Karate is a sport that encompasses many different techniques and skills. From practicing katas and forms, to wielding weapons and sparring, there are a wide range of activities, which also means a large variety of equipment. For activities such as sparring, equipment is extremely necessary; while on the other hand, practicing forms and other drills require almost no equipment at all.
To begin, participants must get the traditional karate uniform known as a gi, as well as a belt. The belt's color will reflect the individual's skill and training level in the sport. Once the individual moves further along their training, they will be introduced to sparring. Sparring is very physical and therefore requires a lot of protective gear. Additionally, many karate participants will learn how to utilize certain weapons, adding more equipment to the sport.
A karate bag will hold all of the gear for competitions and practice. Bags can cost anywhere from $30 to $60, with a few costing up to $100. Cost depends mostly on bag size and added features. Bags are typically between two and three feet long, and about a foot in both width and height. A good bag will be large enough to hold what you need, but not so big that it is cumbersome to carry.
Most bags are made of some kind of nylon polymer, with foam padding around any shoulder straps and usually a mesh exterior to allow sweaty gear to breathe. More expensive bags might come with an extra water-proof exterior or lining as well.
The two main types of bags are duffel and weapons. Both will hold your gi, water bottle, a snack, and a few other items, but a weapons bag will also come with added features for equipment like throwing stars, a bow, nunchucks, and headgear. On average, weapons bags will be more expensive.
The belt is one of the most meaningful aspects of karate, making it an important piece of equipment to understand. In karate, the color of the belt represents the skill level of the athlete. A white belt signifies a beginner, while a black belt signifies an expert. In between there are various different colors such as yellow, orange, blue, green, purple, brown, and red. The order of belts can vary based on the school or trainer, however, the groupings are generally as follows.
The ultimate goal in most karate studios is to complete the journey from white belt to black belt. There are various tests in between each belt to ensure the individual is ready for a promotion of their belt. Reaching the level of black belt symbolizes the completion of the journey in karate from beginner to expert. In many karate schools, students will also be able to earn further degrees of black belt (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and so on) to extend their expertise.
A chest protector is designed to cover and protect your upper body, including your ribs, stomach, shoulders. Some protectors will also offer coverage of your back, which limits your range of motion but can be important for people coming off of injury or just starting out in Karate. Other protectors may cover only the ribs and stomach, offering greater motility but less overall safety. Others fall somewhere in the middle, offering chest and shoulder protection, but having minimal padding along the back.
Prices for chest protectors typically run from $50 to $75. Most protectors are made from polyethylene, a tough and lightweight foam padding, with spandex in areas of high mobility and a breathable mesh along sites of greatest movement.
Karate is clearly a high-contact sport, and that contact includes the athlete's feet and lower legs. Feet pads protect your feet, and your opponent's, from injury and are made of foam with vinyl securing straps. They cover the athlete's foot and extend above the ankle bone, securing the ankle in place to prevent sprains and providing a cushion against hard impacts.
Some foot pads come with shin-guard attachments as well, which extend up the lower leg almost to the knee. Other pads, more specifically called "guards," are simple bits of foam that are secured to the foot with velcro and provide minimal ankle and foot protection; they have openings for each toe and extend upwards only to the ankle bone. These are cheaper, but will offer much less protection.
Foot pads are typically around $30 or so, but ones with shin attachments can go for as much as $50 per pair.
Focus mitts are special gloves with a padded front that are used in training to improve an athlete's speed, coordination, and rhythm. Mitts are used in a wide variety of martial arts to develop an athlete's reflexes and mimic live opponents, providing moving targets without requiring both partners to commit to hand-to-hand combat or full-body contact. Mitts were originally designed by boxing trainers, who would strap slippers onto their hands and provide small, mobile targets for their athletes to punch as they moved around the ring.
These days, focus mitts are made from roughly 10in x 7in squares of foam padding and are leather bound to faux-leather gloves, with other synthetic materials like polyester as well. A customized molded mitt will cost you almost $100, but cheaper pairs can be found for about $35.
The traditional "uniform" that athletes wear when participating in karate is known as a gi. The gi is a full body uniform consisting of pants and a long sleeve top, generally matching in white or black (although many other color options are available). Most gi are made out of lightweight cloth to allow for a comfortable fit and easy movement for kicking, punching, or other techniques. They are made to be durable in order to withstand hours of training and tough use. Gi's come in many different sizes and styles for men, women, and children.
Proper hand protection is critical to your long-term success and health in Karate. Gloves keep your hands safe from harm; foam or cloth bodies shield the hand bones from damage when hitting or blocking, helping to prevent the wrist from being sprained and broken at every contact.
Some gloves completely cover the fingers, hand, and wrist, like Century Student Gloves, while others protect merely the palm and back of the hand, leaving open areas for the fingers and providing only a loose velcro securement on the wrist. Gloves can cost anywhere from $25 all the way to $60 or $70 a pair, depending on the amount of protection they provide and the visual design of the glove.
