Introduction to Karate

Let me start with Karate is the martial art that I have been training in since 1979, I love it.  I am often asked though how did it all start, how was it developed and how old is it?  All great questions and I will answer them right here.

I am going to list different karate styles below, but please hear this FIRST.  STYLE DOES NOT MATTER. All these styles kick, punch and block.  They will be great for exercise and all teach that Karate is for Self Defence.  So what is important?


Nothing will beat you stepping into a school, and taking a class with that school’s instructor.  After all, we all can get sucked in by good advertising, and the promise of a brilliant school, but I am a great believer in “trying” something out for yourself to see if it stacks up. In my school for example I ask students to either purchase a trial programme which is very affordable and a great way to start, or just book a totally free lesson.  Whichever option a person takes, they will be-able to try a class, and see if they like the school.

Ok, hopefuly I have made that clear, so let’s talk about Karate.

Karate was brought to Japan in the early 20th century.  In 1922 the Ministry of Education invited Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), to Tokyo to give a karate demonstration. In 1924 Keio University established the first university karate club in mainland Japan and by 1932, major Japanese universities had karate clubs.

After World War II, Okinawa became an important United States military site and karate became popular among servicemen stationed there.  When they went back to the USA, Karate went with them.  Many karate schools opened up, teaching adults in a very “military” style of class.  Martial arts movies of the 1960s and 1970s served to greatly increase the popularity of martial arts around the world, and in English the word karate began to be used in a generic way to refer to all striking-based Oriental martial arts.

The film Karate Kid was released in 1984. Never before has a film influenced so many people to start doing karate.  Parents wanted their children to learn the self-defence skills of karate, but more importantly the mental benefits. Karate schools began appearing across the world, catering to those with casual interest as well as those seeking a deeper study of the art.

On 1st June 2016, the International Olympic Committee’s executive board announced they were supporting the inclusion karate for inclusion in the 2020 Games.  The World Karate Federation claims there are 100 million practitioners around the world.

Physical aspects of Karate seek the development of defensive and counter attacking body movements.  The themes of traditional karate training are fighting and self-defence, though its mental and moral aspects target the overall improvement of the individual.  This is facilitated by the discipline and persistent effort required in training.   If karate had to be described in only one sentence, then the most suitable one may arguably be

“You never attack first in karate”

This is a maxim of Gichin Funakoshi who is accepted as the father of modern karate.  The word karate is a combination of two kanji (Chinese characters): kara, meaning empty, and te, meaning hand; thus, karate means “empty hand.” Adding the suffix “-dō” (pronounced “daw”), meaning “the way/path,” karate-dō, implies karate as a total way of life that goes well beyond the self-defence applications. In traditional karate-dō, one is supposed to compete and strive to excel against him/herself.

Not surprisingly, as the art has grown, variations in technique grew as well. The variations eventually became the different ryu or ryuha. “Ryu” is a Japanese word meaning “school,” as in a school of thought. Each karate ryu has its own approach to the fighting arts.


Gichin Funakoshi developed Shotokan karate. His linear style with its deep stances and hard techniques was named after his pen name “Shoto.”


Wado-ryu is a Japanese form of karate that mixes the striking of Shotokan and the grappling of jujitsu. The founder, Hironori Otsuka, was one of Gichin Funakoshi’s earliest students. He also studied with other karate and jujitsu masters before formalizing his new style just before World War II.


In the 1930s, Kenwa Mabuni founded Shito-ryu. Mabuni was born into a samurai family and began studying Shuri-te, an Okinawan martial art, in his early teens. The style he developed is known for its extensive list of kata, or training forms, and wide range of stylistic elements.


Kanryo Higashionna, a practitioner of Okinawan Naha-te, developed Goju-ryu. “Go” means hard, and “ju” means soft, alluding to goju-ryu’s powerful punches and circular joint locks. Goju-ryu is best known for the kata Sanchin, which goju players practice as a technique drill, meditation, and body conditioning exercise.


Shorin-ryu was founded by Choshin Chibana in the 1930s. Shorin is the Japanese word for Shaolin, the name of the famous martial arts temple in China. The name reflects the fact that Chibana’s karate is a mixture of Shuri-te, an Okinawan martial art, and the Chinese martial arts Chibana learned during his travels.


Uechi-ryu is named after Kanbun Uechi. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Uechi studied Pangai-noon, a southern style of Chinese kung fu, in the Fukien province of mainland China. He returned to Okinawa to teach, where he was one of the first karate teachers to teach foreigners.


Shuri-ryu is the earliest karate style to be developed in the United States. It was founded by Robert Trias, who studied martial arts in the Pacific during World War II. The style is an eclectic style, assembled during the 1940s and 50s from Okinawan Shuri-te and Naha-te as well as Chinese Hsing-I and kung fu.


Masutatsu Oyama is the founder of Kyokushinkai. A newer style than the “traditional” styles founded in the 1920s and 30s, Kyokushinkai was founded in 1964. It is an arduous, extremely hard style of karate. Tournaments are won by knock down or knock out, and fighters are trained to both take and deliver extremely hard blows.


Unlike most styles of karate, budokan did not develop in Japan or China. Its roots are in Malaysia, where its founder, Chew Choo Soot, studied judo, jujitsu, wrestling and Shotokan. Since its founding in 1966, budokan has spread throughout south Asian and the rest of the world.


Chito-ryu is a Japanese style founded by Tsuyoshi Chitose in 1946. The style is a direct descendent of Tode, the original Okinawan martial art. It is closely related to Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu. It is known for the fast rotation, tension and relaxation of the lower body used to drive its upper body techniques.

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