3 Widespread Misconceptions of Modern Karate (That You Need to Know Today)!

By Jesse Enkamp

Contrary to what some experts will have you believe, the history of Karate is a real puzzle.

At least when you dive below the surface of it.

I mean, loose threads everywhere, strange names and dates that don’t add up, oral testimony that contradicts written “facts” and political bias are just a few of the numerous elements that make the theoretical history of Karate a true pain in the butt when you want to do some good ol’ Karate Nerd™ hobby research (which, for me, is like every day).

Add that to the fact that many history books simply can’t be trusted, even though they might indeed have been written by somebody with an exotic Asian name who loves fried rice and ping-pong (more on that topic here).

See, anybody can write a book.

Or produce a DVD.

(Or write a blog… heh.)

Luckily, we don’t always have to rely merely on written stuff when it comes to exploring the depths of Karate – we have the physical stuff to play with as well! You know, actual combative techniques, stored in our various styles. Kata. Kumite. Kihon. Bunkai. Grappling. Weapons. Real, hands-on, physical fun stuff that surely must be more reliable than dubious books, scrolls and/or ancient proverbs when it comes to understanding the true side(s) of Karate.

Written, theoretical, knowledge of Karate might sometimes be inaccurate; but surely the physical manifestation of Karate’s ancient principles can’t be argued with, can they?


Unfortunately, they can.

Because, just as there are numerous fallacies in the academical world of Karate (i.e the real birthdate of Matsumura Sokon, the “grandfather of Karate”, anyone?), there are at least as many widespread misconceptions in the practical, applied, world of Karate.

And if you ask me, three of the most common ones are: 1. The withdrawing hand (hiki-te), along with 2. Blocks (uke-waza) and finally 3. Stances (tachi-waza) – which I today plan on briefly outlining for you, dear reader.

See, contrary to what Bruce Lee was known for saying, sometimes a punch is not “just a punch”, so to speak. At least not when we’re talking the wacky martial art of Karate.

Know what I mean?

So, anyways, will you *suddenly* become really awesome at Karate by knowing about these? Yes, probably.

And will your sensei *suddenly* kill you if you should mention these to him/her? Yes, probably.

So, with that being said, and with the utmost discretion, I present to you my 3 Widespread Misconceptions of Modern Karate (That You Need to Know Today).

Let’s go:

#1. The Withdrawing Hand (Hiki-Te)

Assuming you didn’t skip through your high school physics classes, you’ve probably heard about Newton’s Laws of Motion. The third law, perhaps the most famous of the three, tells us that “for every action there is an equal and opposite re-action.” Meaning that for every force there is a reaction force that is equal in size, but opposite in direction.

This is where “hiki-te”, the withdrawing, non-active, hand comes into play.

For every technique you do, you need to pull back the other arm strongly, or else you will be a loser.

Or, at least that’s how conventional Karate wisdom tells us it’s supposed to be...

(Some random dude I found on Google)

Have you ever actually thought about why we Karate people always have one hand resting at the hip? Seems terribly impractical, doesn’t it?

I mean, surely we can’t really defend ourselves from such an open and vulnerable position, can we?

Do you see MMA athletes, arguably the hardest fighters on the planet, keeping one hand neatly tucked away at the hip, waiting for that perfect reverse-punch counter window of opportunity?

Hell to the no.

They keep the “passive” hand by the jaw. Or in front of their chest. Or next to their chin. Or somewhere else where it will smoothly allow you to switch between reliable defense and vicious attack.

But look at a Karate fight.

As you execute a technique, whether it’s “one-step”, “two-step”, “three-step” or “free” sparring, in 9 times out of 10 you will pull one hand to the hip as you block, strike or punch your opponent.


Because that’s how we’ve been taught!

The same goes for kihon (the basics). As we stand in line, waving our arms in the air, repeating endless techniques against imaginary mindless drones, we comfortably keep one hand at the hip for that awesome counter technique we plan on delivering any second now.

If you ask me, somewhere, somehow, people got it terribly wrong.

And it all started from kata.

See, in the original Okinawan kata (which later developed into our modern day kihon and kumite), every movement had a specific reason. If a hand was kept at the hip it was for a specific, highly functional, combative reason. In most cases you were simply grabbing your opponent’s arm, lapel, hair, throat or groin (imagine the bunkai here), pulling it back to your body as you struck him/her with your free hand – maximizing damage (Newton’s Third Law again, remember?) Easy. When this was done solo then, one hand simply pulled back to the hip while the other went forward. But neither hand was inactive, or “resting” on some kind of hip bone. This wasn’t even the norm. In many original Okinawan techniques and kata, both hands were/are often used simultaneously (see more on that topic here) in attacking and defending; what the Japanese nowadays refer to as morote waza (double handed techniques).

Karate was, in one word, highly practical.

Fast forward a couple of decades though, and the norm in Karate is nowadays to always keep one hand at the hip, as we’ve gradually forgot the original intent of most techniques in our never-ending quest for standardizing and simplifying what once was a very applicable and intuitive art of self-defense!

