What is Karate?

By H.D.Plée

With fencing, Karate is probably the oldest martial art, that is to say, the oldest fighting technique of killing and avoiding being killed. For Judo, the creation of Dr. Jigoro Kano, dates back 80 years (1882); Ju-Jitsu dates back 250 years (the Kodokan archives show the first signs of its existence in 1648); Karate goes back to the earliest written records on earth, the Chinese texts of some 3,000 years ago. They tell of this "technique intended to maintain the body and spirit in condition solely through teaching the means of fighting with arms or without arms". (The movements are the same whether bare-handed or using side arms).

"Empty Hand" or "Chinese Boxing" are the translations of the names generally used in China or the other countries of the East where this technique is practiced. For our part, we shall use the Japanese term Karate, which means "empty hand", to describe the techniques of fighting with the body's natural weapons.

But there is a risk that the number of different schools of training and conceptions of fighting may sow seeds of confusion in ill-informed minds. This is particularly the case in America, where there are nine different Japanese styles (out of the 15 styles in Japan), three Chinese, two Korean and two Okinawan styles, resulting from emigration and the Eastern wars.

We have passed the period of hostility from Judo. Seeing that the growing popularity of Karate has not involved any diminution in the number of Judo players (Judo is a marvelously well-balanced sport), they have generally left the "self-defense" branch to Karate, for in this field the efficacy of Karate has become, and is recognized as being, incontestable.

One must not lose sight of the fact that Karate is "all-in" fighting. Everything is allowed: every effective method in no matter what other form of combat sport exists in Karate, redirected under the dramatic conditions of a man's desperate fight for life, using the means given to him by nature. This is why Karate is based on blows delivered with the hand, the foot, the head or the knee. Equally permissible are strangulations, throwing techniques, locks (though certain typically Karate methods are unusable in either boxing or Judo). This is one of the fascinating things about taking up Karate; this sensation of mastery over all the effective techniques brings an inner peace and calm which is difficult to find in combat sports using arms. or in those which contain the limitations and restrictions of a sporting objective.

The only forbidden act in Karate is to injure a training partner or a competition opponent. Avoiding this demands great skill. Also, part of the training is centered around exercises performed in space or against an imaginary opponent (as in shadow-boxing) during which one attacks without reserve, and with the genuine feeling that the purpose is "to kill in order not to be killed". This training can be continued to an advanced age, modified, of course, in its rhythm and expression.

It is my wish that this book will enlighten you about an art that is still regarded as a little mysterious in the West, and one in which it can be said that I have attained a certain mastery.

One cannot claim that one style is superior to another. The fight for life must be adapted according to the build of the one who is defending and to the one who is attacking, depending on the circumstances. All techniques are valid in theory. In practice, real efficacy is an attribute


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