Shotokan Karate: The 4 Strengths of the World’s Most Popular Style

Some Shotokan Karate dude once told me I was a “style-basher”.

You know, one of those ignoramuses who goes around loudly declaring how all other styles of Karate suck (except his/her own style, of course).

I was appalled.

“Me? A style-basher?! Omigosh!”, I thought. Sure, I had indeed remarked that I found it hard to extract natural and practical self-defense techniques from the traditional style of Shotokan, but… a style-basher? Me? No way!

See, I have always used these weird analogies, similes and metaphors for better understanding Karate. You might have come across them in some of my previous posts. Anyway, for the sake of this post, I’d like to reintroduce one such analogy right now, very quickly.

Imagine an apple tree.

The tree of Karate.

The roots are, obviously, found in China, Taiwan, Siam and other Southeast Asian areas from where indigenous combative techniques were brought to this tiny island called Okinawa (in the Ryukyuan archipelago) during hundreds of year, eventually culminating in a very unique coctail of fighting arts later to be distilled (through a Japanese filter) into what we today call Karate.

So, the base of the tree is Okinawa then, because that’s where the roots converge.

From here on, the tree grows like crazy. Sure, the base of the trunk gets a bit wider too, but most of the growth lies in its height (get it?).

Eventually, as the tree matures, branches even start appearing. Some are thick, some are thin (get it?). Some are situated lower down on the tree, some are higher (again, get it?). There’s more to be said about this, but let’s stop here. Just keep this image of an apple tree in your head and I’m satisfied, mmkay?

Now, as a Karate Nerd™, you only have one real responsibility when it comes to this tree.

You need to take care of it.

Examine it. Nurture it. Sometimes repair it. Make it grow. Protect it. Water it. Remove bugs. Trim it. And such.

The goal?

Just as with any regular ol’ apple tree, of course.

Make those juicy apples appear!

Get it?

So, for me to neglect perhaps the most prominent branch (Shotokan) of this Karate tree is just ridiculous (remember, on every big branch there are smaller branches growing). If you have an apple tree, you simply can’t afford to ignore one of the most fruitful branches of the tree, can you?

Certainly not.

So, here’s what I want to do today: I want to briefly outline what I personally believe are some of the main advantages (pros) when it comes to Shotokan Karate. The impopular negative aspects of the style (i.e. lack of pragmatic self-defense, stressful for joints and lower back, bad bunkai etc.) will be left to you style-bashers for today. Because, although every branch on a tree has some flaws (damn termites!), the branch exists for a reason… or else it would have been cut away.

So, with those words being said, here’s what I believe are the four universal strengths of Shotokan Karate:

#1. It’s global. Like, scary “World Domination”-type global

Visit basically any country in the world, no matter how tiny or weird, and the chances are of epic proportions that you will find a local Shotokan dojo around the corner. The style of Shotokan is most likely the ultimate style for a backpacker, hippie or secret agent (and other people who travel a lot) since you can practise it almost anywhere on the planet.

And the greatest part of it all? It looks very much alike. Everywhere.

Meaning, there isn’t too much discrepancy between Shotokan schools in general (details there are plenty of, though!). Japanese terms, stances, basic techniques, basic kata and sparring is pretty easy to tag along with everywhere. And all of this thanks to a bunch of Japanese youngsters who were sent like missionaries around the world during the last decades to spread the word of Shotokan!

A Shotokan style reverse punch is a Shotokan style reverse punch no matter where in the world you go.

And that’s awesome.

#2: “Biiiig movement make stroooong samurai!” [imagine a Japanese voice]

It can’t be denied that the movements of Shotokan are exaggerated.

Deep stances? Make that extra deep, with some deep-sauce on top! High kicks? Make that super high, with some… [I sense a drug related joke in there somewhere, but there might be children reading]. You get the point. Long punches, big steps, deep stances, high kicks and loud yells is what Shotokan is all about.

If you want to become good at Shotokan, you can never, never, cheat.

Ever.

Which is exactly why people who have done any of the other three most popular Japanese styles (Goju-ryu, Wado-ryu or Shito-ryu) have a really hard time adapting to Shotokan because they are so used to small and narrow movements!

On the flip side, a Shotokan stylist will have an easier time adapting to other styles, as it is just a matter of shrinking the techniques a bit (well, it’s about much more than that actually, but you gotta start somewhere). Easy peasy, compared to expanding everything.

So what’s so good about big techniques? Well, you get more actual training for the same bucks, and it looks way nicer in tournaments and demos. Especially if you’re a big guy.