It’s interesting to note that there were still small traces left of the original hiki-te understanding in some 1980’s JKA kumite (watch the KO!):

Cool, huh?

Today though, with new rules and regulations in Karate, the true intent of the withdrawing hand is mostly forgotten (especially in the sporting aspect).

Ask any Okinawan old-school sensei though, and they’ll tell you.

Because they still know.

#2: Blocks (Uke-Waza)

When Bad Breath Tony – your pissed off, jacked up, 300-pound neighborhood Italiano mobster – decides you stole his last slice of pizza yesterday, I bet there’s not much your “impressive” arsenal of various Karate blocks are going to help against his flabby arms.


Well, let me put it like this: have you ever seen anybody use a traditional Karate block in a fight?


Why not?


I’ll tell you why.


  • a) they were never meant for “blocking” (in the fashion we use them today) and…
  • b) …if they were actually used for “blocking” the way we do it today, they would totally suck.
  • c) (True story.)

Traditionally, what we today refer to as “blocks”, were just various movements that were later interpreted and stylized (then labeled and categorized) as “blocks”, because, hey, that’s what they appear to be!

But everything is not always what it seems (as you bunkai aficionados know).

Using your own limbs to crash into your opponents limbs (modern day blocking) is perfectly fine for young studs in a predictable dojo environment, but far from the optimal way of defending ourselves for us sophisticated people. As Sigismund von Radecki (1898-1970) once wrote: “The power of youth lies in the fact that it enjoys encountering resistance of any kind”. Well, coincidentally enough, modern Japanese Karate was mostly developed by a bunch of Japanese youths!

However, as we’ve already discussed, the original techniques of Karate were meant for another purpose.


And I don’t know about you, but where I live, in the cold streets of Sweden (literally; it was just snowing in mid-April!), the chances of perfectly timing a traditional block with an opponents attack, in a real “balls-to-the-wall” scenario, is, well, zero. Which is why you never see blocks being used in kumite. And not in self-defense either. Because never, in the history of civil self-protection, has there ever been a mad opponent dashing forward against you, from a classical dojo distance, in a picture-perfect Karate stance, shifting his weight, fixing his hikite, focusing his step straight towards you, being so committed to his course of action that he’s laying all his cards on the table, clumsily giving up all his evil intentions to you – so you can gracefully block his attack and swiftly counterpunch him in the ribs.

It just doesn’t work that way.

Blocks were originally a lot of things. But not what we use them for today. Ever heard the expression “a block is a lock is a blow is a throw”?

Now you have.

And you’re not alone. For instance, here’s a video of my good friend Angel Lemus (who recently started the One Minute Bunkai™ project) showing a very simple, yet effective, basic Okinawan style bunkai combination of a slap, gedan uke (low “block”) and jodan uke (high “block”) against a rear shoulder grab.

Practical stuff.

Because that’s what “blocks” were always meant to be.


#3: Stances (Tachi-Waza)

Last but not least, we have this “stances” thingy.

Here’s the deal: Modern Karate is stuck in stances.

We treat them like holy artifacts, not to be changed or adjusted, when in fact, they were never something set in stone.

Stances are physical tools to be used, and like with any tool (weapon), the stances have numerous offensive as well as defensive uses. They were not designed for stagnant use, but were (and are) meant to be fluid, ever-changing, depending on your desired outcome at the moment.

Originally, it was just about the distribution of your bodyweight (bend one leg and you instantly get more bodyweight on that leg). For example: In order to maximizing the damage your technique causes by redistributing your bodyweight (mass) in an optimal fashion for maximum power output.


So instead of saying:“put your bodymass into that rear elbow strike” a sensei could just rephrase it like: “bend your back leg and sink into the rear elbow strike”. Voila – we have a so called “cat stance”.

Obviously, the various stances were used for a lot more than offensive strikes and attacks; they were used for dodging, shifting, evading, taking down, locking up and breaking down your opponent too.

It all depended on the context (which today has shifted radically).

Then… came the modernization of Karate – where organizations like the JKF (Japan Karate Federation) suddenly deems having the feet pointing exactly 45° (shiko dachi), 30° (neko-ashi dachi) or 20° (zenkutsu-dachi) in some random direction is more important than understanding the purpose of the stance to begin with!


This breaking down of, and regimentalization of, the footwork of Karate eventually led to the stagnation of said stances within our treasured kata and kihon (you never find any static stances in kumite, do you?), and here we are today.

By the way, here’s a street fight.

How many stances (transitions) can you count?

(Hint: Press the pause button randomly, and suddenly there’s quite many of them!)

Because stances are meant to be transitional.

End of story.



So that was some serious stuff many people surely will disagree with.

(Am I wrong or right? Probably both.)

But as you know, that’s fine. In fact, that’s what I like. Sparking new thoughts, drawing new patterns of thinking, creating discussion, questioning established “truths”… it excites me. Not to cause a ruckus, but to see improvement.

And if you don’t agree, well, at least you got what you paid for.


Because that’s just how we Karate Nerds™ roll.

