What is Karate?

The art of Karate is a system of combat developed on the island of Okinawa. Karate may allow you to defeat an opponent by the use of striking and kicking. The students practice hard physical training to develop fighting skills.This training requires strenuous physical and mental discipline. Karate helps with the development of a strong character and builds a feeling of respect toward our fellow man. The study of Karate, therefore, may be valuable to all people, male and female, young and old alike.

The literal meaning of the two Japanese characters which make up the word Karate is "empty hands." This, of course, refers simply to the fact that Karate originated as a system of self-defense which relied on the effective use of the unarmed body of the practitioner. This system consisted of techniques of blocking or thwarting an attack and counter-attacking the opponent by punching, striking or kicking. The modern art of Karate has developed out of a thorough organization of these techniques.

Karate as a means of self-defense has the oldest history, going back hundreds of years. It is only in recent years that the techniques which have been handed down were scientifically studied and the principles evolved for making the most effective use of the various moves of the body. Training based on these principles and knowledge of the working of the muscles and the joints and the vital relation between movement and balance enable the modern student of Karate to be prepared, both physically and psychologically, to defend himself successfully against any would-be assailant.

As a physical art, Karate is almost without equal. Since it is highly dynamic and makes balanced use of a large number of body muscles, it provides excellent all-around exercise and develops coordination and agility.

Many girls and women in Japan have taken up Karate because, in addition to its usefulness as self-defense, it is especially good for the figure. It is widely practiced by both children and older people as a means of keeping in top physical condition, and many schools are promoting it as a physical art among their students.

As a sport, Karate has a relatively short history. Contest rules have been devised, however, and it is now possible to hold actual matches as in other competitive sports. because of the speed, the variety of techniques, and the split-second timing it calls for, many athletic-minded people have come to show an interest in competitive Karate and there is every indication that it will continue to grow in popularity.

Western (non-Japanese) students may be interested to know that the Japan Karate Association emphasizes Karate's character-building aspects, in which respect for one's opponent (sportsmanship) is the cardinal principle.

Why Learn Karate?

Karate is a Healthy Choice

Many people think of karate and they visualize dazzling high kicks and dropping into the splits ala Jean Claude Van Damm. Not everyone will be physically able to perform these feats that are seen at the movies that typically stereotype karate and we're not going to pretend that we'll be able to make anybody a star. Our purpose is to make sure that you work at a level that is comfortable, yet challenging to yourself.

Our workouts consist of a good mixture of cardiovascular endurance, strength training and flexibility exercises that are designed to benefit the whole body. Our instructors continue to research the best training methods known to the fitness world, and we're serious about it. People feel good when their healthy. It may seem like a redundant statement, but it's something that people need reminding of. With a healthy body, you have a healthy mind. Everything from waking up in the morning, and thinking clearly at school or in our jobs in this fast paced society that we live in becomes easier to deal with and more enjoyable when your body and mind are in tune.

Awareness and Self Defence

The key to self defence does not rely on punching and kicking. As a matter of fact, we discourse physical action in any confrontation unless it is an absolute last resort. Learning to be aware of your surroundings and avoiding dangerous situations is the focus of awareness. Simple things that people probably already know are used as constant reminders so that awareness becomes a natural way of thinking. We don't want people to be paranoid or scared to walk around their own block or to go to school, but many bad situations can be avoided.

Concentration and Focus

Concentration is something that for many people, has to be taught. Many doctors are now recommending people with A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder) and A.D.H.D. (Attention Deficit and Hearing Disorder) learn karate because of the concentration skills that are developed through the training drills and the practice of kata - a serious of movements, much like a dance choreography with the use of karate techniques.


Balance is a physical, and mental attribute that is developed as a result of karate training. Balance in the physical sense is acquired by performing drills that make you aware of what your body is doing while in motion. Balance as a mental characteristic is developed as you use karate as a mental stimulant. For most people karate will not be as natural as walking so you will have to rationalize your movements as you learn them. With the presence of a good physical and mental balance you will enhance and develop your skills.


Control is a result of focus, concentration, and confidence. Through the efforts of repetitive karate training people learn their limitations. The more aggressive person may want to push those limitations, which is not a bad thing, but they learn to deal with what they have in front of them. Emotions such as anger and fear may never leave a person completely but by practice, like anything else, you can learn to control them.

Respect, Discipline, and Humility

Most educated people associate karate with discipline. This is because of the format in which the classes are taught. In karate there is a ranking system which lets people know where they stand. Karate doesn't have to be militaristic to the point it was originally intended (after all it is a martial art developed to defend ones' life) but these values are instilled. Generally a person who enters a karate class will see that people will bow to each other, call the instructor Sensei (teacher) and conform to the rules and guidelines set forth by the club. This makes a person feel rather awkward themselves if they don't conform to their surroundings. If there is a problem child or an adult with an overbearing demeanor they will be dealt with on a personal level. Most difficult people can be taught humility simply by being in an evironment where it is prominent.

