When you think of martial arts, what comes to mind? Strength and agility? Self-discipline and focus? Or the old masters with their cane swords or wooden staffs? If you’re a fan of action movies, maybe you imagine outlandish fight scenes, a ninja in a black hood and face mask, or even the special flying kick. Karate is one such art that has found its way into high pedestals of pop culture. From the Karate Kid films to Kung Fu Panda, from Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan to Homer Simpson (and his trusty crane kick), karate has made its presence known in the cinema and on TVs in our homes. However, for many people who don’t know much about this ancient art, these representations are often not very accurate.

The word “karate” comes from the word ‘karateman’ which means ‘China hand.’ Karate has its origins in the ancient unarmed combat systems of China and Okinawa called “Te.” In Japan, these fighting styles were known as kara-te or Chinese hand. While there are many variations of karate, most focus on striking targets with quick and explosive punches, kicks, and knee strikes. Karate is often seen as a “fist” art but encompasses various martial arts styles from diverse cultures. There are many different forms of karate, each with its unique emphasis and practice methods. Today, the art is practiced in several regions of the world, with slight variations from the original version depending on where it is practiced. 

History of Karate

There is very little or no information about the beginnings of Karate before it appeared in Okinawa. However, in general, martial arts have long been linked to India as their cradle. As a result of various historical evidence, it is plausible to believe that Karate began as a widespread combat style known as “te” in 17th-century Okinawa, which is today under Japanese rule but was reportedly an autonomous kingdom at the time.

Around that period, the Samurais were not allowed to carry weapons. This firearm ban was one of the factors that contributed to Okinawa’s development of unarmed fighting abilities. Chinese that lived and visited the former Kingdom of Okinawa also influenced the Okinawa-fighting te’s techniques. Owing to this, the Okinawa-te evolved to become similar to the Chinese martial art style of Karate, earning it the moniker “Chinese hand.” The Shuri-te, Naha-te, and Tomar-te, called after the three locations from whence they originated, are three separate forms of the te martial arts that developed from the Okinawa-te.

The te technique was reportedly taught at that time in secrecy until the 20th century. Thanks to Anko Itosu, who was instrumental in developing the Shuri-te form of Okinawa-te, students were able to learn the te freely in Okinawan schools in the 20th century. Funakoshi, who was then a student of Itosu, was eventually responsible for introducing the combat technique to Japan in 1922. He changed Okinawa-te in several ways, including giving it the modern name, karate. He also founded the Japanese Karate Association.

Karate Styles

Various Karate styles have developed over time from the triad of ancient forms of the Okinawa-te known as Naha-te, Shuri-te, and Tomari-te. Presently, the World Karate Federation acknowledges four styles: Wado-Ryu, Goju-Ryu, Shokotan, and Shito-Ryu. Several other forms of the art are also popular worldwide, including Shukokai, Uechi-Ryu, and Chito-Ryu, among many others. Today, karate is practiced in several parts of Africa, the Americas, and Europe.

Principles and Practices of Karate

The objectives and training schedules of the various karate styles differ. However, much like other martial arts, the basics of kicking, punching, and striking are mostly taught to karate students. Students must also be able to focus their energy and channel it into a kick or strike to specific body parts.

The teaching of Karate is usually divided into three forms. the Kumite, Kata, and Kihon. The Kihon is designed to teach pupils karate fundamentals; it offers a base upon which they can grow. On the other side, the Kata entails a series of movements intended to teach Karatekas the fundamental stances in karate, namely the attacking and defending stances. To ensure they fully comprehend the methods, students also put what they have learned into practice against a real opponent. The final training method, Kumite, involves sparring hence the name “Kumite,” which means a meeting of hands. The Kumite is used as a sport and self-defense training.

Besides teaching physical skills, Karate emphasizes personal growth and physical and mental discipline. These components are stressed in modern Japanese karate instruction to instill positive traits like courage, tenacity, and leadership abilities in students. Many people choose to become karatekas for the competitive aspect of this martial art and its emphasis on physical and mental development.

Modern Karate

Today, millions of people all around the world practice karate. It’s believed that the foundation of the modern karate system is less than 200 years old and that it only expanded into other parts of the world after Funakoshi introduced it to Japan. Funakoshi also served as the first chief instructor for the Japanese Karate Association when it was founded in 1948, and the kind of karate he taught is being practiced today. Even though the fundamentals of karate did not particularly endorse it for recreation, tons of karate contests are practiced today, and it has even been included as a major competition in the Olympics. Karate featured for the first time in the 2020 Olympics held in Tokyo, Japan, with 80 entrants in the male and female divisions and across all weight categories. The contenders competed in two different forms of the art, Kumite and Kaka, and Spanish athlete Sandra Sánchez ended up winning the first Olympic medal in Karate. 


Karate is a martial art skill that has evolved greatly over the years. It has developed into a global sport that is even incorporated into the Olympics. One distinctive aspect of this martial art is its emphasis on physical and mental discipline coupled with its interesting competitive element.