“No matter how you may excel in the art of te, and in your scholastic endeavors, nothing is more important than your behavior and your humanity as observed in daily life” – (Shoshin Nagamine,1976)
“The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat but in the perfection of the character of its participants.” – Gichin Funakoshi
History of Karate
Karate is a Japanese martial art whose physical aspects seek the development of defensive and counterattacking body movements. The themes of traditional karate training are fighting and self-defense, though its mental and moral aspects target the overall improvement of the individual. This is facilitated by the discipline and persistent effort required in training. If karate had to be described in only one sentence, then the most suitable one may arguably be “You never attack first in karate.” This is a a maxim of Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), the Okinawan who brought karate to Japan in 1922, and who is accepted as the father of modern karate.
The word karate is a combination of two kanji (Chinese characters): kara, meaning empty, and te, meaning hand; thus, karate means “empty hand.” Adding the suffix “-dō” (pronounced “daw”), meaning “the way/path,” karate-dō, implies karate as a total way of life that goes well beyond the self-defense applications. In traditional karate-dō, one is supposed to compete and strive to excel against him/herself.
Today there are four main styles of karate in Japan: Shotokan, Goju-ryu, Shito-ryu, and Wado-ryu. Shotokan, though never described as a style by Gichin Funakoshi, it has been nevertheless considered as his. Actually Shotokan was the name of his dōjo, chosen after the pen name used by Funakoshi to sign poems written in his youth. Shotokan Karate is characterized by powerful linear techniques and deep strong stances. It is the style taught at the Tulane Karate Club.
Like the word karate, Shotokan is also composed of two different kanji : Shoto, meaning “pine breeze” and kan, meaning “the place”, thus Shotokan means the place of shoto.
New beginners’ classes are taught every semester. No previous experience is necessary. The class follows a rigid “syllabus” that has proven over the years to be very effective. The first semester of instruction focuses on basic techniques and basic body movements. Techniques include kicks, punches, blocks, and stances. The first semester lays the basic foundation for the more advanced training that follows. The main principle used to teach these techniques is repetition. Techniques are performed over and over in a continual effort to improve. Some of the more advanced students also come to train in the beginners class to improve their basic techniques. In the first semester students also learn a basic kata (long combination of basic techniques) and how to react to prearranged attacks.
Class begins with the students lining up in one straight line facing the instructor. The instructor begins class with an informal bow at the beginning of the class. Sometimes, the traditional format with students kneeling, meditating, bowing, and then rising upon the instructor’s command is used instead. This becomes standard practice at the end of the semester and in the intermediated and advanced classes. The first portion of the class starts with warming-up karate techniques and includes stretching. The main portion of the class focuses on basic techniques, combinations, kata, and partner training. Class ends in the same way that it started, with students lining up, and then dismissed by the instructor.
Dōjo (Training Facility) Customs
There are many customs that are observed by traditional Japanese Karate. Our practice involves intense physical, mental and emotional interaction among the students. These wise customs therefore also serve the most practical purpose of putting the participants in the right frame of mind and attitude for the class, which is physically demanding, expects concentration from the participants, as well as respect and self-control during partner work. The main custom is bowing. Bowing is a sign of respect and intention to work hard with one’s partners without hurting them physically or emotionally. Students bow when they enter and exit the dōjo (training facility, literally the hall of the way, i.e., where the way is practiced). Students bow at the beginning and end of class, to each other when sparring, and at the beginning and end of katas (forms). Another tradition is to use the Japanese terms for techniques and for counting during training. English terms are used as well to familiarize students with the names. A side benefit of the above is an enriching, if only small, exposure to Japanese language and culture.
When arriving to class late, one should wait until the class has finished bowing (if at the beginning of class) to enter the dōjo. When entering late, wait for the instructor to invite you into the class. If you need to leave class early, or you feel ill or exhausted to the point that you need to sit out, raise your hand to ask permission from the instructor.
When not training, you may address the instructors by first name, and interact with them and your fellow karate students the way you interact with everybody else. During class training, you should address the instructor with the word Sensei, which translates roughly as teacher. Idle talking or chatting during class does not take place, unless asking a question of the instructor. In the intermediate/advanced classes, where most students know each other pretty well, there is usually a lively, informal, social atmosphere ten minutes or so right before class starts, and after class ends.