Karate, which translates as "empty hands," is a form of unarmed combat employing a variety of punches, open-hand strikes, kicks and blocks. Developed on the small Japanese island of Okinawa, karate's exact origins remain unclear, though it probably derived from a combination of native and Chinese fighting arts. It reached a level of lethal efficiency after the Japanese Satsuma clan conquered the kingdom of Okinawa in 1609 and banned weapons. Karate masters had to develop extraordinary skills in order to fight armed samurai with only bare hands, feet and modified farm implements. Its spread to the rest of Japan started after Okinawan master Gichin Funakoshi moved to Tokyo in 1922.

Canadian karate began with Masami Tsuruoka. Born in Canada, he studied Chito-Ryu style karate in Japan for almost a decade before returning in 1956 to open a dojo (school) in Toronto. Tsuruoka helped oversee the spread of karate across Canada and founded the National Karate Association in 1964. Though an undetermined number of schools operate outside its jurisdiction, the NKA is the official governing body of karate in Canada, holding an annual tournament and representing more than 10 000 members from all the major karate styles.

Although karate originated primarily as a means of self-defence, it later assumed a spiritual and ethical basis in which self-mastery is paramount. In karate tournaments, contestants' blows are pulled and judged according to the damage they would have caused if unrestrained. Karate is not yet an Olympic sport, though there are international meets. John Carnio of Toronto won second place in the open-weight sparring of the first world tournament in Tokyo in 1970, and in 1986 Manuel Monzon of Montréal won bronze in the 65 to 70 kg division of the eighth World Championships in Sydney, Australia.