questions & answers


If you have never practiced Karate...

What is Karate?

Karate is a powerful no-nonsense weapon less and defensive martial art, in which the practitioners strive to achieve perfection of movement. Karate techniques are based on sound scientific principles. A smaller or weaker person will be able to defend himself against a stronger aggressor. The techniques are eventually performed effortlessly and as a reflex reaction to an aggression. There are short to medium to long range techniques, leg and hand techniques, straight and circular techniques, and even grabs, throws and unbalancing techniques. Yet the higher purpose of Karate-Do (the 'way' of Karate) is to develop the mind and spirit of a 'Gentleman-Warrior'. There are no short cuts for this. Karate is based on 'BUDO', the Japanese word for 'martial way'. The concept of Budo is one of ending violence.

Why should I start Karate?

If you are toying with the idea of starting 'a bit' of Karate, do so immediately! Unlike most sports, Karate does not require you to have a particular genetic predisposition (e.g. being very tall, or very fast). The performance in most sports will decrease simply with advancing age. Not so in Karate. The holistic training effect which Karate promotes (motor skills and mental development), allows you to continue improving well past your physical peak. There are so many benefits waiting for you. For example: mental relaxation, all-round physical fitness, coordination, agility, balance, increase of self worth, constant enrichment. You will feel refreshed after each session. You will look and feel younger than your age. You will feel proud to belong to a welcoming first rate Karate club, endorsed by the most prestigious Karate organisation in the world! (The JKA). Eventually you will reach a point where you will see yourself as a Karateka, and not just one who 'does a bit of Karate'. You then realise how good it was to start JKA Karate, and what a gift it would be to your friends and loved ones, if they just joined in. That is exactly why we are inviting you to join us!

What is the difference between Karate and other martial art?

First of all there are Martial Arts and there are Fighting Sports. While there is fighting in Karate, and there is an element of Sport in Karate, Karate is not, in reality, a fighting sport, because the aims are very different. (see question on sport). Then there are Martial arts with or without weapons. Karate is the ultimate example of a weaponless art, as it is called Kara-Te (literally 'empty hand', in Japanese). Then there are the Grappling/ Joint locking arts and the Hitting arts. Here there is some overlap, but Karate is mainly a hitting art. Amongst the hitting arts some favour hand techniques, while others favour leg techniques. Karate is very balanced in this respect. Then there are the mixed arts, also called 'eclectic' Martial Arts. The drawback of this approach, is that there is a tendency to dilute one's effort in many contrasting principles, and the possibility of not really excelling in anything, but of course there are exceptions to this. In contrast Karate is focused, efficient and direct whilst being very comprehensive.

What is 'JKA'?

JKA stands for the Japan Karate Association (Nihon Karate Kyokai in Japanese). The JKA is the original and oldest Shotokan Karate organisation. It was established in 1949 by the founder of the Shotokan style, Gichin Funakoshi. Today the JKA is the largest (present in over100 countries) and most prestigious Shotokan Karate organization in the world (www.jka.or.jp) from which Karate propagated out of Japan. JKA is 'The Keeper of Karate's Highest Tradition'. Today all the other Shotokan organizations which are not associated with the JKA, are either direct off-shoots of the JKA, (which are or were headed by ex-members of the JKA who quit or have been expelled), or indirect groups sometimes only very remotely connected to the JKA or not at all. Sometimes these latter organizations will claim some indirect affiliation to JKA, usually through a complex family-tree of federations. It must be stressed that the only organization ever supported officially, publicly and physically by Sensei Funakoshi until the week before his death was the JKA.

What is Shotokan?

The Shoto-Kan, was the first Dojo (training place) purposely built by the students of Funakoshi Sensei, who originally used 'Shoto' as a nom-de-plum for his poetry works. Eventually it became synonymous with the STYLE of Karate taught by Funakoshi. (Gichin Funakoshi in reality did not want to 'create a style' but to organize the contemporary teaching of Karate in a more coherent manner.) Shotokan then was the style of Karate spread by the pioneering JKA masters who spread the art to the Western world after WWII. In reality 'Shotokan' has today become a broad and generic name for a widely spanning assortment of Karate teaching methods which neither resemble the post-war Shotokan Karate, nor its current development by the JKA. That is why, lately, the JKA insist on labelling their brand of Karate as "JKA-Karate". 'Shotokan' is just too loose now as a description!

What is JKA Karate?

