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Of all the martial arts, one of the most prominent is karate. It was developed in the Okinawa area of mid-1800s Japan and was based on the fighting styles of the indigenous Japanese people and on kenpo, China's martial art of note. Mostly known by its striking techniques of punching, elbowing, kneeing, kicking, chopping, grappling and throwing, it is considered more of an art than other martial techniques. It focuses on fundamentals, various forms, and competitive sparring.

In the early 1900s karate came to mainland Japan and soon was being taught in all the universities there, each one opening its own dojo, or training center. Because Okinawa was a vital American military post, the U.S. Servicemen soon gained interest in the martial art and spread its popularity into western civilization.

This popularity lead to the creation of many movies and television shows in the 1960s and 1970s. The depictions therein were mostly false, creating a kind of karate that focused more on fighting and killing with a single blow. For most of those who learn the way of the empty hand, it is a philosophical discipline, imparting ethically and spiritually significant principles to the karateka, or practitioner.

Karate today is performed for many reasons. For some it is a way to perfection and enlightenment. For Japanese-Americans and other descendants of Japan, it is of greatest cultural significance and learned almost nostalgically. Others train for self-defense. Still others participate for sport, although it has yet to be voted in as an official medal-earning event in the Olympic games. It is estimated that over 20 million people worldwide are training in karate at dojos in every part of the world, most notably in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, North and South Korea, and many parts of Canada.

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