[Note: I once tried performing a whole Shotokan kata, I think it was Gojushiho Dai. My left thigh still hasn’t fully recovered, and I still don’t know why people didn’t warn me!]

#3: The Wonderful “Shut-Up-And-Train”-Mentality

Historically, Shotokan Karate has been taught to Westerners by Japanese masters who were sent here to destroy us teach us. Sure, the same can be said of a few other styles too (Shito-ryu springs to mind), but not to the same extent. With most other styles of Karate, Westerners went themselves to Japan instead, learnt some basic Karate and then came back to teach their fellow citizens.

This has huge implications.

See… a Japanese dude will teach the Japanese way. A Westerner will not.

Meaning, Shotokan often has an unequalled dojo culture, rarely matched by any other Karate style, when it comes to two things:

  1. Shutting up.
  2. And training.

Which is a beautiful thing.

I mean, that’s why you go to the dojo in the first place, right? To simply 1) shut up, and 2) train for a while! Thus, when it comes to discipline and dojo etiquette, correct training mentality and a never-give-up attitude, Shotokan is the way to go.

Sometimes it can get a bit militaristic though, depending entirely on the sensei.

Obviously, not everyone are into that.

But if you are, more power to you.

#4: Historical Gems & Curious Facts

So yeah, Shotokan is mainstream. No doubt about it.

But even though something is mainstream, there’s always bound to be strange stuff going on behind the curtains. And believe me when I say that Shotokan has tons of interesting learnings and strange historical gems going on!

Ever seen the Shotokan kata Wankan, or Sochin? Why are they so different from all other styles’ Wankan or Sochin? And what’s up with those bunny hops at the end of Chinte? And is it true that the names of Gojushiho Sho and Dai were switched in order to not embarrass a famous sensei who mixed them up at a tournament? And what about Kobudo? Did Funakoshi Gichin really know the bo kata Tenryu no Kon? What about sai? There’s plenty of pictures where he’s holding them! And let’s not forget the old chi-ishi training tool, almost only seen in Goju-ryu today!

See?

Shotokan Karate has an abundance of fun and interesting historical/technical gems that are just waiting for people to explore!

(Of course, you would have to be a bit of a nerd to appreciate this point…)

_________________

And that, ladies and germs, concludes my brief breakdown of the four main strengths of Shotokan Karate.

Agree or disagree?

At the end of the day, Shotokan’s dynamic, no-nonsense, straightforward Karate-do style sends a clear message to all the other styles out there: Even though it might not be the perfect style for all occasions (every branch of the tree has its weak and strong points), a lot of people can benefit from tapping into the knowledge of its four main strengths presented above.

Also, I’m not a style-basher.

End of story.