JKA Karate is the current Karate style demonstrated by the heirs of the original JKA (founded by Gichin Funakoshi in 1949). It is the product of 60 years of refinement, of the best and most intense large scale instructor programme ever seen in the Karate world, of the deepest scientific research and extensive empirical testing, and of the largest dedicated professional staff of highly trained full time instructors. In short, JKA-Karate is Serious Karate 'the Japanese way'. The JKA produces the kind of Karate that inspires: neat, efficient, and without frills. We don't want to strive for anything less.

Is all Shotokan Karate equal?

Not at all. As explained above, while there are many excellent organization outside of the JKA umbrella, there are even more who bear little resemblance to Shotokan Karate. The mental approach, the techniques, the exercise patterns (Kata), the way of fighting, the graded level of the students of the black belts and even of the instructors vary incredibly.

Do I need to be fit?

No, in order to start JKA Karate you do not need to be fit. We will take care of that, and very gradually. There is no need that you go on a diet before joining. There is no need that you go out and buy a Home Gym and a punching bag. There is no need that you go out jogging, and possibly hurt yourself. On the contrary, these things will delay you and ultimately prevent you from joining your club. It is very likely that because you think you need to be fitter, you will miss your chance to join. After a while you will just forget about it and abandon your Home-Gym! Your JKA-Karate club is not a boot-camp. You will not be required to do hundreds of pushups while a foul speaking Sergeant yells at you! You just need to come at the door and join a class. There is nothing to be afraid of.

Do I need to be healthy?

It goes without saying that Karate is a physical and a mental activity. If you have reason to suspect that moving your body or meeting people could either aggravate a serious condition or endanger fellow students, you should certainly consult your doctor first. On the other hand, if you can: go up the stairs, jog slowly for a small distance, bend to pick up an object, carry a full shopping bag, throw a tennis ball with your hand/s, or kick a foot ball without danger, it is reasonable to say that you can start Karate. It is essential that you discuss your health issues not only with your doctor, but also with your Karate instructor, who will keep this information highly confidential.

Will I be injured?

No, rest assured! JKA Karate is not a full contact fighting sport. Fighting is only a small fraction of the training. It is approached in a very gradual and safe way. You will be taught to focus your blows at a small distance from the target. Your instructors are professionally trained, with many years of experience and an impeccable track record. You will not be required to match yourself with other students until you are proficient enough, and then again your safety will be the main issue. Your instructors will also be concerned that YOU do not injure somebody else! Again, there are so many wrong ideas created by the movie industry! The injury rate is so much lower than in other 'ball' sports, ironically because the techniques are visibly dangerous so that everybody treats his training partners with all the due respect.

Is Karate Violent?

Karate is NOT violent. People can be violent. Karate teaches you how to move your body powerfully and gracefully. Karate is not any more violent than target shooting, archery, fencing, javelin throwing or Olympic hammer throwing. These are all formerly military activities, but it seems we forgot about it. The fact that we use the free body in reality makes the activity less dangerous, less military and therefore less violent. On the other hand, to produce strong and efficient techniques without a weapon, requires a focussing of intent which people mistake for violence. In reality a competitive sportsman is much more aggressive than a traditional Karateka, as the sportsman has to win. The Karateka concentrates on not losing. This might seem playing with words, but the psychological approach is very different. If you are not violent, Karate will not turn you into a violent person. Conversely, violent persons seldom have the patience to master Karate. They would rather pick up a knife or a chair!

Is it more suited to males or females?

Karate is and has always been a truly unisex activity. Even in feudal Japan, it was not uncommon for ladies to learn Martial skills, like Naginata (spear fighting). It is truly remarkable and inspiring to watch a JKA female instructor. The power, speed, gracefulness, and poise leave most observers speechless. In reality, if you are a female you cannot afford 'not to train' JKA Karate. It is a pity that Karate inspired forms of 'Keep-Fit' are becoming so popular, when you could learn the real thing with the same 'shaping up' benefits, plus the bonus of real Karate skills up your sleeve.

Is Karate more adapted to stout/skinny/short/tall persons?

Karate is adaptable to all sorts of physiques. While the fundamental principles of the art will apply to everyone, the more you advance in karate, the more you will learn to adapt it to your particular strengths and weaknesses. Also, Karate practice will itself improve your particular limitations. A stiff and tense person will learn to relax. An inflexible person will gain in flexibility. Someone with a weak physique will develop more strength, speed and endurance. A person who is very shy and insecure will gradually gain more self confidence and learn to open up. Someone who is very nervous can gain in tranquility and patience. Therefore, Karate will allow you to exploit your natural strengths intelligently, while at the same time strengthening your weaknesses. The aim is, of course, to become the most complete practitioner possible, both physically and mentally.

