First of all, karate is an oriental system of unarmed combat using the hands and feet to deliver and block blows.
The main goal of traditional karate training is as a form of self-defence; the most important sentence you will hear is “You never attack first”
The word “Karate” is a combination of two Chinese characters or kanji; the first “kara” meaning empty and then “te” which translates as hand. These are also components of the greeting that participants preform when they start this martial art.
There are different elements to the discipline of Karate, I practice “Shotokan Karate”, which, originating in the 19th century, has a style developed from various other martial arts. Usually I train with a group for two hours, twice a week, but every week (usually on Wednesday) there is a “stage” held in different gyms all around the region, where you can compare yourself with other athletes and learn something new from other teachers.
Once a year or so, you have the opportunity to take an exam and if you pass, you can earn different belts. These belts are recognised in grades and referred to as KYU. You must start with white belt (10, 9 & 8 kyu) and, in order, the other belts are: yellow (7 kyu), orange (6 kyu), green (5 kyu), blue (4 kyu), brown (3, 2 & 1 kyu) and black. When you are brown belt (like me) you must pass three exams (also one each year) and then maybe you will ready to do the exam to have the black belt! At that stage you will have started your path towards your true karate life. There are also different progressions when you are black belt. The grading system once you are a black belt is called “Dan”, now your goal is to be 1st Dan!
Each training session is divided into two different parts: we warm up with some running for up to 20 minutes and some stretching and mobility followed by strength exercises with particular focus on the neck, legs, arms and core. Then we can start to do karate! Once a week (normally Monday) we do “kata”, these are a series of shots, kicks and other movements preformed without an opponent. There is one kata for each belt. This is important to improve your precision, your speed and your power. During some type of moves you must do your “kiai”, a short yell which is a demonstration of your power! On Tuesday we do “kumite” which is the fight. There are lot of rules, for example your goal is not to hurt your adversary but is to defend yourself and then you will be able to hit the other person.
Once a month we have a match, of which there are also two types; one for the kata and the other for the kumite.
On kata’s match there are two athletes preforming their kata. The judges pay attention to the power, the precision, the speed, and the interpretation that the athlete does to his kata.
On kumite’s match the two athletes (with their personal protections) have to fight, respecting all the kumite’s rules. You have got 1.30 minutes to preform three hits in the correct way (the correct position and the correct kiai).
I think that some disciplines like karate can teach children to reach a harmonious balance between body, mind and breath: on karate, we can find all the essential psycho motor components.
Participants can learn how to exploit the power of their body to improve their confidence by pushing themselves beyond their limits. Also, with the comparison with other athletes everyone can learn to manage their relationship, recognise the adversary and give birth to a healthy spirit of competition, with friendship and respect.
When I started doing karate I was 6 and I liked it just for the karate’s appearance but now, growing, I understand lots of concepts that without this disciplines I could never understood. I am convinced that karate (and other oriental disciplines) can create a different vision of the simple things that change your vision of the world! It could be compared to a healthy school of life that opens your eyes to different type of visions.