And with those words I end this humble article on 3 Widespread Misconceptions of Modern Karate (That You Need to Know Today)!

About the author

Jesse Enkamp is The Karate Nerd™, #1 best-selling author, international Karate educator and founder of Seishin - the world's leading Karate lifestyle brand. He thinks you should become a Karate Nerd™ too.


  1. Diego Romero

    April 20, 2012 at 12:14 am

    *grabs popcorn*

  2. Dan

    April 20, 2012 at 1:29 am

    Finally a street fight! Those were pretty hard to find on Youtube, last time I tried. xD

  3. Kyle

    April 20, 2012 at 2:55 am

    There must have been a time when it all made sense..

    Somewhere along the way the process of show/teaching took over and the practicality / pragmatic reasons for the movements was lost in translation… this is of course turing again, well it has been for the last 15 or so years probably longer… So now the practical methodology within the kata and the movements they represent is being explained a little more clearly. There are a few aspects that need to be addressed but thats for another posting.

    I wonder if the books from the early 1900’s had a lot to do with the misrepesentation of the movements. Its hard to tell what a move is from a pose in a book.

    You have a nice way of articulating Mr Jesse…

  4. Diego Romero

    April 20, 2012 at 2:58 am

    the use of the shuto here illustrates the point about uke-waza pretty well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRYljKtBYas

    function over form, principles over specific techniques.

    on a more off-topic note: *glances at the above comment* omg, it’s karate kyle!

  5. Mike

    April 20, 2012 at 3:00 am

    Yes very much so. I am a Shodan in Enshin Karate and its a modern style. Our “blocks” are really more deflects and used with Sabaki to gain a positional advantage. When I read this entry I just thought it was interesting as we as a style are already doing these things.

  6. Rui Paulo Sanguinheira Diogo

    April 20, 2012 at 3:17 am

    JADGAATOBAJ (Just another damn good article about the obvious by awesome Jesse)

    If people want to disagree to the obvious… Well, then it’s some kind of quasi-religious belief which sadly can’t be conquered by facts. Especially if egos and/ or money are involved. So, no need to argue – means: No popcorn needed… 😉

  7. Sean

    April 20, 2012 at 6:33 am

    The 1 Minute Bunkai YpuTube channel is perhaps the most user-friendly tool a karateka could have right now for bunkai application. Not saying Iain Abernathy’s YT videos aren’t, they’re absolutely wonderful. I’m just saying the 1MB gives you good, concise ways to use basic uke waza and certain movements in kata.

  8. Robban

    April 20, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Feels like you hit open doors here, or maybe I just happen to train in a particulary good dojo. I dont recognize this you argue about at all.

    The movements and stances of the kihon is for leaning basic muscle memory, build stronger muscles and be more fit. They are not supposed to be used in a robot fashion kumite. Noone has ever claimed that to me.

    Stances are intermediates you can use in a split second. In kumite nobody cares for you 30 degree foot angle but it keeps you balanced at that moment. When you look at a trained martial artist he/she seldom loose balance when being pushed or yielded. Do the same to a “normal” guy and see the difference. There you have the kihon/kata

    A hard block is a punch. Naturally. Noone has claim else.

    About the withdrawing hand. Hmm. You must not mix up kihon with a fight (se above). Our trainers allways says that with emphacis. Kihon/kata is for fitnes, speed and balance. And muscle memory. In a fight you need to keep your gard up.

    Do you agree with me?

    Shitoryu, Karlstad, Sweden

    • Leo

      April 24, 2012 at 1:49 pm

      I don’t argree with you. And I would claim that control in contact, a good grip and appropriate footwork are congruent with “keeping the guard up” in infight distance -which karate is about.

    • Rui Paulo Sanguinheira Diogo

      April 24, 2012 at 7:48 pm

      Actually, Jesse didn’t give us “new” or “unknown” information about hikite. He just reminds those who know and gives hints for those who don’t: Funakoshi explained hikite as disbalancing and so does Kenei Mabuni – as you are Shito Ryu. Unbalancing by pushing or pulling is probably a key concept and most important in all martial arts! Have you watched the JKA video? It was just sports competition and it came very handy because the rules allowed it.

      As for kihon and kata: As for my opinion kihon doesn’t serve any purpose at all. It’s wasted time that you could use for training kata or its application. Kihon was an invention during the militaristic era to “teach” a whole bunch of people – but in fact it only teaches you bad habits and does not train you useful movements for your procedural memory (I think the term “muscle memory” is misleading.). It’s somehow like burgers and french fries instead of a “real”, healthy meal that needs its time to prepare. Kata is different if you don’t understand it as sequences of single “techniques” and train it correctly. As Jesse wrote: Other martials artists would be in big trouble because they don’t learn and train that way, but in fact karateka often are when it comes down to using their “art”. So there are misconceptions. And they become quite obvious if you put it all in an historical context and compare.

    • css1971

      January 26, 2015 at 5:09 pm


      Kata *is* karate. It is the library of techniques that make up the martial art. It containst throws, locks, choke holds, kicks, elbows, punches, chops, gouges, fishooks. You name it, every dirty trick which ever worked in a fight exists in kata and if you know what you are doing you can find it.

