The word “Karate” is a combination of two kanji (Chinese characters):
1- (Kara) meaning "empty"
2- (Te) meaning "hand”
Karate means "empty hand”, meaning that someone who is trained in Karate can defend himself or herself without using weapons.
The “Kara” is the least subtle and the most straightforward, through the practice of karate, self defense techniques are learnt, where no weapons are needed, other than hands, feet or other parts of the body and involves mental as well as physical training.
Karate was formalized in Okinawa in the 17th century and popularized via Japan after about 1920. In 1922 the Japanese Ministry of Education invited Gichin Funakoshi to Tokyo to give a karate demonstration.
Gichin Funakoshi changed the first character from Chinese to “Empty”, thus forming the modern term for Karate — empty hands.
The word “empty” can be interpreted at two levels: One as meaning weaponless and a deeper one signifying the fundamental teaching of Zen: empty yourself to achieve unity with the whole.
“Just as it is the clear mirror that reflects without distortion, or the quiet valley that echoes a sound, so must one who would study Karate-do purge himself of selfish and evil thoughts, for only with a clear mind and conscience can he understand that which he receives. This is another meaning of the element kara in Karate-do.”