10 Differences Between Okinawan Karate & Japanese Karate

Question:

Do you know the difference between Okinawan Karate & Japanese Karate?

I didn’t.

Until I visited Okinawa – the birthplace of Karate.

Wow!

Since then, I’ve revisited the amazing island over a dozen times. I even lived there in 2009, studying Japanese at Okinawa University.

So I can assure you…

There are MANY differences between Okinawan and Japanese Karate.

Check it out:

#1. Higher Stances

Okinawan shiko-dachi stance

Okinawan Karate has a lot of high stances.

Why?

Because it’s natural.

For many people, this is good news!

Deep Karate stances can often feel “forced”, especially for tall Westerners, and tend to be painful for knees/feet/back.

(Particularly if done wrong.)

To put things into perspective, an Okinawan zenkutsu-dachi can be half the length of a Japanese one.

Perfect for lazy bastards like me!

But…

Will these kinds of high stances build leg strength and stamina?

Not really.

That’s not the point either.

The stances of Okinawan Karate are meant to be practical when applied in self-defense, since they can be quickly and effortlessly reached from your everyday stance.

That’s the point.

#2. “Why” Over “How”

Seisan bunkai by Miyagi Chojun

If you practice Karate in Okinawa, you will often hear the word “imi”.

“Imi” translates to “meaning” in English.

Hence, in Okinawan Karate, the meaning of a technique is often more stressed than how the technique is actually executed.

The Why is more important than the How.

Japanese Karate, on the other hand, is often more focused on the How rather than the Why.

How come?

There are three main reasons for this:

  1. The meaning of many techniques was lost during the historical transmission of Karate from Okinawa to Japan. If you don’t know the Why, it’s more sensible to teach the How.
  2. The purpose of Japanese Karate is not aligned with the purpose of Okinawan Karate anymore. Historically speaking, Japanese Karate was molded to suit the spiritual Way (“Karate-Do”) of contemporary martial arts like Judo, Kendo, Aikido etc., with the main purpose of developing the character of its participants (through the How). The purpose of Okinawan Karate has always been mainly self-defense oriented (the Why).
  3. The level of martial knowledge , i.e. biomechanics of Budo, is much deeper in Japan. Many techniques of Japanese Karate are influenced by other, more established, Japanese martial arts where the optimal movement patterns are well-researched.

For example, a Japanese sensei will go very deep in details of a kata.

(How to twist your hips, how to adjust your feet, how to shift your weight etc.)

But an Okinawan sensei will often remind you of the purpose of a kata instead.

The “bunkai”.

Get it?

#3. No “Osu! / Oss!”

oss-karateIn Japanese Karate, the verbal command “Osu!” (pronounced “Oss!”) is used sometimes.

This phenomenon has also spread to the West, and is even getting popular in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA too.

But…

I’ve NEVER heard the term “Osu! / Oss!” being used in Okinawa.

Why?

The reason can be found here:

The Meaning of “Osu” / “Oss” (+ When You Should NEVER Say It)

Okinawans generally use the word “Hai!”

#4. It’s Not a Sport. It’s a Lifestyle.

black-belt-old-lady
75-year old Tsuneko Machida, 4th dan. She started Karate at 63-years old.

When Karate was introduced to Japan, many things changed.

For instance, people started competing.

Most people don’t know this, but Japanese Karate practitioners actually changed many kata and added tons of new kumite techniques, for the sole purpose of scoring points in competitions.

Trust me; you’ll never see an Okinawan sensei teach you a spinning hook kick to the head!

Don’t get me wrong though; people in Okinawa compete too these days. But there’s a big difference in their approach.

In Okinawan, Karate is not a sport.

It’s a lifestyle.

Like one of my Okinawan friends, a 7th dan Shorin-ryu sensei, once told me:

“Karate is part of our cultural identity”.

It truly is.

Karate’s heritage is everywhere in Okinawa, and it’s such a natural part of their culture that it simply makes no sense to compete in it.

A growing bamboo does not compete with the bamboo next to it.

Right?

#5. Chinkuchi Over Kime

one_inch_punch420x420In Japanese Karate, the concept of “kime” is super important.

You’ve probably heard the term.

The word “kime” comes from the root “kimeru”, which literally means “to decide” or “to fix”.

Kime signifies that instant stop at the end of your technique.

(Read more: What is “Kime”? Dr. Lucio Maurino (World Karate Champion) Explains & Demonstrates)

Now check this out…

In Okinawan Karate, there is something else:

Chinkuchi!

You see, in Okinawan Karate it’s not important to freeze the technique quickly.

It’s more important to transfer all of your energy into the opponent – like a shockwave. To do this, you need an explosive release of full-body power.

Have you ever seen the famous “one-inch punch” by Bruce Lee?

It’s a perfect example of chinkuchi.

(Read more: Chinkuchi – Another Exotic Okinawan Karate Word)

It’s all about power.

#6. Kobudo Weapons

kobudo-jesse
Teaching Kobudo in my dojo. The eiku (oar) is the highest weapon in Okinawan Kobudo.

Japanese Karate is mostly empty-handed.

But in Okinawa, almost every dojo has weapons on the wall.

Why?

Because they practice Kobudo – the art of handling Karate’s ancient combat tools.

The most common Kobudo weapons are:

  • bo
  • sai
  • tonfa
  • nunchaku
  • kama
  • timbe/rochin
  • tekko
  • kuwa
  • sansetsu kon
  • nunti bo

Now, I’m not saying Okinawan Karate is an art with weapons.

But a long time ago, rural Okinawa was a very dangerous place.

Most thugs carried weapons.

And if you’ve never practiced with weapons, it’s hard to defend against one.

Therefore, old-school Karate masters were also masters of Kobudo.

(Related reading: Exposing The Lost Secret of Matsumura’s Mysterious Bo Staff)

Like Nakamoto Masahiro, 10th dan Okinawan Kobudo, once told me after we finished training in his dojo:

“Karate and Kobudo is like brother and sister. Never separate.”

These days, most Karate dojos in Okinawa practice very little Kobudo.

But trust me – they know something!

In Japanese Karate, it’s practiced even less…

If at all.

#7. Old-School Strength Tools

Okinawan Karate masters always promote physical conditioning.

Because if you’re weak and frail, you simply cannot defend yourself optimally!

So, they developed tons of crazy tools to strengthen & condition their bodies.

This gear is still being used in Okinawan Karate today.

Some of my favorites are:

  1. Makiwara – a wooden, springy, punch board wrapped in straw. The saying “a dojo without a makiwara is not a dojo” should tell you how important this impact tool is in Okinawa.
  2. Chi-ishi – a stone weight attached to a short wooden stick, made to be swung around the body to strengthen arms, wrists, hands, core and back.
  3. Ishi-sashi – a hand-held concrete weight in the shape of a padlock, originally made of stone. It’s used in the same way as a modern kettlebell, but with a Karate twist.
  4. Nigiri-game – big ceramic jars filled with sand, which you grip around the rim (one in each hand) while walking in different stances to strengthen your grip, wrists, arms, legs and core.
  5. Tou – a standing bundle of bamboo tied together at the top and bottom. You strike it with your forearms, fingers and elbows (almost like a makiwara) but also with your legs, to condition your shins.

In Japanese Karate, you rarely see these training tools – except the makiwara.

But in Okinawa, you find them in every corner of the dojo.

They are essential.

#8. Tuidi Techniques

tuidi_tuiti (2)
Motobu Choki applying tuidi (Naihanchin)

Next, we have something called “tuidi”.

While Japanese Karate approaches combat from a long distance range, Okinawan Karate prefers a close range.

Here’s where tuidi comes into play.

Tuidi is the Okinawan method of grabbing, seizing, twisting and dislocating an opponent’s joints.

Quite naturally, this aspect of combat also involves other nasty things like choking, unbalancing, throwing, trapping hands, hitting pressure points and nerve bundles.

These things are rarely taught in regular Japanese Karate classes.

Why?

Because, again, Japanese Karate was heavily influenced by pre-existing martial traditions when it was introduced from Okinawa. The original, short, fighting range was changed to a longer one – and concepts like “maai” (engagement distancing) were borrowed straight from Japanese samurai sword fencing (Kendo).

Therefore, the concept of “tuidi” is not as important in Japanese Karate.

But in Okinawan Karate it’s still being practiced.

A common Okinawan exercise for practicing tuidi is called “kakie” – a sensory flow drill, often called “pushing hands” in the West.

(Related reading: 2 Forgotten (But Deadly) Techniques of Okinawan Karate)

In fact, when you closely examine old-school kata, you will see that the bunkai of the kata movements make much more sense in the close range.

Try it and you will see.

9. Individuals Over Mass Training

funakoshiteaching
Funakoshi Gichin teaching Karate to students at Keio University

As you might have figured out by now, Okinawan Karate has many unique quirks.

