Why Karate Is Not Just Punches and Kicks

Dear Karate Practitioner,

Anyone who’s loved films like The Karate Kid (especially the 1984 original starring Ralph Macchio and the late Pat Morita) or watched an old Chuck Norris action flick in which he wiped out multiple bad guys with a series of awesome kicks and strikes knows that karate looks pretty … “cool,” for lack of a better word that we can print without various expletive markings.

Well, karate is still cool. Because it’s often the generic/default term that children use when they ask their parents to study martial arts, though (After all, when was the last time you heard a kid say, “Mom, I wanna take baguazhang classes! Can I, Mom? Can I go to baguazhang with Timmy?”), karate can be taken for granted or misunderstood because of its usage as an umbrella term for martial arts.

Karate is not just a bunch of punches and kicks — a collection of “wax on, wax off” drills — nor is it simply guys in white outfits trying to learn how to kick and strike like Chuck Norris or become the next “karate kid.” Talk to serious practitioners and students of the art’s history, and you will you find a devoted group of men and women whose lives — spiritually, mentally and physically — have been shaped by studying this martial art.


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“It’s important to study karate in the modern day for personal development — whether it’s for self-defense, exercise or for the mental aspect,” says shotokan karate expert Kyle Funakoshi, fifth cousin of the legendary Gichin Funakoshi. “Without a stable mind, it doesn’t matter how fast you can punch or kick — so you need to be balanced mentally and physically.”

Part of the mental training involved in the study of karate is an orientation with its terminology. The words used in traditional karate training — such as bunkai, bushido, dan, dojo and kata — when properly translated and understood in their full dimension, serve to progressively shape the mindset of the practitioner.

Not delving into the kanji characters of each term can significantly water down a karate student’s experience, says goju-ryu karate expert Chuck Merriman. “The misunderstanding comes from just physically training in karate and not really studying karate,” he says. “The important thing is the kanji. They can mean a lot of different things depending on how they’re written. The true meaning of these words isn’t important if you only practice karate for exercise or sport, but for karate-do — the physical, mental and spiritual study of karate — it becomes very important.”

Marrying the philosophical understanding with the physical application and execution makes for a richer experience in karate. Kids, of course, may not be able to focus right away on the philosophical aspects, preferring instead to get going with the kicks, the yells and the breaking of boards.

However, even that part of the equation — the sheer physical component — requires patience and discipline before any benefit can occur. Otherwise, karate can end up being a bunch of movement without meaning. “When you learn the basics of karate, you have to learn correct stances, proper foot positioning, hip rotation, pivoting of your feet — and, of course, your posture,” Kyle Funakoshi says. “So after you have learned all that effectively, then you can learn the advanced techniques. … You must learn the basics correctly from a reputable instructor.”

Black Belt proudly celebrates the traditions of study, discipline, practice and progress each month in the pages of its magazine — a publication forged over five decades by editors and artists committed to their own journeys of study, discipline practice and progress.

And for our loyal readers who have taken the leap with us into the world of digital newsletters, we are offering a wide array of discounted karate books and DVDs in our online store: karate DVDs for $9.99 each and karate books for as low as $4.99 each!

Join us in celebrating this popular traditional martial art by picking up karate books and karate DVDs by karate masters such as Chuck Norris, Fumio Demura, Takayuki Kubota, Tom Muzila, Teruo Chinen, Kiyoshi Yamazaki, Marlon Moore, Ray Hughes and Paul Godshaw today!

And be sure to see what else is in the “on sale” section of our online store! You may find treasures such as Bushido: The Warrior’s Code by Inazo Nitobe — now available for only $4.99!

Study deeply and train with meaning,

Raymond Horwitz

Director of Digital Media


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