Is Karate a children’s or adult's activity?

Karate is designed as an adult activity. However, it can also greatly benefit children when correctly addressed. In the case of the very young practitioner, s/he will be given different goals than those of an adult, and the training will be adapted accordingly to ensure the greatest benefit and safety to everyone involved.

Is Karate a Sport?

JKA Karate is not a sport, though it also offers a sporting aspect to those interested in it. However, sport competitions are NOT the main goal of JKA Karate. Much more important are the development of the person, and the acquisition of skills which can be used for very effective self defense. The main point to note here is that skills which are well adapted to a particular format of competition rules, may be very different to the skills which would actually be needed in a ‘real’ situation. Therefore, it is imperative that the practitioner knows with crystal clarity whether what he/she is practicing is geared mainly towards sport competition, or towards other aspects. JKA Karate goes well beyond the narrow confines of sport competition.

Will I learn Self-Defense?

The answer to this question greatly depends on what you think self-defense is! For many people, their idea of martial arts and ‘self-defense’ come from martial art movies, where the ‘hero’ is able to defeat an army of bad guys with flashy, acrobatic moves. Please forget about this totally fictitious fantasy, whose only purpose is entertaining an audience, and not realism. Also in part due to the influence of movies or watching fighting sports, many people mistakenly call ‘self-defense’ what in actual fact constitutes fighting or assault. While self-defense is legal, fighting is not. Other people may, on the other hand, think that karate cannot be called self-defense because of its ‘aggressive’ hitting techniques. This is also not true. Aggression or defensiveness does not lie in the tool, but in how it is used. Self-defense is therefore mostly about mental attitude. It is not a ready made recipe that can be bought, nor is it about spending some time learning a few ‘fighting moves’

Will my undisciplined child learn discipline?

It’s important to have realistic expectations here. One should not look forward to miraculous transformations as a result of a short spell of Karate training. A child’s character development is affected by his or hers total living environment 24 hours a day, and not only for a couple of hours a week while the child is attending Karate training. It’s also not our job to try and force anyone to do something they don’t want to do. Someone who is seriously disruptive and not interested in the training can affect negatively the other students as well, which of course we cannot allow. Having said that, any student who finds enough interest to stick with the training and give it a honest effort, will derive a great deal of benefit from the cultivation of the self-discipline and will power which are essential for improving in the art of Karate. The realization that with enough effort, a previously unattainable goal can eventually be reached, is a very empowering experience.

Does Karate improve one's character?

If the Way of Karate is truly and honestly followed, many desirable character traits (if present) will be reinforced. Through continued effort and goal setting, a student will learn about will power, self-discipline, respect, and much more. In fact, these very same character traits will result in the student being able to gain more and more benefits from the training itself, which will in turn result in stronger character building – a self reinforcing circle. However, training is not magical. A sincere person will only gain from it in proportion to how much effort, seriousness, and love for the art he or she invests into it. A conceited person will gain nothing, whatever his physical efforts.

Will my bullied child still be bullied?

The issue of bullying is very complex. No doubt, many different issues may be at play in each particular case, and each case will be different. Here again, we will not pretend to be offering a magical solution. If your child is being bullied, we strongly suggest that you try to look at the situation from as many aspects as possible, and get the help of the authorities and professionals involved in the case.

What is the min and max age accepted by JKA Malta?

There is no minimum or maximum age in reality, as each case is unique. In the case of a senior adult, if s/he feels like trying out Karate Training, and there is no important medical conditions to prevent this, we will only be too happy to help her/him. Of course the instructor will be very sensitive to the individual needs of the older beginner. It is not extraordinary for 60+ year old students to start Karate classes with much benefit.

Should I join in during a specific date? A beginner's course?

You can come and join us any time. Since each student's progress rate is unique, there will always be beginners and more advanced students in the classes. After a few sessions you will feel fully integrated.

Will I be given a certificate?

Yes, when you grade succesfully you will be awarded with a JKA Registered Kyu Certificate directly from Tokyo. When you eventually will grade as a Black Belt, you will be registered at the JKA Head Quarters in Tokyo, who will send you your certificate directly.

Can I train once/twice/ 3 times or 4 times a week?

JKA Malta currently offers training sessions on 4 different days of the week, alternating between two different locations. Anyone can choose how many sessions s/he can attend each week. There is no difference in fee whether you train two, three or four times a week, (although there is a discounted fee for those that can manage only once a week) so you are invited to avail yourself of the most convenient training frequency for you. Naturally, the regularity of your training will affect your rate of progress. Normally a frequency of at least two sessions per week is recommended for good progress, although if you can do more than that, by all means do so.