To truly understand it, you have to experience it up close.

Basically, you need personal attention directly from a sensei.

This is why Okinawan Karate is hard to teach a big group of people at once – you simply cannot give adequate individual attention to a group of 50 students or more!

Japanese Karate, on the other hand, was tailored for huge groups.

Why?

Because that was the goal when Karate was introduced to the various universities around Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto in the middle of the 20th century.

This phenomenon, along with tournaments, is the reason why many movements of Japanese Karate are bigger and more simplified than Okinawan Karate movements.

They need to be easily seen by huge masses of people!

In Okinawan Karate, it’s the opposite. 

In fact, the average Okinawan dojo has room for like 10-15 people. This spartan training environment actually adds to the focus of individualization over mass instruction.

(Read more about training Karate in Okinawa: The Practical Foreigner’s Guide to Training Karate in Okinawa – The Birthplace of Karate)

Sadly, this is the reason many Okinawan masters can’t make a living from Karate.

They don’t have room for enough students.

10. Uchinaa-guchi

okinawalogo
The Okinawan flag

Lastly, here’s something you might have noticed throughout the article:

Okinawan Karate has its own language.

“Uchinaa-guchi”.

(Literally: “Okinawan mouth.”)

Many Okinawan Karate terms I’ve mentioned so far – like “chinkuchi” and “tuidi” – are not Japanese words. They are ancient terms of the Okinawan language.

Some other popular ones are:

Muchimi, Gamaku, Meotode, Chinkuchi, Machiwara, Ti, Shinshii, Toudi etc.

(Those of you who attended my seminars will recognise these.)

This language is still used by traditional masters in Okinawa.

For example; when I went to Okinawa last summer, I learnt a new kata called Tomari Chinto. In one particular technique, my sensei told me to have a spring-like upward movement, called “hanchaatii”. Huh? I was clueless! What did he mean? When he saw my confusion, he quickly excused himself and said it in proper Japanese instead; “hana ageru”.

Now I understood!

This goes to show that Uchinaa-guchi is still very much alive today.

But it’s never used in Japanese Karate.

Only in Okinawa.

And with those words I end this list of 10 differences between Okinawan & Japanese Karate.

What do you think?

Of course, these are just generalizations – but they’re based on my personal observations from years of traveling to, and living in, Okinawa and Japan.

Personally, I try to mix the best of both.

hasegwawa-jesse
Last summer I met Hasegawa Yukimitsu in Okinawa. He’s a 7-times world kata champion (WKF) and an expert of Japanese Karate. With a shocked face he told me; “Okinawan Karate is veeeery different from Japan! So powerful!”. Read our exclusive interview here.

Oh, I’d like to mention an 11th one:

The dojo atmosphere.

In Okinawa, you are never afraid of anyone in the dojo!

Nobody tries to hurt you or outwork you, and there is no holier-than-thou aura around the sensei either.

Everyone are there as friends, working together in the spirit of Karate.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Sure, the Okinawan tempo can seem slow compared to the “kill-or-be-killed” tempo in some Japanese dojos – but I blame it on the tropical heat.

(Related reading: The #1 Reason Why Every Serious Karate-ka Needs to Travel to Okinawa Right Now)

In the end, it’s about doing what you love – whether it’s “Okinawan” or “Japanese”.

Makes sense?

Thanks for reading!

