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Karate: An ancient art

Karate is a martial art that was developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom, in what is now known as the Okinawa Prefecture. Developed from the indigenous Ryukyuan martial arts under the influence of Kung Fu, karate has an incredible history and has come far over the last few years. Let’s take a look at this ancient martial art practice and how it has come to be so popular all over the globe.

What is Karate?

Karate is now predominantly a striking art, using punching, kicking, knee strikes, elbow strikes and open-hand techniques such as knife-hands, spear-hands and palm-heel strikes. Historically, and in some modern styles, grappling, throws, joint locks, restraints and vital-point strikes are also taught. Karate is a form of self-defence and was created at a time when weapons were banned by invading Japanese forces.
Karate has three main sections to be mastered when training, these are:

  • Kihon, learning the basic techniques or fundamentals;
  • Kata, the training of form and the specific order and way of using techniques;
  • And Kumite, which is to learn how to fight using those techniques.

A long history

In its current form, karate is less than 200 years old, however it has roots that date back thousands of years. The art originated on the island of Okinawa and in its early form was heavily influenced by ancient Chinese martial arts, collectively known as Kung Fu. 
Very little is known of where the exact origins of karate came from before it appeared, but one popular theory states that it came from India over a thousand years ago and was brought to China by a Buddhist monk called Bodhidarma (“daruma” in Japanese). This ancient legend suggests that Bodhidarma arrived in Shaolinsi and began teaching Zen Buddhism, a style of temple boxing based on exercises designed to strengthen the mind and body. 
During the early 1900s, Gichin Funakoshi, a school teacher from the island of Okinawa, introduced karate to mainland Japan where it started to become more popular year after year. Karate became especially popular in the 1960s and 1970s because of westernised karate movies and by the late 1970s, martial arts films had formed a mainstream genre. Karate schools then began appearing all over the world, catering to those with casual interest as well as those seeking a deeper study of the art. By 2015, karate was featured on a shortlist along with baseball, softball, skateboarding, surfing, and sport climbing to be considered for inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympics. In 2016, the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board announced they were supporting the inclusion of all five sports 

Culture in combat

Karate is a non-contact and unarmed martial arts discipline, employing kicking, striking, and defensive blocking with arms and legs. People who engage in karate often practice their techniques by executing blows against padded surfaces or wood. Pine boards up to several inches in thickness can even be broken by the bare hand or foot of a karate expert. Timing, tactics, and spirit, however, are also considered just as important as physical strength.

All about the outfit

One thing that most people think of when they hear karate is the outfit. When individuals practise karate, they wear special clothes called a karategi. The karategi is made up of a white jacket, white trousers and often a coloured belt with the purpose of displaying the student’s rank. In karate, the belt symbolises how long you have trained rather than how good you are. It’s interesting to note that different schools of Karate have different colours of belts for their ranks, but typically black belts are of the highest rank.
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Kyudo: Mastering the art of martial art archery

Kyudo is the ancient old Japanese practice of martial art archery. Originating in the samurai class of feudal Japan, Kyudo is practised by thousands of people worldwide and as of 2005, the International Kyudo Federation had 132,760 graded members. The beginning of this ancient art is pre-historic and can be traced back as early as the Yayoi period, 500 BC – 300 AD. Let’s take a look at this unique skill and how it has evolved to become so popular today.

Iconic history

Kyudo is believed to date back to the mythical Emperor Kimmu, whose image was always depicted holding a long-bow as early as 660 BC. At this time, Chinese import court rituals involved archery, and skill in kyudo, with ceremonial archery skills being a requirement of a fine gentleman. Around 500 years later, the first kyudo school was established by Henmi Kiyomitsi and taught students the Henmi-ryû, Henmi style of shooting. By the Genpei War in 1180, there was an increased demand for skilled warriors as the bow was viewed as a more noble and traditional warrior weapon. During the 15th and 16th centuries, civil wars throughout Japan contributed to the refinement of shooting techniques and the appearance of new branches of kyudo. Schools began to teach different types of kyudo, most of which have lasted to this day. Today, the art of archery has evolved into a mentally, physically, and spiritually disciplined art form.

A lesson in kyudo language

There are many different names and phrases for the different stages of kyudo from how an arrow is moved to the levels of skill and proficiency. The novice practices the 8 phases of shooting before moving on to a more advanced training stage, these 8 phases all have an individual name that represents the action, these being;

  • Ashibumi, or positioning,
  • Dozukuri, or correcting the posture,
  • Yugamae, or readying the bow,
  • Uchiokoshi, or raising the bow,
  • Hikiwake, or drawing the bow,
  • Kai, or completing and holding the draw,
  • Hanare, or releasing the arrow,
  • Yudaoshi, or lowering the bow.

