended. Throughout the years, several schools and styles of karate have developed and the martial art is now practised by millions of people around the globe.

What type of martial art is karate?

Karate is an unarmed martial arts style. It uses a variety of techniques including kicking, striking and blocking and focuses on concentrating the body’s power at the point and instant of impact. Timing, technique and principles are other important points of emphasis. Striking surfaces are often trained and hardened by practice against padded surfaces and sometimes even panels of wood, though in training blows are stopped short. Like many martial arts, karate places value in integrity, loyalty and courage. It stresses mental strength, spirit and self-development.

The different styles of karate

There are four major modern styles of Karate: Shotokan-ryu, Wado-ryu, Shito-ryu and Goju-ryu. Shotokan-ryu is a prominent style founded by Gichin Funakoshi, one of the Okinawan Karate masters who introduced Karate to mainland Japan in 1922. Subsequently, Shotokan-ryu was one of the first styles to be introduced to Japan. It emphasises long stances and physical power. Wado-ryu derives from this style and is quite similar. Likewise, Shito-ryu is powerful but also agile and artistic. Forms under this style are not unlike those under Shotokan-ryu and Goju-ryu but also have some Chinese influence. Unlike most types of karate, Shito-ryu sometimes engages in weapon and sword arts. Lastly, Goju-ryu makes use of soft and hard techniques, using up and down stances and focusing on breathing power.

Karate in Australia

Following the second world war, karate spread rapidly around the world. There were two main avenues for this expansion. Firstly, many Japanese karate masters made it their mission to disseminate karate globally. They would either send their students overseas to teach the art or leave Japan themselves. Secondly, many allied occupation forces became interested and learned the martial art too, only to return to their countries and open their own dojos. The Australian Karate Federation was formed in 1970 with the mission of encouraging excellence in karate in Australia. Only a year later, the national team represented Australia in the inaugural World Karate Championships hosted in Japan. The Australian Karate Federation has continued to grow and remains the governing body for karate in Australia today.

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