29 Things About Karate You Ought To Know

By Jesse | 24 Comments

Internet is great and all, but sometimes I’m thinking that there’s one huge drawback.

Everything is recorded…

Forever.

So, this means that what I wrote two years ago can be read by somebody today. And naturally, what I wrote two years back wasn’t what I would write today. Sometimes it’s even the opposite!

I’ve evolved, just like you and everyone else.

But a new reader doesn’t think about that.

And that’s why I’m always trying to write more “timeless” stuff. With timeless, I mean an article that is thought-provoking, interesting, informative, a little bit disturbing and a bit funny.

It’s universal.

And if you read it in two years, it will (hopefully) still be as true at it is today.

So, with that being said, today I decided to put together some general thoughts, or guidelines, of Karate that will probably never be old. A timeless list of statements and facts (?) that hopefully just reinforces what any half-decent Karateka already knows.

Written yesterday on a plane from Amsterdam.

With my lap full of tomato juice.

Here goes.

29 Things About Karate You Ought To Know

1. No matter what they tell you, Karate is easy. The hard part is being good at it.

2. Two techniques remembered is worth more than twenty techniques forgotten.

3. Don’t look; try to see. Don’t hear; try to listen. Don’t do; be.

4. Karate attracts all kinds of strange and unusual people. Accept this.

5. A black belt is not the end. It is the very beginning.

6. Comparing two equally technical fighters, my money is on the stronger one.

7. Comparing two equally strong opponents, my money is on the more technical one.

8. Kata is stone dead. It is your job to make it live. Not many people succeed.

9. A black belt tells as much about your skills in Karate as a Rolex tells about your skills in reading the time.

10. A gi is great. No gi is even greater.

11. Understand the straight punch and you’ve come a long way to understanding Karate.

12. Sometimes it’s more important to be kind than to be right. People train Karate because it makes them feel good. Don’t ruin that.

13. We all need a brutal awakening now and then.

14. Observe, analyze, and think.

15. Don’t think, just do.

16. A week has 168 hours. If three or five of those hours go to Karate, don’t waste them on not doing your absolute best.

17. Anybody can find a fault. Few can find the reason to a fault, and how to improve a fault.

18. The purpose of Karate is to flip out and kill people. (Just wanted to see if you’re still awake!)

19. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

20. Actually, sometimes it’s not how you do it, it’s what you do.

21. Finding similarities is twice as hard as finding differences. It also gives you twice as much.

22. Karate is one of a few activities where young and old people interact. Use this opportunity.

23. The more you dislike competing, the more it will give you.

24. Karate makes us see sides of ourselves that we either neglect or intentionally hide. The sooner you start working on these, the better.

25. Karate can make you lose weight, become stronger, healthier, happier and feel better. But so can jogging, ice hockey, baseball, soccer, golf, basketball and swimming.

26. A good sensei teaches you what you need. Not what you want.

27. Trying harder and trying smarter are two sides of the same coin.

28. The paradox of Karate is that you’re using it when you’re not. And that is also the goal.

29. Do what your sensei says, not what your sensei does. Everyone is human.

About the author

is a self-titled Karate Nerd™, best-selling martial arts writer, unreasonably handsome elite athlete, autodidact, karatepreneur and carrot cake aficionado. He really thinks you should become a Karate Nerd™ too.

24 Comments

  1. Batman

    June 27, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Excellent list, plenty of good stuff to ponder on.

  2. gary

    June 28, 2010 at 12:06 am

    Brilliant, Jesse.

  3. Diego Romero

    June 28, 2010 at 4:26 am

    awesome!

  4. Alan

    June 28, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    I don’t get number 23? any comments?

    • Jesse

      June 29, 2010 at 12:34 pm

      Well, my idea went something like this: The reason that many people might dislike competing is in fact because they fear it. Fear is related to the specific behaviors of escape and avoidance, which makes it easy to cover up the fear by saying “I dislike/hate competing”. It is a basic survival mechanism. We do this all the time.

      So, what is there to be afraid of then? Well, competing includes such common fear factors such as the fear of failure, and the fear of public performance.

      Fear is not a rational response to whatever challenges stare at us in life. Just like panicking -- which also is natural, but not rational. And it is all in our mind, within us. Fear imposes limits on our minds, removing our clarity and leaving negative thought patterns (including words like “dislike” and “hate” in our example).

      So how do we fight this disguised fear? The best method to fight any fear is to take positive action against whatever it is that you are afraid of. Like competing.

      Who doesn’t dislike public speaking? A politician.
      Who doesn’t dislike spiders? A zoo owner.

      It’s the same principle.

      This is one interpretation.

      • Leo

        July 7, 2010 at 5:14 pm

        Your comment got me thinking. I am not very enthusiastic about competition (practicing Shôtôkan, can you believe it?), in my view it doesn’t fit into the concept of a Karate that is understood as a “Dô-art”, so to speak. By that I mean that competition is replacing the ideal of getting better (than yourself), with the ideal of getting better than others. I see a vast difference in those two. In short I think that competition chiefly feeds self-importance; I am against that and I don’t argree that it is compatible with Karate. However, I can’t deny you have a good point for competition. Fear. I would be a filthy liar, if I wouldn’t admit that it is also fear that keeps me from attending competition. Competition may be a good way to learn to handle this fear, but ..#25.

        Just my two eurocents.

        And by the way, your articles are worth my time in gold (I won’t pay you). Informative and entertaining. Thanks, I’m having a good read here.

