In 1609, war broke out between Japan and Okinawa, a nearby island. Brave efforts from the Okinawan citizens could not overcome the powerful Japanese military. Japan took over rule of Okinawa and immediately put a ban on all weapons. The frustrated Okinawans "felt degraded and weakened by their new rulers" (Laiken, 66). In order to combat the oppressing Japanese, the Okinawans created a weaponless form of self-defense. This method, using only hands and feet as natural weapons, was called "Te", or "hand" (Laiken, 68). According to Diedre Laiken, "Te masters developed techniques which included the deadly use of everyday agricultural implements" (69). Eventually, the name of this martial art would be changed to karate which means "China hand" or "empty hand."
Today, the uses of karate have changed and new styles have emerged, but the underlying principles have remained consistent. Karate is not only an instrument for self-defense. There are many other uses and benefits of martial arts including: improving physical and mental health, building self-esteem, improving academic performance, and leading to positive psychological changes. Brad Binder, Ph.D. says "studies show the practice of marital arts leads to positive psychosocial changes in the participants" (par. 4). This does not imply that every student will show these improvements. "Those who have the mindset that they want to be there will see improvements" (Snow).
Probably the most recognized and most useful benefit of taking a karate class is to learn to defend oneself. "Karate was formulated on the grounds of self-defense" (Concoran 46). This is a very important skill to learn. On average, 1.9 million women and 3.2 million men are physically assaulted annually in the United States. Learning karate to defend against an attacker is practical and effective. It would help women especially because they are more vulnerable to an attack. Because of their size, women are often prime targets for an attacker. Brian Snow, a karate instructor, said most women joined the class ""out of curiosity," but "learning to defend themselves" was another driving factor.
An obvious benefit of learning karate is the improvement of physical health (Doynov, sec. 2). Karate provides regular exercise that "balances blood pressure and circulation, lowering the cholesterol level" (Doynov, sec. 2). Research indicates that karate is "thought to lower blood pressure by affecting the nervous system activity which is responsible for fight or flight' response when forced with a stressful situation" (Swiercz, par. 5). Swiercz also said, "Exercise improves balance, flexibility, stamina and posture" (par.4). "Not only does karate training provide all the benefits of regular, moderate exercise, but it's also fun!" (Hassell 11). Karate classes do not provide the monotonous routine of a daily workout. Karate works to train "not only muscles, but tendons, ligaments and bones to improve the quality of life" (Concoran 49). Working all parts of the body will increase the length of healthy life, by not building mass and wearing out the tissue. Karate can also result in weight loss.
Additionally, karate is a physical activity that can be performed for an extended period of time. "It is probably the most long-term physical fitness activity there is" (Snow). Karate can be performed by people young and old. It is something a person of almost any age can begin. "My instructor, who was 60, was more physically fit than I was at the time" (Snow).
Many people question whether the benefits of martial arts are any different from other activities. Both karate and other forms of physical exercise will produce similar results. However, Binder explains, "many western sports tend to emphasize competition and winning while Asian martial arts have traditionally emphasized self-knowledge, self-improvement, and self control" (8). Karate offers the same physical benefits as other activities...
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