      Kihon *should* be the individual techniques *extracted from the kata* and trained until you can execute them with speed and strength.

      Kumite *should* be testing the use of the techniques against resisting opponents until you can make it work realistically.

      Karate is *all* about the kata.

  9. Gerry

    April 20, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    I happen to be teaching my daughter the fundamentals of Shotokan Karate and we focus on using all “blocks” as strikes and using the pulling hand as a means of grabbing and off-balancing the opponent while striking. Stances are more static at this point since she’s only been learning for a few months, but I’m starting to have her use them in a more transition way.

    • Gerry

      April 20, 2012 at 4:49 pm


    • Rui Paulo Sanguinheira Diogo

      April 24, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      I’d like to point you to Dan Djurdjevic’s blog on the thingie with “using all blocks as strikes”:

      If you compare this with how deflections are done in other martial arts then you’ll see that it’s just a matter of distance. So I think Dan is right with this one. Can they be strikes? Yes, of course. Are they always strikes? No.

  10. Shane

    April 20, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    This is why the Chinese don’t name the techniques, as soon as you put a technique into a category (which us westerners love to do with everything) limitations are put on it unless it is approached with the correct attitude, which us category addicted westerners find hard to grasp therefore stagnating our progress massively. I was glad to see the use of “One minute bunkai” which entered my mind at the beginging of the article.

  11. Szilard

    April 20, 2012 at 5:35 pm

    Just a side note. In 86 when I just started Wado Ryu, senei Gabor Ats taught us hiki-te as the very first hand technique. It seems as if it was mindnumbing hours of practicing three things before we started to learn straight punch:
    1) back to the punching bag, step a bit aside and elbow the bag with the pullback move.
    2) hands in front of you, your opponent in front of you. Opponent grabs the hand and you wrestle it free with the hiki-te motion while stepping back on the same side.
    3) opponent in front of you, he puts his right hand on your left shoulder. You slap your right palm on the outside of the opponents hand, grab it by the edge of palm on the pinky finger side, (if possible before it grips your shoulder), and make the pullback rotation motion to hiki-te (with your opponents hand in your grip)

    Later it turned out it is a good idea to use the other hand too in similar exercises, but this is how it started.

  12. Jonathan

    April 20, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Great Article! With respect, I do believe that the traditional blocks are more functional as blocks than you have given credit for. The issue is that, while we have come to the conclusion that stances are transitional, we do not see blocks as also being transitional. They are only affective at a very close range, the range in which most of Karate makes sense(“melee or trapping”). If you compare the motion (the actions of both hands) to a block in Philipino Hubud drills they are nearly identical except that in hubud no one “sits” in the block. The advantage of the block at the close range is that as soon as the contact is made and the attack parried the blocking hand becomes the Hiki-Te. Again the range is what gives context to the technique, we do not see these block in MMA because they fight at long range and move into the clinch or takedown. For a detailed analysis of the off hand during blocks I would point every one to this article: http://dandjurdjevic.blogspot.com/2008/07/two-for-price-of-one-more-about-karate.html Unfortunately he does not demonstrate the Hiki-Te we are talking about here. If only we could connect the ideas we all have!

  13. Chip Quimby

    April 20, 2012 at 9:17 pm

    Well written, Jesse, and of course, entertaining. 😀

    It makes me think of a camp I attended years ago with Hanchi Tomoyose Ruko sensei, of Uechi-Ryu fame, where he was asked about the actual “name” and “weight ratio” of a certain stance performed in the Uechi-Ryu kata, Seisan. The individual asking the question, not satisfied with Tomoyose sensei’s smile, volunteered a few options to the master…”is it Shiko dachi, zenkutstu dachi,” to which sensei replied, “no, those are Japanese stances.” He apparently was not interested in “labeling” these stances/positions. It left a long-lasting impression on me…and my training.

  14. Robban

    April 21, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    I read somewhere that the very word “block” is a translation error from japanese. Can anyone confirm this?

    In english “block” means to stop, hinder or obstrukt.

    In japanese “uke” means (free from a bad memory) “to reflect”, “redirect” or something like that.

    • Jesse

      April 21, 2012 at 8:25 pm

      Jap. “Ukeru” = “(to) Receive”

  15. Kevin

    April 23, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    I remember reading that originally the okinawans followed the chinese method and taught by teaching the motion and movement in kata. It wasn’t until they started putting it into books and breaking up the movement and then labeling it, did they lose most of what was basic.

  16. Ramon

    April 24, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Jesse the way we practice hikite the modern shotokan way is to pull it back while brushing the sides of the body with both the withdrawing elbows and the striking elbows. the speed of withdrawal of the hikite greatly influences the twist of the hips, and together with pushing the heel of the supporting leg on the floor and the straightening of the rear knee, all done together, is meant to generate a strong decisive blow.

    For purposes of power generation I contend that hikite as done in kihon is the most optimal way of generating power.

