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IMGCA Article - The Mental Game of Martial Arts


Learning Karate

Barry Hooper

Karate, Japanese for 'Open Hand', has probably become the best known martial art in the west, apart from Kung-fu, since the 1930's. However, its complex developmental history spanning over 14 centuries has produced a bewildering plethora of styles.

From karate's humble origins in the Chinese form of Shao Lin Boxing known as kempo, initially, an integral part of monastic training, and, subsequently, a defensive form of unarmed combat against marauding bandits; through its refinement in Okinawa; its Japanese introduction in 1922; and US implementation in the 1930's, at least 28 different styles (not counting Korean Taekwon-do) have now resulted.

These stylistic differences, applicable to family pride, contending dojos' affiliations with different senseis' (masters) techniques, and national idiosyncrasies, have been somewhat resolved, and a modicum of uniformity attained through adherence to the stylised set of movements known as kata. Although international competitions still remain impractical.

So what are the implications for the aspirant karate trainee with this plethora of styles? Total confusion, perhaps? No, thankfully, the Internet's information consolidation has provided access to the contending schools' websites, and, best of all, to centralized websites like Karate CyberDojo and others of a similar ilk. These provide accessible databases, translation services, feedback forums, and club recommendations, considerably facilitating the aspirant's decision-making process.

OK, that's one problem solved, now for the really difficult one. The student trying to learn karate will rapidly find out that, to acquire proficiency via karate's graduation through white, green, purple, brown, and black belts (the first dan stage), and beyond through the other 9 dan adept stages, they will have to totally dedicate their lives to the task. Virtually to the exclusion of all else!

Not for the dilettante, karate demands from its practitioners total commitment. Just consider what has to be assimilated: firstly, around 200 Japanese terms for the various moves and blows constituting the kata, or stylized systems of exercise, and then of course, to master all their constituent jumps, kicks, jabs, chops, blocks, and blows; secondly, to become proficient in the exercise of the big 4: strength, speed, technique, and co-ordination. Not forgetting powerful, linear attacks, and deft angular movements. Accompanied by the perfection of a finely-honed sense of timing, persistent alertness, and all-round awareness, and the ability to evoke surprise; thirdly, the strengthening of, and becoming impervious to pain in the striking surfaces and impact points i.e. hands, fists, knuckles, elbows, and forearms, feet, heels, and knees through various exercises involving striking sand, gravel, wood, sandbags and the like; fourthly, honing the body and reflexes to super-fit standard by constant exercise and co-ordinated breathing exercises, not forgetting the requisite solar-plexus originating cries and shouts to disorientate the opponent; finally to learn all the pressure points and other vulnerable target areas of the body, whilst simultaneously pulling the punches, and not hitting below the belt!

That's just the physical side, the moral fibre then has to be developed through learning self-discipline, keeping your cool, self-confidence, one-pointed mental focus, courtesy and attention to ritual. Still want to become a karate expert?

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