Table of Contents
The Beginnings of Karate. 3
Karate Materials. 5
Competition Area. 7
Aims of Karate. 10
Physiological and Psychological Effects of Karate. 10
Karate and other Sports. 11
Karate is an oriental form of martial art with roots in northern China and Okinawa Island in Japan. As a fighting art, the main aim of karate is to disable the opponent as fast as possible using the least likely energy (Dixon, 2009). Players perform such tasks through extensive body training, wherein they can use all body parts as weapons while at the same time maintaining precise control of balance and power. In trying to dislodge the opponent, players largely strike their opponents using different techniques including knee and elbow strikes, punching and kicking. Other striking techniques involve open-hand formssuch as palm-heel strikes, knife-hands and spear hands. While the striking blows have roots in the traditional origins of the art, modern forms of the sport include vital-point strikes, joint locks, restraints and tackling (Dixon, 2009).
For karate as a sport, the aim is to win by earning more points than the opponent. The sport awards points for different strikes to different parts of the body, with kicks to the head valued at two points. Kicks to the body and all other hand techniques used by the opponents earn the players a point each. Most importantly, a competitor needs to be the first to earn five points for him or her to win. While karate is still not a designated Olympic sport, the International Olympics Committee’s executive board voted to include it in the 2020 games. Undoubtedly, the sport is not only enjoyable but also allows participation for people of all ages and genders, although with restrictions on the mixing of the genders and levels attained in any competition, in addition to the distinction of competitors according to the different discipline (dojo) that each competitor has training on.
The Beginnings of Karate
As known and used today, karate is a combination of two words, kara (meaning empty) and te (meaning hand). Therefore, the combination of the word essentially means empty hand. Modern-day karate has a rich history dating back almost 1400 years. According to Funakoshi (1973), modern day karate came to Okinawa island from travels between China and the island. In explaining the origins of karate, Funakoshi explains that about 200 years ago, “a certain Sakugawa of Akata, in Shuri, traveled to China and then returned to Okinawa after mastering karate to become known as “Karate-Sakugawa” during his time” (8). In essence, masters of the art traveled from mainland China to Okinawa, teaching the residents (those interested and with the necessary discipline) the martial art. Hence, from the travels, the art attained its finesse and became the organized art that it is today.
The modern day karate, as used in sport and competition, began in the 1940s following the ousting of some karateka from their dojo as punishment for adopting elements of style that were not recognized by their dojo (Funakoshi, 1973). Indeed, karate as an art has different styles. Historically, each style and school is a representation of the owner of a dojo. Therefore, karate remains a sport with varying styles (some relying on strength while others on speed) as presented to the trainees by their masters/trainers. Funakoshi (1973), however, explains that even after mastery and training, there are still variations considering the different attributes of individuals and the art’s interpretation by the trainers. He states, “Interpretations of the art by those who are training differ according to the interpretations of their instructors. Moreover, it goes without saying that variations in expressions are characteristic of each individual,” (Funakoshi, 1973, p.8).While in the strictest of sense there are no contests in karate (Shigeru, 1976), trainers organize competitions based on different styles or non-style specific. Despite the presence of a number of organizations, the one that is best respected is the World Karate Federation (WKF), both for its size and the fact that it is the only karate body recognised by the International Olympic Committee. The organization is responsible for making competition rules and governing the styles used in the games. According to the WKF, the two disciplines in karate are sparring (kumite) and forms (kata) (WKF, 2015). However, people can take part in competitions individually as or part of teams of three.
This is the Japanese name for the uniform used in both karate training and competitions. The uniform includes a top and a bottom, as well as a belt (obi) tied around the waist bearing the color of the competitor’s rank. The karate-gi is always white, except for instances whereby a team visits, in which case the visiting team wears a different color gi (McDermott & Arce, 2004). The belt is tied high-waist in a square knot with the ends of the belt even and stationed at the center of the body, and measuring about 5 centimeters wide. Additionally, the belt should be long enough to give 15 centimeters length allowance on both sides when tied. According to Cruz (2013), over the years, the karate-gi has evolved to allow maximum mobility and speed to competitors. For this reason, most of the karate-gi are made using light canvas-style cloths. Indeed, using such material allows the uniform to take a considerable amount of wear and tear without necessarily restricting a competitor’s movement. While the light material is especially appropriate for beginners and young competitors, advanced competitors use uniforms that have heavier fabric (Cruz, 2013). Although it is heavier than others, this fabric has more strength than that of junior players and can wick perspiration.
