Karate is an ancient Oriental martial art, with millions of participants organized into clubs around the world. Karate, meaning "the empty hand," is a fighting system that was influenced by both the practices of the Zen Buddhist religion as well as a variety of older Chinese forms of combat that were present in the Okinawa Island culture in the period after AD 1500. After Japan captured Okinawa from China in 1895, karate was exported to Japan, where it evolved through a variety of distinct forms of practice, or schools. The Shokotan form of karate, as popularized by Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957), became the best known and the most influential form of karate in the world.

The control by Japan of neighboring Korea from 1910 until the conclusion of the World War II in 1945 resulted in the introduction of karate into Korea, which had possessed a number of indigenous martial arts forms. The melding of Japanese karate with the Korean martial art of taekyon ultimately created the modern Olympic sport of taekwondo. Karate became a popular training and self defense technique in the United States and elsewhere in the Western world after 1945, through the exposure to the sport by American armed services personnel who had served in Japan or elsewhere in the Far East.

The World Karate Federation (WKF) is the international governing body for all forms of competitive karate. Since 1990, there has been a significant international lobby at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) seeking the inclusion of karate in the Summer Olympics, to join the presently included sports of judo and taekwondo. The supporters of the inclusion of karate have not been able to muster the 75% IOC support needed by IOC rule to establish a new Olympic sport.

Karate prowess is recognized by way of performance standards illustrated by the belt worn by the participant. The color of the belt, signifying the ability of the athlete, is a concept derived from judo.

Karate has been portrayed in western culture as a remarkably aggressive and violent discipline, particularly as it has been popularized by Hollywood filmmakers and the media. These variants of karate, sometimes referred to as full contact karate, place a significant emphasis upon the degree of injury inflicted upon the opponent as opposed to the technique employed in the delivery of the blows. Competitive karate is not as freewheeling and as individualistic as is portrayed in these settings. Karate, as envisaged by Funakoshi and his later disciplines, is a true self-defense art, meaning that the principles of karate are built upon a response by the practitioner to a first move or threat. Unlike judo, which is characterized by smooth, flowing movements that generate offensive opportunities in combat, karate is a highly structured system of arm strikes, thrusts, and kicks, all performed without the aid of protective equipment or weapons. Each offensive movement has a corresponding defensive response.

Funakoshi established five rules for the training and conduct of karate. Each of these rules is at the foundation of much of the karate training that is

Karate is a highly structured system of arm strikes, thrusts, and kicks—all performed without the aid of protective equipment or weapons.
engaged in through the world by elite level athletes and recreational participants alike.

The first rule was: "Be deadly serious in training. Your opponent must always be present in your mind." The second rule provided that "train with both heart and soul without worrying about theory; karate cannot be learned without theory alone." The third rule provided that to be true to karate, the practicioner "must avoid deceit and dogmatism." The fourth rule specified that one must "see yourself as you truly are; each of us as good qualities and bad." The final Funakoshi rule stated that "the ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants." These five rules underscore the relationship between mind, body and spirit that exists at the heart of karate in all of its forms.

Karate competitions take place upon a flat mat, supervised by a referee who observes the contest from the mat, and referees stationed on the edge of the mat surface. The competitions are one of two types, kata and kumite.

Kata is a stylized form of competition, where the athletes perform one of over 90 series of karate moves. The athletes are judged for their ability to execute the movements. Kata practitioners develop their abilities by using visualization techniques, in mock anticipation of an attack.

Kumite is the sparring or combative form of karate The competition is divided into rounds, with points scored by each contestant at the discretion of the judges. As with judo, the form maintained by the fighter in attempting a particular maneuver is a component of the score awarded the fighter. Various types of physical contacts are prohibited and are subject to penalty, including blows delivered to the groin, or an attack initiated by the head, elbow, or knee of the fighter. Where a penalty score is assessed against a fighter, the penalty point is added to the total of the opponent.

SEE ALSO Boxing; Judo; Sumo; Taekwondo.