A different type of martial art

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photo via wikimedia.org under Creative Commons license

Students of different ranks practicing karate.

Lucas Rosen, Video Editor

In Japanese, “karate” means “empty hand.” The martial art is very much this, as it focuses on using only hands and no weapons.

Originating in Okinawa as a combination of the Okinawan martial art Te and the Chinese martial art Kenpo, Karate dates back as far as the 14th century. During a period in Okinawa in which weapons were banned, karate evolved as an efficient means of self-defense. However, it was not until the early 20th century that it began to become well known and practiced. It is practiced all over the world in establishments called “dojos.”

Today, karate is popular in both Japan and America. Junior Mike Dzhanoyan is a first degree black belt at his traditional Japanese dojo. “Not only is karate a good workout,” Dzhanoyan said, “but you get to learn self defense, which is useful if someone starts attacking you.”

After six years, Daniel Fleischner, a junior at Flintridge Preparatory School, earned his brown belt. “I practice it to become more agile and flexible,” Fleischner said. “And I enjoy sparring the most.” Fleischner started karate when he wanted to start an activity that involved exercise. “Karate is much more than just a sport, though,” Fleischner said. “It’s almost a lifestyle for some people.”

Sparring is probably the most well known part of karate and martial arts in general. This is where students pair up and use their techniques to score points against one another. It is not as intense as actual fighting, of course, because neither of the two involved is trying to intentionally hurt each the other. It’s also good exercise, especially when higher-ranking students spar together because they know more moves.

Sparring is a useful activity because people studying karate can use this method of practice to prepare for real scenarios. “I recommend karate because it is useful for protecting yourself,” Dzhanoyan said. “Everyone should know how to save themselves.”

Junior Anthony Francisco started karate when he was four years old. He stopped once he was a second degree black belt, at the age of 12. “I took it because I like Bruce Lee,” Francisco said. “He inspired me to take karate after I watched a few of his movies.” Bruce Lee is a legend in the world of martial arts due to his skill, and he appeared in many films, notably Enter the Dragon.

Karate is not only a form a self defense, but it also includes “kata.” Kata is a selection of specifically choreographed techniques. Students learn multiple forms and they get more complicated the higher ranking a student is. Many Americanized dojos do not teach it, such as Francisco’s former dojo. “I practiced techniques and sparring instead,” Francisco said. Kata presentations are used during competitions, and the judges keep track of everything, from the precision of the techniques to the timing in between each move. Since Americanized dojos typically do not teach kata, only students at traditional dojos will learn and compete.

At traditional dojos, students learn Japanese manners. Those learning karate are exposed to their customs. There is a certain way that things are done at traditional dojos. For example, according to Way of the Gentle Warrior, it is considered rude to wear one’s “gi” or uniform in public. The gi and belt are highly respectable in Japanese culture. They must be folded properly after practice, and of course, there is an established way to tie one’s belt.

In traditional dojos, it takes somewhere from five to ten years to reach the rank of “shodan,” which is a first degree black belt. It took Dzhanoyan 12 years to earn his black belt at his dojo.

Karate differs from other martial arts such as judo or taekwondo because it is not flashy. Every kick or punch is based on a realistic situation, so there are no 360-degree spinning kicks to the head, as entertaining as that might seem. This is a common misconception due to the abundance of karate movies with unrealistic fight scenes. The forms that people learn in karate are meant to be for basic self defense in practical scenarios. “It’s self defense,” Dzhanoyan said, “so it should be useful in case you get in a fight.”