How much study do I need to become a Black Belt?

It depends on the individual rate of progress of each student. Some will naturally take a longer or shorter time than others. How long it takes or whether someone gets 'there' more quickly than you is not important. Getting there at the rate which is right for you, is what matters. The value lies not in the grade which is achieved, but in what you learn. As a general guide line, a healthy, dedicated student who trains regularly and puts in a good effort, should be able to grade for Shodan (1st Dan, ie 1st degree black belt), after 4 – 5 years of training. But that will certainly not be the end of the road, since 1st Dan is considered the level at which one should start to appreciate Karate’s true depth and realize how much more there is to learn!


If you stopped Karate long ago or only recently...

Am I too old?

You are never too old to resume training. Actually it is amazing how much information our brain retains even after a 20 year break! Usually you must be careful not to get overexcited during your first week of training. Make sure you start slowly and gradually. Within just a few weeks you will find yourself back where you had left!

Always check your health with your doctor and remember: if you can climb up the stairs, jog slowly for a small distance, bend to pick up an object, carry a full shopping bag, throw a tennis ball with your hand/s, or kick a foot ball without danger, it is reasonable to say that you can start Karate. Often people will get discouraged when they remember how fast they were when 18 years old. This is nonsense! You should compete with yourself NOW, and not with a hypothetical 18 year old. If you improve your present condition just a little, then it is surely worthwhile to start Karate again.

Do I need to get back in shape before joining in?

No, in order to start JKA Karate you do not need to be fit. We will take care of that, and very gradually. There is no need that you go on a diet before joining. There is no need that you go out and buy a Home Gym and a punching bag. There is no need that you go out jogging, and possibly hurt yourself. On the contrary, these things will delay you and ultimately prevent you from joining your club. It is very likely that because you think you need to be fitter, you will miss your chance to join. After a while you will just forget about it and abandon your Home-Gym! Your JKA-Karate club is not a boot-camp. You will not be required to do hundreds of pushups while a foul speaking Sergeant yells at you! You just need to come at the door and join a class. There is nothing to be afraid of.

Will I need a re-assessment? Can I retain my grade?

Your instructor will not ask you to reassess your level as you resume training (he will know after just a few minutes). Of course if you feel good wearing the belt you originally had many years ago, do so by all means. You will have a reason more to take your training seriously to be worthy of your grade! If on the other hand you prefer to wear just a white belt out of modesty, your instructor will respect your decision. In any case, additional grades will only be obtained when you are ready.

I have an old injury, will this affect me?

Of course it depends on the injury! Please consult your doctor first and foremost. Experience shows that a surprising amount of pain in the back and joints is caused (wholly or in part) simply by muscular pain.

We will never offer a miracle cure, but letting the muscles stiffen with tension, letting your range of motion be reduced, and dejecting yourself, will not improve your condition either! Gentle movement, learning to tune in to your body, and relaxation techniques will surely be of help. Remember that if you only improve slightly your condition, while enjoying your training, it will surely be worthwhile that you joined in! We are honoured to have Mr. Josef Farrugia training with us. Mr. Farrugia, following a car accident 12 years ago, fell from the Manwel Dimech Bridge – a height of about 27m. He was already a black belt at the time of the accident. It is really very lucky of him to be still with us! He damaged all he could possibly damage in the left side of his body: head, eye, shoulder, ribs, internal organs, elbow, wrist, hip, knee and ankle! He stayed 1½ years in hospital, 6 months of which in deep coma. Eventually after many years of wheelchairs, crutches and countless operations (to fix the previous operation) he walks again unaided. He had the determination to start training again and is slowly progressing ever since! He feels that he was lucky to start Karate. It has really helped him in so many ways (both mentally and physically). Well...if this is not motivational we don't know what is!

I am not interested in grading or competitions at all, can I still join in and practice? Will I still improve?

You are free to attend the lessons without grading and without competing. Actually competitions are not as important to Karate as many people think. They are just a means to test your response to stress. Conversely placing too much importance on winning competitions will always lessen the amount spent to learn proper Karate. As regards grading, similar comments apply. You don’t need to grade to improve, but if you are so self conscious about performing in front of others, there is a weak spot we should consider together. Karate-do is meant to be a way to character improvement.

人格 完成に 努める こと
hitotsu, jinkaku kansei ni tsutomeru koto
Exert yourself in the perfection of character