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All About KARATE

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Karate is a form of martial art. The name means, literally 'empty hand' and is a Japanese word. The name comes from the lack of any weaponry used by the participants.

The most common form of competitive karate is a type of freestyle fighting known as jiu-kumite. There are various parts of the body that can be used to attack the opponent with, and there are parts of the body which are the target areas.

Points are scored when, in the referee's opinion one of the competitor carries out a technique on the opponent which warrants a one-point score (ippon), or a half-point score (waza-ari).

The target areas are head, face, upper abdomen and stomach, chest, and the back (including the shoulders).


Karate contests take place on mats which make an area 8 metres (26 feet) squared. There will be a 1 metre (3 foot) safety area around the contest area. There are markings at the centre of the area where the competitors and officials will stand.

The mats should have a non-slip surface and have low friction. It does not need to be as padded as would be used for judo, as there are less throwing techniques used.

Before a contest, the two competitors stand opposite each other at the centre of the mat. They should be 2 metres (6 feet 6 inches) apart. They bow to each other. To start the contest, the referee will call hajime. It is worth noting that all calls are made in Japanese.

The fighters spar freestyle, which means they are free to use a wide range of moves, kicks, punches, blocks , throws, and other strikes. When one fighter gets a proper blow to one of the opponents target areas, the referee will decide if that is an ippon or a waza-ari.


If the referee sees a good technique delivered by one of the fighters, they will call yame, and the fighters return to their places on the mat. The technique is then announced as an ippon or a waza-ari.

The number of points required to win is often three. When one of the fighters has won, the referee will call shiro no kachi, or aka no kachi, depending on who has won.

An ippon is a full point, and the maximum single score. For this, the strike must hit the target area and also have been done perfectly. A score of three ippons wins a bout.

A waza-ari is awarded for a technique which is good, but not good enough to get a full point. For example, if a strike was in the target area but was partially blocked or was not as polished as it should have been. A bout can be won with waza-aris as well as ippons.

If both fighters land a strike on each other at the same time, they cancel each other out and neither of them score. The referee will call ai-uchi (simultaneous). A score can be made as the bout ends, but not after.

If a bout is tied (both fighters are level on points) then there may be an extra two minutes of time to find a winner, if the rules of the competition allow. This is called encho-sen. All penalty points accrued up until that point are still effective.

If the scores are still level, there may be a state where the first scorer after that wins. If the rules do not allow for encho-sen the referee will usually decide a winner based on the number of good techniques and spirit.

Penalty points

A fighter must not step out of the competition area. If they are pushed or otherwise forced out by the opponent the following does not count. Any strikes which would score points but take place outside the match area do not count.

The referee will call jogai as a warning. If the same fighter does it again, a half-point penalty is awarded against them. If it happens a third time, a full penalty point is awarded. A fourth occurrence results in automatic disqualification.

There are penalty points awarded for illegal contacts. Deliberate strikes to the eyes, knees, or groin are against the rules. Excessive force cannot be used. The main object of sporting karate is to demonstrate that you can beat the opponents defence, not to hurt them.

The following are outlawed:

- Techniques which make contact with the throat.

- Techniques which make excessive contact.

- Attacks to the groin, joints, or instep.

- Attacks to the face with an open hand technique.

- Throws where the opponent will not land safely.

- Techniques which risk the safety of the opponent.

- Repeated direct attacks on the opponents arms or legs.

- Pushing, holding, or grabbing deliberately.

- Risking your own safety (mubobi).

- Pretending to have or exaggerating an injury.

This is awarded for minor offences where a warning has already been given. For this, a waza-ari (half-point) is added to the opponent's score.

This is usually awarded after a Keikoku in the same bout. An ippon (full point) is added to the opponent's score.

This is awarded for a serious infringement of the rules, and results in disqualification. The opponent's score is raised to sanbon and they automatically win.

This means disqualification from the entire tournament, competition, or match after a very serious breach of the rules. The opponent's score would be raised to sanbon. The reasons for this being awarded could be:

- Harming the prestige and honour of karate.

- Not obeying the referee's orders.

- Deliberately breaking the rules regarding behaviour.

- Disrupting the running of a bout due to behaviour.


The bouts are presided over by a referee (shushin), and a judge (fukushin), who are also on the mat and are opposite each other at all times. The decisions on points are made by the referee, who may consult the judge for a second opinion.

If the referee is unsure, there is another official, an arbitrator, (kansa) who sits outside the mat and can assist the referee. There will also be a timekeeper and a scorer, also away from the mat.


Kata is the name of another very popular form of karate. It is a set sequence of basic defence and attacking routines which is performed alone. It is often used for practice. The competitor appears to be fighting imaginary enemies from all directions.

At competition level, a technically good routine is essential for success. It can be performed on a mat, or a polished wooden surface. There is no set size, but it has to be large enough for the karateka to carry out their routine.

Competitions will be on an individual or team match basis. Teams are not mixed. Each contestant performs a compulsory shitei routine, and a free selection (tokui) of their own choice.

There will be a total of five judges for each match, with scorekeepers and announcers. The matches take place on an elimination basis. Each judge awards points for individual performances, and the highest and lowest score are not counted.

If the same judges officiate in each round, all the scores are aggregated (combined). If there is a different panel of judges in the final round, only the points gained in that round are counted.

To perform a good routine:

- It must be performed correctly and with understanding of the principle of the moves.

- It must have correct focus of attention, use of power, and breathing.

The kata must be performed as indicated. If this is followed incorrectly, or interrupted, the result is automatic disqualification.

If there is a tie in a kata, the minimum score is then included in the overall score, then the maximum score if necessary, and if the scores are still level, another kata must be performed.

General karate information

How long does a competition last?
The exact length of a competition depends on the organisers. At senior men's level, it is three minutes. Women's and junior contests last two minutes. There may be a two minute add-on period if the scores are level. The contest can end before the allotted time if a fighter has reached the designated number of points.

What are the weight divisions?


under 60 kilograms (132 pounds)
under 65 kilograms (143 pounds)
under 70 kilograms (154 pounds)
under 75 kilograms (165 pounds)
under 80 kilograms (176 pounds)
over 80 kilograms (over 176 pounds)
Super lightweight
Open class

under 53 kilograms (117 pounds)
under 60 kilograms (132 pounds)
over 60 kilograms (over 132 pounds) Lightweight
What do the different belts mean?
Note: The belts as shown below are an example only. Different karate styles have different belt orders, but white almost always means beginner and black is the highest belt attainable.

Kyu means student, Dan means master. During competitive bouts, one fighter wears a red belt and is referred to as aka. The other wears a white belt and is referred to as shiro. These belt colours have nothing to do with their skill level. For kata, the competitor will wear their own relevant belt.

Dress for competitive karate consists of the karate suit, the karategi, or gi, with the belt. Bare feet, and sometimes bare hands, depending on the competition organisers.

Belts can be gained away from competition proceedings. They are gained by the wearer having studied and performed satisfactorily the relevant sequence of moves required to attain that belt.

Karate belts

BLACK Novice
6th Kyu
5th Kyu
4th Kyu
3rd Kyu
2nd Kyu
1st Kyu
1st - 10th Dan

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