134 Comments

    • Thanks amigo! Keep it up yourself :-)
      • Dan
        I love reading your article I would like to keep in contact with you by email danielloveb@yahoo.com
      • Tim Artis
        Great job Jesse in explaining and defining the concept of karate roots and applications.
  • Ossu! [bow] Interesting! Thanks for the insight into why things are the way they are and how things are done differently elsewhere! [bow]
    • Arigato KarateMama-san! [bow] :-)
  • Jim Copeland
    What a great article on these two similar but different approaches to karate training. After many years training in the Japanese mode, I had the opportunity to train with a couple of Okinawan Instructors, and it was great! I too try to combine the best of both.Thanks for the article Jesse!Jim
    • Thanks for chiming in Jim-san! Glad you found what works best for you :-)
      • shaic
        sir can you tell the difference between shotokan and kyokushin karate ?
  • Great article! Helps me to clear up a couple of Aikido partners which I tried to explain these diference. (I think I didn´t reach to ten, ha!) I told them (for what I was able to see, I never practiced JK...)that Japan Karate was more "militarized"...It seems related with your point 2 in the note "how over why", and point 9 "indidualisation over mass training", and of course, the sport vision... By the way, do you know if they practice kote/ashi kitae in japan karate? If not, that could be number 12 ! Regards from Argentina.
  • filip
    I started out in japanese karate and thought that was the one and only karate. I did that for ten years until I learned about Okinawan karate. I switched over pretty much immediately because it just made more sense and felt right. I agree with all of the points, especially the stances. I am a fairly tall person and being pushed by my sensei into loooong zenkuchi dachis and very deeep shiko dachis just didn't sit well for me. The higher Okinawan stances make so much more sense, from a joint health and fighting perspective. The senseis in Okinawan karate also do seem much friendlier, it's a family atmosphere. In the japanese karate it's very military, drill sergeant like.
  • Ian
    Suggestion for guest article(s):Have Okinawan & Japanese karate-ka who have lots of experience travelling and training all over the world comment on how the Okinawan and Japanese "styles" of karate have changed in different parts of the world.Maybe the Canadian and the Swedish versions of Shotokan are just as different from each other as from the Japanese version. Maybe Gojo-ryu in Australia and Italy ditto.
  • Jeff Riggs
    I always have trouble telling someone, usually someone who knows little or nothing of Karate, that there is a difference and what that difference is. My mind ends up bouncing back and forth and if makes any sense at all it is too complicated for the lesser informed. This is as good an article as I have read for the "Short Answer" to this question.
  • I would love to see you or some one else write this same article but with a more biased lean towards Japanese Karate. It would be fun to compare and contrast the articles.
    • carl vagg
      basically, japanese karate 'took over' [globally] esp usa from original pre-japan okinawa [kara]te.. thus for all those raised in japanese competitive sporting traditions it is very interesting and relevant for anyone serious in their karate, to understand these differences.. compare for example 'korean karate' as it manifests in olympic referee head kicking [etc].. karate kata [eg goju] contain many breaks from grabs and suchlike, whereas in sport karate grabbing, joint locking and suchlike are against 'the rules'.. thus kata bunkai have included emphasis on striking to the extent of changing the kata [eg first waza and bunkai of sepai, removing the shoulder grab from rear with hold and elbow lock etc, changing the kata bunkia into a strike.. the strike was always there as one simple bunkai.. those taught this changed kata should be aware that it is not the original form, but part of a deliberate removal of grappling/joint locking etc, from karate.. thus this excellent comparison starts with okinawa te..
  • ?
    As someone who has practiced Okinawan karate and kobudo and have visited Japanese dojo (though mostly do Judo while living in Japan) I very much appreciate this article. It is obvious to see that Japanese karate had and influence on my predominately Okinawan style that is taught in the states.However, I have one thing I wish to point out in your list of the ten most common kobudo weapons you didn't mention eiku. Even the picture that you chose to represent Okinawan weapons predominately features eiku.
  • Alvaro Rodriguez
    Hi Jesse. the tuidi (pushing hands) is similar to Sticky shand used in wu shu? thanks
    • Jan
      Kakie / kaki-e is pushing hands, and very similar to sticky hands (chi sau) in wing chun etc, although I believe that you use a bit more force in okinawan karate. Tuide is joint manipulation etc.
  • KCO
    Great article, as you say yourself, its a generalizations. Ive noticed that for some time, a lot of dojo's are trying to go "the old ways" like the kissakikai movement.But I think also things vary between federations and Dojo's. Ive trained very little in Japan, but did notice that all the Tokyo instructors (SKIF) used "hai" a lot, besides osu. Also, local SKIF dojo's teach something equal to tuidi on a regular basis, especially for bunkai reasons.Differences between styles, federations, locations etc. are perhaps seen as a bit nerdy subject, but I like it very much, and find your articles to both interesting, and with a nicely paced flow of the text.
  • Dave Blazer
    Nice list, most of which I agree with, and I won't nit-pick you. Thanks!
  • David Wilson
    Great job bow ...... (Bow)
  • Shaun Emery
    Love the article Jesse-san! I'm really interested in how you're balancing the two training styles. I'm thinking when I'm training/teaching the kata, bringing more of a Japanese style to it, but keeping the bunkai at a more trapping/close range having being influenced from kung-fu and watching a LOT of Sensei Iain Abernethy. Any insight into how you're finding the balance would be appreciated!
  • Peter Lee
    Nice article, but let me say that I do not agree with you at all in the sense that you generalize way too much in your comments, reasoning etc. The facts are correct, but I think this is mainly true in Shotokan and some related styles. If you practiced in Shotokan, I would say great article, you are spot on. I have done some Shotokan myself, but only because I was forced to do so (another story, another day). I was never impressed. At all. But In Tokyo, I have been there for almost 20 years practicing Genseiryu, which has its roots on Okinawa. We do everything you say represents Okinawan karate. So I do not see the point of diminishing Japanese karate over Okinawan karate in this way, as you aim too widely. I am not complaining about the article though, it was interesting reading, but not accurate. You cannot divide Okinawa and Japan that way. Some of the masters that have taught me, has shown me (on my body) the one-inch punch, and I have never felt any power greater than this. I appreciate your site, and I read it a lot, but I think you sometimes only touch the surface of what is out there, and sometimes only convey what you have heard or have been told, not what you have actually learned or what you have made a part of yourself through training and development. Not to diminish you in any way whatsoever, but reading this gave me the feeling that I had to say something. Even though your article may be true to many styles, schools, dojos and teachers, the article is not true as a whole. There exist many great teachers out there who are actually trying their best to be true to the art, the school and the inheritance. Putting them in a box called Japanese karate and saying that Okinawan karate is superior in that Japanese karate lack what "real" karate is all about says more to me about you, that it actually does about karate (not distinguishing between Okinawan or Japanese). I learned many years ago, that in order to evolve, you have to go outside of the box, and leave your safe environment. If we talk bunkai (the why), there is not much difference at all. But maybe that is because my master learned directly from his master, who came from Okinawa. In this world of karate, it would be best not to jump the gun too early and generalize about things you may perhaps know something about, but not knowing enough about. Well, thanks for the article, I will continue reading your site and I hope I helped you in some way.
    • Could you possibly have been more condescending in your comments.
      • Mike
        I did not find it condescending.
    • ShotoNoob
      Okinawan Karate > Shotokan Karate.Great comment. My feeling is that the author is trying to convey these differences as a step, a means to better understanding what the traditional styles of karate are trying to accomplish. I think in that vein, the author's article is excellent.Like you, I can point out differences or alternate views. But that's the benefit of the blog format.To me, the traditional karate practitioner, the real question is, "... how do I make my karate effective?" I believe the Okinawan styles are more sophisticated. Yet at the same time, in contrast to many others, I believe similar to you that the Shotokan karate, done well to proper standards, can be highly effective.Defining what those 'proper standards' are is the key, and the discourse advanced by the author can only help us all....When we understand our style, we can train it better & use it best. Should we choose to change style, we still should proceed the same way.I've posted before I don't personally care for Shotokan. The whole answer is I respect it & appreciated it's teachings, and try to benefit from study of it, it's values such as laid out in this article....
      • Pete W
        Shotokan karate != all Japanese Karate.Talk to Wado practitioners about several of these points and they will laugh their heads off.
        • Wado
          Wado is a great school of Karate. Influenced from Shindo yoshin ryu. It also has higher stances and teaches throws and locks.
  • what a great article, love it...thanks do for sharing.
  • john jessum
    I spent time with Kenzo Mabuni, youngest son of Kenwa Mabuni and he explained the origin of, "ouss" which you are correct in stating is not used in Okinawa dojos.....Ouss is a derived from the Japanese formal ending you find in many words....originally students would greet their teachers, "Ohio Gozaimasu" and this became shortened to just the ending of "masu" and morphed into "Ouss." Sensei Mabuni never liked the term, thought it was crass and from a time period when karate was seen as macho and militaristic, rising from over zealous college karate clubs...he often corrected students asking they acknowledge with "hai" instead of "issue."
  • I especially enjoyed the why over how and also the Tuidi aspects... when you look at masters of old on film, they invariably look sloppy, but this was not the show Karate they demonstrated. They understood more the relaxed application and vital structural functionality of the body.The Tuidi is where most fights go and the dismissal of this and the sensitivity training that fits naturally into applications, is missing the vital core concepts, not to mention the vital targets.
  • Hai, hai! You nailed it sir. Excellent!!!
  • Great article! I've been a few times in Japan but never practicing karate, also never in Okinawa. Now I need to go again for this sole purpose.Arigatou gozaimasu!