There are three cuts on karate-gi consisting Kata, Japanese, and European. McDermott and Arce (2004) contend that sleeves on the Japanese cut are shorter. Likewise, the trousers also consist of shorter cuts, which allow reduced restrictions to the competitors. Furthermore, the cut has a longer lapel that prevents it from riding over the belt. On the other hand, the Kata cut has relatively short sleeves. Largely, the choice for the Kata cut is for its aesthetic appeal more than a functional advantage. A comparatively short lapel and relatively long sleeves and trousers describe the European cut (McDermott & Arce, 2004). Certainly, the WKF allows emblems on the karate-gi. However, they must be by the set rules. According to WKF (2015), “the national emblem or flag of the country will be worn on the left breast of the jacket and may not exceed an overall size of 12cm by 8cm,” (p. 6). On the karate-gi are also specific measurements for advertisement and emblems as well as manufactures’ logos (see Figure 1). The organizers, however, do not allow personal embroidery on the gi, even female competitors are required to wear a plain white t-shirt beneath their jackets.
Figure 1: Karate gi (WKF, 2015).
The arrangement of the competition area depends on the discipline (kumite or kata). However, both the areas should be flat and have no harmful material or equipment on them. The area measures eight meters square, with an additional two meters on all sides, as a safety area (WKF, 2015). Additionally, the Federation requires a two-meter line to be drawn from the center of the competition area as the marketed position for the referee. The area also has a 3-meter line drawn from the center of the area (1.5 meters each from the center) for the positioning of the competitors. While the competition area that is used for Kumite can be used for Kata, the positioning of the judges differs in the two cases. The Kumite, judges (five) sit at the corners of the safety area. The match supervisor sits outside the safety area, behind the referee while the score supervisor sits at the official score table, in the midst of the scorekeeper and the timekeeper (WKF, 2015). On the other hand, for Kata, the chief judge sits at the center facing the contestants, while the other judges sit at the corners of the competition area (see Figures 2 & 3).
Figure 2: Kumite competition area (WKF, 2015)
Figure 3: Kata competition area (WKF, 2015)
Karate rules aim at conducting fair, safe, and competitive competitions. At the start of the competition, the competitors are required to present themselves to the center referee dressed in suitable attire for the competition (WKF, 2015). The rank matching rule requires competitors to compete in the highest rank (belt) attained. Thus, at the completion of a black belt, for instance, the competitor has to compete as a black belt always. Additionally, competitors must provide proof of age in the form of a birth certificate, driver’s license or passport according to the rule of proof of age (ISKA, 2016; WKF, 2015). In addition to age, competitors must also present themselves for weighing for which they have to rid themselves of clothing or materials that may alter their weight.
The referee makes a final call for competitors in a division at the ringside (competition area) to start a game. After the call, the officials mark off the names of the competitors. However, a computer-generated draw matches the different competitors, for the placement of the individual competitors (ISKA, 2016; WKF, 2015). In the absence of a computer-generated draw, the competition official place names on the draw sheet randomly, taking care not to match competitors from the same club in the first round (ISKA, 2016; WKF, 2015). Nevertheless, the rule (matching competitors from the same club) only applies when the number of competitors so permits. Moreover, different divisions are age and gender specific. Thus males and females have separate divisions. For this reason, “Competitors are not permitted to compete in a division that is gazetted as being for the opposite gender to the one found on their legal identification” (ISKA, 2016, p. 13). The length of a match is between one and a half minute and two minutes for competitors under and above 18 years respectively. The duration is standard unless a competitor earns enough points for them to be declared a winner before the elapse of the set time (ISKA, 2016). The clock continues running despite point calls unless the center referee calls for a timeout. However, in case there is no winner by the end of the allocated time, the match continues into sudden victory overtime when a competitor scores a point and is declared a winner (ISKA, 2016). Furthermore, competitors earn points for different hits, with hits to the head earning them two points, while those to the rest of the body earn one point (ISKA, 2016). Legal hitting areas include the head and face, ribs, abdomen, collarbone, and kidney area. On the other hand, “back and spine area, back of the neck, throat, and sides of the neck, groin, legs, and knees. Any attacks on these areas will result in a warning, penalty points and/or disqualification” (ISKA, 2016, p. 21).