    • Rui Paulo Sanguinheira Diogo

      April 24, 2012 at 8:34 pm

      That’s actually an illusion and a myth. You can have the same amount of speed and strength in your tsuki – even without hikite! Probably more! The pullback movement is not involved in the acceleration of the thrusting fist. It might appear so because you learned it that way – and certainly it was easier to learn it in that manner.

      Funakoshi was quite clear in his book “Karate-Do Kyohan” (page 22 – Kodansha International version) what hikite is meant for: “Pulling-in Block (Hikite)[note that hikite is named as a technique on its own] This technique is a variation of the hooking block. In blocking [receiving – makes more sense] the opponent’s attacking fist, grasp the opponent’s fist and attack while pulling him inward. His balance is broken, the effectiveness of his attack is lost and that of the counterattack enhanced. A pulling motion coupled with a twist is much more effective here than a straight pulling motion.”

      Also: I don’t remember where I found a scientific analysis about that specific matter. I will post it if I should find it again, but I can tell you the result: Hikite had *no* effect on the punch (Why should it? There’s no ). What had an effect was the hip rotation and where the hinge or pivot point for the hip rotation was – at hip joint on the opposite side to the punch, not in the body center.

      • Rui Paulo Sanguinheira Diogo

        April 24, 2012 at 8:36 pm

        *There’s no direct connection and the mucles don’t affect the acceleration of the other fist.

  17. Chip Quimby

    April 24, 2012 at 8:28 pm

    “Kihon are useless” -- that’s a pretty strong statement. I think most any professional combatant or elite athlete would argue the contrary. I think they serve a key role in the learning spectrum. But then again, how one practices their kihon is what it really comes down to, IMHO.

    • Rui Paulo Sanguinheira Diogo

      April 24, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      “Kihon is useless” doesn’t mean that “basics are useless”. What is meant: Kihon is a watered down extraction from kata which has lost the context. So kata are way better than doing the common line work. And if you go back in time then you’d notice that there was no line work before 1930 or so. Only kata. And still today you hear saying that kata is the base (kihon) of karate.

      • Chip Quimby

        April 24, 2012 at 8:54 pm

        Thanks for clarifying your point. That makes a lot more sense. But when I think of Kihon, I think of basics; you know, the nuts and bolts of technique; and that goes for whether you’re in a large group, organized in strict, in geometric patters, or in a 130 square foot dojo in Okinawan with three people. I see it as a dimension of training. But I know the Japanese stylists and Okinawan stylist sometimes see things differently. Heck, people in the same style see things differently.

        • Rui Paulo Sanguinheira Diogo

          April 24, 2012 at 9:18 pm

          That’s exactly my point. But I see it this way: The common line work is not about “the nuts and bolts of technique”. It’s something on it’s own. The movements you learn with it are not useful for competition (it differs a lot and that’s actually another “set” of techniques) and not useful for self-defense (what karate once was). What’s the point of walking lines of age-uke or gedan-barai if that’s not the way you use those techniques? “Form follows function” is a principle in architecture and industrial design. It’s also a principle in biology. Not vice-versa. You can’t train technique that doesn’t follow function because the function doesn’t adapt to what you trained and in kihon (including kihon kumite) technique doesn’t have anything in common with the application of the technique. That’s why in my opinion kata and bunkai/ oyo should go hand in hand. Just take shadowboxing in western boxing (though today it’s just a sport) as an example: You train techniques and combinations that you would use that way in sparring – including the footwork! And those movements are more similar to kata movements than those in kihon.

          • Chip Quimby

            April 24, 2012 at 9:31 pm

            Good points! I think we’re a lot closer in our way of thinking than our written explanations have communicated.

  18. Robban

    April 25, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    Ey didn’t realize you were swedish! Keep up the good work!

  19. Diego Romero

    April 25, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    damn, this is good popcorn 😀

    • Jesse

      April 26, 2012 at 6:40 pm

      It is, isn’t it? 😉

  20. Lenny

    April 26, 2012 at 3:08 pm

    “The question is not, why do I pull the hand back, but: What is in it” -- Ed Parker
    “Stances are just frozen transitions” -- Ed Parker

    Could’t find a good quote with regards to the uke-waza, but the first technique of EPAK starts with a inward block used as a strike (and there are many more examples of this).

    So, the problem isn’t within the “modern” karate, or the “classical” karate.
    The problem is simply: What does your teacher know?

    The information has been readily available in book form for centuries and is now also easily available via the web.

  21. Benjamin

    April 27, 2012 at 1:37 am

    What you are saying is not far from the truth, it is well documented in history if you look hard enough. Just look at Martial scholars like Patrick McCarthy and his work … I’m sure you will know who he is if you wrote this article.

  22. Mohammad Khan

    May 1, 2012 at 8:34 am

    I’m going to recommend two other articles on blocks as well:


    I think he’s got a very persuasive argument about how to use blocks in all of his articles about them.

