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The Various Types of Karate

Updated on December 16, 2014

What is Karate

Karate is a type of Japanese Martial Art developed in the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa at present). Karate is an art which consist mainly of strikes using the hand, feet, legs and elbow (in some styles). Some style of Karate include grappling and throwing but is quite rare. The word Karate 空手 simple means empty (空), hand (手).

This type of martial art was developed before the 19th century at a time when the Ryukyu kingdom was separate from main land Japan (Honshu) as we know today. It wasn't until the 20th central when it was introduced to main land Japan. Since then it has taken on various changes and the introduction of many different style.

The types and styles of Karate

  • Shotokan- This is the most famous style of Karate used global developed by Gichin Funakoshi from Okinawa. The training is normally divided into three parts, Kihon (basics), Kata (forms/patterns), Kumite (sparring). In sparring the Kihon (basics) is put to practical use, you are encouraged to make physical contact withyour partner however the strike must be pulled back in order to avoid full impact. In competition, this will be worth a point or half a point depending on the strike area. Ranks are represented by coloured belts and the order of the colour will very from school to school.
  • Shito-ryu - This is combination of various styles, it has the physical strength and long powerful stances of certain styles. It also contains elements of other style with its circular movements. It is a very fast form of Karate but used correctly it can be very artistic and powerful. It is know for it's powerful blocking system used to destroy the opponents attacks.
  • Goju-ryu- This is one of the lesser aggressive styles of Karate.The founder believed that the aim of Karate was to find spiritual freedom and build character. Goju means hard/soft so it applies not only to Karate but to life in general. The Kata is Goju-ryu involves a partner so the practitioner can understand the application for each move.
  • Wado-ryu - This translates roughly to "Way of harmony". Attacks and blocks may look similar to that of Shotokan and other style of Karate however the delivery is slightly different. Wado-ryu combines karate with elements of Jujutsu where grappling, throwing and evasive techniques are common. A Wado-ryu practitioner will rely less on brute strength and power, they will often rely on using the enemies own strength against them by evading and deflecting moves leaving the attacker off balance and vulnerable for an attack.
  • Kyokushin Kaikan - This is one of the more recent type of Karate, founded in 1964. What make this style stand out is that it's full contact i.e. the objective is to down your opponent rather then win on points. Since Kyokushin emphasizes realistic combat and and toughness it is popular overseas. In competitions, gloves/mittens or leg protection is not used. Originally bare knuckle strikes to the head were allowed however the rules changed due to the number of injuries. Kyokushin is the most commonly practiced style of Karate in Japan today, with even kids taking part.

Rina Takeda - High Kick Girl

Popularity in Japan

The average Japanese is not actually interested in martial arts or fighting sports in general. However Sumo, Judo and Boxing are more popular here. There is a K1 kickboxing tournament here in Japan however it tends to be more of a show then a professional tournament attracting a lot of heavyweight foreigners. Pro wrestling is also popular in Japan, although it is more acting than fighting most of the matches are planed from the beginning however many Japanese take this more seriously than American WWE.

Many schools in Japan actually have Kendo as part of the curriculum. Kendo involves using a stick (representing a sword like the samurai). Heavy protective gear is worn to avoid injury.

In terms of Karate practiced in Japan it is normally the Kyokushin style that is taught in probably 90% of the dojos. The national Karate tournaments here actract people from all over the world. Note that there are no punches to the face in this style.

People in Japan tend to be more technique focused then actual fighting. Observing a Karate class in Japan you will clearly be able to see the difference.

Other combat sports

Rather than Karate, Japanese tend to be more intersted in Judo, Sumo, wrestling kickboxing and boxing. However the Judo and Sumo scene has recently been dominated by foreigners. Especially the Sumo scene with so many Mongolian Yokozunas in the limelight.

Judo is popular in high schools and universities in Japan. There are many schools that specialize in combat sports, and are very noticeable with the size of the students that go there. You may see kids with cauliflower ears already by the age of 16 due to wresting and Judo.


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