The best gloves of 2020, as rated by Fighting Report, are the Sanabul gloves, which provide incredible comfort and durability. They are not too expensive as well, and can be bought for just under $20 on Sanabul's online store.
If you've ever seen karate in pop-culture, one thing that you're sure to associate with the art is breaking boards and bricks with intense punches and chops. Of course, if you dive right into trying to chop a cinder block in half with your hand, you're going to break something.
This is where a hand conditioning bag comes in. By practicing a series of punching drills into the small 6in x 6in bag, you can toughen your bones and skin enough and over time, prepare your body to punch hard surfaces (like bricks). The bag is a sac of woven cloth, filled with sand, beans, or rice, and provides a balance of cushion and resistance against which you can strengthen your hands. You can get these bags for around $10 or $15 on Amazon.
It takes a lot of time before you can graduate to breaking boards, but a hand conditioning bag is a good step to get there!
Hand guards are meant primarily to protect your fists from injury when you practice karate. Unlike gloves, they do not completely cover your fingers. Although this lack of protection offers you greater dexterity, it also means that your risk of injury to your fingers increases greatly. However, hand guards still ensure the safety of your palm, backhand, and help secure your wrists and prevent sprains.
You can get hand guards for around $10 online, so they aren't a huge investment, and it is likely worth trying them out to see if you want to use them instead of gloves.
Headgear is a very important piece of protective equipment used for sparring in karate. Sparring is a form of training in which fighting is simulated between two training partners. The two competitors will throw punches and kicks as if in a real match, however their strikes are controlled and carefully aimed to not injure their partner. Sparring is viewed as a form of training, so even though participants are physically striking each other, the goal is not to knock-out or defeat your opponent. Due to the physical nature of sparring in karate, many types of protective gear are required for safety.
Headgear is perhaps the most necessary piece of all gear, as it protects the most important and sensitive part of our body, the brain. Headgear helps to soften blows from punches or kicks to the head in order to prevent injuries such as concussions during training. A headgear is similar to helmets worn in other sports, however it is much lighter to allow for quick head movements during sparring.
A jockstrap is used to protect the groin area from injury. It consists of an elastic waistband, with a pocket in the front that usually holds a small plastic "cup," which shields the user's groin from direct impacts to their body. Jockstraps have been used in sports ever since cyclists used them for extra cushioning in the 1870s.
Most jockstraps will cost between $5 and $20 with prices varying due to differences in cup material and support. More expensive jockstraps will likely come with cups that are made of carbon fiber or highly durable plastic polymers, while cheaper ones may come with nothing but some additional cushioning for the area.
The Makiwara is a wooden, padded striking post that is used to improve striking technique, focus, and power. It provides resistance to a person's punch or kick, meaning that if there is not sufficient "focus" (penetrating power) behind a strike, it will simply glance off the makiwara. Its role is similar to the punching or body bag used by American boxers, but is more tailored to the eastern martial arts. It originated in the Okinawa region of Japan, and has fallen mostly out of use today, though some still insist on its importance.
There are three types of Makiwara. The shuri makiwara is flat-boarded and used when the striker is in short stance. The naha makiwara is also flat-boarded, and used for when the striker is in a deep stance and low to the ground. Finally, the ude makiwara is rounded, and used for all strikes, some of which could not be practiced on a flat-boarded makiwara because they involve striking from multiple angles.
Because makiwara training is very hard on the hands and can cause injury if improper technique is used, hand strength training and professional consultation are highly recommended prior to beginning makiwara use.
Mouthguards shield your teeth, gums, and jaw from damage in high-contact sports like karate. Mouthguards are not required, but many people recommend them, especially for full-contact sparring or competition. Mouthguards are made from plastic polymers, including vinyl, polyurethane, and thermoplastic. They can be molded to any person's unique set of teeth by first being boiled (which loosens the material) and then biting into the guard (which will mold it to your mouth). Generic mouthguards can be bought for about $15, while more expensive ones can be customized prior to purchase.
Nunchucks, officially called nunchaku, are one of the most popular weapons utilized in karate. Aside from the mainstream media promoting their use in martial arts movies, many karate participants learn how to wield nunchucks at some point throughout their time training. Nunchucks are categorized as a weapon, which means they are practiced by more experienced martial artists. Although they may not appear threatening at first, this weapon can be extremely effective for an athlete well trained to use them.
Nunchucks can come in varying styles and materials. When first learning to use this weapon, it is smart to begin with foam nunchucks to avoid injury to yourself or others around you. After learning the basics for wielding nunchucks, many karate participants will upgrade to plastic, wooden, fiberglass, or even metal nunchucks. Prices for the weapon can start around $10 and rise to around $100 depending on the material, size, and quality.
Punching bags are used for solo practice. They hone kicking and punching technique, providing resistance and life-size targets that can help simulate what it would be like to strike at live opponents. Punching bags are quite expensive, costing up to $200 and $300, but they can greatly improve your capacity for home-practice.
