Karate is many things. It is an excellent and well-balanced form of exercise. It is a highly evolved Asian means of self-defense. There are many different styles of karate just like there are many different languages in the world. But, as all language seeks to communicate, so all karate seeks to enhance self-defense. Karate is an art since the karateka must reach beyond just the mechanics of technique toward creativity in the application of karate skills in order to be proficient. It is also an art in the sense that karate represents a body of accumulated skills gained through considerable experience. It is a well organized, highly-competitive sport. Karate can also be a way of life. Most importantly, karate is a means of personal character development and improvement.
There is karate and there is Karate-do. Karate is a general name for a type of Okinawan and Japanese martial art using only empty hands. In the past, karate was written using the characters for "empty hand"—a purely physical way to describe karate. Yet, there is a deeper aspect to serious karate training which deals with character development.
Master Funakoshi, the founder of our style of karate, modified the way karate was written by changing the character used for "kara" from empty in a physical sense to empty in a spiritual sense. In the former context, "kara" conveyed only a physical aspect of karate which was just concerned with technique. However, Master Funakoshi recognized that there is also a more profound dimension of the "empty hand" martial art which is concerned with psychological development and is often referred to as development of the spirit. This is Karate-do.
Karate is not a religion or a philosophy, but it may complement religion and philosophy in one's life. Karate is not merely a sport or form of exercise although it does incorporate these elements. Karate is not merely a form of moving Zen or active meditation although karate also contains these benefits.
Karate is a way for an individual to realize greater potential and expand the limits of that individual's physical and mental capabilities. Karate is an excellent, time-proven method of personal development. Here's the Japan Karate Association definition of karate:
"Karate is not a martial art whose ultimate aim is to win. It is based on hard physical training that demands strict mental discipline by which one attempts to mold an ideal character through physical and spiritual trials."
As Master Funakoshi stated: "True Karate-do is this; that in daily life, one's mind and body be trained and developed in a spirit of humility; and that in critical times, one can be devoted utterly to the cause of justice."
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