Karate is believed to have stemmed from ancient Shao Lin kung fu. Its history stretches back many centuries, and many details of its evolution are still vague.
It is said that the original karate-do was conceived in Okinawa, Japan. Apparently derived from the artistic martial disciplines of China, the ancestor-style of karate was introduced to the Okinawan people hundreds of years ago. Carefully studied by Japanese sages and monks, this style was eventually coupled with the native martial art of the region.
During this time of feudal sovereignty, weapons had become scarce; the Okinawan rulers feared revolt, and so banned all form of weaponry, including 'suspicious' farming tools. Overtly 'cautious' officials regulated such devices in order to prevent a future rebellion, leaving the populace bare and vulnerable. In defiance of those laws, the people began practising karate in secret, an art that had lain dormant for decades. They gradually developed their unarmed self-defence techniques, reviving the past spirit of karate. Understandably, these lessons usually occurred in the cover of darkness, with their students still dressed in their night robes (hence the origin of the gi).
Karate-do was later structured and organised into the modern form that is now seen today. This martial art was recently introduced to the world in the 1950s, when Japan sent its karate masters overseas as teachers to the people of the outside.
KIHON - THE BASICS
The first and most fundamental element of traditional karate is kihon, or 'basic techniques'. Before progressing into the later stages of training, one must build their basics. Perfecting one's kihon improves the effectiveness of techniques in kata and Kumite later on.
Aside from developing the standard movements of punching, blocking, kicking, and striking, Kihon also strives to work on subtler aspects of karate. Stance, posture, and balance will assure a stable foundation. Proper breathing will help with one's relaxation and zanshin.
With diligent and regular training, karate techniques require less superfluous movement and produce greater power.
KATA - FORM
Katas are choreographed 'forms' that represent the artistic nature of martial arts. Designed to defend against opponents from multiple directions, katas are highly structured and organized. They are made up of certain unique combinations that are to be used in rare circumstances.
Each kata has its own traditional and deep physical meaning. The individual basic 'Heian' katas have a specific rank assigned to them. All katas start and finish at their respected starting point.
KUMITE - SPARRING
(No combat due to Covid-19 till further notice)
Whenever two students are engaged in combat, whether simulated or otherwise, it is called Kumite. For most karatekas, it is strictly forbidden to literally strike your partner. However, for the much higher belts engaged in 'free-sparring', a certain amount of contact may be allowed.
'Kihon' Kumite is performed in the basic stances and must respect a set timing.
'Jiyu' Kumite is performed in the free-style stance and has more flexible rules. In such sparring, students slide forward or backward and may move to the sides.
In order to move up in the ranks of Shotokan, one must have trained with their current belt for at least 36 classes and 12 weeks. Moreover, Sensei himself must judge his studentâs character and will determine whether his/her efforts were worthy enough.
BEFORE THE EXAM
Examinations are held at the dojo. The basic rules of etiquette must apply there as well. One should bow while entering and exiting. Before the exams, higher belts will prepare the dojo floor. Examinees should arrive at least half an hour before the scheduled time. At the start of the exam, students will line-up in the respected echelon. After mutual bows, the exam will begin.
DURING THE EXAM
Students will usually be examined in groups of two, three or four. The examinations will begin with the lowest belts, and proceed to the higher belts. When a karateka is called, they must bow at the center of the dojo, and enter from that point. Students should not enter the exam area from any other direction. The exams begin with kihon (basics), kata (form), then kumite (sparring). While in a group, karatekas must respect the order in which they were called. During kumite, Sensei may wish to call another student onto the exam floor. This happens often to maintain a consistent height between the pairs. Sensei will expect all students to comply, naturally.
AFTER THE EXAM
After all students have been carefully examined, line-up will occur once again. Sensei (and the second examiner, if necessary) will hand out the exam papers to each student. Karatekas should walk forward, receive their paper, courteously shake hands and bow to each examiner present. Exam papers have the scores of each student and certain commentaries written down. Students should read their commentaries and strive to improve themselves.
In competitions, similar rules of courtesy apply. One must bow while entering, as well as exiting. When the competition is about to begin, there will be a line-up of many competitors. After the starting etiquette, and the preparations are complete, they will divide the floor into rectangular sectors.
Each sector will accommodate a specific rank and age group. Lower belts and younger students will usually begin first, followed by the older students. If one's name is not called, they are to practice in a specific sector allocated to them. Be ever vigilant; it is important to observe students of one's age and rank. Otherwise, one may miss their turn when their name is called.
During the competition, all students should be kneeling just outside the sector. When they are called, students should bow and reach their assigned position from the sides. Competitors may be asked to wear 'red' belts to help distinguish them. Do so promptly.
Contestants, in red/white pairs, first demonstrate a kata within their abilities; four judges will determine the more apt student, while a fifth judge gives the final judgement. In the event of a tie, a second kata is to be performed.
After the elimination round, winners will perform individual katas. Each student will be judged through numbers by the five judges. The highest and lowest scores are removed; the remaining three scores are averaged. After all the scores have been tallied, three final winners will be chosen.
Scoring a kata is based on the following elements :
• Mental concentration
• Correct timing, continuity and smoothness
• Total body power and force
• Balance and confidence
• Returning to the starting point
If a competitor pauses, or hesitates, for more than five seconds, they fail.
There are three designated points on the competition court; teams will be called forth to certain sectors to begin their 'team' kata. Three competitors, preferably of similar rank, age and height, will perform a perfectly synchronized kata together, as a team. As before, three winners will be chosen from the tallied scores.
parring is confined to the square sector; competitors cannot deviate from the field.
When called, both competitors bow and move to the sides from the outside. Then, they bow inside, and move to their starting points. Lower belts will have to perform 'kihon' kumite, while higher belts must engage in 'jiyu' kumite. These are almost identical to the ones given in class.
The highest belts are expected to free spar. Scoring techniques can be tsuki (punch), keri (kick), and uchi (strike). There are two types of scoring given : 'ippon', or full point, and 'waza-ari', or half-point. Competitors will have two minutes to score their points. If, within this time, none of the competitors have scored, judges will make a decision for the winning side. The same applies for ties
Requirements for an 'ippon' score :
• Timing (opponent could not defend)
• Distance and accuracy
• Effective, yet not causing injury
Requirements for a 'waza-ari' score :
• Successful techniques of lower accuracy and timing
Penalties are given if the competitor steps beyond the sector boundaries, or behaves poorly. Free sparring 'jiyu' kumite can be both individual and in teams.
THE RANK ECHELON
As karate kas gain experience through the years, they also have the opportunity to attain higher levels. Symbolised by coloured belts, these rank emblems help identify the senior students of a dojo. Also, those who wear the rarer belts are given greater responsibilities and higher expectations.