  23. Benjamin

    May 2, 2012 at 4:31 am

    Regardless of whether it’s a block, throw, punch, etc. I don’t think these were originally intended to be used against a ‘trained’ opponent, but rather, in self defense situations. So whether you want to accept a traditional block as a block, or a strike (age uke), or a break from a hold (gedan berai), I think it’s in the eye of the beholder. For me personally, it’s all of the above. What’s more important to me is the principals you can derive from it, whether it’s from ‘original’ karate, traditional karate or modern karate. I’m would hope that everyone, once they reach a certain level, would be able to work out for themselves based on the principals when, what, how and why a technique would be most effective, whether in a real self defense situation, or in a points competition, or a full contact match. My 2 cents worth 😛

  24. Kimon

    May 6, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Dear Jesse-san, hikite has worked well for Machida sensei in MMA. Long punches of karate works well for him!


    Many times when a boxer punches straight gross with power he doesn’t have other hand protecting chin this happens because of body rotation. And hikite does help upper body to rotate.

    Hikite wasn’t invention of Okinawans it was and is used by Chinese, it is one of the place (kamae) for the hand also for the Chinese. Of course you can pull an opponent with hikite but this isn’t easy to execute. So pulling with hikite is a optional matter.

    Your should read Motobu’s interview again in Japanese since it does give different approach. IMHO Motobu sensei crisizes height of the hikite. In Japanese version it is said that fist should be under armpit ??. Motobu sensei had higher hikite than Funakoshi sensei. This is very clear when you compare these to old masters photos.

    With regards

  25. brianb

    May 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Hi Jesse

    Hey another good article.

    Here is my two cents atleast on older karate practice.

    I had the chace to practice with one of hohan soken few american students a handful of times.He taught that when they with drew there arm the elbow up to just about the wrist was pulled back and rested between were yorr ribs begin and your stomach with the arm turned in some what.(this is what soken taught them and told them why)

    This make some sense as it protects that very sensitive area( Mr.Garrett showed how easy it was to get into) Also if you look at alot of boxing it is an area that is hit constantlly.

    So atleast in this instance the hika-ta was alos about provideing protection for a vital area.

  26. Kimon

    May 7, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    There are many places for supporting hand in karate and hikite is just one among many. When we make an attack we are always in the risk of knock down when one vital area is protected another is open. So like Motobu sensei said the best kamae is in the mind.

    Some of the karate styles have changed their way of punching like in western boxing, Machida has made good work in MMA to show that karate type of things works well when you don’t use boxing type of gloves and when even one punch can knock down.

  27. Cricket

    May 19, 2012 at 8:27 am

    The Yahara video even has a potential #4 Throws (even if he did some judo as well). At 1:19, looks like a sumi gaeshi to me.

  28. Robban

    May 23, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Check out the pullback motion of a classic fencing attack. Its kind of an zenkutsu dacci with a pullback.

    • Rui Paulo Sanguinheira Diogo

      May 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm

      There is no “pullback” motion in (classical) fencing. The classical position of the back hand is back and up, with a loose wrist. At least using the foil, because if you are fencing with the (classical italian) sabre then the back arm is on your back – both so much different than in Karate! Even when fencing with both hands (with a parrying dagger or stiletto in your other hand – or with your jacket, cape for parrying and jamming the opponent’s weapon in a self-defense situation) there is no pulling back. There is no need and it wouldn’t make much sense either…

      • Robban

        May 29, 2012 at 6:19 pm

        Not into fencing at all, but from the image linked it looks clear to me that the pullback hand is (like in karate) drawn back to create the spianl rotation that creates the extra forward force with the thrust hand to gain speed.

      • Rui Paulo Sanguinheira Diogo

        May 30, 2012 at 12:29 am

        Reading this again, I think I should have been more precise: When you are fencing, there *can* be a pulling back motion – to trap, disarm and disbalance your opponent – or when fighting with dagger or buckler – to open space for a counter or pull the opponent into the dagger. This would be quite analogous to karate. Also always to close the gap, going from punching distance, over trappingm,to wrestling (called Ringen in the german fencing schools). There is no general pullback. Look here (going more back in time where fencing was more than plain dueling):
        http://de.wikisource.org/wiki/Datei:De_Fechtbuch_Talhoffer_223.jpg (there’s no description but this should be “fencing with the long knife” by Hans Talhöffer)
        http://digital.slub-dresden.de/werkansicht/cache.off?tx_dlf%5Bid%5D=51335&tx_dlf%5Bpage%5D=319&tx_dlf%5Bpointer%5D=0&Seite=&cHash=fa189ff70380f467a3213a3358cede0f (with rapier and buckler – using the weapon hand to deflect the opponent’s motion forward down and sidewards, while countering with the buckler to the face in gyaku-zuki manner; note that it’s not only pulling the weapon hand back!)

        It’s also interesting that if your second hand is not blank, then it’s always doing something meaningful, like blocking/trapping, pushing, pulling, deflecting and the like, and even empty hands are not doing nothing:
        http://digital.slub-dresden.de/werkansicht/cache.off?tx_dlf%5Bid%5D=51335&tx_dlf%5Bpage%5D=321&tx_dlf%5Bpointer%5D=0&Seite=&cHash=ddd9e323e1545e83218db1185911ecbe (entering into an arm bar after blocking the opponent’s action and grabbing – I haven’t read the text but there might have been a overhead pull while entering)

        I see quite some analogies to karate in this and it’s more like Jesse described it. I think someone can learn a lot about karate with this old european fencing and wrestling books. There are quite a lot of movements which “feel familiar”.

