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3 Major Influences of Modern-Day Karate

Even if you have never studied karate, chances are a friend or family member has. One of the most well known of the Japanese martial arts, karate relies on striking moves such as punching, elbow striking, kicking, and hand-to-hand combat. Here are three of the main influences that helped shape and develop karate.


1. Buddhism

In the early 500s A.D., a Buddhist monk wished to teach ascetic, or extremely self-disciplined, practices to fellow monks and monasteries. He found, however, that other monks did not have the physical strength to withstand these practices. The monk, Bodhidharma, developed a series of systematic exercises that gradually formed the basis for most Chinese, Japanese, and Korean martial arts. These practices served to strengthen both the mind and body, which directly relates to common Buddhist principles of self-discipline, focus, and drive.


2. Kung Fu

Chinese kung fu also played a large role in the development of karate. Kung fu actually refers to all Chinese martial arts, including the styles of chángquán, xingyiquan, and wing chun. The biggest influence on karate, however, is employing a series of rapid blows to stun an opponent. Delivering blow after blow is a combatant style used to break through at least one of a person’s defenses, no matter how big their size or weapons. Rapid hand movements are combined with swift footwork to give you an advantageous edge. Western-style boxing later influenced karate as well.


3. The Perfect Punch

Kendo, or learning “the way of the sword,” utilizes bamboo swords called shinai for practice sparring. Students are as respectful of their bamboo blades as if they were katana swords, knowing they can cause injury or even death. Visit Swords of The East to view and purchase shinai, katana, and more. The art of kendo relies on precise, calculated movements, striving for the ability to kill with a single strike. This concept is called ikken hissatsu, and it is a part of many karate dojo.


Ikken hissatsu is more probable in sword fighting than in hand-to-hand combat, but the principle remains in place. Students today are not samurai warriors, and so they do not need to “finish off” their opponents; however, the ability to do so and thereby end the conflict is a conceptual goal. The mentality behind this ability is often more powerful than the ability itself.


In terms of karate’s development, referencing kendo was an excellent way to gain new students. Historically, Japanese citizens were always armed, so kendo offered a certain mentality that gave a boost to the weapons-free practice of karate. Today, many instructors have not personally studied kendo, but they still subconsciously teach many aspects of it.


Whether you practice or simply admire karate, knowing about its history and background can give you a deeper appreciation for martial arts movies as well as, say, a nephew’s beginner karate class. With the mentality of kendo, striking powers of kung fu, and self-discipline of Buddhist principles, karate has truly come into its own as a highly skilled and revered martial art.