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The first connotation of kara  indicates that karate is a technique that permits one to defend himself with his bare hands and fists without weapons.

Second, just as it is the clear mirror that reflects without distortion, the proper understanding of Karate-do requires one to practice with a clear mind. This is another meaning of the element kara in Karate-do.

As athletic training:

The nature of karate is such that it requires the body to move in all directions and it can be practiced in just about any area, small or large. Since each individual may adjust the exercise to their own capacity, Karate may be practiced by the physically weak, by women, children or elderly people. Moreover, as the body is built up and the techniques become more skillful, the movements naturally become more powerful, so that the amount of exercise becomes sufficient even for the healthy young man in his prime.

As self-defense:

The power of Karate has become well known in these times and it is not an exaggeration to assert that a person well trained in this form of defense may consider the whole body to be a weapon of awesomely effective power. Though Karate does have throwing techniques, it relies principally on striking, kicking and thrusting techniques. Block-attack combinations are eventually executed simultaneously, no weapons are necessary and anyone can learn to apply it and protect himself effectively even with little natural strength.

As spiritual training:

Karate is no different from the other martial arts in fostering the traits of courtesy, integrity, humility and self-control in those who have found its essence. However, since there is no need for a special training place, equipment or an opponent, a flexibility in training is provided such that the spiritually weak individual can develop his body and mind so gradually and naturally that he himself may not even realize his own great progress.

From: Karate - Do Kyohan by Gichin Funakoshi

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