  • Akisamiyo
    I really have enjoyed this article. As a 100% Okinawan and practitioner of the art, I appreciate how you put almost every important aspect of Okinawan Karate into well-explained words. sometimes, I almost cry reading, because you explain Okinawan Karate very well, since I have read many many misleading articles on karate from Okinawa. And one thing I would like to add is that you can really say Okinawan karate practitioner from others by their fore-arms ( fist to elbow).Well, I have a lot to say to defend my culture, but I save them for good now. Keep writing good articles!!
  • leif björn
    Great article, I must be more nerdish and also go to Okinawa .
  • Wow, great article!I've been a few times in Japan but never practicing karate and never in Okinawa. I'll go for sure to Okinawa and find some place to practice Karate.Doumo arigatou gozaimasu!
  • Jessie
    Hai! great!
  • José Luis
    Just arrived from Okinawa after a three weeks stay for kobudo and Karate training I agree largely with your article. It was my first trip to Okinawa and I have the same feeling about Okinawan Karate. Higer stances or more natural stances, shorter distance in bunkai application, different dynamic about Karate techniques, Gamaku or more hips, Chinkuchi... In one word my feeling is that Okinawan Karate reamins unchanged faithful to his roots. Japanese Karate has evolved following the Japanese character specially in the period before and just over II World War. But this doesn't mean that one is better than the other one just different. So you have to experience both. I'm sure that you learn and apply concepts from both to your Karate. Nobody has the truth.
  • A du
    Very well explained!!!Now try explaining that to a mainland Japanese who thinks Kyokushin is the be all or end all of karate.
    • vinh_deisel
      Gary Alexander is an isshinryu practioner that won the first kyokushin tournament in america at madison square garden new york. He wasn't a pure isshinryu man though. Back then face punches were allowed in kyokushin tournaments and Gary Alexander used boxing, judo, jujitsu, aikido, aikijitsu, elements of shotokan, etc. to defeat all his opponents. Most isshinryu people kick low, but Gary Alexander also kicks high depending on the situation.
  • Thor Vekt
    Good Article Perhaps you should have included Okinawan Flag before Japanese Occupation' even autonomous Symbol. Yes Unlike Judo, Kyudo, Kendo etc. Also Okinawan Prefecture is poorest in Japanese states.
  • Alastair White
    Fantastic Article. I have trained under an Okinawan 'programme' to green belt (from Martin Rice). I have since played with other Martial Arts. BJJ, Muay Thai, MMA etc. I have always wanted to go back and get a higher belt (not that the belt really matters). You have explained to me WHY I love this style of Karate. Thank you so so much.Is there a way for a person such as myself to train in Okinawa or even just visit a Dojo for a look? I am from Belfast but I now live in Manchester.
    • Hi Alastair,You should check out the Okinawan Traditional Karate Liaison Bureau website: http://okkb.org/ - they arrange training visits in Okinawa.
  • Ramil
    hi Jesse-san! Great article. Worth mentioning as well, as mentioned by Nagamine-Sensei in some books, are the regional distinctions of katas (Naha-te, Shuri-te, Tomari-te) which is also based mainly on footwork as opposed to what Funakoshi-sensei introduced in mainland Japan (Shorin-ryu, Shorei-ryu) based on body type back in the day. I practice Shotokan-ryu but I'm enamored with Okinawan Karate because of my short stature, hehehe.Good day Jesse-san. OSU!
  • As I don't live in Okinawa and there fore can't do karate there. I might as well quite kkarate after reading this article and same others which potentially say karate is crap. I guess I might start another martial art like wing chun or boxing.
    • Jan
      Japanese is not that bad at all. I started out practicing shotokan. Although not very useful (my opinion) in itself, many stances and movements are in a way similar to those in okinawan karate. So when I later started practicing okibawan karate, I already knew how to move, punch and kick, and I didn't have to learn everything from the beginning. It was just a matter of adjusting and incorporating a couple of principles. Sone things were new, of course. Hojo undo, kakie, tuide etc. Japanese karate is not a waste. Chances are that you start in a wing chun club where it's also all about technique and not practical use.
  • Bill Mattocks
    Anyone actually see the tuite in photo #8? Hint, it's not in the hands.
    • Ian
      The one that leaps out to me is the lock applied to his opponent's right elbow, although there may be something going on with their knees too.
      • Bill Mattocks
        I agree, both. The elbow is hyperextended and a chest bump will drop the opponent. The knee is positioned to take advantage of that fact. He has also just delivered a rather devastating blow to the inside of the opponent's left arm at the inside of the elbow and locked it. The opponent has essentially no options in the position he is in. He cannot fight and cannot disengage. I love Naihanchi.
  • Ralf
    Due to a reason i cannot explain i am unable to see the images in #3, #4, #6, #8, #9, #10
  • Matt Henderson
    thank you-- i like what you do.
  • Torunn Fredriksen
    Thank you so much for your very informative and inspiring articles. I am going to Tokyo and Okinawa in October. I need to learn as much as possible before I go, you are helping me :-)
  • Emily
    "For example; when I went to Okinawa last summer, I learnt a new kata called Tomari Chinto."You actually used the word "learnt"! Really?
    • Jim
      "Learn't is the English, Australian past tense for learn.
      • Bill Mattocks
        Grammarian pouncetrifles should be hangt! :)
  • Hersch Goodwin
    Wish I could afford one of your new gi's.
    • Jim Copeland
      Hersch...ask them if they will sell you a new gi a piece at a time...maybe get the sleeves , then the rest of the jacket,and then the pants one leg at a time!
      • Hersch Goodwin
        Hey Jim, I never thought of it that way. Then I could afford one of these gi's one piece at a time...
  • GREAT article Jesse! Good reading, extremely intersting. When is the next article :)
  • Thanks for this. It is very interesting...
  • Despite balancing the two styles, do you find yourself having a tendency to prefer Japanese to Okinawan, or Okinawan to Japanese?
  • Another great article Jesse. Thank you. I remembered when I started at ,y current dojo, which is Shotokan karate, there was some confusion between my Sensei and myself about stances and some techniques. I came from an Okinawan based karate moving to a Japanese based karate, and I still sometimes struggle with the bigger deeper stances, but I'm getting there. I also love learning the differences in karate.Keep up the great work!
  • Ramon
    I do JKA Shotokan (i.e., Japanese Karate) and allow me to share the following:1. Lower and longer stances are taught @JKA not merely to strengthen legs and stamina but to add to the power of a technique. Maximum vertical compression of the legs adds power by making the hips more stable and energy less disspated to the extremities via vibration, etc.2. Meaning or bunkai is also taught but usually with the intent to generate enough power to finish with one blow, hence more emphasis on "how" in order to capture the key points to generate it.3. Shotokan karate is basically taught by the JKA not as a sport but a Do or Way of Life.4. "Tuidi" is also taught, please refer to Shotokan Bunkai and you can also see Naka Tatsuya in Kuro Obi movie demonstrating the locks and throws.5. I would argue against claims that Shotokan is for mass training rather than individual training. First of all, the movements are so damn strenuous and need lots of corrections in order to do with the correct form and proper execution. If it were meant for mass training, wouldn't it be easier? But its not, it is very difficult. Shotokan teaches what would look like the simplest movements geometrically, but the simplest moves are the hardest to master without extra movements or twitches etc. In my experience, small classes would benefit the Shotokan student in much the same way as in other disciplines whether physical or academic. As in everything else, smaller class sizes tend to be best.
    • ShotoNoob
      SHOTOKAN, WHAT IS IT?Nice to see a Shotokan stylist make some direct commentary. While I did not choose Shotokan for my style, I do think it is often underestimated and you speak directly to that. My 2 cents on your points:1. Shotokan to me, is very big on physical conditioning. As the author points out, so are the Okinawan. There's difference in method, approach.2. I think the HOW is big in both Okinawan karate & Japanese karate, agreeing with author that the Japanese put more emphasis on HOW. To me the Okinawan lesson is knowing the WHY behind the HOW is what brings one to better training, execution & application of the HOW.I like to say that traditional karate is a thinking man's discipline. Sport & sport fighting is a physical exercise. In traditional karate, IMO the WHY is imperative, whether emphasized or not.3. I see both interpretations. Shotokan is karate-do in tradition. Shotokan is often practiced & applied as a sport. What raises Shotokan to 'actual' karate is when it is practiced as DO.4. By how I see Shotokan is typically practiced, the emphasis is clearly on striking. Shotokan practiced according to the original karate-DO syllabus does have a developed grappling component, not always seen in the typical curriculum, ...and you know more than I on that score.5. All my study also points that Shotokan was designed with the masses in mind. It's the individual who brings the excellence and your comment is ample demonstration.I'd salute by the O-word, but it's not in my style.... might get it wrong....
  • Gene Foster