A freestanding bag can be placed into a room without any roof or wall attachments. These bags tend to move around very little when struck, and are easily transported between rooms for easy storage. They have a wide, heavy base that keeps them in place and are filled with densely-packed cloth or sand. They have synthetic leather wrappings that provide durability and long lifespans.
Hanging bags are similar in almost all regards, except they require chains or ropes to be secured to a ceiling, and they cannot stand on their own. These two kinds of bags tend to be about 16in wide and 48in tall, providing a target roughly the size of an adult torso.
Long punching bags are the same as hanging bags, but they are 72in tall, providing the full height of a real opponent and enabling you to practice both punches and low kicks.
Other kinds of punching bags include water-filled, foam-cored, and gravel packed. Different packing materials will change resistance strength and force.
A rib guard protects one's ribs from injury during sparring and competition. Rib guards are similar to chest protectors, but lack the back, abdomen and stomach protection that characterize the more comprehensive chest protector.
A full chest guard (which will cost you between $60 and $70) will protect your ribs, abdomen, sides, and upper torso. In contrast, a smaller guard might protect only your ribs and sides, offering little protection for your lower abs and stomach.
The body of a rib guard is made of foam up to 4 inches thick to absorb the shock from punches and kicks.
Rib guards have adjustable elastic straps in the back that attach along the sides of foam to secure the guard in place. Some guards also have inner leather and cloth linings that wick away sweat and improve comfort by decreasing friction against the body.
Karate is a sport most often practiced barefoot. By taking off your shoes before entering a Dojo, you are showing proper respect for the martial art, and committing to focusing on improvement. In addition, most dojos use padded floors that can't tolerate shoe wear very well.
However, sometimes karate is practiced in places that require shoes, like rough outdoor grounds and hard gym floors. If this is the case, you should buy a pair of karate shoes. Most shoes will cost you between $50 and $75 dollars. They are low-cut with heels that end below the ankle bone - and are often made of stitched leather bodies with rubber soles that provide slight protection from the elements with minimal weight and feel.
Shin pads are pieces of protective gear that shield the user's lower legs from injuries, which are mostly incurred when kicking or engaging in leg swipes. While not required pieces of equipment, they are highly recommended. High-end shin pads are made of carbon fiber and foam padding, with hosiery and elastic cloth to provide comfort during wear.
Simpler shin pads may include only squares of foam or plastic that are secured to the user's legs using elastic and velcro straps. These pads offer less protection and are often less comfortable than more complete shin guards, but they boast a smaller price tag of around $20.
On the other hand, shin pads with prices in the $45 to $75 dollar range will include not just shin protection, but knee and ankle padding as well, with snug step-in ankle attachments. They'll also often include the carbon fiber protection.
In karate, striking techniques such as punching or kicking are often practiced on cushioned target pads during training. This piece of equipment allows the participant to understand how it feels for their strikes to actually land. Target pads can come in many sizes, ranging from small handheld targets to large, life sized punching bags. Prices for karate target pads can range anywhere from around $40 to $500.
As karate athletes become more advanced, the amount of equipment they use will increase. As their skills become more advanced, they will learn to utilize new forms of equipment. More experienced karate athletes will begin working with various weapons, adding a whole new set of equipment.
Karate weapons can include nunchucks, bo staffs, kamas, swords, knives, and more. Each of these weapons can vary greatly in prices. Every weapon is a seperate piece of equipment and generally must be purchased separately. They also each require dedicated time and practice to learn how to use properly, so usually only one weapon is purchased at a time.
List of weapons used in karate:
A water bottle is a key piece of hydration equipment for any athlete. Since a lot of people practice Karate indoors where it is often hot, humid, and lots of fluid loss can take place through sweating, hydration takes on an even greater importance. Your water bottle doesn't have to be super fancy, but it does need to get the job done when it comes to keeping from suffering from dehydration.
The most simple bottles will cost you less than ten bucks. Ones with added features to keep liquids extra cool for longer periods of time can run a price tag of well over $30.00, especially if they carry a big brand name, like Nalgene or Lululemon.
Ultimately, the biggest thing to remember when buying a water bottle is that it just needs to hold enough water for you throughout the day. If you want the extra features (like those offered by Hydroflask), then go for it, but if you don't need them, any old bottle will do.
The prices for different types of karate equipment can vary based on size, quality, and manufacturer. However, if you plan on beginning karate, you will want to prepare yourself for a sizable investment. Certain activities such as sparring will require a larger purchase to buy all the necessary protective gear. Other techniques in karate can be practiced with as little as just a gi.
The average cost of buying a full set of karate equipment, including the outfit, gear, and weapons can range anywhere from $300 to $1000+. A typical karate gi will cost around $50, a full set of gear will cost around $250 on average, and weapons can range anywhere from $40 to $200 depending on the type. Athletes will also need a large bag to keep and carry all their gear and other karate equipment in.