        • Tibz

          July 7, 2010 at 5:42 pm

          Have you actually competed? I thought like you before but had the opportunity to compete a couple times.
          The fear wasn’t so much of a factor to me, but I could see during these events very talented people, and that made me want to work even harder to be on-par with them.
          It’s true it comes from “the ideal of getting better than others”, but are both ideals really mutually exclusive? I think if you want to improve, you have to want to be better than something or someone that is better than you -- your sensei, other people, etc.
          That doesn’t mean you have to be crazy about beating your sensei, just that you have to try your best to reach their skills. Like climbing a mountain is certainly more beneficial than climbing a hill.

          • Leo

            July 8, 2010 at 2:19 am

            My competition experience was made in an early age; propably I’m biased because of this. I understand your point of view, but I don’t share it.

            My main point for dismissing competition is: I see Karate as a way of self-improvement on a most personal level (and that’s not rechanting JKA-ideals, while filling the aspect of ethical education with void). And I see the “get better by competition”-paradigm as a false conclusion -applied on improvement of personality. It is just so deep buried in western ideology, that we don’t even notice; Nietzsche brought it on point: “What doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” If one should mix western traditions with Karate, if it is a possible thing to do or an impossible thing not to do, I don’t want to discuss here. What I want to discuss is: does it reflect the origin? This question is important, because it helps to understand the circumstances, under which Karate developed. I want to compare it to Japanese archery (based on Eugen Herrigel’s record of “Zen in der Kunst des Bogenschießens” [Zen in the Art of Archery]): at the beginning the student doesn’t even get to shoot a single arrow, it is just about drawing the bow. Then it is about shooting at a target only few metres away. This is not to frustrate the student on the Japanese way, but to make him only (be able to) think about one task -and that with full concentration and commitment. The desire to hit the target is counterproductive in this way of practicing, because it is a way to distract from current happening to a world of illusion (in the sense of “I want to hit the target” instead of just doing it). In a similar way I see Karate competition. I would maybe fix my counsciousness on something that’s around me, but not myself. Propably the hope of getting a medal or the fear of emberassing myself by a loss. I want to practice “moved meditation”, and that’s what defines the Dô of Karate-Dô in opposite to “Jutsu”, in my book. I don’t say, this wouldn’t be possible in competition, but I think it is as likely as singing a perfect octave in a hurricane. You get my point?

            If you choose competition as your way of Karate, I want to be the last one condemning this. Still I can’t appreciate competition for what it is.

          • Jesse

            July 8, 2010 at 11:56 am

            I’d rather lose a match, knowing I did my very best, than to win a match, knowing I didn’t perform at my best. This is why I personally compete.
            Many of my most memorable tournament experiences are losses, because I felt that I had done my very best, and if that wasn’t enough to win -- it didn’t matter. It still doesn’t.

            But I guess it’s another story when you’re a professional, and your paycheck depends on your medal… :/

  5. Drew

    June 28, 2010 at 5:30 pm

    Great list Jesse!

  6. frank

    June 29, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Fantastic. How simple, yet deep!

  7. gary

    June 29, 2010 at 3:44 pm

    My thoughts of #23 are similar. I’m always nervous but with each tournament that I compete, I always leave with at least some satisfaction. Even if its something as simple as one judge telling me that he liked my kata. There’s always going to be the fear of failure to some extreme. For example, there will always be somebody at the tournament who will see you compete for the first time……if that makes sense.

  8. crix

    July 2, 2010 at 9:10 am

    Very sharp, and useful too. Maybe rules #14 and #15 could be merged in one?
    “Observe, analyze, and do without thinking.”

    • Jesse

      July 3, 2010 at 1:16 am

      A good idea indeed, but there is a reason to why they are separate :)

  9. Jon

    July 20, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    Love it. “Karate attracts all kinds of strange and unusual people. Accept this.” This applies to just about every hobby/sport, which is why when people take up a hobby to “meet new people” they are often disappointed. Better to take up a hobby to become a better person and then see what follows.

  10. Jack Brown

    August 23, 2010 at 2:24 am

    Great post. Not sure I agree with everything. But it was very well thought out.

  11. Boss

    October 10, 2010 at 9:22 am

    I sometimes write some quotes in the dojo; would you mind if i take some of thoses and put it on the board?
    Respect from Quebec, Canada…

    • Jesse

      October 10, 2010 at 11:29 am

      Not at all, go ahead!

  12. Heath Willington

    June 25, 2011 at 11:47 am

    I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I don’t know who you are but certainly you are going to a famous blogger if you are not already ;) Cheers!

  13. warrioress

    August 23, 2011 at 3:21 am

    Amazing article. Loved it.

  14. William

    March 23, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Hi Jesse, as a new Karateka I can see I have a lot to learn on my journey still. I like the list you have put together, if I could add another ” To be a warrior only one thing is required, you give it your all” Great site.

  15. Thrush

    September 15, 2012 at 1:10 am

    I loved #23: The more you dislike competing, the more it will give you. I really dislike competing, to the point of avoiding it if possible. My sensei knows that and he tries to help me, but he’s not going to force me to compete. I’m just scared of it. But the few times I tries, I almost always learned something new. Next time a competition arises, I’ll try to remember your words and sign in.

    • sady pindua

      February 2, 2014 at 2:46 am

      jesse if possible would like u to put karate techniques in drawings online in order to help others learn practically from u.

  16. Florian Pean

    January 23, 2014 at 7:41 am

    re 23 One of my sensei once said to me “training in Karate and not competing is like soccer training and never playing a match”
    You learn so much from competing which makes all your karate improve.
    Competing also gives you a goal to work towards, as you have a specific date to be ready by, this pushes you to train more so you can be at your best by that date. So even if you don’t perform on the day, you’ve already won.

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