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This question may be answered quite simply. Karate is a martial art, a form of self-defense. It teaches students to develop fast, powerful punches and kicks as well as skills in joint manipulation and throwing.

You can rightly call it ancient. It was first developed centuries ago on the islands of Okinawa, which is now the southernmost part of Japan. Karate probably originated from the martial arts of China, to which Okinawans were exposed through trade with the Chinese from as early as the fourteenth century.

It is widely accepted today that “karate” means “empty hand” in Japanese. In the 1920s, however, when karate was introduces to mainland Japan the word was still written using the ideograms kara, which referred to China, and te, which means “hand.”  Calling the martial are “Chinese hand” was a recognition of its origins. Later, as karate was further developed in Japan, the first ideogram was changed to “empty” , which was also pronounced kara. “Empty hand” refers to the ability of karate students to defend themselves without the use of weapons. It also alludes to the influence of Zen Buddhism on Japanese martial arts. Emptiness is a central theme of Zen.

Karate’s teachings are profound. Because karate can be so devastating, students must always consider ways to avoid conflict in their lives. For the same reason, they must also learn to work together, with respect and courtesy, so that they may practice karate safely and effectively. The ancient traditions of karate also help students to become aware of their places in its history and evolution.

Throughout their study of karate, students are constantly forces to reflect upon themselves, their attitude and their behavior. What does it mean to devote yourself of a goal? At what point are you trying hard enough? Why do you show respect? Why do you follow tradition? When is it proper to use the skills you’ve learned in karate to defend yourself, and when is it better to turn the other cheek or run? These questions can only be answered through a ling, unbiased examination of one’s self.

We must also remember that karate often means different things to different people. Young people, for example, often take up karate because they want to learn how to defend themselves. Elderly people, however, may only be looking for an interesting and fun way to stay fit. Parents often enroll their children in karate lessons to teach them discipline and to develop their coordination. Karate is also a very good way to learn much about the culture of Japan.

As you can see, it is quite difficult to completely answer the question, “What is karate?” If you imagine karate as being a deep lake or a pond, then learning how to kick and punch and to defend yourself are only the water’s surface. There is much more to learn in the depths below. There, you may even dins a reflection of life itself.

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