Karate was initially viewed as a form of self-defense but over the years, it grew into a form of martial arts and then education. Given the adverse training that comes with learning the art, karate aims at fostering willpower, precision, and perseverance (Dixon, 2009). Mastering the different techniques used in the art requires long periods of training, and successful candidates learn perseverance and willpower from the rigorous training. Further, as a sport, karate aims at improving the physical fitness and health of a competitor. Undoubtedly, the intense aerobic and resistance training involved while training and learning the art is especially good for the physical fitness and health of the practitioners. Among the distinguishing features of karate is discipline. At the meeting place, respect for elders (master/sensei) and hierarchy is one of the hallmarks of the art. Therefore, after undergoing training, the learning outcome is that one will not only be respectful of elders and set hierarchies, but also courteous, given the initial greeting at the start of the lessons, and at the end of the lesson (McDermott & Arce, 2004). Moreover, mastering of the ego is an outcome of learning karate. Despite the extensive training in self-defense, the teachers/masters expect that a karateka will be able to control their emotions thus avoiding fights and engaging in extreme cases of violence. It takes a lot of self-control and mastery of the ego for one not to engage others despite having the skills and strength to engage.
Karate requires quick and vigorous movements during training. From these movements, “one can get ample exercise from a relatively short period” (Funakoshi, 1973, p. 12). Hence, karate provides an exercise regimen appropriate for both old and the young. With the vigor and time limit in performing the karate exercise, the training is ideal “for the many people today who complain that they would like to exercise, but they just do not have the time” (Funakoshi, 1973, p. 12). The aerobics and resistance exercises involved in karate training are especially beneficial to the elderly. Funakoshi (1973) posits that this is the case because it leads to increased strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance which in turn prevents the elderly from falls which can be fatal at that age (Witte et al., 2016). On the other hand, resistance and aerobic exercises that come with karate training are beneficial not only in cognitive development but also an improvement in autonomy, flexibility and blood circulation among the young (Lakes & Hoyt, 2004). The rigor of the exercise involved in karate training is especially beneficial in enhancing willpower, self-regulation, discipline, and confidence among all age groups. Lakes and Hoyt (2004) argue that willpower continues to push the elderly and young through the arduous training. Furthermore, continually participating in the training develops discipline, boosts self-confidence when it comes to learning a skill and qualifying to a higher rank, as well as quells aggressive behavior (Nosanchuck, 1981).
Sports and martial arts such as karate training encourage physical fitness, active participation, and confidence. However, karate offers much more to individuals than other sports. Most sports such as soccer focus on teamwork in pursuing a common goal. On the other hand, karate focuses on the individual following the tradition of honor and self-discipline (Funakoshi, 1973). Additionally, most sports, such as athletics, require high levels of commitment to physical training. While karate and other martial arts training is also concerned with physical training and fitness, it distinguishes itself by the inclusion of both form and application (Funakoshi, 1973). Essentially, Karate synchronizes both form and practical application so that the two inform one another, a dual aspect that lacks in athletics and other sports.
Karate involves the mastery of self. The main aim of the art is to make one aware of the self, infusing the body, mind, and soul as is the tradition of other martial arts (Funakoshi, 1973). Sadly, this feature lacks in other sports such as basketball. For basketball, the mastery of the game, rules, and strategies are an essential feature. Nonetheless, for karate, the goal transcends learning the techniques of the discipline to learning the control and empowerment of the individual. At its basic level, karate teaches individuals how to defend themselves. However, the level of discipline that comes with the training teaches individuals not only self-defense but also avoiding potentially dangerous situations that would provoke the use of the skills learned (Cruz, 2013; McDermott & Arce, 2004). Hockey, basketball, and all other team and non-martial arts individual sports do not infuse such a level of the disciple to participants, a feature that evidently distinguishes karate from them
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Lakes, K. and Hoyt, W. T. (2004) Promoting self-regulation through school-based martial arts training. Applied Developmental Psychology, 25, 283-302.
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Witte, K. et al. (2016). Comparing the effectiveness of karate and fitness training on cognitive functioning in older adults—A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 4(4), 484-490
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