        • Ørjan

          June 15, 2012 at 11:05 am

          Funakoshi in his Karte Do Kyohan actually describe the usage of Hikite as a seperate technique all on its own. This paragraph must somehow be overlooked by 95% of the Shotokan comunity and Shotokan deriatives (early Taekwondo came largely from Shotokan). He describes (paraphrasing) that you grab the opponents limb and twist and pull it and how this twisting and pulling action makes your attack more effective while diminishing the opponents ability to defend. When reading the description of the different Kata you will see small comments from Funakoshi like “always envision that you are pulling the opponent using Hikite” etc. I am just paraphrasing as I do not have the book in front of me now but anyone who has it can easily look it up. There is nothing in it that says it makes more power because of spinal rotation etc.

          • rdiogo

            June 20, 2012 at 7:27 pm

            I quoted Funakoshi on this somewhere above. It’s on page 22 of his book. So, it’s true what you wrote.

  29. Tony

    June 5, 2012 at 6:08 am

    Hey Jesse,
    Chalk another one up for another great post! I love and really thought about the point you made with one steps being done and tucking one hand next to your hip. That is truly the dumbest technique there is. I always had problems at first keeping my hands up by my head when sparring and I am sure this had something to do with it. This part of the techniques should be outlawed. Fantastic insight.

    • Diego Romero

      June 5, 2012 at 6:14 am

      discussions about combat applicability aside, hikite still has a pretty important use regarding shoulder health. i nearly ruined my shoulders early on by obsessing over tsuki and doing pushups while neglecting my hikite in all techniques, resulting in pretty badly tightened anterior deltoids, although i caught it on time and have mostly fixed the issue. if you’re going to abandon hikite, take time to strengthen (or at least regularly activate) your rhomboids and posterior deltoids, as well as doing full ROM shoulder work, or your shoulder girdle is not going to be a happy bunny 10 or 15 years down the line

    • css1971

      January 26, 2015 at 4:09 pm

      Oh man. Karate is soooo badly taught.

      Hikite is a “pulling hand”. Nothing to do with “chambering”. You should have the opponent’s arm in your grip. Whether it’s at your waist or higher is mostly irrelevant.
      Point is you have the opponent’s arm, you’re pulling it, pulling him off balance and preventing him from blocking your own strike which should typically be coming from the same side as the hikite specifically so that he can’t get his free hand in the way.

  30. Mario Bonetta

    April 16, 2013 at 3:59 am

    Well, Funakoshi once said: ‘Karate will evolve and that is a good thing’. I have the fortune and misfortune to train with Egami and Murakami, so I guess I got it from pretty close to the source…just a few quick points: We assume that hikite is to the side of our hip: well is not necessarily like so. Older stile keeps it close to the chest but slightly outwordly (in my experience a better positioning) which serves you better when coiling up for a following nagahsi tzuki.

    Hikite is suicidal if you are holding the central line (like old fashion shotokaners) as is chudan kamae. is also suicidal if you are fighting an MMA expert IN THE OCTAGON.

    If you use it with irimi and tai sabaki is good for following up.

    I would never use it in competition but it works in the street given that you are avoiding to confront the central line of your opponent.

    A fight in the octagon and a fight in a pub follow different dynamics, your average thug wont square up in a boxing guard (most of the time).

    Referring to the bunkai video, hoping to grab a hand while spinning 180 degrees to get a hold of the guy that grab you is pure fantasy.

    well take all of the above with my deepest respect for the traditions of the different style that remain an awesome cultural treasure.

    I’m a rokudan, practiced for about 35 years and trained police officers, army personnel and coach amateur MMA fighters and boxeurs. I recently had to found a ‘non style’ of karate in order to allow what I learned to evolve without nonsensical red tape from various useless associations and similar institutions..

    My concern with some of the blog is that people tend to take a very conceptual and intellectual approach to Karate but I also like the opportunity to express anyone opinion. My approach tend to be more existential. That is why in my experience, the most important part of Karate Do is the ‘Do’ one.

  31. kyokushin Karate

    November 6, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    “Stances are meant to be transitional”.

    THANK YOU!!!!!

    Glad I’m not the only one who talks about this!

  32. Malcolm

    December 10, 2013 at 2:48 am

    Back in the 70s when I was an Amateur Boxer (over 75 fights) would be match agaijnst so called karate or Kung Fu masters. They were so easy to beat. I love and watch M.M.A. fights today and I don’t think a good Boxer has a change in the ring with one today, but back in the days when the movie Kung Fu was around most so call karate masters couldn’t beat a good street Fighter or a fair Boxer. Just my 2 cents.

