|Karate is a Japanese form of martial arts that literally means "empty hand." It is an ancient form of mind and body conditioning that also provides the practitioner with an effective means of self-defense.
Karate is a fighting method involving blocks, strikes, evasions, throws, and joint manipulations. Karate is practiced in three aspects: kihon (basics), kata (forms), and kumite (sparring).
In karate, the philosophy and history are as important as the physical aspects of the art. The development of mental focus in conjuction with physical conditioning is what sets karate apart from exercise programs like aerobics or Pilates. Practitioners of true karate strive to eliminate weak and indecisive movements in karate steps and thereby eliminate weakness and indecision in their minds.
Karate is more a way of life than a simple exercise program. Certainly there are innumerable health and conditioning benefits to be had by learning and practicing karate, but the true nature of karate is to develop a healthy body and mind.
Karate uses slow, precise motion to train the body to perform with fluidity and flexibility. As the body becomes conditioned and flexible, the movements are performed with greater rapidity. The combination of movements in precise patterns is known as "kata" or forms. The forms, once learned, can be practiced independently.
As with most exercise or fitness programs, karate comes in a wide variety of styles and types. Most studios, or "dojos," practice a single form that was developed by a particular "master" or "sensei." Every form brings with it variances in its philosophy and history. Almost every dojo teaches philosophy and history with the actual physical end of karate. You can visit local dojos in your area to discuss the various forms of karate available to you.
Note that karate is not dependent upon your physical condition at the outset. If you are out of shape or overweight, karate is a great way to develop a leaner, stronger body while using a weight loss program. As you build muscle and develop flexibility, karate can provide a lifetime of physical conditioning that can be intensified as your body becomes more fit.