Hold on to your butts, everyone. If you want a refresher on what we went over last week, visit the McBryde Guide to Jiu-jitsu. Today we’re talking about karate, an ancient martial art that was inspired by Chinese martial arts. To better understand karate, let’s delve into its history, first.
The History of Karate
Okinawa, Japan, has had its share of hardships and war. The lead-up to the development of karate started off gently enough: the people of the Ryukyu islands established trade with the Ming dynasty in China in the year 1372, and many Chinese families moved to the islands for cultural exchange. They brought their martial arts with them, which they passed into the community.
In 1477, King Shō Shin decided to ban traditional weapons in Okinawa, which most likely contributed to unarmed combat becoming A Major Thing there. It grew worse when Okinawa was invaded by Japan in 1609. Aside from unarmed combat, the locals also started turning farm implements into weapons, but we’ve been over that already.
Fast-forward several hundred years to the lifetime of Itosu Ankō, who would become the grandfather of modern karate. He developed kata that were simplified for brand-new students, and helped get karate into public schools in Okinawa in 1901. His forms show up across all common karate styles today, and several of his students went on to become karate masters themselves.
Why Learn Karate?
There are many different reasons for someone to learn karate. It’s a very popular martial art, and for good reason: the benefits are many and the downsides are few.
For those that are looking to improve their fitness, karate is a great way to get started. You can learn at your own pace and approach the as intensely – or not – as you like. When you’re going through your kata or sparring, you’re using every muscle in your body, including those that you’ve probably never used before. You’ll become more in-tune with your body, learn how to better control it, strengthen your muscles, and build your stamina. Your reflexes will improve.
People also tend to get into karate in order to learn self defense, and wind up walking away with so much more. When you learn karate, you’ll go over a little of everything: where the weak points in the body are, how to block or deflect a strike, how the body works, and other things that are important for keeping yourself safe. What you don’t learn is to attack.
If people make karate sound a bit like a spiritual pursuit, it’s because it can be. You’re learning a bit of philosophy along the way – developing a mindset about conflict that could be considered unusual to most people. In karate, the idea is not to start a conflict, but to finish one – and only if you have to. Lack of fighting is preferred. People that go into it thinking they’re going to learn how to kick ass are immediately shut down and taught that that isn’t the point at all.
I’m going off-topic a bit, here.
Karate also teaches us to believe in ourselves. It instills self-confidence as we practice its techniques and improve ourselves. At some point in your karate career, you will teach another student, and because they look up to you as someone with more experience, that will help instill confidence in you, too. After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, how can you help this person on their own karate journey? By dipping your toes into unfamiliar waters and trying something new, you’re taking the first step toward bettering you.
Karate requires us to be very focused and aware of ourselves. When you’re going through the phases of a kata and memorizing how it goes, what every muscle has to do and every position that you have to be in, you gradually learn more about your body than you’d ever learn in biology class. The more familiar you become with your body, the better your coordination gets.
As for focus itself, you really do have to file away distractions as unimportant and be present in the moment, whether you’re sparring or practicing. You learn how to filter out the unimportant stuff so that you can focus on the things you need to be doing. This sort of focus can be carried over into other parts of your life.
Karate is also a social exercise. You’re working in a group, teaming up to spar with other people, and you have to be able to be respectful toward your fellow students. You have to learn to work in a team. If you’re a shy person, you’ll gradually learn how to cope in such an environment with the support of your classmates and Sensei.
Finally, as a karate student, you learn the importance of discipline and how to practice it. Discipline comes in the form of following Sensei’s instructions, attending classes, practicing, and showing respect to others even if you don’t get along with them.
Should Children Learn Karate?
Short version? Yes.
As mentioned above, karate teaches focus and discipline, two important things for kids to learn. In fact, if your child has focusing issues, a martial art is the perfect outlet – just make sure that it’s something they actually want to do, or it won’t work.
Kids also learn respect. At the beginning and end of every class, students bow to their Sensei, their teacher, and they often have to remain still and await instructions and commands. They have the opportunity to progress through different belt colors, which provides them with goals to meet.
Children as young as seven years can usually enter classes. At that point, they’ve usually developed enough muscle control to be able to enjoy what they’re doing.
What Equipment Does Karate Use?
The Dojo will be equipped with martial arts mats, and if there are posts, then pole padding will prevent students from a painful collision (you can browse our shop if you’re in need of some such padding yourself).
Initially, you’ll only need a uniform, called a gi. They generally cost $30.00 – $50.00, though some schools and clubs may provide you with your first one free of charge.
You may eventually need sparring gear, which is made up of shin pads, headgear, instep pads, and possibly a gum shield. Your instructor ought to be able to help you source things for a fair price.
Training gear, though not necessary, can be really helpful – especially a kick bag. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on this, it is useful to have for when you’re practicing your moves.
Overall, though, karate is a fairly affordable sport, with the biggest expense being the cost of classes. You don’t have to spend much money to get the most out of it, and you don’t have to invest in too many accessories to succeed.
How to Get Started With Karate
You can learn the basics of karate with online lessons and videos, but we highly recommend going to a proper dojo, a gym, or some other form of class. There are many karate clubs across the country that you can learn from at relatively low cost, and sometimes local recreation complexes and community centers run karate classes.
If you’re not sure what’s available in your area, Google “[your city] karate”. Even if there isn’t anything in your town or city, you’ll find out where you can learn and what’s closest to you.
Next time, we’ll be bringing you The McBryde Guide to Martial Arts. See you next time!