Which Martial Art Means “Empty Hand” in Japanese?

Which Martial Art Means “Empty Hand” in JapaneseWhich Martial Art Means “Empty Hand” in Japanese

The world of martial arts is rich with cultural and linguistic nuances that add depth to its practice. One intriguing aspect is the term “empty hand” and its significance in Japanese martial arts.

In this blog post, we will delve into the meanings behind the term, exploring its connections to specific martial arts.

Let’s begin!

What Martial Art Means Empty Hand in Japanese?

The martial art that means “empty hand” in Japanese is “Karate” (空手). The term “Karate” is derived from the Japanese words “kara” (), meaning “empty,” and “te” (), meaning “hand.” Karate is a martial art that focuses on striking techniques using the hands and feet, emphasizing punches, kicks, knee strikes, and elbow strikes.

“Empty hand fight” refers to a form of combat or self-defense where the practitioner does not use any weapons.

The term “empty hand” signifies that the person engages in the fight using only their hands, fists, elbows, knees, and feet, without relying on any external tools or objects.

Martial arts disciplines like Karate, Taekwondo, Boxing, Muay Thai, and many others often involve empty-hand fighting techniques.

Practitioners develop skills in striking, blocking, and grappling to defend themselves or engage in controlled competitive bouts.

The emphasis on empty-hand techniques highlights the ability to use one’s own body effectively in combat situations, promoting physical fitness, discipline, and self-defense capabilities.

Without a doubt, karate is the most popular Japanese martial art and arguably the most popular martial art style in the world.

What Martial Art Means “Empty Hand”?

The martial art that directly translates to “empty hand” is Karate. Rooted in Japanese tradition, Karate emphasizes striking techniques using the hands and feet. The name itself, “Karate,” is a combination of the Japanese words “kara” (空), meaning “empty,” and “te” (手), meaning “hand.”

Karate, a martial art discipline originating from Japan, encompasses a range of techniques such as kicking, striking, and defensive blocking.

It is a multifaceted practice, serving as an art (budo), a means of self-defense, and a competitive sport.

Founded by Gichin Funakoshi in 1902, the term “Karate” itself translates to “empty hand.”

While the majority of karate techniques involve empty-handed movements, occasional practice with weapons is also integrated.

Individuals who practice Karate are referred to as “Karateka”, and notable figures such as Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jennifer Aniston, Luca Valdesi, and Bill (superfoot) Wallace have embraced this martial art.

Brief karate History

The early roots of Karate lack formal documentation, but its development is believed to have been influenced by various fighting techniques in the Ryukyu islands, possibly drawing inspiration from Chinese martial arts like Kung Fu.

In 1609, Okinawa faced an invasion that led to a ban on weapon ownership and the practice of fighting techniques.

This restriction significantly shaped the evolution of Karate.

In 1875, Okinawa became a part of Japan, marking the end of the ban.

Karate subsequently spread across Japan, gaining popularity.

Gichin Funakoshi formalized Karate in 1902, propelling its rapid global spread.

Karate Styles

While Gichin Funakoshi is recognized as the founder of Karate, the art has evolved through various practitioners, each imparting their unique style.

This diversity has given rise to different dialects or styles of Karate.

The World Karate Federation (WKF) officially acknowledges four Karate styles, while more than ten unofficial styles coexist.

In essence, Karate’s rich history, diverse styles, and global influence showcase its dynamic nature as a martial art discipline that extends beyond mere physical combat, embodying principles of self-expression, cultural exchange, and personal development.

Official styles of karate

Styles recognized by WKF-

  • Shotokan
  • Goju-Ryu
  • Shito-Ryu
  • Wado-Ryu

Shotokan (founded by Gichin Funakoshi) is the most popular style of Karate.

Unofficial styles of karate

Among the unofficial styles, these are the most popular ones-

  • Kyokushin (most popular)
  • Isshin-Ryu
  • Uechi-Ryu
  • Shorin-Ryu

See: 5 Most Effective Japanese Martial Arts (Ranked)

What Japanese Word Means “Empty” and “Hand”?

The Japanese word for “empty” is “kara” (空), and “hand” is represented by “te” (手). Together, these two words form the term “Karate,” illustrating the essence of the martial art that originated on the Okinawan islands.

Does “Kara” Mean Emptiness in Japanese?

Yes, the term “kara” (空) does indeed mean emptiness in Japanese.

Beyond its association with Karate, “kara” is a multifaceted word that extends its meaning to various aspects of Japanese culture and philosophy.

What Japanese Word Means “Empty”?

The term “empty” in Japanese is “kara” (空). Beyond its connection to Karate, “kara” is a versatile word with applications in various contexts, from describing physical emptiness to expressing abstract concepts like the emptiness of mind or spirit.

Which Sport Means “Empty Hand” in Japanese?

In the realm of sports, Karate stands out as the martial art that embodies the concept of “empty hand.”

Its emphasis on hand and foot strikes without the use of weapons aligns with the idea of mastering self-defense with empty hands.

Does Kung Fu Mean “Empty Hand”?

While Kung Fu is not a Japanese martial art, it is worth noting that the term itself does not directly translate to “empty hand.” “Kung Fu” is a Chinese term that generally refers to skills achieved through hard work and practice.

Kung Fu includes various styles, some of which may involve empty-hand techniques, but the term itself does not explicitly convey this meaning.

What Is Emptiness in Japanese Zen?

In Japanese Zen philosophy, the concept of emptiness goes beyond a mere absence of physical matter.

It delves into the idea of emptiness as a state of liberation, a transcendence of attachments and desires.

Emptiness in Zen encourages practitioners to cultivate a clear and uncluttered mind, allowing for a deeper understanding of the self and the world.

What Is Wabi Sabi in Zen?

Wabi Sabi is an aesthetic principle rooted in Japanese Zen philosophy. It celebrates the beauty of imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness.

This concept aligns with the idea of emptiness, as Wabi Sabi encourages individuals to find beauty in simplicity and the transience of existence.


Exploring “empty hand” in Japanese martial arts unveils more than just physical techniques; it reveals profound connections to language and philosophy.

From the roots of Karate to the broader implications in Japanese Zen, the idea of emptiness adds layers of meaning to the practice of martial arts and offers insights into the essence of life itself.

Read: Japanese Martial Arts

Read also: 8 Best Japanese Martial Arts

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