So what is karate? I think most people imagine karate as lots of punches, strikes, kicks, and blocks. And they'd be correct, but it's much more than that.
When we talk about the martial arts in Japan often there's the suffix of 'do'. Judo, Aikedo. Karate should also have 'karatedo' as the full term. And do means 'this is the path you walk on', not just the martial way, but it's actually how you live your life. So after you've gone through your teens and your 20s when you might be very competitive and trying move as fast and strong as you can, perhaps doing it or self-defense you may evolve in your 30s and 40s to simply refine the technique. And to make each technique smoother and perhaps take on a more philosophical aspect as you progress even into your 50s and 60s.
So karate is more than just competition, but it can be. It's more than just exercise, but it can be. And it's more than just self-defense which, obviously, every technique you do has an intrinsic purpose to it. The characters of karate themselves, it's often translated as empty hand. But the empty character has a bigger meaning. It could mean the void or nothingness even. So it's not simply that we don't use weapons, and the style of karate I do, shotokan karate, rarely uses weapons in regular training.
Other styles use a lot of weapons so it doesn't necessarily mean empty hand because you have no weapons. It means that there is a void of emptiness in a Zen way. In other words, you come to training with no expectations and no clutter so this is the full meaning of karatedo.