Karate is a martial art created in the Okinawa, Japan which teaches unarmed combat techniques. In english, KARATE translates to "empty hand". While traditional karate originated on the islands of Okinawa Japan, there is also a popular form of Korean Karate called Taekwondo. It's estimated that Karate is one of the most common martial arts practiced in North America and its asserted there are over 70 million karate practitioners worldwide in over 190 countries. There are also numerous Karate style variation available to the public and they include the following:

  • Shotokan Karate
  • Kyokushin Karate
  • Wado-Ryu Karate
  • Goju-Ryu Karate
  • Isshin-Ryu Karate
  • Shito-Ryu Karate
  • Uechi-Ryu Karate
  • Shorin-Ryu Karate
  • Shuri-Ryu Karate
  • Budokan Karate
  • Chito-Ryu Karate
  • Taekwondo Karate

Karate Martial Arts?
Many people mistakenly assume that if you teach martial arts then you must be teaching Karate. Most laypersons use the word "Karate" as a generic term or label for all martial art forms. For example, the title Black Belt Magazine is a direct reference to karate yet this popular magazine covers all martial art styles. If I had a dime for every time someone asked me if I "teach karate" I would be a very rich man.

Karate Movies
So what made Karate Martial Arts so broad-based and universal? Perhaps it was karate themed movies like the Oscar Nominated Karate Kid that propelled Karate to iconic levels. But the truth is karate has been featured in hundreds of martial arts films like, The Born Losers, Billy Jack, Black Belt Jones, The Executioner, Best of the Best, Good Guys Wear Black, The Octagon, The Hitman, Code of Silence, An Eye for an Eye, A Force of One, When Taekwondo Strikes, and Gardens of Stone. Ironically, some of these action movies were box office hits.

Karate Teachers and Actors
Perhaps, it was famous Karate teachers (called senseis) or Hollywood actors that helped promote it across the globe and in the hearts and minds of millions of people. People like Higaonna Kanryo, Higa Seiko, Gichin Funakoshi, Masutatsu Oyama, Ed Parker, Chuck Norris, Joe Lewis, Jhoon Rhee, Mike Stone, Sonny Chiba, Jim Kelly, Bill Wallace, Jeff Speakman, Wesley Snipes, John Saxon, Tom Laughlin and even Elvis Presley. There are many other famous karate practitioners such as Lee Marvin, James Caan, Sean Connery, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Matt Damon, Christian Slater and many others.

Did Bruce Lee Study Karate?
You might think that I had forgotten to mention the late Bruce Lee. But in actuality Bruce Lee was not a practitioner of Karate. Bruce Lee was a non traditional martial artist with a background in Chinese Wing Chun Kung Fu who rejected the style, structure and inherent limitations of Karate. As a result, Bruce Lee later created his unique and eclectic Jeet Kune Do concept. Jeet Kune Do translates to "way of intercepting fist." Moreover, if you conduct a little bit of research you will actually learn that Bruce Lee was not a proponent of Karate, he disagreed with most of the traditional training methods and techniques of Karate.

"Bruce Lee was not a proponent of Karate"

What is Karate?
This often raises the question What is Karate? Is it a sport, self defense or martial art? Is Karate just for the movies? Is Karate representative of all fighting forms? What is involved in karate training? Karate is primarily taught as a sport and form of self defense. Some people argue that karate is a way of life that instills discipline and inner harmony while other use it as their primary form of exercise.

Karate and American Culture
Karate has also managed to become a part of the American culture. There are karate movies, karate video games, karate schools, karate action figures, karate books, karate attire, karate clubs, karate camps, family karate programs and karate tournaments. Korean Karate or Taekwondo is also an official Olympic sport where team USA Taekwondo regularly competes. Interestingly enough, aspects of karate can also be found in both modern/eclectic martial arts styles as well as sport combat mixed martial arts.

Karate Training
A practitioner of karate is called a "karateka" and karate training or practice is divided into three separate categories: Kihon, Kata and Kumite.

- repetition practice of various karate stances, karate blocks, karate punches, karate strikes and karate kicks.
Kata - these are pre arranged forms simulating Karate fighting scenarios.
Kumite - these are karate sparring sessions.

Karate training workouts also involve a good amount of stretching movements and calisthenics. Since kicking techniques are a substantial component of karate, flexibility as an absolute must for the karateka. Many workouts will begin with as much as thirty minutes of full body stretching exercises.

Karate Equipment
Like other martial arts, Karate uses the same type of equipment for training. Karate practitioners learn how to use a punching bag, body opponent bags, punching mitts, as well as protective equipment for sparring (kumite) and kicking shields. If you would like to learn more see my article, martial arts equipment.

Karate Schools and Classes
Drive past any strip mall in the United States and you will most likely see a Karate studio (called a dojo). The word dojo simply means training hall. Karate classes have become a multi billion dollar business and made a lot of people very rich. As a matter of fact, many greedy business people have turned Karate schools into virtual day camps for children. Karate classes has now become a place where busy mothers can drop off their kids and run those important errands. To make matter worse, just about every karate school has some sort of black belt system for kids. That's right, even a small child can earn a coveted black belt in karate!

