About Karate

The world of martial arts and karate is complicated and historically convoluted. We shan't try to expain it all here, but instead give you a brief overview of Shotokan karate and why it might just be the sport for you. If you are interested in learning more, you could do worse than to look at the links page or just pop along to one of our sessions.

Here at Cambridge University Karate Club (CUKC) we practise the form of karate known as Shotokan. This is the most popular form of karate in the world. The word karate comes from the Japanese characters kara meaning empty and te meaning hand. It doesn't take much to put the two together and see that karate simply means empty hand — using just the body to deliver strikes and blocks, without the use of weapons. To further complicate matters, there are many different organisations that all practise what is, to all intents and purposes, the same form of karate. CUKC is affiliated to the Karate Union of Great Britain (KUGB), one of the largest shotokan organisations in the UK.

Teaching of Shotokan karate is broadly split into three different areas: kihon, kata and kumite. Kihon encompasses the teaching of basic, fundamental techniques, which are integral to the other two aspects of training. Kata are predetermined forms; a sequence of movements and techniques strung together to simulate the response to an attack by an opponent. This teaches coordination, timing, rhythm which are a major part of the grading syllabus. The kata contain techniques that are not always taought regularly as part of kihon, and their application, or bunkai, further educate the karateka as to their use. The third aspect of training is kumite; this is sparring, and probably what most people believe that we do all day, every day! Kumite is introduced to the new karateka at a controlled pace, so that advancement to more challenging levels matches the karateka's improvement and advancing experience, eventually culminating with ju kumite ("free sparring"), which whilst following strict rules allows the participants free rein to use whichever attacks and defences they see fit. It is important to note that Shotokan karate is a "semi-contact" sport. Karateka are trained to halt their striking techniques so that they just make contact with the opponent but not to injure them with excessive force. This requires a great deal more control and precision than just battering the other person. Video examples of kata and kumite can be found on the site.

What distinguishes Shotokan karate from other forms of karate is the emphasis placed on strong, solid stances and powerful techniques. All forms of karate involve techniques that minimise unnecessary movements and use the whole body to deliver maximum power. Elaborate, showy techniques often have little application in the real world and there is always a danger that they can be taught without a solid understanding of the mechanics of the body, leading to very impressive, utterly useless, incorrect techniques.

The grading system in Shotokan karate revolves around coloured belts, starting with the coloured belts of the kyu grades. The first belt awarded is orange belt (9th kyu) and the last before black-belt is a brown belt with two white stripes (1st kyu). Advancement to the next belt is through grading with an external examiner. Candidates for the grading are expected to demonstrate command of kihon, kata and kumite appropriate for their grade, as laid out in the grading syllabus.

Karate is an excellent way to keep fit, healthy and flexible. Self defence is an obvious, direct application of martial arts and is one of the reasons that members choose to join. By training your body, and more importantly your mind, to become used to the idea of being attacked you stand a much better chance of being able to defend yourself should you encounter an unavoidable confrontation. No martial art can guarantee success in such situations, but through practice and repetition of the techniques taught in karate you become a great deal better off than the average person walking along the street.

A good attitude and determination are the most important qualities that a new karateka should have. We know that every person is different and that very few people start karate already accomplished athletes. So long as you've got the drive to train and to aim for that next belt, there's no reason why you can't become a good karateka.

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