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Everybody Likes the Graceful Art of Fighting

If you love the grace and strength of martial arts such as karate, you¿ll be as surprised as I was to learn that this ancient art of self-defence was devised by the humble farmers of Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands in southern Japan.

Chinese families migrating to the Ryukyu Islands in 1372 introduced their martial arts traditions to Okinawa. Three basic styles developed, named after the towns where they originated, Naha-te, Shuri-te and Tomari-te. In later centuries, these styles were blended with Shaolin techniques.

Karate entered the limelight in modern times, when Itosu Sanka devised simple techniques to increase its acceptance and introduced it into Okinawa schools. As students advance from one grade to the next, their progress is ranked with differently coloured belts, a tradition adopted from another famous Japanese martial art, Judo. 

Karate is a highly focused fight technique involving accurate, deadly strikes directed to an attacker¿s vulnerable spots. Some typical karate moves are:

Lightning quick punches and kicks
Fending of attackers with elbows and knees
Blocking strikes
Joint locking

¿Karate¿ translates as ¿empty hands¿, a reference to the use of bare hands and feet, and no weapons. However, practitioners use a variety of karate training equipment.

Makiwara: A post fixed to the ground with a relatively cushioned surface (a bean bag or pad, for example). The karate-ka punches this repeatedly to hone accuracy and strengthen the hand.
Tetsu Geta: Iron sandals that build strong legs for harder, faster kicking.
Nigiri-Game: A 60 to 90 cm high clay jar. The practitioner grips its rim, lifts and holds the jar at shoulder height to strengthen the upper body and develop karate techniques like holding and grabbing.
Makiage Kigu: Wrist roller to work wrist muscles.
Ishi Sashi: Stone weight with a top handle, used much like dumbbells to build body strength.
Maki Stick: A slimmer version of a cricket bat. Practitioners strike themselves to condition their bodies against kicks and punches.

Karate novices begin with a white belt and graduate to yellow, green, dark brown and black. In post World War II Japan, economic ruin dictated the tradition of dying white belts into successively darker shades, a cheap yet handy method of ranking. A white belt is ranked 10. The highest, a black belt, ranks 1. Advancing further, black belt ranking levels increase from 1st Dan up to 10th Dan.
Breathing techniques are an important aspect of karate.  As a sporting activity, the benefits of karate are wide-ranging, from better physical health to improved self-esteem and higher levels of energy and concentration. Reportedly, karate helps children with ADHD by teaching self-control and focus. And what a great way to let off steam, with that blood-curdling yell, ¿Ki-Ai!!¿

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