95 Comments

  • Luis
    I agree with what you say, that a shotokan can adapt easily to any other style, more than any other style can adapt to shotokan. I once made a trade with a shito ryu friend, he taught me seienchin and I taught him sochin, I didn't have half the issues with the positions he had with sochin dachi, being the ankles what hurt him most, even thou he said he liked that kata. I really like shotokan, and it's wonderfull to look it from the perspective of a "style foreigner" who happens to be a Karate Nerd (TM) and can see the forest for the trees.
    • Barry Archer
      We can only ever generalise but I can't agree about Shotokan being able to adapt easier than other styles, quite the reverse....Once you have a strong history of Shotokan you find it difficult almost impossinle to undo it.....even my Shotokan friends admit this. With over 50 years of Martial arts, 45 karate I have seen this time and time again.....Shotokan is arguably the one style that does not adapt very well.....Don't get me wrong its a wondeful style and I have nothing but respect for it, but can they adapt? then generaly speaking NO
  • Everest
    Haha jesse that's the most lukewarm article I think I have seen you write! They do good business and other styles struggle to copy them.lol You ailment list was just as long as the pros!
  • Phil
    Hey Jesse... liked that article. Anyway, me doubt the practibility of shotokan too though I'm already just a beginner. Anyway, sometimes you gotta stick with things especially like when there are'n any other-style dojos around. That happens to be the case to me but I'm pretty optimistic that you can squeeze out a good share of self defense even out of shotokan if you just commit to it and do your best
    • Ken
      Always remember though the long stances and such are for training, kumite is much shorter. I will be up front I am a shotokan karateka lol. If you look at the niju kun it actually says that is pretty much that same way, long low stance for begainers, short high stance for expert lol. Just thought I'd add my two cents.
      • Cinzia
        I was about to quote that precept too. XD
  • Joshua
    "SHOTOKAN IS THE ONE TRUE STYLE."- Kaitlyn H.
    • Kait
      You're hilarious.
    • PNG Warrior
      According to the great Funakoshi, styles are irrelevant. In his book, Karate-d?: My Way of Live, he explicitly states that the diverging into different schools i.e., Shotokan, Kyokushin, Goju-ryu, Shorin-ryu etc. is a problem that besets modern Karate-d?. He strongly objected to such classifications and believed Karate as one.
      • Dean
        I think he is wrong. Granted, the effectiveness of a style is only as good as the practitioner him- or herself, but the style of karate one has been practicing can make a major difference in basically every way.
        • Warren
          He was not wrong. He passed away in the late 1950's before Nakayama and his son drastically changed his form of Shotokan. In Okinawa it is more commonly called Te because the style differences were more similar and their was more sharing among the teachers. Funakoshi and Mabuni had the same teachers. So his statement at his time would have been quite accurate. Today, debateable.
  • Boban Alempijevic
    OSSU!
  • diego romero
    shoto's cool, but you need to know where to look to find the good stuff. often, this will not be the shotokan dojo, which is where you learn and train the shotokan. outside of the dojo though, go nuts and you'll find a plethora of interesting gems in the kihon and some of the kata.
  • John
    The picture of Funakoshi seated with weaponry is particularly interesting. What happened to kobujutsu in Shotokan anyway? It's largely absent from most curricula today...so much so that I have had to seek out another dojo that teaches a different style entirely to get instruction. Was kobujutsu forgotten, suppressed, or simply neglected in favour of other aspects?Regards.
    • Not only Shotokan, but early Shito-ryu had a plethora of Kobujutsu/Kobudo, mainly thanks to Taira Shinken. As to why it fell out of use, you'll have to check out one of my old Kobudo articles. The answer is there somewhere :)
      • Daniel
        By the way... Any info about this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIDJ9bBQnfQ&feature=relatedPresented as a bo kata invented by Yoshitaka Funakoshi. I've never heard of it before.
      • Ken
        Howdy, As for the weapons I had read some where that basically Nakayama "hid" the weapons from the Allies saying that karate was just a sport like boxing, and had no weapons, I could be wrong and would not be surprised if I was.
        • talprofs
          Have only just come across this article -- three years down the line:-) Interesting comment by @ken regarding whether Nakayama (one of Funakoshi's principal students and the first chief instructor of the JKA in 1949 (following Funakoshi's death)) 'hid' the weapons of kubodo from the US occupying forces in post-war Japan.As far as I am aware, the US occupying forces did not prohibit the practice of karate or judo, but rather sought to learn it. In this, the cause of Japanese and Asian martial arts was greatly championed by the late, great Donn F. Draeger.Certainly many of the early Shotokan masters were accomplished in martial arts such as Judo and Kendo, as well as Okinawan kobujutsu.It is worth remembering that Nakayama was a Chinese scholar who spent some of his early years in Taipei and his war service for Japan in China as a military interpreter. It is believed that during this time, he had been tasked by Funakoshi to investigate and study the Chinese origins of the Okinawan Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu schools which were 'blended' by Funakoshi to create Shotokan.As for global domination, Funakoshi Sr, Funakoshi Jr and Nakayama believed that for Shotokan to develop, it had to be codified (NB Nakayama) and Japanese instructors sent overseas.As a result, many of the top JKA instructors were sent overseas: Enoeda to South Africa and then to the UK; Kanazawa to Hawaii and then to the UK; Kase to France, and, most signficantly, Nishiyama to the US.By the way @Jesse, fantastic picture of Funakoshi above! I think that Nishiyama is sitting just behind the great man (over Funakoshi's right shoulder).