    You probably understand your style of Karate to a fairly high degree and what you say about your Okinawan art I do not doubt. I have a little understanding of Isshin Ryu Karate because my brother in law is a high ranking black belt under Sensei Advincula. But as I said my understanding of his art is little. I am a practitioner of Wado Ryu Karate and have been for over 40 years. Wado Ryu is a true Japanese style of Karate and I do believe I am qualified to comment on Japanese karate. First there are several styles considered Japanese karate and each of these styles have a uniqueness all their own so some of your information may apply to some of these styles. I will not comment on those because I have no knowledge of these so I must hold my comments and just restrict them to Wado Ryu. Now about your article. No. 1. Higher stances. Wado Ryu uses natural stances especially during kumite, we are a style that is based on Shinto-Yoshin-Ryu Jujutsu and karate from Funakoshi Gichin Sensei, Motobu Choki Sensei and others that the first Grand Master Otsuka Hironori trained with. We do not use very long low stances. No. 2.Why over How. Which came first the chicken or the egg? You must have both, if you don't know how the why won't matter and if your don't know what you are trying to accomplish it matters little how well you execute your technique. Both are very important to the student and which depends on how the individual student is progressing and their understanding of what they are trying to accomplish. There is a place for both. As to bunkai. I feel that most bunkai is too limiting as to what you are trying to accomplish. It instills in some students the idea that I can only use this technique to defend only this or attack only that. In Wado we want to keep our options more open that is why we teach many applications for each technique in a kata. We don't have a specific bunkai for each kata. We teach several applications with the idea to always think "What could I do with this technique, how many applications are there or is there a limit. No. 3. No Oss/ Ous. This is actually funny to me. Some of our black belts heard others in different styles using this and thought it would be a good idea to pick up the term. During a seminar with Shiomitsu Sensei from England they started using this term. It did not go over well at all. Shiomitsu Sensei let them know very quickly that it was not a term that was used in a Wado Ryu Dojo. No. 4. It's not a Sport its a lifestyle. While we do tounraments they are very limited and the training for tournament kata for example is very different that our traditional kata. However we do not embellish our kata by adding any extra movements what is different is usually the execution. We strive very hard to keep any tournament aspects separate from our traditional training. I did compete in tournaments in the 70's and 80's. It was fun but I understood that tournament kumite is not the way we fight to defend ourselves. Karate for me has always first been a way of life, a way to better myself physically and mentally. I doubt there is a big difference in our approach to separating sport karate from the true meaning of Budo. No. 5. Chincuchi over Kime. This really shows your misunderstanding of Japanese karate. The use of the whole body to generate power and punch through your target is a concept we know very well. I have never had any Sensei tell me I must freeze my techniques at a fixed point. Now the hand does stop when the arm is fully extended. I really don't know where this idea comes from. No. 6. Kobudo. Now you got me there we don't do weapons. I agree 100% The only weapon associated with our style is the Japanese sword and that is because of our Jujutsu roots. Jujutsu was the unarmed defense of the Samurai and there are many movements in Jujutsu that come from sword movements. No. 7. Old School strength tools. You got me again. We don't use these at all. No. 8. Tuidi Techniques. As I have said we are based in Jujutsu. Close quarters combat, joint manipulation, take downs, attacks to nerves and vital areas. Our style of Jujutsu stressed Atemi Waza. Attacks to vital areas. I find it a little humorous that you have a picture of Motobu Choki Sensei since our Grand Master trained with him, especially concerning the kata Nihanshi and its applications. No. 9. Individuation over Mass training. You are correct about the Universities and tournaments in Japan during the 50's and 60's causing a large rise in the number of people studying karate. But to say that we change our technique to teach to mass classes is not the case, not for our Dojo anyway. I have been in huge classes especially the Shiomitsu Sensei's Winter course in Guildford UK. This is the exception not the rule. There are several high ranking Sensei working the class so the quality of the training was never changed because of the size of the class. It is true that it is more difficult to give individual attention to large classes. Our Dojos do not let the size of the class become so large we can't give individual attention where it is needed. You simply have more classes. You would quickly lose students if your classes were too large. No. 10. Uchinna-guchi. You are right again. We don't use your nomenclature. So in conclusion before you attempt to explain differences martial arts do a little more research. Your article comes across as degrading to Japanese Karate, I don't think that this was your intention. At least I hope it was not your intention. I for one have never said anything bad about another style of martial art. I feel every true martial art is a unique entity unto itself. Each art that has been around for a while is a good martial art but it is only as good as the Sensei instructing their students and every style of martial art has good instructors and bad instructors.
    • ShotoNoob
      OKINAWAN VS. JAPANESE KARATE COMPARISON DEGRADING???(1) That was a very in-depth posting. It always surprises me when someone puts out an article on a blog, however, that posters respond so personally.(2)I made some comments based on my understanding of Okinawan vs. Japanese karate. I'm not a Wado Ryu practitioner, or a practitioner of Japanese karate. So there is no way I for one, or the author for that matter can be expected, to speak to the level of a highly experienced Japanese karateka, here Wado Ryu, such as yourself.(3) For example, I have observed on the matter of punch to a point then freezing or holding the punch, such a convention seems common among Japanese karate practitioners. I have also trained this way myself. How this convention fits into traditional karate training is a key question highlighted by the authors discussion.(4) I see the concept as a valid way to strike. I also believe that this method is a means to develop more of the isometric strength sought by traditional karate training, AND more importantly mental discipline.(5) Just as certainly, I don't see the punching to a point as the only way to project power into the target. My understanding of Shotokan karate is that the Beyond-Shodan syllabus trains more advanced means of striking & of power projection such as the one you speak of.(6) IMHO, The value of the author's article is that it presents a forum to flesh out & develop these concepts, explore the meaning. The fact that differing karate styles have conventions that some may take issue with, either out of lack of understanding, or alternatively out of better understanding as the case may be, is not patently degrading to the one having a difference of opinion.Personally, I don't care for the Japanese styles of traditional karate. I also believe they are greatly under-rated by many in the martial arts community and especially by those in the MMA community. A great lesson in your extensive comment is that it speaks directly to those who under-rate the Japanese karates without looking to the benefit of your high-level of knowledge & experience.Would love to see more practitioners of Wado Ryu move over to MMA and demonstrate your strong personal feelings >>> in the Octagon....Great Post!!!!
      • Gene Foster
        Degrading? Of course it was degrading. It was why Okinawan karate was superior to Japanese karate. Every system has its place and each of these systems have attributes that make them appealing but no one system is superior to another except to each individual and they choose the system that appeals to their interests. My point is comparisons like this one are generally made by someone who knows their style very well and has little concept of the other system. They are usually made by younger practitioners who have got it all figured out. As I stated I would never make statements like this about another system because I don't have the knowledge of the other system necessary to make the comparison. Like you just did with your statements about MMA. You see we do have several practitioners who have taken their art to the ring. In the 90's we had three from the Dojo, where I began my training, who were world rated professional kick boxers, long before MMA. We have a family of brothers and their father in Nashville who have several belts in MMA. There is one of our senior Black Belts who also teaches Gracie Jujutsu and makes trips to Brazil to train where we also have a large following in Wado Ryu. So you see when you make assumptions about anything you set your self up to look foolish.
        • ShotoNoob
          WADO RYU & MMAYou felt the comparison was 'degrading.' I get your feeling. IMHO, I thought the author's comparison was enlightening as setting up for better understanding & as a BLOG discussion.Just as you could be considered an expert in Wado Ryu, I don't see how I need to be in expert in every style of traditional karate in order to have opinion which may be valid in some way. BTW, there is another gentleman who has posted elsewhere on this blog who is equally critical of my support for the Japanese karate styles, such as Shotokan. He specializes in Kyokushin karate & believes that style is the truly effective style in actual fighting and that Shotokan is not really effective. Rather than face MMA, I guess you and this gentleman should face off and resolve the strong feelings.....IMHO, you are faulting my knowledge of MMA rather than responding to my statement. I never said that traditional karate-based fighters couldn't succeed (or haven't succeeded) as professional kickboxers or MMA fighters. What I said is that I would like to see MORE of those traditional karate practitioners with your expertise involved in the MMA scene today. Being complimentary of how Wado Ryu could apply & succeed in MMA, you say this makes me foolish???? Seems to me that your bringing some specific examples of karate's success in MMA to my attention and to those on this blog is actually in support of what I was proposing & believing to be true.IMHO, where I am critical of you, is the expectation that every poster on a blog has to be of your knowledge level, be a student of Wado Ryu, & have the in-depth knowledge of what your specific dojo is competing in, before they can have an opinion based on their own invested karate training & experience.For the record, I do believe that certain karate styles are better than others. Moreover, I consider the style I practice to be among the more rudimentary, IOW not the 'best' by any means. I also believe that the traditional karate styles, including Wado Ryu, are superior to the conventional training we see in MMA. The caveat is that the karate stylist must strive to attain the knowledge & skill level that you espouse, otherwise the MMA conventional stylist will prevail. | That's my opinion....
          • Gene Foster
            When you make a post describing differences between specific aspects of different systems of karate people expect them to be true and not opinions. You are espousing knowledge that is to be taken as fact. Just because you have an opinion has no relevance when stating fact. My post was to explain the facts as they apply to my style of Japanese Karate and correct the errors stated in the article. When you say I think my style is the best style because... that is an opinion and there is nothing wrong with having an opinion. What is wrong is when you state your opinion as fact and expect others to respect your opinion. This is where your opinion loses any respect, when you espouse that opinion as a fact and not just your opinion. If you want your opinion respected then don't promote it as fact. My objection to the article was that it generalized Japanese karate and made assumptions that were not true of my system of Japanese Karate. It was not an opinion piece it made statements that were to be taken as fact. I just wanted to set the record straight not just give an opinion.
