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Karate: The Art of Empty Hand Fighting

Updated on June 8, 2009

The word "karate" means "empty hand" and refers to the total absence of weapons. Karate also has a quasireligious aspect that emphasizes high moral purpose and restraint, as expressed in the motto "We who can kill must know when our cause is righteous".

Karate is a form of unarmed combat closely related to judo and jujitsu.

Karate mainly employs striking techniques, judo uses body-throwing techniques, and jujitsu uses the most violent features of both karate and judo.

Basically a deadly skill rather than a true sport, karate has since been presented in exhibition forms, which display the less violent and fatal forms of defense and attack by controlled blows. In competition, vital attack areas are limited to areas above the waist.

Karate involves the use of the hands, elbows, knees, and feet to strike an opponent at various vulnerable points of the body. These main points are the top and front of the skull, nasal bone, larynx, solar plexus, groin, spinal column, and kidneys. A well-directed blow can be fatal. Exponents of karate believe that the bare hand is the most potent of all weapons, and karate experts are able to shatter bricks and boards with a single blow. Students toughen their hands and feet by striking them against straw-colored posts and by driving them into sand, gravel, and similar substances. Karate practice also includes deep breathing exercises, blocking, chopping blows with the hands, and kicking.

Karate recognizes five classes of achievement, which are distinguished by belts of different colors worn around the gi, or the traditional pajama-like costume. A white belt signifies a beginner. After he has faced one opponent, a student may wear a green belt; after two opponents, a purple belt; and after five, a brown belt. A black belt, the highest class, signifies a master of the art.

Some of the terms peculiar to karate are shuto, a chopping blow with the side of the open hand; nukite, a straight jab with stiff, extended fingers; haraken, a hammer-like blow with the fist; seiken, a corkscrew punch delivered with a stiff arm; kyu, a student; dan, a teacher; and dojo, an exercise hall.

The bloodcurdling yell delivered just before striking is intended to give added courage to the attacker, to throw his opponent off guard, and to give maximum force to his blow.


The art and science of karate are more than 5,000 years old. Unarmed peasants and priests of the ancient Orient originated karate to defend themselves against armed bandits and warriors. It became highly developed on the island of Okinawa in the early 1600's after a government decree had forbidden the carrying of weapons by the lower classes. It spread to Japan after Japan had conquered Okinawa in 1875. Many of the skilled exponents of karate today are Japanese. After World War II, karate was introduced into the United States by military personnel returning from occupation duty in Japan. Policemen and soldiers, narcotics and treasury officers, and other people in law enforcement are often trained in karate as a mode of self-defense. Many persons also train in karate as a form of recreation and for self-improvement.


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      tatsumaki 5 years ago

      being a 6th dan in karate, i know d effectiveness, thanks hub for the page, i guess beginners will know how powerful karate is

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      Morris Banwa 5 years ago

      Thanx for an insight about karate especially to beginers

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      nathan marsh 7 years ago

      i runned a class in kent england

    • Longtail profile image

      Longtail 7 years ago

      Thank you Hezekiah. I enjoyed reading your feedback!

    • Hezekiah profile image

      Hezekiah 7 years ago from Japan

      Nice hub, I live in Japan and have done the original Okinawa Kyokushin Karate for many years. It's rather brutal compared to Shotokan, Shokokai, etc.. Lots of bare knuckle contests still go on, underground, organized by the Yakuza. Still good to get a taste of the real stuff tho.

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      SidneyMorgan 7 years ago from Australia

      I've been doing Shotokan karate for many years and my kids have started recently. In my opinion karate is the best martial art out there - great for concentration, discipline and fitness! Thanks for the great hub page!