What is Karate? Are Shotokan Wado Ryu and Goju Ryu really Karate. Who invented the Karate? Gichin Funakoshi took ‘the art of the empty hand’ to Japan and that became the generic term for Karate. There are as many types of Karate as other types of martial arts.
When someone says ‘I do Karate’ what do they mean?
‘Karate’ is a term that even those who aren’t interested in martial arts are aware of. Immediately they think of martial arts students, wearing white gis marching up and down the dojo in unison. However, ‘Karate’ is not a martial art per se.
‘Karate’ is a word that should be regarded very much like ‘car’. For example, there are many ‘cars’ but you only own one brand i.e. Karate is a generic term, not a specific martial art.
The three most well-known schools of Karate are Shotokan Karate, Wado Ryu Karate and Goju Ryu Karate.
Gichin Funakoshi is the man credited with introducing ‘Karate’ to the Japanese mainland. Before Funakoshi did this ‘Karate’ literally meant ‘China Hand’, the ‘Kara’ symbol was changed by the Japanese to mean ’empty’ at a later date. This meant that ‘China Hand’ became ‘Empty Hand’. It was only when Karate was taken to Japan that the more popular styles started to appear. Nearly all of them are offshoots of Shotokan Karate.
Shotokan Karate is the most well-known and most practiced form of Karate in the world. This is because the founder was Gichin Funakoshi. Shotokan is a hard style with an emphasis on low stances, utilising the hips to increase power when striking and blocking and body conditioning through repeated contact during training. Many of the Japanese styles (and even Taekwondo) are either descended directly from, or influenced by, Shotokan.
Wado Ryu Karate is one such off-shoot and is the style that bunkai guru Iain Abernethy orginally practiced. It is characterised by short, high stances (as opposed to Shotokan Karate’s low stances), fast kicking and an overall emphasis on speed. The founder, Grand Master Hironori Ohtsuka, also had a jiu jitsu background and incorporated a lot of that martial art into Wado Ryu when working on the syllabus.
Goju Ryu however is an original Okinawan style. It is a very hard external martial art with a large emphasis placed upon conditioning the body to able to absorb hard strikes and blows without taking damage. This style is so hard that one of the Kata, Sanchin, can involve the sensei (teacher) striking the students with sticks whilst they move through the Kata.
As you can see from this brief article when someone says ‘I do Karate’ they might as well be saying ‘I drive a car’. Karate is a generic term for Okinawan and Japanese martial arts that utilise striking and kicking in their training with an emphasis on empty-handed fighting rather than weapon-based fighting. Next time you hear someone say that, ask them which karate they do.