Karate made its much-awaited Olympic debut at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
It was sort of a homecoming for the centuries-old traditional martial art form with its initiation to an Olympic debut at its spiritual home – Japan.
Considered more of a life-long practice to acquire physical and mental toughness, karate training is tough, gruelling and often takes years, if not decades, to master.
While finding a proper dojo (school) and registering under a good master are imperative to pick up the ropes of karate properly, here are a few basic karate tips, tricks and some expert advice for aspiring karatekas or parents thinking of introducing their children to martial arts.
Best age to start karate training
While karate can be taken up by people of all ages, experts say five or six years is a good age to start.
It’s considered the age when a human brain is sentient enough to grasp instructions and base-level theories. Additionally, experiences garnered during the period, be it failures or success, also makes a lasting impression. The starting age, thus, determines how long it would take to learn karate.
That makes an early age ideal for honing the basics of karate techniques or kihons, which tend to be the building blocks for a successful karateka.
“If an individual starts at the age of five or six, practising karate becomes his or her nature. That is very difficult to inculcate into an adult. It is definitely much easier to teach these things to a child.
“Also, there is the physical aspect. At the age of four or five years, the body is very flexible. We can easily mould them to be good athletes,” said Somnath Palchowdhury to Olympics.com. He is a Japan Karate Association accredited instructor.
Muscle mass and preferred build for karate
Karate also requires a very balanced muscle build.
The ideal muscle structure, according to Somnath Palchowdhury, is one between a boxer’s and a gymnast’s because of the balance between power and flexibility needed to excel in karate.
“In boxing, strength is often more important than speed. So, if a boxer is muscularly built, then it is an advantage for him and his punches will be much heavier. However, in karate heavy punches are not required and we need small focused punches,” he explained.
In karate, most of the power is channeled from the floor, using hips to deliver strikes with more of a sharp ‘shock’ impact as compared to the flat ‘hammer-like’ power-oriented strikes in boxing.
As a result, flexible and lean muscles are considered suitable for karate.
“But if you are too flexible then you cannot contract your muscles (as needed) and because of that you cannot focus and generate the power you need. You need to understand your body type, strength and limitations and you have to be loose in your joints to generate kinetic force.
“We recommend not being too flexible like a gymnast either but moderately so,” added Palchowdhury, who is also chairman of the Japan Karate Association WF India Kolkata.
Lightweight training exercises and focus on resistance training are the recommendations to tone muscles properly in order to be a karateka.
Diet and lifestyle
Diet and lifestyle, too, constitute a big part of conditioning the body for karate and a consultation with a dietician is the way to go.
“I would advise to avoid junk food, carbohydrates and saturated fat,” Palchowdhury added. “Protein is very important and also vegetables. In the Indian context, rice and chapati should be avoided to reduce carb intake.”
Cutting out excess movements
Karate moves are precise, accurate, and should always be to the point.
While it’s important to practice the execution of the moves diligently, it’s equally important to train to avoid excess movements, especially with the hands.
“We always advise athletes not to do any extra movement so that your opponent is not aware about your next move,” he remarked.
Footwork training and maintaining posture
As an extension, precise footwork is also vital for a karateka’s arsenal.
Quick and precise footwork is essential for a karateka to maintain the desired distance between him and the opponent. This can often decide the outcome of kumite (a form of self-defence) bouts.
Kumite, one of the three main sections of karate training along with kata and kihon, involves sparring with a partner or opponent.
In kumite bouts, footwork can also act as a tool of deception to mask intentions and keep the opponent guessing.
Footwork is an essential pillar to maintain proper form and posture for a karateka during both kumite bouts and kata demonstrations.
“If the footwork is not correct the body posture will not be correct. Our posture needs to be vertical,” Palchowdhury explained.
Master the art of visualisation
Visualisation of success, Somnath Palchowdhury thinks, is a key requirement to be a successful karateka.
“To visualise the performance of successful champions and masters of karate is important to achieve excellence. Tuning of the mind is critical to reach your goals.
“Imagine success even before you succeed. This is very, very, important,” he advised.
The practice of visualisation during karate training can go on to help in predicting the opponents’ moves and actions.
Focus on self-learning
As pointed out earlier, having a good master and a dojo to hone karate skills is paramount.
But once familiarised with the basics, it’s equally important to pursue the quest to polish the skills even beyond the walls of the dojo.
“Your observation power is probably the best coach in karate. There are three teachers or senseis; one the physical teacher, the other ones are our own eyes and ears,” Palchowdhury states.
There should be an endeavour to gain knowledge from karate seminars, camps, online classes and books in order to become a successful karateka. Karate training encompasses all of it.
“Self-training is like self-realisation. What are my strengths, what are my shortcomings or weaknesses? Training on forms like posture, karate figure, speed, rhythm, training separately for stamina, resistance training, conditioning, is needed.
“These cannot be achieved by just training for a couple of hours a day at the dojo,” he concluded.