What is Karate?

Karate is a martial art and system of self-defense that originated hundreds of years ago in Okinawa, but was greatly influenced by an even older tradition from China. Literally, “karate-do” means “the way of the empty hand,” referring to the fact that its practitioners use no weapons to attack and defend, but only the hands, feet, and body. Yet karate is much more than merely physical. It is founded on a grand philosophical and spiritual tradition based on Bushido and Zen Buddhist principles. Through hard training and practice, karate develops not only the body, but also the mind and character.

What is the purpose and goal of karate?

The ultimate purpose of karate is not physical prowess or the winning of matches, but the development of balance, harmony and spiritual and physical strength through strict, disciplined training. Karate schools you in natural, effortless action, and imbues you with an openness, peace and wholeness of character that vastly enrich day-to-day life.

What is the JKA?

With members in over 100 countries, the Japan Karate Association (JKA), is the world’s largest and most prestigious karate organization, and the only legal karate entity officially recognized by the Japanese government as an association of members for the promotion of karate. More importantly though, we are The Keeper of Karate’s Highest Tradition, the preserver of the soul and spirit of the art of karate in line with the tradition of Bushido (the way of the samurai). Our mission is to promote the way of karate throughout the world, while ensuring that it remains true to the philosophical precepts upon which it was founded. This has been our mission since the establishment of the JKA in 1949.

What sort of karate does the JKA teach?

The JKA is the generally-recognized heir to the Shotokan karate tradition as developed by Supreme Master Funakoshi Gichin, and teaches a specially-refined form of Shotokan style karate.

What is the JKA’s philosophy of karate?

At the JKA, karate is not a sport or a game of points; it is a way of life based on Bushido. In true karate, the body, mind and spirit—the whole person—must be developed simultaneously. Through intense practice, the physical and mental aspects of karate can be brought together. The result is natural, effortless action, and the confidence, humility, openness and peace only possible through perfect unity of body and mind. This is the core teaching of Zen, the basis of Bushido, and the cornerstone of the JKA’s karate philosophy.

Can anyone practice karate?

Yes! The only real requirement is a disciplined commitment to work hard and train patiently. As long as that commitment is there, karate is for everyone—regardless of age, sex, or ethnic background.

Do I need to be in excellent physical shape to start karate?

Not really. Since karate will gradually improve your fitness as you progress, your starting point is less important than the effort you put into it along the way. At the JKA, our traditional focus on the basics and on correct form make it easy for beginners to train together with experienced individuals yet still progress at their own level of fitness and expertise. If you are less fit, your progress at the start will simply be more moderate; as your fitness improves, so will the pace at which you advance.

What is expected of me if I join?

Four things. You are expected to be committed to your karate training, and to attend classes on a regular basis. You are expected to give your karate training your maximum effort, and to work hard during practice. You are expected to demonstrate the respect, humility and courtesy upon which karate’s long-standing tradition is founded. And of course, you are expected to pay your membership dues and other fees.

What will training involve?

A typical karate practice session usually begins with a comprehensive warm-up, followed by the various training exercises. The exercises are divided into three main categories: kihon (basic techniques), in which you learn the basic blocks, punches, kicks, stances, etc. of karate; kata (forms), in which you practice and physically remember the various kihon learned; and kumite (sparring), where your kihon and kata techniques are matched against a real opponent. As your skill level increases, so will the difficulty and degree of the exercises. Of course, there will also be times when you are taught theory, dojo etiquette and the more philosophical aspects of karate.

What are the benefits of traditional karate training?

Karate has tremendous benefits for body, mind and spirit. Physically, karate is good for the heart, strengthens bones, builds muscle, creates resilience, develops hand-eye coordination, and makes the body less susceptible to sickness and injury. Mentally, karate helps develop patience, discipline, perseverance, understanding and open-mindedness, as well as concentration and focus. Spiritually, karate builds confidence, develops self-control and increases calmness and peace.

How long does it take to learn karate?

It’s really up to you. The more you practice, the more you will improve—for your entire life. There is no limit to mastering karate, no “final destination” at which you can arrive. There are benchmarks along the way however. In the JKA, you progress through a series of belt levels (9th to 1st Kyu). After that, you receive a black belt, and progress through another 9 degrees of black belt (1st to 10th Dan). A student with no prior training joins the JKA as 9th Kyu, and is eligible to take ranking examinations every 3-4 months of training. Since there are 9 examinations you must pass to attain a black belt, the 1st Dan requires a minimum three years of diligent training. It takes several years to attain each subsequent Dan. At these higher levels, you will see that karate is not just something to be learned, but something to be lived. And that takes a lifetime.

Do I have to wear a karate uniform?

Eventually, yes. Karate uniforms (dogi) are usually available through your instructor. Inquire at your dojo for more details.

How do I become a member of the JKA?

Joining the JKA requires filling out an application form and paying the appropriate membership fees. The JKA offers two kinds of membership: Group Membership, for those wishing to affiliate their dojo or karate group in their country with the JKA through the JKA World Federation; and Individual Membership, for people interested in joining the JKA as an individual and attending one of our dojo near them. Click the in-text links for more details. (Japan Karate Association/American Federation) www.jkaaf.org , (Japan Karate Association/World Federation) www.jka.or.jp

Is there a JKA dojo somewhere near me?

Probably. The JKA has branches in well over 100 countries, so there’s bound to be one of our dojo nearby. Check with the authorized JKA representative in your country for information on the closest dojo to you. Once they have information about a JKA dojo, many people like to call and talk to the instructor, ask questions, etc. Many also prefer to go in person to observe how a typical class is run. You can make any such arrangements directly with the instructor once you’ve received the dojo information from our representatives.

Where is the JKA HQ located?

The Tokyo JKA HQ Dojo was opened at 2-23-15 Koraku, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, on December 22, 2000. It is the training place of roughly 100 karate students.

Can I train at the Tokyo JKA HQ Dojo?

Yes. Every year, a number of members from around the world visit Japan and train for a few days or weeks at headquarters in Tokyo. It’s always one of the highlights of their karate experience. If you are interested, find out more here, or send an email at [email protected] with your specific questions.