    • DeepBlueSeaGem
      The question is rather if Kobujutsu are even absent at all. That makes it clear that perspective and wisdom rule over blind rage and the belt-hunter area.These things might be there or not. Who would give untrained people weapons they do not understand anyway? There is no first hand in true Shotokan.It also shows that just continuing training and the understanding of it is key to real mastership. You'd rather started with Heian Shodan I guess. ;)
    • If you are near new york we have very traditional shotokan program with full kobudo. Www.blackbeltli.com
  • warrioress
    If these are the greatest strengths of Shotokan, then I may as well go and drown myself! (I'm a Shotokan practitioner)
    • Assuming I understand what you mean, try to read the article thinking "relative" (not "absolute") instead. Clarification: "Shotokan Karate: The 4 Main Strengths That Set The World's Most Popular Style Apart From Most Other Styles. Get it? ;) If not, happy drowning!
      • warrioress
        Hmm. Actually I do get it. Thanks for clearing that up.
  • Michael Casinha
    Jesse san, you can never appease everyone, but your honesty finds a clear path to the truth.As a Shotokan stylist for over 30 years, my own research found a very simple answer to the Shotkan popularity and dissemination throughout the world. A pre and post war Japan was still a militaristic society and in so being the teacher's word was law. Teaching a simple method of fighting to the masses did away with all the complexities of other styles. 1. Stand here like this, 2. Take your fist in this position, 3. Accelerate your body, arm and fist from point A to point B, and 4. Do that 10K times a day and anyone can learn how to cause damage to another person. Adults, children and elderly could all do it. Now try and apply Okinawa Te (Goju, Shorin) close range tactics, hmmm, not quite as straight forward.Now take these Shotokan teaching approaches and disseminate them to a world that just come out of war and is use to following orders and you have a perfect formula for mass dissemination.I believe every system, every style has lessons to teach and all roads lead to the same destination.Just this humble Karate Nerd's 2 cents worth....
    • ShotoNoob
      SHOTOKAN--THE "KISS" KARATE:Shotokan Karate is a style of karate that people both inside & outside the traditional karate community love to hate.We can tear into Shotokan and find all its faults. But if we do only that, we miss the fundamental beauty of the Shotokan karate style. A very strong emphasis on (kihon) technique. A very strong emphasis at getting right the foundational conditioning & drilling skill for effective karate fighting: good body mechanics & mental discipline.I feel Shotokan conveys the fundamental lessons about how traditional karate should be practiced--IN Principle, whether or not you agree or adopt the specific techniques & conventions & demeanor of Shotokan.The great overall value of Shotokan is in the beauty of it's simplicity of form. It's less complicated to see it's basic principles hence more efficient to learn to apply. No wonder Shotokan has been so widely adopted in practice.OTOH, Shotokan karate manuals are highly detailed & the principles still challenging to master. A great style to provide a window into the truth-es behind traditional karate, even if you never practice it.
  • diego romero
    michael also speaks the truth. shotokan has perhaps the simplest and most direct approach to power generation possible (when teachers aren't skimping on the impact training, at least), and a base approach that basically boils down to "punch the other guy really hard", of which i approve with great pleasure :D.
    • Until you meet Lucio Maurino...
      • diego romero
        suddenly shoto-SCIENCE!
      • Benjamin
        I LOL'd so hard just now I have to spend the next 30 minutes wiping coffee off my keyboard :/
      • Cinzia
        I freaking LOVE Lucio Maurino Sensei! Ehm...in a strictly karate-related way. Don't get me wrong. XD
      • Cinzia
        Wanna know something fun? I'm a shoto-girl, and people keep telling me shotokan is too "masculine" and i should switch to something more delicate-looking like shito ryu. Now, even if I'm very curious and appealed by shito ryu, which i plan on exploring once i become a black belt...isn't it the dumbest reason to switch style you ever heard (or read, in the specific)
        • Diego Romero
          indeed...maybe you should spite them by learning some hung gar or southern praying mantis :p(HG: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CqauD520S2k SPM: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eq068bda6Sw)
  • For me I see parallels in the development and global spread of Tang Soo Do (Korean "karate"). Very well put Jesse-san.
  • jamonco
    loved the "biiig moves makes stroong samurai" part, hilarious :)