  33. Hannah

    January 19, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    I worry about karateka not knowing all this, which included myself until recently. However, I think taekwondo exponents are even more cause for concern(with TKD deriving directly from shotokan and sharing all these techniques with it) due to the competition rules they are ‘brought up’ with. Not saying its the case for all of them- but, in my experience, no tae kwon do schools have taught students any applications apart from blocking kicks and punches as is talked about here and are not taught grappling or throws.That’s dangerous as it breeds perilous habits that could cost a life…not wishing to be offensive to taekwondo people and not saying its always the case, but I guess it’s why people are often opposed to competition.

  34. Don

    July 26, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Good article. Thanks for helping defuse the UFC inspired ignorance of the martial arts.

  35. Fred

    September 27, 2014 at 1:56 pm

    Traditional karate blocks are useless in a real fight? Well I don’t your really right. I mean, you explainedthe part well with them being actually an attack. However that’s where your wrong because the first movement you do in a karate block is actually a block and is very similar to something MMA and boxing fighters call the parry. When MMA or boxer do this they a small movement of just slightly redirecting a pinch coming towards them. The first movement of the 4 main karate blocks one arm is either stretched or with rising block put. up to just redirect the power in a different direction rathwe then smash. However the next movement technically isn’t necessary is you want to be quick and that is literally smashing the attackers punch or whatever attack they did with forearm. This is the attack and what makes people think that the karate block is primarily an attack but it’s not actually a counter, which is the combination of an block, parry or slip and the attacking back. Essentially the part of you twisting your forearm as an attack is not necessary and you could easily redirect the power with a small pushing movement of your palm.

    • Fred

      September 27, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      I may have forgotten a few words in there by the ways and I am sorry if it may by a bit hard to understand at times and by the way this is just my opinion

      • Fred

        September 30, 2014 at 1:22 am

        This time I have a question about karate instead of a opinion. Now at my karate club we do shotokhan karate and I am currently Orange and the other day I was told about the first arm movement in blocks actually being a block and the movement of the other arm being an attack. However I asked about it when I was being trained individually and I was told that the second arm movement was the actually the block and the first arm movement was there to prepare that block. He also said that, that was what higher grades do. My question is why as the first simple arm movement as I example in my previous comment seemed more like a block then the next arm movement which is initially an attack.

        • css1971

          January 26, 2015 at 2:47 pm

          The first movement is the block/trap. The second movement is the response against the opponent.

          Properly executed, an uke can end the fight there and then.

          If you think about the timing, karate uke take far too long to complete to stop a punch if the main movement is the block. You would have to throw away 90% of the movement to use it.

          The problem today is that karate is *very* badly taught by people who really don’t know what they are teaching.

          Sorry to any black belts out there but most of them are useless.

          Uke also have a use in grappling with the opponent. Taking uchi-uke as an example, if a right uchi-uke is used against a right handed grab to your left arm or body, it will break his grip and twist the opponent away from you and expose his side/back. Which is where the gyaku-tzuki would hit, somewere around the ribs. This is actually the original use of uchi-uke as seen in the kata heian nidan (pinan shodan).

    • css1971

      January 26, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      The uke 2nd movement, the response is usually against the attackers throat in the case of uchi-uke, shuto-uke and soto-uke. Not his arm.

      Your distance is too long…

  36. Rach

    October 17, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    Thanks for this. I came across this when I was looking for articles on blocking vs receiving after a kumite class I attend at a network dojo.

    I read this and then also response from my sensei….he actually also sent me this link so I read it again….yes twice in 24 hrs with some of his ideas in mind.

    I still have many questions but I think that is the point. The learning aspect of karate is never ending. That is a major drawcard for me.

    • Fred

      October 17, 2014 at 7:24 pm

      You know he won’t reply to comment

      • Rach

        October 18, 2014 at 12:57 am

        I don’t need a reply on this as I was just commenting. I have had replies on other comments on other posts by Jesse and others.

        • Fred

          October 18, 2014 at 11:27 am

          That’s great

  37. css1971

    January 26, 2015 at 2:34 pm

    Hikite should always have some part of the opponent in your grasp… oart of his clothing maybe but most commonly his arm.

    Uke are built into kata yes but they’ve been taken out and used independently as virtually all parts of kata can. They’re generally useful against very very common attacks. The problem is they are commonly taught today almost the reverse of how they were originally used.

    The main movement of the uke taught as the block, is usually the strike response against the opponent. hikite is used to pull and trap the opponent’s attacking arm, imobilising the opponent and making it easier to hit them. Your strike should proceed against the opponent *from the side of the trapped arm*. This makes it extremely difficult for the opponent to flinch, duck, weave or stop, parry or block your response… Which is typically aimed at their throat in the case of most of the common uke; soto, uchi and shuto.

    Then of course there are the trapping/locking applications.

    Stances. Yes absolutely, they are dynamic. How do you teach movement though? You can just show someone, and call it a stance.

    What we know today as “styles” of karate are nothing more than styles of teaching. They themselves are not karate. They are ways of teaching how to punch, how to move, how to throw. Once you are able to do that you have moved beyond “style”.

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