Karate is one of several Oriental martial arts that started in India and Tibet, before spreading to Korea and Japan, where they were taken up and codified over the past 100 years or so. From there they spread to America and Europe.
Some, such as tae kwan do, kung fu and karate itself emphasise punches and kicks. Others, such as judo, involve grappling and throws. One or two, such as kendo and escrima, use weapons. Most of them are a mixture of genuine aggression and highly stylised, disciplined movement. Karate competition fighting is called "kumite".
All punches and kicks, though thrown with enormous speed and force, are "pulled", so that they just gently touch the point of impact. Half a point is awarded for a blow that, in the opinion of the judges, would have broken through the opponents guard but not done much damage. A full point is given for a blow that would have knocked out, or killed, an opponent.
In the heat of competition, or in enthusiastic training accidents can happen, says Randolph Hutton. "In my first six months I broke every finger. I had both cheekbones broken, and I've had broken ribs. I've managed to keep my teeth, though, by luck or good management. My mother hated the sport because she saw that nobody around me had their own teeth."
Who can do it? Anyone, of either sex. The English Karate Governing Body prefers children to start no younger than six. There is no upper age limit, and disabled people can take part.
'I've managed to keep my teeth' pictures: mike sewell