  • Jesse san, your right, Okinawa is the MAIN roots of a Karate Tree, there are thin, thick, low & high branches. Now the roots spread Worldwide, it's depend on how the sensei teach his style, the students will always follows the instruction, no matter how long or how short they are practicing Karatedo, the most important is deep understanding of the Art. In every Karate style there is weaker and good part. The trend now in this Generation is to become Flexible, many Practitioners wants to learn other Karate Kata style so that they can compare the differences and to participate in Competition, like for example the WKF, according to their Rules they are allow the Main 4 Karate style to play in Kata, namely: Goju-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, Shotokan and Wado-Ryu, but the Shorin-Ryu and other style is not included, so this is the reason why thousands of Karate practitioners wants to learn other Karate Kata style. Just keep training, don't say that your style is the best, it depends on the sensei and practitioners understanding. Keep moving, keep practicing, I believe that Perfection of Kata is like this way " Only you can improve yourself by constant and proper training, complete and right repetition is the Key for Mastery".
    • Rolan
      i agree with mr caballero...it doesn't really matter what style of karate or martial arts that a person does. styles are means to an end but not the end itself... there is no such thing as the best style. each person is different and so one has to find his own way..OSSU!!mr caballero was my sensei when i studied shorin-ryu karate. i then switched to shotokan style, but still i look up to him as my sensei and friend.. we may have different styles but the same KARATE-DO..OSSU!!
  • Rui Paulo Sanguinheira Diogo
    I guess that all Shotokan practicioners (so this includes me) should realize that their "style" is not a martial art anymore but a mere sport with a limited set of "simplified" techniques. Already Gichin Funakoshi and his son changed the taught karate that way. And it was done on purpose as Gichin Funakoshi already mentions it in 1922: "Likewise, in times past swordmanship was taught only through kata since a shiai, whether using real swords or wooden swords, was always fought at the risk of one's life. Subsequently, today's face masks and wrist guards were developed, and although this brought about a certain amount of degradation of kendo, it allowed it to become that much closer to a sport rather than a martial art. With continuing research it is not unfeasible that as in judo or kendo our karate, too, might incorporate a grading system through the adaptation of protective gear and the banning of attacks to vital points. In fact, I believe that it is important to move in that direction." I also recommend reading Koss Yokota's book "Shotokan Myths" because many of the myths are debunked as such. Jesse is also right with the "Biiiig movement make stroooong samurai!"-thing. And I would even add: If something "looks" strong or even "feels" strong while doing it then it dosn't mean that it is strong – even less if you "feel" the strength because if you feel it then you are absorbing the energy instead of transfering it. Oh, and I think this applies most certainly on other styles that compete in the same or similar manner... ;)
    • Daniel
      "If something “looks” strong or even “feels” strong while doing it then it dosn’t mean that it is strong – even less if you “feel” the strength because if you feel it then you are absorbing the energy instead of transfering it."+1! But it's not easy to realize this... People love hurting themselves... ;)
  • Dan
    Training Shotokan, I do biiig stances, yes, but the part were you shut up and keep punching like nuts is what I like the most. Maybe because of my distaste for long educational speeches, but the whole simplicity of the training is what makes me come back every time, in the end. Not the self-defense (even tough it's awesome to know you can poke someone's eye so fast they'll think the lights went out) or the makawara, my eternal love. "Left leg, zenkutsu-dachi, go! Now, gyaku-tzuki, go! Your elbows are too wide... That's better. (an hour later...) Alright, turn to me. Oss." Somehow, that minimal dialogue makes etiquette inside the dojo get to a whole new level. And, if you think about it, with proper etiquette, you can already solve most conflicts in life. =D
    • Ken
      I hear Zekutsudachi Geidan barai migi mai in my sleep lol.
      • Vasili Vasilievich
        haaha :-D i too do hear that in my sleep
  • Mike Noga
    You should do something on the strengths of other styles every once in a while. For example, I'm thinking of studying Matsumura Shorin-Ryu. What are the strengths of that style?
  • Leo
    You should devide between how Shotokan is usually practised or what is Shotokan-labeled and what it actually does contain. Small and narrow movements, pragmatic self-defense, a benefit for joints and lower back, excellent bunkai -this is also Shotokan and I don't love to see the myth spread it wouldn't be.
  • NewBudo (Frik Willemse)
    Jesse-san, once again a great article! I have to fully agree with you on all 4 points. I did Shotokan karate for 21 years before I discovered the total awesomeness of Okinawan Shorin-Ryu karate! I believe that karate must be effective and practical. One of my students work as a Correctional Services Officer. He has been training with me for just over a year now. Just last week he was attacked by a convicted criminal. His first reaction was: opening sequence of Naihanchin Shodan! Not "kezami-tsuki followed by gyaku-tsuki"! He succesfully defended himself against a dangerous criminal. So, I am not a style-basher either, I just live in the real world (on a small patch called South Africa) where karate must mean more than a full trophy case and scoring points. Keep it real guys! One day your life might depend on it. Regards.