    • As much as I enjoy reading Jesse's articles, I too find this article very degrading to Japanese Karate. As a practitioner of Japanese Karate-Do(Kyokushin and JKA-Shotokan) also Iaido for over 35 years, I find these comparisons untrue unless you train at the Karate (karadee) Wannabie dojo. After 25 years in Kyokushin, I bumped into JKA Osaka Yoshiharu Sensei kata videos and was extremely impressed and 3 days later started my Shotokan training. To those who think and say that Shotokan is not practical, with all do respect, I say, they're full of it. Don't forget that UFC's Lyoto Machida as well as his brothers are Shotokan (Japan Karate Association) practitioners and members and their record speaks for itself. In reality Japanese Karate is a mixed martial art since throwing, grapling, joint manipulating, sweeping etc. etc. are a part of. If it wasn't for Funakoshi's (Shotokan)first steps of demonstrating and propagating Karate to the public, who knows when would it see the "daylight". As Gene Foster mentioned, there is a general misunderstanding of Japanese Karate, and looks like on part of Jesse's as well. Shotokan especially JKA emphasizes building the foundation first hence low and long stances, Kyokushin training structure is similar, that's KIHON basics, the actual combat is another story. You cannot build a house on a weak foundation. You can have library of fancy movements in your head, but without the foundation, they are useless. Karate was introduced to the public as a way of life, means of healthy living, right action, benevolence and self defense. In real life, are we really gonna break people's arms, displace their knees, hold them in an arm bar...cripple them or kill them??? really? True Martial Artist knows that it doesn't take long to cripple or kill a person. As an instructor, I have to differentiate between a general athlete and competitor, child and adult. I respect all traditional Karate styles, there's a benefit in every single one of them. It is enough that we have to deal with Mcdojos. The comparisons articles of this kind, degrading one style or another are not to be expected of true Budoka at least out of respect. We shall not forget the true essence of Budo ( I trust you know what it is). I'd like to end with a strong OSU!! I know what it means to me...Oshi Shinobu, Endure under pressure!! If it is not a part of your dojo or organization, have a decency to respect those who's is.
      • Rob S.
        Let's be honest, if we're comparing Okinawan Karate to Kyokushin, this article is 100% correct. Everyone knows Kyokushin isn't designed for practicality, but for looks. It's a style created by a Korean (if I'm not mistaken) for tournaments. Whether the original intent was for tournaments or not, it has evolved into such. I mean, have you seen Kyokushin Kumite tournaments... I can't help but just laugh.
        • Eugene
          Great comment Rob. Couldn't agree more.“There is no place in contemporary Karate for different styles. I have heard myself and my colleagues referred to as the “Shotokan style”, but I strongly object to this attempt at classification. My belief is that all “styles” should be amalgamated into one, so that Karate may orderly progress into man’s future.” – Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957)
    • Rob S.
      I started out with Shudokan (a spin-off of Shotokan) whe I was 8 and finished when I was 16. While it taught me many great things, it was focused on tournament and exhibition. Also, EVERYONE knows that Funakoshi Sensei had to "water down" Karate to teach it to the masses in Mainland. This "Watered down" version was the one that spread to Japan, USA, and worldwide. Perhaps your obscure style might have a mix of all sorts of different stuff to make it a little more well-rounded. I wouldn't brag about being a direct lineage of Funakoshi Sensei, because while he was a great karateka, he didn't teach his students as well as he could have.When I finally came to Okinawa (and have lived here 10 years now), I tried a few styles until I found one that was a good balance between my old "Shudokan" and Goju-ryu (The first style I started when I came to Okinawa). I will tell you there are some huge differences. You learn more combat style training. At the lower belts, it feels similar to Japanese Karate, but as you start approaching shodan you are more exposed to some dangerous stuff.One thing I can say is Jesse made a general statement, that applies to, I'd say, 90% of Japanese Karate. If you're one of the 10%, ignore it. Not sure what Jesse is saying about the OSS thing though, it is used out here. It's probably just used in a completely different way. I'm assuming the Japanese Karateka are saying it like I said "Oorah" in the Marine Corps, which is just dumb. Oss has more of an "Umph!" meaning.
  • Jonathan
    Just curious:1. Do Okinawans accept Shotokan as an Okinawan style since its founder Funakoshi Gichin Sensei is Okinawan and the style was founded after Okinawa became a Japanese Prefecture?2. I have heard and read that there are hundreds of Karate dojos in Okinawa. This list also includes Japanese karate style dojos like Shotokan or Kyokushin?Thanks everyone for your help and keep the hard work.Arigatou gozaimasu.
    • Hi Jonathan-san! 1. Generally no. It's considered a Japanese style. 2. Yes, it includes the comparatively few dojos of Japanese styles like Shotokan and Kyokushin. Hope this answers your questions! :-)
    • Rob S.
      1. Okinawans still consider themselves Okinawans. And Shotokan is a watered-down version of what Funakoshi Sensei knew, so no, it's not considered and Okinawan style.2. Kyokushin, being a tournament style, is popular in all of Japan (including Okinawa). It's probably the most well known. However, it only has a few dojos in Okinawa. Shotokan isn't even talked about.
  • Paul M
    Dear Jesse,I really enjoyed reading your article. I trained in Wado-ryu karate for many years, graded to 1st Kyu level in Shotokan, and within the past 7 years have practised and achieved 1st Dan a classical form of Okinawan karate, called Ko-Do Ryu, which incorporates kata and bunkai from Goju-ryu, uechi-ryu,shito-ryu and other Okinawan originated styles. What struck me most (and also feature as key points in your article) are the competitive nature of Japanese karate styles (I used to enjoy competing in point based tournaments in my younger years), when compared to the non-sport nature of Okinawan styles. All of my Kodo-ryu training was focused on pushing hands & kata (we spent most of our time working on Sanchin, Rokushu and Naihanchi) and their applications (in our school, these were far less about kicking, punching and striking and more to do with grip releases, Chin Na and grappling). This contrasting experience has really helped me to get more from my karate. Ironically, and unfortunately as my local KoDo-ryu dojo was forced to close, I have recently starting training in Kyokushin karate, which is about as far removed from Ko-Do Ryu as I can get. Keep up the good work on the blog and with the Seishin Gi business.
  • Jim
    I just read some very long winded, opionated statements which seems to be an attempt to prove some people's opinions to be false. In the 53 years since I started karate training, I have trained with both Okinawan and Japanese instructors, and found both systems to be beneficial and useful. I am not sure it is important to prove who is better or worse. I simply try to gain useful information from whomever I train with.
    • ShotoNoob
      LONG WINDED OPINIONS / TRUE OR FALSE OR RESPECT?One of my opinions is that traditional karate is very sophisticated. TRUE OR FALSE?? It takes a lot of understanding to get it right, YES or NO??. I call on the extensive articles & material & Masters cited on this blog, to support my thesis.IMO, I found Gene Foster's expert commentary on Wado Ryu excellent & substantive. Moreover, I believe his original post bears careful reading & re-reading, & I will be doing so.IMO, I think the article's author comparison of Okinawan & Japanese karates extremely valuable in understanding what it is we are striving for in different conventions & traditions of karate training. I won't mention the specific, but one of the authors comparisons has been a strategic reason for my success in sparring & competition.The fact that we disagree or have differences of opinion, isn't that realistic in karate & life? Maybe that's why there's so many different karate styles--opinions on how to approach karate. I welcome the debate about karate styles, better or not, pros & cons. Why be afraid of that?I respect the author's piece, especially since the Japanese karates evolved out of the Okinawan karates, to do a little synthesis, liking to the author's "Karate-Tree Piece." IMO, I think there is great benefit to incorporating the comparative information into one's karate training regimen. That's what I have done & what I plan to do....I also respect Gene Foster's specific & detailed commentary, his Wado Ryu contribution. The fact that posters go into specifics with analysis leads to competence, IMO. Gene sticks to his guns & backs up his position--he deserves applause (mine) like any strong kumite competitor.I do completely agree with Gene on overly-broad generalizations. Simple generalizations like "good article," "beneficial & useful" will not carry a karateka through real-time kumite or real-life self defense. Wasn't this the exact theme of one of the author's comparisons? | Successful karate demands IN-Depth Thinking--yours/mine....FACT OR OPINION...?
    • Mike
      There is nothing wrong with attempting to prove which style is better. Though, it appears that thin-skinned people do so, taking insult that they could be viewed as having a less than equal fighting system than another. It is natural that curious people would probe things relative to one another and then locate those things on a continuum from worst to best. To say that all are equal is just ludicrous. And if all cannot be equal, then surely there is a worst and best existing on the far ends.Vanity seems to be standing in the way of people who cannot entertain the thought that someone is practicing a superior fighting style than themselves. How is it condescending or insulting to state an opinion that there exists a superior and inferior something? Oh wait, that's right, society has moved in the direction that everyone gets a ribbon just for entering an event. We're all champions! Pfft. God forbid someone's feelings get hurt.
      • ShotoNoob
        DEBATE IS HEALTHY/ KUMITE HAS "1" WINNER:@MIKE: Thanks for the reasoned follow-on. A take off on the WHY / HOW principle set out in the article is that if we really understand our own karate style, including comparisons against other styles, this can only [help] make us more effective in actual practice. An interchange of ideas provokes a learning environment.A great insight that came from the gentleman I had the longer discourse with, was how important it is to really dig into the sophistication & to be sure you are accessing all the style has to offer, being careful to defer final judgements....I believe the overview comparison put forth in the article greatly aids that process.... Remembering, in competitive kumite, there is only 1 winner....Thanks again....
  • Ian
    If I remember correctly, one way in which all karate is the same is the concept that "karate begins and ends with courtesy".
  • Danny
    How right you are Ian. Unfortunately, this is the way of Martial Arts these days! My style is better than your style....because of this or that! INSTEAD of always 'comparing' the differences, why don't we discuss the similarities??
  • Danny
    Whoop's, struck a nerve hey? Ian, you're still right.This Martial World has become so 'commercial'. It's all about being better for the $$$. Get over it! Your style is better than mine and I don't give a damn! Does that make you feel better?? This all started over a great article published and got well out of hand. Mmmm, may have to unsubscribe, I just can't compete with the better styles :)
    • Mike
