Karate’s Meaning in the West

by | Aug 1, 2021 | Blog | 0 comments

The Karate Synonym Conundrum 

For most people in the West, ‘karate’ is a generic word for ‘martial arts.’  It’s a lot like ‘kleenex’ or ‘coke,’ which are actually specific brands but are often used to describe all snot rags and soft drinks.

So it is that just about every taekwondo instructor in the country has to beg their students’ parents to stop asking their children, ‘How was karate?’ after taekwondo class. 

After all, taekwondo and karate are two distinctly different martial arts.

In this blog we’re going to take a look at how this ‘conundrum’ began, and why martial artists of different styles all over the West beg family and friends to stop saying they “do karate.”

It all starts with…

Karate’s Post-War Appearance

Karate first started to appear in the West following World War II. Soldiers stationed in Japan and Okinawa saw karate being practiced in dojos (karate schools) off base and, ostensibly, thought it looked pretty spectacular.

Some soldiers sought training in these dojos, and some higher-ups brought karate black belts onto the base to work with the units stationed there.

When the soldiers returned to their homes in the U.S and Britain, they brought karate with them. Not long after the Korean War would bring the martial arts of  taekwondo and tang soo do to the West in a similar fashion. Then, in the 1970s, a charismatic, young actor called Bruce Lee would introduce the western world to Kung-fu.

Though the differences between karate and other martial arts are plain for the martial artist, we have to admit that all martial arts kind of look alike to the layperson. And, so it was that all martial arts got the name of the first martial art the West experienced: karate. 

Karate Classes in Northville, Novi, and Plymouth, Michigan

Now that you know karate-do is a specific martial art, and not just a generic word for ‘martial arts,’ we would love to invite our Northville, Novi and Plymouth, Michigan neighbors to give us a try.

After all, you may well have discovered you just want to find a great martial arts school, and aren’t particular about exactly what martial art it is.

You can find out more about taekwondo for kids, taekwondo for teens, or taekwondo for adults on our website.

If you’re not in the Northville, Novi, and Plymouth area, but you have questions about martial arts, please feel free to reach out to us via email at info@northvillemartialarts.com. We’d love to help you get started on your martial arts journey.

Finally, if you’re not sure if karate or taekwondo are right for you, you can check out our definitive guide to finding a martial arts school to figure out where to start.