    • Neil
      Naihanchin Shodan if am correct is the Shorin-Ryu kata which is the Shotokan equivalent of Tekki shodan,Now how can you assume that a Shotokan karateka would use kezami Zuki or gyaku zuki as a defence of an attack. You obviously have very limited experience in Shotokan and the bunkai applications of shotokan that can be applied to various types of attacks? Now tell us how was he attacked that he chose to use the first move of Naihanchin Shodan !!!!
  • Szilard
    I would add one more point to your list of "strengths of shito-ryu": #5 lots of kata, and all of them available on youtube videos from various angles performed by lots of different masters.
  • Gerry
    I studied Shokokan up to the 3kyu level about 30 years ago, then two years ago this month started self training in Shotokan again. With the freedom of defining bunkai myself I've found many techniques in kata are very relevent to self defense. I've used Ian Abernethy's books and his approach of interpreting many techniques from a grappling standpoint and apply spins in kata as throws for example. After two years I've come to the conclusion that my interest in karate isn't limited to Shotokan, but it is the basis for my study since my self education is kata based. Karate is what you make of it - my desire is purely from a self defense mind set and I believe with proper interpretation of technique based on desired outcome Shotokan is a vry well rounded martial art.
  • Martial Arts
    Hi Jesse,interesting article, thanks for sharing your thoughts!Dojo
  • Rae Leggett
    Shotokan certainly removed a lot of depth from the syllabus...but the same time thats something that made the style very accessible to the public.And, after Shodan, theres really nothing keeping you from adding that depth back into your training. I think of Shotokan as "generic" karate - you can take it anywhere.Go to seminars and pick up some kobujutsu. You like bunkai? Look at the older forms from Shito-ryu and Shorin-ryu. Self defense? Theres really nothing new in a Krav Maga seminar; it's just a different method of training.We're all just branches of the same tree; and when you look up close, all the branches start to look alike.
  • Ed
    This is going to cause a real stir but what the hell. I believe that Shotokan is a japanese interruptation of karate from Okinawa brought in after the cast system was stopped and gave the common person a belief that he could defend himself. Is it really karate? No it is a martial art like aikido, taekwondo or muay tai. There are a lot of difference between tradition okinawan karate and shotokan, the biggest divergence occurred when Funakoshi allowed his students to dictate the style. He didn't want the big stance or movements but allowed it to creep in because the students believed that they were doing it better that way. No one in free style fighting gets any of the big stances or goes through the big arm motions so why train yourself to do that in a kata. Does it really matter if shotokan is called Karate or something else, that is everyone choice but I think that it is significantly different and believe that it would be comparable to calling an American English because he speaks english. Everyone needs to learn their style, try new things and develop themselves into their individual style. If you are good at what you do, then people will come and learn your style. Enjoy the learning and make it your own!!
  • elC
    Har! I'm a Shotokan practicioner, and I can tell you that there's a big difference between Shotokan and - Shotokan. I started in the US with Ohshima Sensei's interpretation of Shotokan, and it is great. Coming back to Germany I found that there are only 2 Ohshima Shotokan dojos in the country, compared to thousands of JKA-Shotokan dojos. So my search for a good JKA-Shotokan dojo began, and after having checked 5 dojos or so (I practiced for 2 years with JKA-shotos), I ended up in a Krav Maga club. There are rumors that there are good JKA dojos, but not where I live. So it's Krav Maga twice per week, plus a few evenings kata in the basement, plus visiting the german Ohshima-Shotokan dojos every few months.
  • Raddon
    I think seeing as relatively few people take up any form of martial art these days for the sole reason of practical close-quarters fighting, Shotokan's popularity can be mainly attributed to it's aesthetic & indeed athletic appeal, as was mentioned in the article. If you're lucky, after training in another karate style like shito or goju for years you'll eventually learn a kata with a front snap kick in it. Shotokan however offers a multitude of athletic kicks, jumps, complex combinations and impressive body shifting that just isn't found as readily in more conservative styles. This is of course because karate is a sport for many people now, and as with all sports, the more fun and exciting it is, for both practitioners as well as spectators, the more it will flourish, and shotokan is the karate style that has embraced this attitude the most.
    • I guess this goes a long way explaining Taekwondo`s popularity too:-)
      • Raddon
        Exactly! It's no accident that Taekwondo is rivalling Karate these days for which is the most popular martial art, as the sheer fun & aesthetic appeal of it is evident. Obviously, some people prefer their martial arts to be an art-form rather than a sport which is fine, but purely on sporting merits I think martial arts are generally moving in the right direction (though I will admit, there ARE still some bad things, and dare I say it, that the answers to some of those things could in fact be found in some of the more old-fashioned elements of martial arts)