      Unsubscribe? Ah, c'mon, man. Geesh! It's just talk. That's all. We all need to have thicker skin for Christ sakes.Robust discussion is best. Noth'n wrong with a little jostl'n over which style is better.
    • I bow down humbly in the presence of such greasnets.
  • Danny
    O.K. Mike..you got me :) Maybe I was a little over the top. Just got a little defensive I suppose? Na, I'm not going to unsubscribe
  • While many believe that Karate has just one form and style from its native land, this articles breaks down such beliefs and tells us that there is lot more forms and styles practiced in various regions that are unique and distinct. Thanks for sharing this informative post!!
  • Gertjan
    Dear Jesse,Thanks for sharing this great article. After reading this article i can really see that Okinawan Karate has such a different 'mindset' than Japanese Karate does.I've been praticing Shotokan Karate for a long time now and I really appreciate all you're articles.As you might understood from reading my name i come from the Netherlands, in my country Shotokan Karate is the most popular style. My sensei (Jaap Smaal 7th dan) is such an amazing teacher with so much knowledge about Shotokan but also he knows alot about traditional Okinawan Karate , recently we trained the very very old version of the kata Bassai-dai.I also love the way he teaches, him being on of the students of sensei Taiji Kase he really teaches the old school 'shut up and train' way, but also with a great sense of humor,Greetings from the Netherlands , Osu (i apologize if my english wasn't that good xd)
  • Michael
    Excellent!
  • Dod
    A few words on Shotokan.Shotokan always gets singled out as the ineffective style with funny low stances etc. There are good and bad Shotokan clubs, just as there are good and bad clubs of other styles.To me, club or style is good if the bunkai practiced meets the objective, and the objective should be towards effective defense against aggression on the street like the old masters said.Yes Shotokan suffered with bad bunkai being passed down which confused the contexts of close-in street defense and long distance sports-kumite type attacks, and also tried to make everything block-kick-punch thereby missing out 90% of possible applications. BUT Shotokan was not alone in this as I have seen plenty of other styles demonstrating dodgy bunkai. Shotokan was just the most popular style at the time these applications were being propagated ie mid 20th century (both in Japan and elsewhere).There are plenty of Shotokan instructors out there who don’t accept a dodgy application just because masters in their style demonstrated it. Discussion forums like this (and others) are a great place for people to learn the history of the styles and see the common roots and the sometimes forgotten common purpose.
    • ShotoNoob
      RIGHT! | The easy thing to do is look @ a karate style, here Shotokan, and point out something that seems lacking. | The propagators of Shotokan [TMU] were more interesting in promoting the principles of traditional karate training, and the benefits in that, than making ninja / defendu, experts. There was a coincident move toward using traditional karate training to promote social objectives. | No one has to go out an perform all the bunkai exactly as demonstrated. The purpose of the bunkai was to present principles or example-movements that could be employed by various alternatives for actual application. Do some work, it takes some work, to interpret bunkai this way. Put on an interpretation, usage that is practical.
  • Sergio
    I really like your article... I´m studding Goju-Ryu since 1997 with a japanesse sensei(shihan actually) from Yushinkan organitation, in the line of Ganzou Chojun Miyagi and his way to teach is like half japanesse and half Okinawan style, and I can understand everything you said on your article. But I never think could be a good idea to write ´bout all those differences, and people can undertand theme, so congrats for do it, and I hope be in contact.... (I´m from Mexico hehehehe) Congrats!!!!
  • Michael
    Congrats! I was patiently awaiting for a good article- and my patience just deserved a prize.With my best regards, M.R
  • Arjun
    great article, i love your website. in India people is not much aware of your ebsite and your tremendous knowledge in martial arts. but i will try by best to promote this
  • Arigato gozaimasu. I'm very tempted to say, "Oss!" I learned much that I never came across during 5 years of training in Shorei-Kan Goju-Ryu back in the 70's. My sensei's sensei was Japanese, but his sensei was from Okinawa (Seikichi Touguchi). In the US you pretty much have to do whatever keeps you in business. That's unfortunate, but a reality. Our stances were pretty deep, but we were always told our style was a close-in type of fighting, and there was, and still is, a constant effort to be authentic. Ganbatte.
  • Kim
    Jesse, Can you possibly do a primer on the weapons you mentioned in this article? My Sensei teach the first six, but I've never seen the last four. It would be nice to know what they look like and a bit of history. Thanks!
  • css1971
    I'm not sure Karate is really Okinawan, rather than Japanese... People get hung up on style, and on details.Karate seems to be quite a lot Chinese to me.I've been doing some research into Manji-uke as you find it in Bassai/Passai and what I've found is the entire Bassai/Passai sequence was lifted complete, whole as a unit *completely identifiably* from Shaolin (or other style) kung-fu forms. It's quite recognisable in the Shaolin kung-fu form. The sequence therefore is Chinese kung-fu and not Okinawan karate... or is it...The technique encoded in the form/kata is basically identical despite the stylistic differences between Shaolin Kung-Fu and Shotokan and Shorin. Obviously when you use a technique against someone, there is no style, you just make it work. Lets put it this way. If style mattered then in the mess of combat karate and kung-fu could never be made to work. Therefore style cannot matter.The reason we get hung up on styles is we don't understand what our martial art is and start emphasising irrelevant details.
    • Jack
      Great observation. A lot of practitioners don't know that Karate is the Okinawan adaptation of Chinese Kung Fu (southern white. The Ryukyu kingdom had a community of Chinese diplomats at Kume Mura (now called Naha) that shared the Chinese martial arts with the Okinawans, who then adopted and modified the kata and added them to the indigenous Ryukyu Ti. If you can, pick up a copy of the Bubishi (aka the karate "bible") and you'll be amazed by the rich history of Okinawan Karate.
      • Jack
        that should have said "southern white tiger was one of the styles"
        • Will
          Not only that, Chinese fighters used those same training tools to condition themselves. They also have tuishou which means push hands in Chinese(Basically a close range training exercise to teach sensitivity if arms ever meet). Seems mainland Japan is trying to make everyone adopt the idea that they're a unique culture by changing parts of their history.
    • Rob
      Almost everyone I know that comes from Shorin-Ryu understands that our origin is Shaolin Kung Fu. I mean, just look at the names, Shaolin, Shorin. L and R is pretty much an interchangeable sound in Japan. Okinawans definitely know about their rich Chinese influenced heritage. The main difference is that Okinawans incorporate a lot of their original Martial Arts (Ti) as well.
  • Bryan Alstat
    Now I understand why I have a hard time understanding and being understood by Japanese Karate Practitioners. I am an Okinawan Practitioner for over 22 years. We speak different languages, aka styles and philosophies. I watch tournaments and ask myself - how would you use that technique (what are the Bunkai?)? I now understand - we just have different training and understanding.
  • Tom Heenan
    Interesting article! As a student of natural history as well as Karate I do have to argue with one point though... "A growing bamboo does not compete with the bamboo next to it". It's a nice saying but unfortunately not true :-P
  • Next time you come to Okinawa, you should come train with us at Nix Dojo. It's a little American (English) flavor mixed into the Okinawan style training.
  • unimportant shadow
    i think that Yoshitaka (Giko) had changed a lot his father's karate...it revolutioned to a more athletic fighting art,..long zenkutsu dachis e.g. sir...thanx for the article...i can feel the love in it... my branch is taijutsu..but i love all of the martial arts... have a wonderful life...
  • Andy Wheeler
    I believe that once you accept that Japanese styles are the way they are for a reason. E.g Funakoshi was trying to spread an "alien" practice to mainland Japan at a time when Okinawan culture was frowned upon. Certain training practices, techniques were changed to suit the traditions of the audience to ensure that the Karate being taught was accepted. Once you accept that, you can move beyond mere Styles. I practice Shotokan, simply because that was the style that most dojo' taught when I started on my journey. However I am not, nor do I encourage my Students to be a "Stylist". As far as I'm concerned all styles of Karate are "valid". Branches of the same tree. Whilst Japanese styles may have lost something in the translation so to speak, they have also added. I encourage my students to de-construct the "How" as taught, into the "why" by looking at other karate styles to see how the Japanese style has evolved/morphed into what it is, thereby understanding its history and application.As for "Effective" karate, what does that even mean without a context. "effective" at what? fighting? If all you judge Karate is as a means to winning a fight, then I'm afraid you miss the point of studying karate. I often see MMA lauded as ahighly effective art, and quite rightly so, it is effective. However, for example in the case of Lyoto Machida, if he uses a Shotokan technique as he often does in MMA, and it is effective, does that mean MMA is effective or the technique is?
  • John
    Excellent article sir. I would love to do as you did and travel to the Okinawa to train with the masters. I don't think that will ever happen, but I will still keep the dream alive. Hope to see future articles like this as I have Black belts in Wado-ryu and Goju-ryu and would love to see articles posted about the foundations of those 2 styles.Domo Arigato Gozaimasu
  • Henrik Petersson
    Wow.I know you mean to be objective - and you come across as objective, you really do - but I, personally, can't help but think Okinawan karate is superior to Japanese in almost every way after reading this.The stances bit is the main thing for me. After a two-year stint in Shotokan 14 years ago, I had to quit because all those really low forcing-my-knees-out-at-awkward-angles stances had ruined my knees, and I still can't stand in a Kiba-Dachi or Kokutsu-Dachi without pain (I try it sometimes). It would be nice to be able to pick up Karate again and not injure myself.And then there's the weapons. After being permanently ruined from watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid, I suffer from a constant yearning to learn how to wield all those cool weapons. Whoever decided to remove weapons from Shotokan should be given a stern rebuke.Furthermore, it would be nice to learn some proper self-defence. It's not super-important (I'm good at apologizing, so I rarely get into physical fights), but it would be nice.Anyway, keep posting, Jesse. Always fun to read your articles.
  • Daniel