Goal Orientation

People need direction. Most people enter a karate club with visions of wearing a black belt. The realization of reaching that goal can be overwhelming without proper direction. As instructors we help individuals set reasonable goals so that a person can make these ambitions attainable. Instead of thinking about a black belt that may be five or more years down the road, we focus on our ranking system which breaks it down to a few months at a time. At each level the student knows in advance what is expected of them to reach the next level. People that learn the importance of mile marking goals can more readily accept some of lifes challenges and learn to make realistic goals for themselves when there isn't someone there to do it for them.

Self Confidence

You have to feel good about yourself and you have to trust in your abilities to be confident. Karate teaches you how to handle pressure by applying a little bit at a time. Every individual has certain a limit and once you find it you feel comfortable. Once your comfortable you can start to expand or push those limits and feel good about trying something you never imagined you could before. Karate is an endless learning experience that provides constant challenge keeping you alert and to let your confidence grow.

Role Models

Like a school teacher, we as karate instructors have a responsibility to our students to instill positive values. Children benefit by the mental stimulation of learning the choreographed moves of the kata and the discipline of conforming to the rules of the club. An adult doesn't have to feel self conscious about getting the physical benefits of the exercise provided. Karate instills the confidence to walk away from confrontation, not to contest it head on. To teach these values at an early age will benefit a child for the rest of their life. On an adult perspective, it can shed a bit of light through the stresses of our daily routines. Constant Supervision & Guidance Karate clubs, unlike many health clubs provide constant instruction by experienced leaders. Most people don't have the discipline to work out by themselves and it's human nature to work on what we already do well rather than to work at what is more difficult. By having the instructors lead a class through a planned routine you get a good balanced workout. Karate also promotes group support by having students work with each other under the guidance of an instructor. This teaches a more experienced student to work their leadership skills by passing along information that they have gathered over the years. A less experienced student will also ask questions that will challenge the senior student. This is a challenge that requires the senior student to put trust in their abilities and in return a adds a real sense of accomplishment.

Karate as a Sport

Karate as a sport has been on a steady incline since the late 1960s. It provides a method of testing your abilities in a controlled environment. The sparring is fast paced not only for the spectator, but requires precision skill and control by the competitor. In karate you pull your technique, scoring points by showing the judges what you could do in a self defence situation. The kata competition shows a combination of grace and power in technique through a series of choreographed movements that represent the competitor defending themselves in a multi attack environment. Both provide a sense of self accomplishment and build confidence by performing in front of their peers and an audience.

Karate is Fun!

Not only do you benefit from learning the techniques and routines that karate provides, you do it with other people that share a common interest. Any extra curricular activity you involve yourself with should be a release from the stress or anxiety that is built up in our daily routines. People involved in karate can established friendships for life.

A Brief History of Goju-Ryu

The art of Naha-te, founded by Kanryo Higaonna Sensei, forms the basis of Goju Ryu Karate. Kanryo Higaonna Sensei was born in 1853 and was part of the lower gentry. He longed to study in China the art of Chinese Kempo, however, was lacking in financial means until he was introduced to the owner of a ship. Fortunately, the owner granted him passage and Kanryo Higaonna Sensei soon arrived at the port city of Foochow, the only city in China engaged in trade with Okinawa at that time. Eventually, he was introduced to Master Ryu Ryuko. Kanryo Higaonna Sensei spent sixteen years in Foochow, China, studying under Master Ryu Ryuko and become like a son to him. He also became well known throughout the region as a great martial artist. Upon his return to Okinawa, Kanryo Higaonna Sensei paid his respects to the owner of the ship, Yoshimura, and began teaching his sons the art he had learned. As the word spread of his great skill, he soon also taught members of the royal family. Later he opened his own dojo. Kanryo Higaonna Sensei was especially known for his incredible speed, strength and power and his art became known as Naha-dee (te).

The actual founder of the Goju Ryu karate was Miyagi Chojun Sensei, a personal disciple of Kanryo Higaonna Sensei. At the age of 14, Miyagi Chojun Sensei met Kanryo higaonna Sensei and together they devoted their lives to the improvement and advancement of the art of Naha-te. They spent thirteen years together until Kanryo Higaonna Sensei passed away in 1916. Miyagi Chojun Sensei?s family was part of the gentry. They owned two trading ships that imported medicine from China for both the government and private individuals. The same year Kanryo Higaonna Sensei died, Miyagi Chojun Sensei left for China to discover the roots of Naha-te in the city of Foochow. Unfortunately, all had fled during the revolutionary war and he returned to Okinawa. Miyagi Chojun Sensei was a man of strong will and excelled in his studies. He trained daily, often with nature in harsh elements, and practiced various exercises to develop his senses. He created several katas and sometimes would receive instructions from his dreams.

