And no, “Karate” isn’t just a synonym for “martial art” or “Asian martial art”. It’s a unique martial art hailing from Okinawa, inspired and influenced by White Crane Kung Fu and Jujutsu. Nowadays it’s become so popular that the term is understandably misused to mean any martial art, and the definition problem is made worse by how many different styles of Karate there are, each with its own little differences in terminology and technique.
Really, if you want to get to the heart of Karate, You’ve got to cut through the bullshit and tear out the bloody, still beating Kata. Kata are forms–strings of techniques put together that, probably, are organized by overarching principles. They look like dances, if that helps.
This is the mnemonic device that Karate practitioners have used for many, many years to preserve their art. Fuck writing shit down, let’s dance!
Alas, since the people who came up with the older Kata are all dead, and so few of them left written sources for the modern practitioner to study, we’re left without application. The Kata, like poetry or a stories, need to be interpreted and their meanings deduced, because right now all we’re got to work with are physical techniques.
And just like with poetry, there are right interpretations and there are wrong interpretations. The ultimately correct one cannot be known because the author’s dead and won’t tell us (perhaps they can be revived via dark magics), but god dammit the authors of the Kata had specific applications in mind.
Unlike fiction, however, a person looking at Kata can at least judge the validity of an interpretation by seeing how realistic it is. Function/practicality/application/realism/whatever is something that Karate Kata has to stand up to–otherwise it’s just a dance.
And you can’t defend yourself against a mugger/belligerent drunk/angry bear with a waltz.