    Hello sir, I really liked this article and I wanted to request your permission to translate it into spanish and post it to a public Facebook Karate page. I will add a link to the original one in your site and attribute the original article to you, of course.
    • Sounds great Daniel-san. Go ahead! :-)
  • jun
    Sorry to tell the truth . It has nothing to do with the style. The most important "aspect" of any martial art is the "person" that is training. An open style american karate practitioner that practices with meaning will learn more about any type of "bushido/kime/whatever you want to call it" then a "traditionalist" that travels to Okinawa to train a couple of days thinking they found the "magic" of "karate". "TERMS" mean nothing, you can call it "rocks,pillow,tv" whatever word you want, you still need to TRAIN HARD to ever experience the felling of the "TERM" you are talking about.TERMS are just the short cut to thinking you know "KARATE". You need to experience the "FEELING" not only saying the "TERM"..get back to training hard. the only way to do "KARATE".
  • Gazz
    One take away from this, totally unrelated to the topic of this article is "there is no holier-than-thou aura around the sensei either." Reminds me why I continue to train at the club I do, where the others previously had this group mentality that the sensei was the one true barer of knowledge.Interesting articles to read through - thanks again Jesse :)
  • RAVI CHANDER
    iam an indian 61 years old practising karate and a 4th dan in grandmasters hayashi ha shitoryu karate in india your article on japanese and okinawa styles is very enlighting for me. it realy opened my eyes to okinawa karate. my wish is to visit okinawa and learn karate as in the olden days before i die. keep on writing good articles about karate. best of luck. ravichander india
  • Hussein
    Jesse Enkamp Very interesting article me big bow for the efforts put in. I really have now a clear picture of Karate History. But why Japanese Karate is more INTL than Okinawan? Thu Okinawa is the real Origin of Karate? Was it bc Japan promoted it and Okinawa did not?
  • Gatis Kalnins
    Hi. Here is video from Okinawa https://www.facebook.com/seisho.tanahara.5/videos/1609511249266214/ with Shinjo Kiyohide Sensei, where is knowing as on of strenghten tradicionalist. How you can see, word "Osu" is used also in her dojo ;)
  • Konrad Schaffner
    Thank you for this brilliant article, helps me a lot on a decision I have to make. Also further increased my curiosity into the style. Regards from South Africa.
  • James Vermaak
    I am active in training and teaching of Karate and Martial Arts for the past 46 years.Osu.
  • Francis
    I know that "how" vs. "why". I've trained in Okinawan-style karate, kendo, and American-style karate (which called itself Okinawan but definitely leaned more towards Japanese in practice). First two were college clubs, last one was a thing I did in high school.The Okinawan-style club was VERY much about the why. They couldn't care less whether your stances/form looked pretty, as long as you could show that you understood the PRINCIPLE. Stances were very high and light, btw, as shown in #1. While they understood why people would do deep stances, they preferred we didn't.In kendo (which is VERY Japanese), my sensei did explain the why (which target to hit), but in terms of lecture/lessons, he focused much more on the how (body mechanics, posture, zanshin).The American-style karate called itself "Okinawan", and claimed to be based on Okinawan styles, but the instructors there would spend about 80% of their focus on teaching HOW, and only going into the WHY sparingly. They also loved deep stances a la Shotokan, and when teaching kata, they would prioritize pretty form, explaining the function later. We also used "Osu" there, but this being an American-style dojo, they pronounced it "uhss".This was a good read.
  • I would say that you almost have #2, but not entirely. This may be because you had numerous years training already, so the how was not as important for them to show you, as you had that pretty much down.My experience is in Goju, My Sensei lived in Okinawa for over 12 years, was an uchi deshi for 3 and even taught at the Honbu Dojo, So he has a pretty good idea of how Okinawan karate is taught.For people without good fundamentals and understanding the "how" and the "why" are equally important. You are shown the how. Then you are exposed to the why. The why helps you to understand the reason for the how you do something. The how you do something, makes the why yoU do it that more evident.I was taught the details you mentioned, foot movement, hip movement, etc. But instead of waiting several years to know why we did it that way, I was shown an application and the difference in performing it improperly and properly and how all those little tweaks made the application so much more effective. I teach this way too.So it was not that one was more important than the other, but rather, how they were the opposite sides of the same coin- or another example of yin / yang.. They are EQUALLY important. I've seen the same approach with senior Okinawans that I've had the pleasure of training with.
  • Paulo Roberto Costa Galvão
    Hello. My name is Paulo, I'm from Rio, Brasil. Got your wonderful article on the Internet. I'm 71 years old, and I have been a shotokan karate ka since I was young. I have always been in love with the history of karate, and the history of Okinawa, one deeply related to the other. Wish I had money enough to live in Okinawa, learn their language and their karate! Your article told me about the Okinawan why and the japanese how. It's true. I have always learnt and taught the how over the why as regards to kata. I teach portuguese language, so I have understood what you said in terms of the difference between "to describe" and "to define". You can describe a human being like walking on two feet in a straight posture, so men are two-legged beings, they have two hands, a torso, a head. That's to describe, but to DEFINE is lots more complex. It's not hard to describe nature, but try TO DEFINE it. To define is to say what something is, whereas to describe is just to say how it is. The WHY regards the definition, not the description. "Men are rational animals" (Aristotle) is a definition, whereas men have two legs, and so forth, is just the description of men. So, Okinawan karate is lots more mental, moral and spiritual than Japanese karate, which is lots material, Nakayama turned Japanese karate into a sport, a competition, but sensei Gichin Funakoshi would never allow karate to become a sport, as long as he lived. To sensei Funakishi, shotokan karate was a way of life. I'm too old already, but even though I'm 71, I wish some day I'll get to live in Okinawa and learn their karate before I die. Thanks for your great article. Paulo
  • Kelly
    It states at the beginning of the article that Okinawa is the birthplace of karate. Wrong! The birthplace is in India, then it made its way to China, then it made its way to Okinawa, then to Japan and then to the Koreas.
    • Nope, the Indian influence was just one of several sources that made up Karate.
    • Sam
      You are talking martial arts, not karate. There is a VERY distinct difference between what is practiced in India and Okinawa.However, if you really want to get picky about it. The roots have been traced back as far as ancient persia and egypt. There are pictograms found that show techniques used by these ancient cultures.So, I wouldn't get too dogmatic about where the actual roots come from.
  • Hi Jesse, Robert Sullivan from GKR Karate back again. I enjoyed your article on Okinawan & Japanese karate. After 52 years of karate & about 12-15 trips to Japan I finally went to Okinawa this August with about 50 of my students. Awesome experience, we did our own training at the Budokan. 3 X 3 hour sessions. Some visited local Cubs, trained & made friendships. Keep up your great work Jesse & don't forget to visit me in Sydney when you come to Australia. I'll take you for an unforgettable tour of our waterways & harbour on my boat.
  • I went over this web site and I believe you have a lot of wonderful information, saved to favorites (:.
  • Paul vandergriff
    Wonderful reading, thank you for this! In the style I was taught we first learned deep strong stances and beautiful 'dramatic' tecliques and 'perfection'. As you advanced, over time, they would get smaller and more natural and you started to flow through techniques and stances. I first learned the 'how' before I learned the 'why'. Thank you Jesse-San Hai!!! (My Sensei only used Hai, we were not allowed to say Osu lol.)
  • Great article Jesse and I like the way you explain the why not the how in everything you do. Appreciated.Enjoying my journey and Goju Ryu.
  • Jose Antonio Blanco Morón
    Fully agreed with your comments. Thanks for sharing. Greetings from Spain. Good luck in your life...
  • abbas hekmatnia
    sear sensei oss warm greeting fars karate association . best wishes for all instructors & all student god bless you shihan abbas hekmatnia 8th dan shotokan karate jka fars karate association
  • Great article. I don't want to be a burden, but I still have some questions about studying karate in Okinawa. I know you are very busy, but if you have the time please contact me. I only have a few questions about their acceptance towards foreigners. email: israelpiedade@gmail.com.
  • Tep
    I am from Cambodia . It was really great article . It was very helpful for me which was a very old karate lover since 1972 . Thank Arigato Jesse Mama-san! [bow] :-
  • Frank
    Hey Jesse Sensei!I have to write you now :) The last 2 days i was studying some of your writings about some terms in uchinaa-guchi, was searching about it in the internet etc.Ok... about the term "kime": My opinion about it was for years the combined meaning as "Ki" (Power, Spirit, Energy...) and "Me" (meaning something like "pointed"). My understanding of it: "Bring all your energy to one point (in time and space)!". The energy of your body, your movement, also the power of your spirit, your concentration. In other words: "all in!". I was thinking abot kime as a princip of transfering a maximum of energy/power to the target. I have trained it so and i have teached it this way. For me, the typical "stopping/arresting"-precission in kihon- or kata-technics was only the "outside visibility" of "kime" - but not the goal itself.Now itlooks like: my ideas about "kime" seems to be much closer to the okinawan idea of chinkuchi, as the interpretations of other karatekas (who seems to focusing on the stopping/arresting part of kime, and not of transferring energy to the target)? Maybe this is a result of my style? I am trained in kyokushin since 25 years. So... fullcontact, focus on real contact, real "ippon", train a lot with pads, makiwaras and all this stuff.Especially the term "Kime": There was no person, who was teaching me the meaning of the word. I was knowing it (from readings), but my understanding was a result of "looking to sensei - doing it like him (copy and past ;) ) - feel, whats going on in my body". Now im wondering: Havent i understand the princip of kime the right (= japanese) way all the years or is the isolated understanding as "stopping/arresting" not the (fully) "right" idea of "kime"?Anyway: After all this years some reading of your texts abot the okinwan koncepts for a "real" traditional karate give me "grippable" words for things, i know a long time - but i was not able to describe it sufficient :)) --> I have to thank you! Keep up your way!

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