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Definition: karate from The Chambers Dictionary

a traditional Japanese form of unarmed self-defence using blows and kicks, now a popular combative sport. [Jap, literally, empty hand]

■ kara'teist

■ kara'teka

an expert in karate.

❑ karate chop

a sharp downward blow with the side of the hand.

❑ kara'te-chop

Summary Article: Karate, Injuries in
from Encyclopedia of Sports Medicine

Many people around the world practice karate, a form of martial art. There are in fact many types of martial art commonly referred to as karate, depending on the country in which it was developed and its accompanying philosophy. In addition to the well-known forms of karate (e.g., the traditional Okinawan and the Japanese Shotokan), there are parallel Chinese (Wu Shu and Kung Fu) and Korean (Tang Soo Do) forms. Karate practitioners, known as karatekas, practice their martial art mainly for defensive and spiritual purposes.


Karate, in Japanese, literally translates to “empty hand” or “empty fist.” The island of Okinawa, historically under Japanese rule, is widely considered its point of origin, but the rudiments were evidently adapted from earlier Chinese martial art forms. Regardless of where karate originally developed, it is generally recognized that karate and other martial arts emerged all over the world as a means of self-defense. Many believe that people who were oppressed and forbidden to use any weapons developed this martial art to employ the body itself as a weapon against armed opponents.

In the United States, some U.S. soldiers who had been stationed at Okinawa following World War II and had studied karate there brought back the art with them and established schools of karate. Karate became more widely popularized with the theatrical release of the Karate Kid movies in the 1980s. Integrating the use of Okinawan karate in their story lines, the Karate Kid series did portray effectively the underlying philosophy of karate as a means of defense and as a way to develop self-discipline and a sense of spirituality.

Competition: Forms and Sparring

In addition to practicing various open-hand and kicking techniques, karatekas practice a set routine of techniques known as forms (Kata). These forms are passed on from generation to generation and sometimes altered by newer generations. The practicing of forms allows the karatekas to develop focus and discipline during practice sessions. Weapons are also integrated into certain forms. Similar to the floor exercise in gymnastics, forms is a category of competition that serves to demonstrate the karateka's skill in executing techniques.

Karate tournaments have sparring competitions with varying rules. The common type of sparring tournament employs a point-based system, with various numbers of points given for the area of body contacted or even how much contact was made (except in full-contact karate). Sweeping an opponent may or may not be allowed depending on the tournament rules. In addition, “open tournaments” allow practitioners of any style of karate to participate, in contrast to “closed tournaments,” where only one style or even one major karate organization/association is allowed to participate. Sparring gear may or may not include headgear and hand and foot pads depending on the requirements of each individual tournament. Karatekas are generally required to use mouthguards. Given the lack of uniform rules regarding sparring equipment, karatekas are susceptible to injuries depending on the rules of the tournament.

Injuries in Karate

Many types of injuries can occur in karate. However, several studies have demonstrated certain patterns of injuries in karate competition. Most of the injuries sustained by karate practitioners are head and upper limb injuries. It is likely that many of the upper limb injuries sustained were due to the karateka's efforts to block attacks from opponents. Many of the head and upper limb injuries are secondary to concussions, lacerations, or hematomas.

Concussions suffered during karate competitions are handled as they would be for any contact sport. There are multiple guidelines that can be followed, but the underlying theme in all of them is to determine the severity of the concussion as well as return to activity. An event of loss of consciousness warrants consideration of a head CT (computed tomography) scan for an acute intracranial hemorrhage. Return to activity is progressive: The athlete should be asymptomatic prior to engaging in any form of exertion and should then gradually increase his or her activity. A premature return to contact sport places the patient at risk for further brain injury, in particular the often cited “second-impact syndrome.” It is believed that a second concussion that occurs prior to full recovery from the previous concussion leads to life-threatening increased intracranial pressure and irreversible brain damage and/or death.

Because many karate competitions do not require the use of protective hand or foot padding, competitors are at additional risk for lacerations. Certain lacerations sustained in the head area require the skills of a specialist. For example, any laceration that involves the eyelid margin or the lacrimal drainage system of the eye should be referred to an ophthalmologist. Ear lacerations must be evaluated for cartilage involvement and repaired prior to skin closure by a skilled physician.

In general, hematomas suffered by karate practitioners can generally be treated with the application of ice, compression, and elevation of the affected extremity. It is important to evaluate neurovascular status, as well as any possibility of fracture.

In addition to the common injuries described previously, there is a specific type of contusion, called a “Karate Kid” finger, that has been reported. This injury involves the nerve located on the ulnar (medial or closer to the body) side of the little finger. This type of injury is sustained when, for strength and conditioning purposes, practitioners perform karate “chops,” often on hard objects such as ice, wood, or cinder blocks. Due to repetitive trauma, scarring may occur over the underlying nerve, and constant pain or numbness is present. Surgery has been reported to be curative.

Karate Today

Today, many people enjoy the benefits of practicing karate. Whether it is for defensive purposes or for fitness and personal development, karate is one of the many martial arts that people worldwide participate in. Karate has evolved into a martial art that borrows many techniques from other martial arts, and it is now common practice to integrate more “ground-based” fighting techniques. The newer generation of martial artists may question whether karate is still relevant today as an effective martial art due to the increased popularity of Mixed Martial Arts. Many defenders of karate will refer to Lyoto Machida, a light heavyweight professional fighter who employs Shotokan karate very effectively in Mixed Martial Arts competition. In the ever-changing world of martial arts, especially with the increasing popularity of Mixed Martial Arts, many karate practitioners will experience a transformation and evolution in their training.

See also

Concussions, Eye Injuries, Finger Dislocation, Finger Fractures: Bennett Fracture, Boxer's Fracture, Finger Fractures: Overview, Finger Sprain, Hand and Finger Injuries, Head Injuries, Mixed Martial Arts, Injuries in, Punch Drunk Syndrome

Further Readings
  • Arriaza, R; Leves, M Injury profile in competitive karate: prospective analysis of three consecutive World Karate Championships Knee Surg Sports Trumatol Arthrosc 13 (7) : 2005.
  • Beasley, J. Mastering Karate. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics; 2003..
  • Chiu, DT “Karate kid” finger Plast Reconstr Surg 91 (2) : 1993.
  • Destombe, C; Lejeune, L; Guillodo, Y Incidence and nature of karate injuries Joint Bone Spine 73 (2) : 2006.
  • Funakoshi, G. Karate-Do Kyohan. New York, NY: Kodansha America; 1973..
  • Muller-Rath, R; Bolte, S; Petersen, P; Mommsen, U Injury profile in modern competitive karate-analysis of 1999 WKC-Karate World Championship Games in Bochum [in German] Sportverletz Sportschaden 14 (1) : 2000.
  • Tuominen, R Injuries in national karate competitions in Finland Scand J Med Sci Sports 5 (1) : 1995.
  • Cuenca, Arnold E.
    Copyright © 2011 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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