From an early age, I have always had a fascination for the martial arts – its mystique, and the superhuman feats performed by its practitioners such as Bruce Lee and the Shaolin Temple monks. My martial arts experience started off when I joined my school friend for training at a small Karate club in the South-East of England. From those humble origins, my passion for martial arts grew. I trained throughout my school years into university and beyond. Having competed at national and international Karate tournaments, having trained all over the world, I started travelling to Okinawa to train at the “Mecca” of Karate from 2004.
A Brief History of Karate
There is a general misconception that Karate originated in Japan, when in fact modern Karate has its roots in Okinawa, the largest island of the Ryukyu Islands before it became a prefecture of Japan. Okinawa had a long cultural and commercial relationship with China and this inevitably influenced the Okinawan fighting arts. The original meaning of Karate was Tang Hand reflecting its Chinese influence. The three main styles of Okinawan Karate are linked to the towns where they originated, namely Naha, Shuri and Tomari. From these came the modern Karate styles such as Goju-Ryu, Uechi-Ryu, Isshin-Ryu, Shotokan, Shitoryu, Wado-Ryu, Kyokushinkai etc.
In the 1930s, Karate was introduced to mainland Japan as “empty hand”. Over the years, it has become the mainstream martial art that we see today. There are now between 50–100 million karate practitioners around the world.
What is Karate?
Another general misconception about Karate is that it is primarily a bare handed fighting style consisting of only punches and kicks. While partly true, the art of Karate as practised in Okinawa also contains a plethora of techniques such as throws, sweeps, grappling, locks, strikes to vital points and those with traditional Okinawan weapons.
A typical Okinawan Karate class starts with preparatory exercises to warm up, strengthen and stretch the body (junbi undo) which could take up to 30–40 minutes. The next stage consists of supplementary exercises (hojo undo) using weighted tools that are more functional than just lifting weights in the gym. Tools such as stone levers (chiishi), gripping jars (nigiri game), iron ring (kongoken) and straw hitting post (makiwara) are utilised to increase strength, promote correct body posture/mechanics and to protect the body from injury.
Another important aspect of Okinawan Karate is body conditioning (tanren), in which practitioners hit different parts of their body with tools or against another practitioner in order to accustom the body for impact thereby reducing injuries that may occur during sparring or in actual self-defence.
The combination of junbi undo, hojo undo and tanren greatly enhances the effectiveness of Karate forms (kata) which are a combination of formalised movements that encompass various Karate techniques for defence and counter-attacks. Kata is the bridge between basic training and reality-based self-defence. There are 13 different kata in Okinawan Goju-Ryu and many more in other Karate styles. Each kata emphasises a set of fighting principles. As the practitioner progresses through training, the same kata may provide additional concepts and techniques that were not revealed before. I personally view kata as the essence of Karate. It is like a multi-layered onion with each layer peeling off through diligent training revealing invaluable insights. There are “secrets” to Karate hidden in plain sight and are only revealed to those that can observe and see them.
I have been training in Karate for over 30 years but it was only in the last 15 years or so that I began my current journey in Okinawan Goju-Ryu and full contact Karate. Prior to that, I felt that my semi-contact karate training lacked something. With Okinawan Goju-Ryu, my eyes were finally opened to the power of Karate that previously seemed out of reach to me before. I regularly return to Okinawa to improve my understanding of the art. I am always pleasantly surprised when my technique is corrected in the minutest detail resulting in a dramatic change in its effectiveness.
I recently set up a Martial Arts Interest Group for the Law Society of Hong Kong to teach Okinawan Karate to members on a weekly basis. There is also a separate instructor teaching Muay Thai boxing within the group. It is a pleasure to pass on my knowledge of Okinawan Karate and satisfying to see memebers’ strength, coordination and confidence grow.
There is no end to learning and the day that we stop learning is the day we die. To this end, I continue my Karate training in search of perfection and to be better than I was the day before. I have travelled and trained in many places around the world and made many friends who are excellent martial artists. They have contributed to my knowledge and enthusiasm for Karate. I hope to continue this never-ending quest and regardless of what happens in my life, I am serenely confident that the path that I have chosen for my Karate will always guide me in the right direction.
Ground fighting, mixed martial arts sparring and weapons training.
Nigiri Game and Chiishi
With my Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate teacher, Chris de Wet Sensei
Hong Kong full contact knockdown tournament
Martial Arts Interest Group – Okinawan Karate.