The different styles of karate

The different styles of karate

Want to try a combat sport, but are unsure about which to choose? Why not try the multifaceted discipline of karate?

I chose to take up karate 15 years ago! What I loved were the many styles of this sport. There's truly something for everyone! Whether you want to practise competitively or just for leisure, you're sure to find a style that fits.

All about karate and the dojo!

First things first: let me tell you about my sport! Karate means "empty hand" and is a Japanese martial art that hails from the island of Okinawa. It is a combat sport that uses hand and foot strikes as well as sweeps. It is practised in a dojo: do means "the way", so the word dojo can be translated as the place where one seeks/studies the way.  


Each of dojo's four walls has a name, and they are used to guide students as they learn the katas (a sequence of movements against an imaginary opponent):


- Kamiza, the front wall, is the heart of the dojo.  In a traditional Japanese dojo, a small Shinto shrine sits on this wall to honour the gods. The sensei (teacher) stands on this side, facing his or her students. There may also be an image of the founder of karate-do, Funakoshi Gichin, a quote or calligraphy that expresses an ideal, philosophy and ethics of the club.

- Shimoza is the name of the back wall. Students stand on this side, with beginners (kohai) to the right of the sensei and more advanced students to the left.

- Joseki: the sensei's assistants and black belts stand along this side, as well as guests of honour.

- Shimozeki: the side opposite the Joseki.

The floor of the dojo is traditionally in wood, or covered with a tatami, a sort of mat to cushion falls. It was originally made of layers of rice straw.

Now that you know all about the dojo, it's time to choose a style: traditional, kumite, full contact, light contact... Which will it be?


The traditional style

During a traditional class, students start with a warm-up, often using the basic movements to deepen their practice. After the warm-up, students take turns practising the sequences of movements, then practising them on each other. The movements are also practised during katas.

The execution of the movements is incredibly important, with a lower position than in actual combat. This is done to improve basic techniques, such as locking the wrist during contact, properly distributing the body weight, rotating the hips, keeping the muscles relaxed until the moment of impact etc. Perfecting the movements aims to develop strength and speed to be as prepared as possible for real combat.

Kumite: a.k.a. combat

This is a more “athletic” style where the positions are higher than in traditional karate, because you have to stay light on your feet and move quickly to attack. Kumite is the part of a class where you train against an opponent with rules that are specific to the style. The aim is to touch your opponent (without being touched) while maintaining proper form. During the class, there is also a warm-up, exercises in pairs to work on speed and reflexes, and technique work. The class ends with freestyle practice called randori.


Not just one style of contact

Light contact karate is aimed at under-18s as well as adults who aren't looking for full contact. It is done on a tatami using karate techniques as well as movements from other combat sports such as boxing.


Semi contact karate is nearly identical to light contact, but certain additional techniques are allowed with greater force.


The last type is full contact karate, also called kyokushin. The way you move is different to avoid getting trapped, especially because opponents are closer to each other during combat.

Kyokushin karate

Karate-inspired workouts

In France, there is a style of karate called "body karate" for anyone not wanting to fight and who want a cardio workout. It consists in doing a sequence of karate movements alone to music. Workouts also include stretching and strength training. After having taught this type of class for a while, you can believe me when I say it's a great way to relax and work out in a fun atmosphere.

Now that you know more about the different styles of karate, you just have to pick your favourite!




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