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The History of Karate

Karate has been documented as a fighting style since the 14th century, when it evolved in Japan's Okinawa and Ryukyu islands as a form of self-defence. Its name means "empty hands", recognising the fact that no weapons are used.

It was later influenced by kenpō, a fighting style introduced by Chinese immigrants who settled on Okinawa when trade relationships between China and the Japanese islands were established in 1372.

Where it Began

Debate has long ensued about karate's exact origins before it appeared in Okinawa. One theory was that it began in India more than 1,000 years ago, practiced by a Buddhist monk called Bodhidarma. Believed to be a style of temple boxing which strengthened the mind and body, it was said to be closely linked to Zen Buddhism, which Bodhidarma later taught in Shaolinsi, China.

Three distinct styles of karate emerged from three Okinawan cities Naha, Shuri and Tomari: Naha-te, Shuri-te and Tomari-te. The disciplines were called Okinawa-te collectively. The "te" label was lengthened to karate-jutsu, translated as "Chinese hand art". Subsequently, the name was altered again to "karate-do", meaning "the way of the empty hand".

Significant Dates

In 1905, karate was included in physical education programmes in Okinawa and in 1917, the first public display of karate was held. In 1924, Japan established its first university karate club at Keio University.

In the 1930s, karate was first practiced in Canada and in 1939, Japan opened its first formal training school, Shoto-Kan. It was in 1945 that the United States opened its first karate school, followed by the formation of the Japan Karate Association in 1949. In the 1950s, it was introduced in the United Kingdom.
Karate began became popular in the Soviet Union in the 1960s but it was later banned because it was said to go against the humane aims of the physical education system. It wasn't until 1989 that it was legalised again.

In 2016, it was finally announced that karate was to become an Olympic sport in the 2020 games in Tokyo. For decades, karate organisations had lobbied to have it included but they were turned down because Olympic officials argued it wouldn't bring anything new to the martial arts events, since they already included taekwondo. However, on 3rd August 2016, the International Olympic Committee voted to add karate in an effort to attract more young people to the games.

Respect and Etiquette

One of the most important parts of karate is etiquette; particularly showing respect for one's opponent, whether you're a student or a black belt. The first lesson is how to enter the training hall. This is known as "bowing in" to the designated front - or "shomen" - of the room.

When you first walk in, you must stand facing the shomen, your arms at your sides and your hands open and facing downwards. Then, you must bow by bending forward to about 45 degrees, looking down and not moving your arms. This procedure must be performed with courtesy and respect, not only when you enter the room but also when you leave.

It is said that in order to bow well physically, you must first learn how to bow well in your mind.

Modern Karate

Today, karate is taught worldwide in four distinctive Japanese styles: Gōju-ryū, Shotokan, Shitō-ryū and Wadō-ryū. It has evolved into a popular sport governed by the World Karate Federation, which has drawn up a common set of regulations. It is mainly a striking art that uses punching, kicking, knee and elbow strikes and open-hand techniques, although in some modern styles, throws, grappling, restraints and joint locks are also taught.

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