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What is Karate-Do?

“The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.” - Gichin Funakoshi

(空)Kara - empty, (手)Te - hand, (道)Do - way


Karate-Do is a martial art and way of life.  The philosophy of Karate-Do is based on Bushido, the samurai code of conduct.  In Karate, the body, mind and spirit—the whole person—must be developed simultaneously.  Kihon, kata and kumite form the inseparable trinity of Karate-Do.  Through constant repetition of such techniques, your body learns to move effortlessly and naturally, and we learn to control our movements, and most importantly, we learn to give up control, so that we can perform the techniques without thinking about them.  This harmonious unity of mind and body is the core teaching of Zen, the true basis of Bushido.


Kihon (基本)

Kihon is a Japanese term meaning basics or fundamentals.  The term is used to refer to the basic techniques (stances, punches, blocks, strikes and kicks) that are taught and practiced as the foundation of Karate.  The practice of kihon is essential to all karate training, both beginner and advanced.  The practice of kihon focuses on correct body form and breathing, the basic techniques of stances, blocking, punching, striking and kicking are both the beginning of karate and the ultimate goal.  However, it should be noted that kihon is not only the continuous practice of techniques, but is also important in the development of the correct spirit and attitude at all times.


Kata (形)

Kata are arrangements of blocking, punching, striking and kicking techniques in certain set sequences.  Shotokan Karate International Federation (SKIF) includes all of the traditional 26 Shotokan kata, and also currently includes four additional kata from other styles chosen by the late Kanazawa Soke to complement traditional Shotokan karate training.  The four additional kata are Seipai (from Goju-ryu), Seienchin (from Shito-ryu), Gankaku-Sho (from Shorin-ryu) and Niju Hachi-Ho (from Tomari-te and White Crane style wushu).  Some kata have been passed down from generation to generation, while others having been developed in more recent times.  Kata when performed correctly require composure and exhibit strength and dignity and help with the development of fast reflexes and the ability to move quickly.  All kata require rhythm and coordination.  Training in kata is as much spiritual as it is physical.  In the performance of kata, all karate-ka should demonstrate boldness and confidence, but also humility, thus integrating mind and body in a singular discipline. 

The study, analysis and practical application of the movements in kata is referred to as bunkai.  This allows the karate-ka to understand what the movements in kata are meant to accomplish.  It also illustrates how to improve technique by adjusting distances, helps with the proper timing of technique, and adapt a technique depending on the size of an opponent.


Kumite (組手)

Kumite is where the techniques practiced in kihon and kata are applied against an opponent.  There are different formats of kumite designed for developing different skills, and appropriate for karate-ka of different levels.  In the most basic and controlled forms (kihon kumite), everything is predetermined and the attacker and defender each know exactly which techniques will be used and when.  Then, at the opposite end of the spectrum is jiyu kumite (freestyle sparring), where techniques are exchanged freely.  This jiyu kumite forms the basis for competition karate.

The relationship between kihon, kata and kumite cannot be overemphasised. 


Types of Kumite:


  • Gohon kumite – five step sparring

  • Sanbon Kumite – three step sparring

  • Ippon kumite - one step sparring

  • Jiyu kumite - free sparring


 There are three main concepts when attacking in karate:

  1. Go no sen - meaning “late attack” involves a defensive or counterattack in response to an opponent’s attack.

  2. Sen no sen – involves a defensive or counterattack launched simultaneously with the attack of the opponent.

  3. ensen no sen - an initiative launched in anticipation of an attack where the opponent is fully committed to their attack and thus psychologically beyond the point of no return.

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