Most of the many forms of martial arts – with or without the use of weapons such as sticks and swords – originated over a thousand years ago in Asia, especially in Japan and China, and no sooner had particular types been established they then evolved into others, splitting according to techniques as taught by various masters. In the last few hundred years and increasingly during the past 50 years or so, disciples of the different martial arts travelled around the world, gaining converts and helping to set up training schools (dojos) wherever they went.
Today there are forms of martial arts that appear to be due in part at least to Western rather than Eastern influences – martial arts such as kick boxing in which opponents wear gloves and fight using a combination of what is a common sight in the boxing rings of England and America once famous for their Queensberry Rules, and the sort of kicks associated with numerous Asian disciplines.
There are still dojos where very traditional forms and philosophies of martial arts are practised, although internationally there are also modern versions that extend to the sort taught at some dojos including Paul Cave’s Mixed Martial Arts in Cape Town. Here they specialise in what they term hybrid martial arts, including what they consider to be the best techniques from various styles including Brasilian, Russian and Filipino in addition to traditional Japanese. And at the Max Grunau School of Martial Arts in Cape Town, to give another example, they teach “a combination of karate, judo and kickboxing”.
Elsewhere in the country there is SKISA, the Shotokan Karate Do-Jo International South Africa with its headquarters in Durban. Here they believe that as somebody passionate about karate, the “karate-ka” seeks balance and harmony in his or her life, developing a strong body and spirit so as to better serve others.
The word “karate” stems from the words “kara”, meaning “empty”, and “te”, meaning “hand” – “empty hand” pertaining to form of martial arts said to have originated in Okinawa, Japan, when under Chinese rule during the 15th century the carrying of weapons by the locals was outlawed. This in turn led to “karate-do” – the “do” meaning “way and hence the “open hand way” used by the resistance to fight without weapons…
Self-discipline and respect – self-respect and respect for others – are among the human traits emphasised at most dojos in their efforts to help encourage their members to become well-adjusted individuals to whom karate is part of their way of life, a way of being. Of course, most dojos also provide a good workout for those trying to become or to remain fit.
For many, in fact, martial arts now represent a category of sport that one competes in to win awards, titles, honour and prestige – a far cry from being primarily a means of self-defence but a development that’s seen the practise become very accessible around the world to men, women and children of all ages, shapes and sizes, races and religions.