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Karate translated from the Japanese means ‘empty hand’ and although there are both hand and foot techniques involved, it does indicate it is a sport where in general terms there are no weapons involved.

There are four major styles of karate: Goju ryu, Wado ryu, Shotokan and Kyokushin. In addition to this there are many other ‘styles’ that have been ‘created’ by exponents of one of the four major styles.

I gained my black belt in 1976, and the accompanying picture is one of me executing a flying kick, the picture being taken some thirty-five years ago. At that time training was hard, frequent ‘accidents’ occurred in training and competition, usually resulting in a bloody nose, or at worse a lost tooth. Grading in those days was also very stringent. On the day I took my black belt there were sixty-five others. Only six of us passed. One of these was Frank Brennan, who went on to become British Grand Champion in both Kumite (fighting) and Kata (form) ten years running, and was a member of the British team that defeated Japan to win the World Championship.

In my opinion the sport has over the years gone ‘soft’. Whilst not advocating that anyone should receive a blow deliberately, accidents do happen, and today’s propensity for having padding everywhere has gone overboard. I have always held the opinion that one could be the best in the world but could still get ‘tagged’, and you need the ability to come back from this and continue. Padding takes away the ability to ‘learn to take a punch’.

Grading too has lost its stringent conditions, with children as young as ten years old being awarded the coveted ‘Black Belt’, something that at one time Japanese instructors said that no westerner would have the ability to achieve.

Karate certainly has no age limits, and the many exercises performed during the ‘warm up’ before training serve to increase the suppleness and range of movement in all limbs. The warm up itself takes at least twenty minutes to minimize the risk of pulled muscles.

The training session probably follows the same pattern for all styles, starting off with basic punching techniques on the move, the last move involving a shout or ‘kiai’, this serves to tense the stomach muscles, making the effect of the blow more powerful. The kiai or shout is also used when the student turns to move in the opposite direction.

Kicking techniques are then performed, followed by combinations of different punching and kicking moves, usually made up by the instructor, as different combinations are more difficult than others.

At some point in the training session there may be time set aside for ‘freestyle’ or sparring. A few minutes are spent with another student before changing to ‘spar’ with another. Several changes may take place dependent on time available.

Set forms of karate moves, or Kata, as it is known, is a great part of karate training, and teaches the student the ability to perform different moves or techniques whilst moving in different directions. Basic Kata uses just a ‘H’ form, but as the student progresses through the grading system to higher qualifications, the Kata forms become longer, more complex and more difficult. One Kata I recall was called Ku Shanku and had more than seventy two different sets of movements to perform.

Following the completion of a training session, further exercises are performed as the students ‘wind down’, at the end of this and prior to the final ending of the session students will adopt a kneeling position, close their eyes and meditate. This period of meditation does not usually last for more than fifteen minutes, but if performed correctly, empties the mind of all the aggression built up during the training session and leaves one with a tranquil and peaceful feeling.

The session finally ends with the students performing two bows, one to them selves and the other students and the second to the instructor.

There are many places to go to in Pattaya to learn karate, or Tae Kwan Do, the Korean version of karate. The most important thing is establish the credentials of the person who will be instructing you. Karate is a great way to keep fit and learn a skill that can help defend yourself should you need to. The best method of defence though, is to avoid trouble in the first place.

by Wilson F.