Originating from Ryukyu Kingdom, Japan, the word ‘karate’ has time and time again been used synonymously with ‘martial arts’ due to its exposure in mass media. However, if you dig deeper, you’ll realize how far off it is from its own thing. Heavily focused on strikes and punches, knife-hands, palm-heel strikes, knee strikes, etc. Karate is most famous for its open-hand techniques that can act as deadly as real knives.

With such a rich history of knowledge and techniques being passed down through generations, learning Karate is a long-term process that requires great discipline and patience. Being a Karate master can be highly rewarding. Yet, before getting there, it is vital to first understand the three foundational K’s that make up this martial art. 

3 K’s of Karate

1. Kihon


As the meaning implies, kihon refers to the basics that master teach you to get your foot in the door for almost all Japanese martial arts. It is the fundamental techniques that you must practice and perfect to move up the ladder of training, into higher, more advanced levels.

Students learning Karate have to spend days, weeks, and sometimes months in the Kihon stage of Karate. They repeatedly go over the most basic kicks, punches, chops, and blocks. It is imperative that every student take this Kihon seriously, considering form is of the utmost importance when executing a specific attack or defensive move.

In almost every case, students practice Kihon techniques every session, usually at the beginning. Everything you learn during this period is expected to become second nature to the body. This goes from tying your belt properly to standing in the correct form. Besides physical teachings, the most important during kihon learning is making sure students nurture a positive, healthy spirit and attitude.

2. Kata

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Defined as ‘forms’ or ‘shape,’ kata refers to a set of movements executed to exemplify one’s understanding to the techniques. Usually performed as a solo, students performing kata have to practice these pre-arranged kihon techniques with fluidity and precision. Master teach them in stages, guide them from the basics to more advanced, difficult levels overtime. Yet, even as one progresses to a higher stage, they still repeat previously learned katas to illustrate a more effective way to execute.

People believe that kata originated from Karate masters’ desires to pass down their knowledge and teachings to their students,  particularly due to the growing difficulty in remembering all the drills as they grew in number. Also, during the time when the samurai occupied Okinawa and prohibited the practice of Karate, some believe that masters established kata to hand down their teachings with subtlety. So students would be able to perform and practice Karate secretly, since their actions could be explained as a dance.

3. Kumite

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Finally, once a student has a proficient understanding and experience in kihon and kata, they can move onto kumite. Or they can move onto the sparring element of Karate. While you can do kata in pairs, most of the time there isn’t much practicality. However, in kumite, a student may apply the techniques they’ve learned – in a controlled, safe setting – against another practitioner.

In kumite, there are various types of sparring that you can do. The first and most commonly known is Jiyu Kumite, which refers to free style sparring. This is where two individuals can freely spar one another, while of course adhering and respecting the rules that are laid out before them. Most of the time, a senior instructor ensures both parties are calm and controlled.

The other types of sparring include Gohon, Ippon, and Sanbon Kumite, which are more technical. They help the students improve their technique more than anything else. For example, in Gohon Kumite, students will perform a pre-arranged attack. And as the defender steps back with every strike, he/she has to make a counter-attack. The purpose gohon kumite may be to help students learn how to counter attack, while they use upon ippon kumite to develop self-defense drills. Lastly, sanbon kumite helps users establish better speed and strength.

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