In addition to his personal training and development of Naha-te, Miyagi Chojun Sensei spent a great deal of his time promoting the art. In 1921, he performed a demonstration of Naha-te in Okinawa for the visiting Prince Hirohito, Emperor of Japan, and in 1925 for Prince Chichibu. Miyagi Chojun Sensei had already envisioned the development of Naha-te not only in Japan but also around the world. It became increasingly important to organize and unify Okinawan karate as a cultural treasure to be passed on to future generations. In 1926, Miyagi Chojun Sensei established the Karate Research Club in Wakas-Cho. Four instructors, Miyagi Chojun, Hanashiro, Motobu and Mabuni, taught alternately some preliminary exercises and supplemental exercises. Afterwards, Miyagi Chojun Sensei gave talks to the students about mankind, daily life, and the samurai code of ethics in order to improve their moral development as well. In 1927, Kano Jigoro Sensei, founder of Judo, saw a demonstration of a kata by Miyagi Chojun Sensei and was impressed by the advanced technique and sophistication of Naha-te. Kano Sensei?s influence allowed Miyagi Chojun Sensei to perform Okinawan karate at leading Japanese Budo tournaments sponsored by the government. In 1930, Miyagi Chojun Sensei performed at the Butoku-kai Tournament and at the Sainei Budo Tournament in 1932.

As its exposure increased, many became interested in Miyagi Chojun Sensei's art. One of Miyagi Chojun Sense's senior disciples, Shinzato Sensei, gave a performance of kata at a Japanese martial arts tournament. Afterwards, a master asked the name of his school. Shinzato Sensei had no answer for him, returned to Okinawa and told Miyagi Chojun Sensei about his encounter. In order to promote his art as well as cooperate with other schools of Japanese martial arts, Miyagi Chojun Sensei decided it was necessary to name his art. It became known as "Goju Ryu" Karate, meaning "hard and soft" taken from the precepts of traditional Chinese Kempo (see below). He was the first among different schools of karate to name his art and in 1933 his art of Goju Ryu was formally registered at the Butoku-kai, Japanese Martial Arts Association.

During the 1930's, Miyagi Chojun Sensei actively developed and promoted karate-do in Japan and throughout the world. For example, in 1934, a Hawaiian newspaper company invited him to Hawaii in order to introduce and populate karate in Hawaii. In 1936, Miyagi Chojun Sensei spent two months in Shanghai, China, for further study of Chinese martial arts. In 1937, he was awarded a commendation by the Butoku-kai for his kata. Miyagi Chojun Sensei developed Goju Ryu by analyzing and employing scientific methods of exercise. In 1940, he created katas "Gekisai Dai ichi" and "Gekisai Dai ni" with the purpose of popularizing karate and improving the physical education of young people. He also created "Tensho" kata emphasizing the softness of the art whereas "Sanchin" kata emphasizes the hardness.

A tragic period ensued in the 1940's as a result of World War II and Miyagi Chojun Sensei stopped teaching. During this period he lost a son and a senior student while enduring the devastations of war and poverty. After the war, Okinawan karate spread rapidly throughout mainland Japan. Miyagi Chojun Sensei taught karate in Kansai, Japan, for a short time. In 1946, however, he started teaching karate at the Okinawan Police Academy as well as in the backyard of his home in Tsuboya where his son still lives today.

From the beginning, Miyagi Chujun Sensei recognized karate as a valuable social treasure of Okinawa. He devoted his entire life to the study, development and transmission of Okinawan karate for the sake of future generations and is truly known as the founder of Goju Ryu karate-do. During his lifetime, Miyagi Chojun Sensei was known and respected by everyone not only in Okinawa but also respected throughout the world as one of karate?s greatest authorities.

Miyagi Chojun Sensei chose the name "Goju Ryu" from the "Eight Precepts" of traditional Chinese Kempo found in the document "Bubishi?" and are as follows:

  • The mind is one with heaven and earth.
  • The circulatory rhythm of the body is similar to the cycle of the sun and the moon.
  • The way of inhaling and exhaling is hardness and softness.
  • Act in accordance with time and change.
  • Techniques will occur in the absence of conscious thought.
  • The feet must advance and retreat, separate and meet.
  • The eyes do not miss even the slightest change.
  • The ears listen well in all directions.

These eight precepts are the essence of the martial arts and are the elements one strives to achieve in training Goju Ryu Karate-do. Such training shall serve to lead humankind to rediscover our natural instincts and capabilities.