Karate Breaking Technique
Karate breaking or "breaking" is a specific technique often performed in both karate and taekwondo. Breaking is often used in competitions, public demonstrations and testing for rank advancement. Essentially, breaking requires the karate practitioner or "karateka" to strike the surface of a solid object (usually slabs of wood, bricks or cinder blocks) with his or her hand or foot. However, sometimes the karate practitioner will strike with his forehead, knee or elbow point. As you can imagine, there's much debate over the combat utility of karate board breaking for self defense. Bruce Lee said it best in the movie Enter the Dragon, "Boards don't hit back".

Karate Terms
Traditional Karate is often taught with Japanese terminology or lexicon. Here are just a few terms you might come across when training.

Budo - the martial way
Bushido - way of the warrior knight
Bunkai - analysis of kata applications for fighting
Dojo - training hall
Gi - karate training uniform
Goju Ryu - hard and soft style of karate
Kakie - strength exercises
Kamaete - on guard position
Kame - karate fighting stance
Karate do - the way of karate
Karateka - a practitioner of Karate
Kata - a set of pre arranged techniques or movements
Ki - spirit or life energy
Kihon - fundamental or basic of karate movements
Kime - power or focus
Kumite - karate sparring
Mokuso - meditation practice to clear one's mind
Obi - sash or belt
Ryu - school of thought in a particular discipline
Seiken - a fist configuration used in karate
Seiza - traditional or formal kneeling position
Sensei - master or teacher
Te - hand

Karate for Self Defense?
The universal acceptance of Karate has also made it the most popular form of self defense taught in the world. However, as a reality based self defense expert I can tell you with 100% certainty that Karate is not designed for real world self defense! I have often stated that a karate teacher or Sensei is no more qualified to teach self defense than a fitness instructor and not nearly as qualified as a high school coach. I hope you get my point! Karate and real world self defense are two difference animals.

"Karate and real world self defense are two difference animals."

Karate's Limitation
If you're interested in learning karate for self defense let me offer a few caveats before you do that. There are a lot of senseis (karate teachers) out there who are doing a lot more harm than good by making people believe that they are being trained to cope with the vicious street criminal. They are being duped into believing that the color of the karate belts they wear in the dojo is a realistic indicator of their ability to defend their lives. It simply isn't true. Karate black belts get dusted left and right by nasty thugs who will tear out your eyes or slip a knife between your ribs while you're falling into one of those elaborate and strategically deficient karate stances.

Simply put, Karate will not prepare you for the psychological horror or physical shock of real street violence. Please don't get me wrong. I have tremendous respect for the venerable masters of Karate. Indeed, there are many dedicated karate senseis who are more than qualified to teach unique physical and philosophical components of ancient martial arts. Achieving this level of conditioning, discipline and knowledge is not easy. But in terms of real life self-defense, you must understand that things have changed a lot. The karate techniques that score points and win trophies in karate competitions could get you killed in real life self defense encounters.

A karate black belt may be a sign of accomplishment to some people, but it has nothing to do with your ability to street fight or defend yourself against dangerous criminals. Unfortunately, some karate practitioners fail to accept this life-sustaining fact and end up serious injured or crippled by a vicious thug.

"A karate black belt may be a sign of accomplishment to some people, but it has nothing to do with your ability to street fight or defend yourself against dangerous criminals."

The truth is Karate is range deficient and fails to prepare the practitioner for all three ranges of combat (kicking, punching and grappling). As a matter of fact, ground fighting and submission fighting is virtually non existent in Karate. Karate doesn't address the psychological, legal and metal aspects of self defense. Karate does not train in the use of practical modern day weapons such as firearms, knives, sticks, bludgeons, makeshift weapons and pepper spray. The combat conditioning methodologies of traditional karate are antiquated, outdated and in many cases damaging to the human anatomy. I personally know of several karate instructors who actually needed hip replacements because of old school karate training methods.

Decide now what you want from Karate training. If you're interested in learning realistic and practical self defense, then you will must abandon karate training and study a reality based self defense system. I offer you my system of self defense called Contemporary Fighting Arts (CFA). Unlike karate, Contemporary Fighting Arts is not about tournament or ring competition. It doesn't teach or practice forms (karate katas) or perform symbolic rituals. There are no flashy high kicks and spinning punches. Contemporary Fighting Arts does not blindly adhere to tradition for tradition's sake.

Contemporary Fighting Arts is solely concerned about defending the sanctity of your space and body and perhaps ultimately your life. The principles and concepts taught in Contemporary Fighting Arts are both scientifically sound and street smart. The self defense techniques can be learned and executed by anyone, male or female, young or old. In the final analysis, it's your life. If you're interested in protecting it, then I'm committed to helping you do that. Guaranteed.


sammy franco picture
Sammy Franco
Founder & President
Contemporary Fighting Arts

Back to Self Defense Articles

copyscape logo

Warning! Articles are property of Sammy Franco and Contemporary Fighting Arts, LLC. Reprint or distribution is strictly prohibited. Sammy Franco will aggressively prosecute those found publishing Contemporary Fighting Arts materials on the Internet without written permission. Copyright 1998-2012 ©, Contemporary Fighting Arts, Karate. All rights reserved.