Shooting the arrow

Although kyudo is a form of archery, judgement is placed more on how the Shagyo, the process of shooting, is carried out rather than whether the target is hit or missed. A good Sha, shooting, comes from good posture. When practising kyudo, you must stand with your back straight, pull your shoulders back to keep perfect balance and focus your energy on the Tanden, your lower abdomen. As a kyudo shooter, you must turn your attention to the limit on the release of the arrow, if executed correctly you will secure an accurate hit. After releasing the arrow, many shooters choose to take time to reflect on their shot, its success and their process of shooting. This process of reflection is a large part of the arts discipline and also the reason why this art is so deeply appreciated by many people.

Attitudes of kyudo

The serving purpose of present-day kyudo is to enjoy and enrich our daily life. For students, it is not only a way to train the body but it is also a form of training the mind. For others, it is a way to keep fit and acquire high spirituality at the same time. Despite the fact that the way of kyudo has changed throughout history, it has remained an integral part of Japan and cultures across the rest of the globe, finding its place in the modern world.
Kyudo is considered a sport in many respects as the art features opponents with which you compete, but not to fight against. There is always victory and defeat, but competing is not the point of the art and all opponent must be shown respect. If you don’t act sportsmanly and become preoccupied by the competition, you are seen to be abusing the spirit of martial art archery.
At Atelier Japan, our makers have stood the test of time, crafting authentic Japanese products for you to enjoy in your home. Our makers have taken care and time to create authentic Japanese fans, pottery, tea and silverware from authentic materials for you to enjoy. Browse the Atelier Japan website to discover our unique collections for yourself.

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Japanese Weapons: Defense and combat

When it comes to Japanese weapons, most envision a warrior or samurai with a sword and not just any sword, but the world-renowned Japanese katana – a curved blade engineered for fighting with supreme efficiency. However, Japan’s ancient warriors also took to lesser-known weaponry that was possibly more interesting. Let’s take a look at some of Japan’s unique weapons from years gone by.

The Katana

Japanese weapons are incredibly unique, with the Katana being one of Japan’s most famous. Japanese weapons are typically made by highly trained and skilled blacksmiths, and the Katana is no exception. Japanese blacksmiths’ method of repeatedly heating and folding the steel made the Katana’s sharpness and strength unique amongst the world’s swords. known for its strength and sharpness, the Katana earned the reputation as the soul of the samurai, a reputation that lasted long after the samurai abandoned Japanese weapons for the pen in a focus on education.

Fans of War

In ancient Japan, fans weren’t just implements intended to provide relief from summer’s heat and humidity but were traditional Japanese weapons. War fans varied in size, materials, shape, and use. One of the most significant uses was as a signalling device. These signalling fans came in two varieties; a fan that has wood or metal ribs with lacquered paper attached, and a metal outer cover or a solid open fan made from metal and or wood.
Traditionally, the commander would raise or lower his fan and point in different ways to issue commands to Japanese soldiers. War fans could also be used as Japanese weapons, with the art of fighting with war fans being known as tessenjutsu.

Kiseru Battle Pipes

Kiseru is a Japanese weapon derived from a smoking pipe traditionally used for smoking a small serving of kizami, a finely shredded tobacco product. During the Edo period, Japanese weapons were frequently used as objects for flaunting financial status. Since the general population were prohibited from carrying sharper Japanese weapons, an elaborate Kiseru carried slung from the waist often served the purpose. Although not all were designed for fighting, a glance at pipe’s size and weight might give away its user’s intent.


Although the Manriki-Kusari gained fame as a ninja weapon, police officers actually adopted these Japanese weapons to disarm and capture criminals. The collapsible chain could be rolled up, concealed and easily transported. When it comes to Japanese weapons, the  Manriki-Kusari served many functions; it could be used for climbing, restraining an enemy, and could be wrapped around body parts for extra protection.


As the original samurai weapon, the Japanese bow has a long and bespoke history. Isolation from other cultures allowed Japan to develop its own unique archery tools and techniques, amongst other Japanese weapons. Japan’s oldest hunting and ceremonial bows date back to 10,000 BCE and, without the wood binding technology of other countries, Japan was able to develop very long wooden bows, some over 2.5 meters, to maximize their power.


The Fukiya is one of many Japanese weapons that is associated with ninjas, as depicted in 17th-century ninja scrolls. These blow-darts made little noise, were easy to transport and could double as flutes, pipes, or breathing straws. Where materials were limited, bamboo or paper would be used as substitutes. Poisoning the darts made these Japanese weapons extra effective against the enemy. Today, Fukiya has evolved into an international sport, similar to archery.


Widely known as throwing, ninja, or Chinese stars, these traditional Japanese weapons are known most commonly as hand-hidden blades.  The art of wielding the shuriken is known as shurikenjutsu and was taught as a minor part of the martial arts curriculum of many famous schools. Although they come in various shapes and sizes, the classic throwing star with multiple points spun in flight is smaller and more manageable and therefore required less skill to throw than long throwing knives or other Japanese weapons.
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