  • Jesse. I was recently turned on to your site by a student. She knew I would enjoy your insight and humor. She also guessed (correctly) that I would agree with your viewpoints. Like most humans, I enjoy being vendicated by reading commentary that bolsters opinions I already hold. I must admit, however, that I am occasionally challenged by some of your articles to reconsider some of my convictions and prior held beliefs. This is where the true value of what you do lies. It stretches my already fairly open mind and causes me to grow. Thank you. Now, I think I'll go change my email address to somerhing a bit more humble.
  • kairu
    I began my journey into the martial arts with Shotokan and agree with every point you have made here. I was lucky to have Andrew Holmes as my Sensei. He was definitely a shut up and train old school Shotokan kind of guy. From back when there was no Kumite in the Dojo. You used to just do lots of Kata and hoped it served you right, which I am sure was fine when ever one else was training the same way.Since I started branching out of Shotokan and into other styles of karate and martial arts I have found Shotokan has served me quite well. The only style that I have not found transitioning into easy has been Judo but Kyokushin, Kudo, Aikido, Wing Chun and MMA have all been positively influenced by my Shotokan experiences.I have also found the long range high impact striking style very effective in the few self defense scenarios I have been unfortunate enough to experience. Shotokan has always served me well but that does not mean it is not with out faults, anyways lets not style bash today.
  • Jamal
    Very nice
  • Phil Clairet
    Jesse, have you thought of writing a book or something? Your knowledge seems to be so much deeper than the articles you post on your website...Just a thought!
    • Phil-san, in fact I have: http://www.thekaratecode.com is the book website, featuring a bunch of living Karate legends sharing their wisdom in "The Karate Code". I have tons of more books in my head, but Father Time is a sneaky bastard... ;) For the record; those I plan on writing mostly myself, rather than relying on epic Okinawn masters though.
  • foursquaregoof
    jesse...since i moved to sf, the closest GOOD shito-ryu (closest to my ryuei-ryu roots)dojo is like 40miles away... :(. my sensei back home recommended me go to her long time friend. they have some solid kumite which i like. but guess what. they is shotokan. i think this is the best dojo in the area to train at and i really don't want to stop training entirely. it is so hard to transition. only been there a day. i'm confident i can do it, but i am so afraid i will forget my muscle memory for ryuei-ryu stances and *gasp* katas. btw, i loved the last added bit in your article "also, i'm not a style-basher" lol. wish me luck!
    • Euey-san! That's really cool - see it as a new learning opportunity! Remember, sometimes you need to climb another mountain to see your own mountain better. I have no doubt that you will be perfectly fine -your roots will always be there. And if not, well, then Oliver will just have to 'ground n pound' them back into you! ;)
    • helene
      Hello there, and thanks for your post. The (relocating) happens often and has also happened to me. If you are open to the prospect (and for lack of opportunity) may I suggest Goju school, or at least the Goju network in the Bay Area?There are legitimate practitioners from the non Goju systems, who travel from the peninsula and points even further south for the benefit of reputable Goju training. Utilize the BART system, the public transit is amazing in the SF and outlying areas!I would also offer the likely network of Goju schools provide a check and balance for continuity and symmetry between the Goju schools. While Goju is not my ryu, I have visited a couple schools and was very pleased with the dissemination/transmission of the material that simply is not ryu-specific. Why not utilize the tools available during your stay? You will certainly add a depth to your own training in any case. Visit, and be a gracious Guest. Measure your opportunity to ask carefully, but do ask and most importantly, listen!IF you seek a deeper understanding or environment that suits your taste, then all the searching is time well spent. There is no penalty evoked during your search to be sure...you simply need to remember what attracted you to the training in the first place.No one wants you to abandon your roots, but relish the opportunity to always learn more about your art with a beginner's eye.-And remember to leave your previous ranking at the door! (get it?) ;-)Take care!
  • mirza imtiaz ali baig
    Dear sirI really apprecied to you becouse i got a good information about shotokan and other martial arts. I have one Q- that is i holding black belt 3rd dan from Okinawa martial arts so i want change my style Okinawa to Shotokan what is your saggetion and requarement plz give me your oppenion. THANK YOU
  • Hi I agree what you said about shotokan karate. By the way which style of karate are you Okinawan I bet.
  • By the way, you forgot that we practice the kihon enough to render anyone sick of it for years and in study of attack and defense we are really simple(If you think that's a weakness then you should read a book called "Brutal Simplicity of Thought"
  • OSU, I'm shotokan karate-ka, I know see the beauty of Shotokan, Thank you, OSU!
  • Nicole
    well I wouldn't sy that it would be much easier for shotokan practitioners to get into lower stance, in fact once(I'm sotokan) my sensei asked us to perform a very basic shito-ryu kata, I find my self hard to get up for lo stances
