Definition of Karate

To clearly define the Japanese word Karate is an ambitious undertaking. Its conclusive definition hinders on the perspective of those that assume the responsibility of teaching it to others. Contemporarily Karate may be categorized into three distinct classifications: Sport Karate, Commercial Karate and Traditional Karate. The objectives of Sport and Commercial Karate differ significantly from that of Traditional Karate. To promote Karate as a game or a business is regrettable as it devalues the efforts of those instructors that teach it authentically.

The Japanese word Karate translates into English as “Empty Hand”. This literal translation implies that the Karate practitioner does not carry or require a weapon to defend themselves. On the surface this translation is correct, but fails to capture its inherent meaning.

A detailed explanation of the Japanese word Tanren will assist in accurately describing the intrinsic nature of Karate. The process that the Karate practitioner must endure is metaphorically known as Tanren. Tanren describes the arduous process of forging and shaping metal. In order to transform metal it must first be put through an exhaustive process. Heating, hammering, and cooling the metal numerous times will create the desired shape. Reflecting upon the ideology of Tanren, the practitioner will theoretically understand the process required to transform their body into a “weapon”.

As our Karate advances we understand that the “Emptiness” of Karate is not solely physical. Philosophically there are numerous maxims in Karate that pursue “Emptiness”. Mizu no Kokoro means “A mind like water”, Tsuki no Kokoro prescribes “A mind like the moon”, and Mushin refers to “No mind”. A polished mirror will reflect exactly the image before it, with no hesitation or distortion. Consequently through the process of Tanren the practitioners mind will become composed or “Empty”.      

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