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About Shotokan Karate

First of all, let me quote from Gichin Funakoshi the founder of Shotokan karate:

"...The origin of karate remains impenetrably hidden behind the mists of legends, but this much we know: it has taken root and is widely practiced throughout East Asia to the U.S.A. Karate must be nearly as old as man, who early found himself obliged to battle, weaponless, the hostile forces of nature, savage beasts and enemies among his fellow human beings. He soon learned, puny creature that he is, that in his relationship with natural forces accomodation was more sensible than struggle. However, where he was more evenly matched, in the inevitable hostilies with his fellow man, he was obliged to elvolve techniques that would enable him to defend himself and, hopefully, to conquer his enemy. To do so, he learned that he had to have a strong and healthy body. Thus, the techniques that he began developing - the techniques that finally became incorporated into Karate-do - are a ferocious fighting art but are also elements of the all-important art of self-defense now.

What does Karate mean? Laity like to say karate all the time they see any kind of Far-East, Asian fighting sports or martial artists - it may related to the movies' influences - however - thus the purpose of them is one - they are very different in their forms and styles. Karate itself also can be divided into several schools. Shotokan Karate which is one of the most traditional art is a member of these styles.

The word karate can be divided into two parts. "Te" is easy enough; it means "hand(s)". But there are two different characters that are both pronounced "kara"; one means "empty" and the other is the Chinese character referring to the T'ang dynasty and may be translated "Chinese". It is impossible now to find out which is more correct to use. I like the character means "empty" to write karate. For one thing, it symbolizes the obvious fact that this art of self-defense makes use of no weapons, only bare feet and empty hands. Further, students of Karate-do aim not only toward perfecting their chosen art but also toward emtying heart and mind of all earthly desire and vanity. Reading Buddhist scriptures, we come across such statements as "Shiki-soku-ze-ku" and "Ku-soku-zeshiki", which literally mean, "matter is void" and "all is vanity". The character "ku", which appears in both admonitions and may also be pronounced "kara", is in itself truth. True, in Okinawa they used the word "karate", but more often they called the art merely "te" or "bushi no te", "warrior's hand(s)".

In the VIII. century the karate was much different than we practice today. The sumo of that time included not only the techniques found in present-day sumo but also those of judo and karate. In the seventh and eight centuries, Japanese Buddhists had journeyed to the Sui and T'ang courts, where they gained insight into the Chinese version of the art and brought back to Japan some of refinements. For many years, here in Japan, karate remained cloistered behind thick temple walls, in particular those of Zen Buddhism; it was not, apparently, practiced by other people until samurai began to train within temple compounds and so came to learn of the existence ot the art.

Funakoshi Gichin Shotokan Karate was founded by Master Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957). As he wrote in his book, he was rather a sickly baby and a frail child; accordingly, it was suggested when he was still quite young that to overcome these handicaps he ought to begin the study of karate. One of his classmate's father, Yasutsune Azato began to teach him first, who was one of Okinawa's greatest experts in the art of karate, and also in Japanese fencing. Master Itosu who had the same firstname was also his instructor. After his health began to improve noticeably, his interest in karate began to grow. He had been a frail, irresolute, introverted child; by the time he reached manhood, he became strong, vigorous and outgoing. He founded his first school under the name "Soto" (he signed his poems under this name)..."
Later he wrote many books about his experience: "Karate-do: My Way of Life","Karate-do Kyohan", (you can find 18 katas descriptions) and "Karate-do Nyumon" published by Kodansha International, where you can find everything in this theme.

One of the most striking features of karate is that it may be engaged in by anybody, young or old, strong or weak, male or female. Further, one need not even have an opponent for practice purposes. Of course, as one progresses in the art, an adversary will be essential in order to practice sparring ("kumite") and free sparring ("jiyu kumite"), but a real adversary is unnecessary in the begining. Nor is there any need for a specially made uniform and "dojo". Of course, anyone truly determined to master the various kata must do so at a proper dojo, but someone who desire is merely to stay healthy and to train his mind and spirit may do so by practicing karate by himself. But the best - if it is possible to reach - is to sign up to the nearest karate club. It is more stimulating to practice as a member of a bigger community, on predetermined days and times regulary.

First hand, it is very important to choose a good Master. You have to be careful with it - in my opinion, the best if you watch some training lessons first, before you make your decision - and also do not adjudicate a style as a bad one because of that club's bad master (it is possible when you go to an other dojo with the same style, it is going to be so different, as comparing the Earth and the sky...). On the second hand, we have to decide, what we expect from karate. Do as a sport, go championships or we just want to develop, clear our soul and body, and choose it as a way of life. Many clubs have different opinion about its importance.

It is good to choose a style that fits your body. It is possible that Shotokan-karate might not be the best for you, but everyone can find their own way. Shotokan stances are very low, hard for the knees. It might be easier for short people. The hip has a special, central function when practicing karate techniques. Trainings are hard - I also got sick, overexhausted and had to sit down for a while on the first lessons - but later, like in other sports, by developing the body and stamina, these difficulties will disappear and you will feel more power, and more control on your body.

Do not go trainings because you expect to get nice colorful belts. In Japan there are no color belts, but white until black comes at Dan level. That is not the true meaning of Karate. To achieve real knowledge, and precise techniques, you must practice a lot.
The real karateka avoids dangerous conflicts but if he gets into trouble, nobody will ask the colour of their belt...


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