  • Dani'yal
    Jesse, do you think that Shotokan and Goju Ryu can be done at the same time? Because I really like both...
    • Nicole
      well, I'm not Jesse but... yes, you can, if you see those professionals, most of them practice at least two or more styles, its gonna be hard (like things will always be) but its not impossible :)
      • Daniyal-San
        Thanks Nicole. I can assure you that almost everyone is my senior. Just recently started Goju Ryu with OGKK. And I am very happy to have found a JKA Shotokan school here in Cape Town.I have been a victim of a McDojo about ten years ago. Then as the years progressed, did many other arts. But came back to Karate because I know authentic Karate is very real and very good.
        • Nicole
          ahh, then its good if you start karate, I haven't been in karate long as well, 1 and a half years :) just a heads up.. shotokan might be a little different from goju-ryu, other than the obvious(stances, etc.)you might wanna pay attention to the little details maybe how they punch and all that, how they apply blocks etc. I'm a shotokan practitioner but I hv never practice goju-ryu before, but as I know, all styles have different ways of doing things, so yeah... have fun!
  • Daniyal
    I am looking forward to it. I am unmarried so I need to fill my nights with some hard fitness and training. And I love MA. Always have. JKA Shotokan has raw power and brute force, but still elegant and graceful. I like that. Goju is more internal. So it's kinda like Shaolin one day, and Tai Chi the next. LOL
  • Peter G.N. GRIFFIN
    Dear Daniyal,Osu !Not sure HOW long you've been studying Shotokan and or Goju Ryu etc,..having studied SHOTOKAN (SKIF), I made the move to KYOKUSHINKAI Karate (IKO3), because after grading SHODAN in JUDO, I found that SHOTOKAN was NOT and is NOT a long term solution to having the goods in the REAL WORLD.One need only sit down, and discuss this with Lyoto MACHIDA (UFC Champion). Lyoto has spent many years now training in MUAY THAI because once he received his first leg kick from a KYOKUSHIN fighter, and then a MUAY THAI fighter he KNEW he was in REAL TROUBLE. His leg was almost broken (TRUE STORY !)Furthermore, SHOTOKAN is great for strengthening stances (dachi), and other areas, however it is useless against IMPACT ARTS such as KYOKUSHIN and MUAY THAI; - this is a hard cold undeniable FACT !Also, the KATA's regardless of what style of KARATE you study, almost NO ONE - unless they are graded in JUDO, AKIDO (examples: Tomiki, Daito-Ryu) and or JU-JITSU styles, don't have a clue about HOW TO BREAK FALL PROPERLY, THROWS, LOCKS, AND CHOKES. Again, I speak from EXPERIENCE of 29 years in both JUDO, and KARATE.My grandfather fought the Japanese in WW II, and told me as a young boy despite being unhappy about my studying a Japanese art form (JUDO, and KARATE)- however he stated I needed to KNOW these two forms because from what he'd witnessed in the Jungles of South East Asia by an elite Japanese Unit in BURMA, their skills were unmatched resulting in the deaths of hundreds of allied troops. This can be substantiated in the historical military archives in Japan (Tokyo University) on Fujita SEIKO (Last KOGA Ninja). True Story.To this day, I find myself never ever, being in a class, place, and or situation where I am asked a specific question and unable to answer with the truth.ALL the Go-Shin jutsu within all Kata is found in the throwing arts. Keep doing what you are doing; commit to SHOTOKAN, however you MUST spend time at a Dojo that teaches one of the throwing arts.NOTE:Be careful, as KARATE is more of a pushing , moving forward action, whereas JUDO (throwing arts) are more pulling ; thus your body WILL be exposed to injuries if you don't take it easy, and allow your body the time to warm up to doing two completely different forms moving predominantly in different directions at speed.Still, please go for it !- enjoy it - and use a throwing art form to spark your brain when performing KATA so you can try to make sense of what the techniques actually are !I am telling you this because I'm sick and tired of training with Karateka who are teaching young people BullSh@# karate - please don't take offence - I hope you become one of the OLD SCHOOL Martial Artists who believes in KEEPING IT REAL !; it starts by being honest (REAL) with yourself !Osu !
    • ShotoNoob
      SHOTOKAN KARATE CAN'T DELIVER THE GOODS--OR CAN IT:?I certainly agree with many or your observations and have no reason to doubt your personal experiences. It's your conclusions that I take issue with.Personally, I'm not a fan of Shotokan karate. It's not my personal choice. IMHO, however, Shotokan has a lot more value than you give credit to.ON BS karate schools, the first goal we need to address is the vast majority of traditional karate practitioners are NOT training to be professional fighters or elite military combatants. They are there for physical fitness, to build mental confidence & acquire rudimentary self defense. Obviously the dedication of these students is not going to be on the level of professionally-involved martial artists.On the grappling deficiency, many of the traditional karate styles are rudimentary here just as you say. However, there's also a distinction in strategy. The striking arts seek to disable the opponent quickly & efficiently. The presumption is the last place you want to be is rolling around on the ground immobile seeing who can dish out the better GNP. UGELY....Furthermore, grappling is better represented more in certain traditional karate styles. Cross training in judo, BJJ, etc. is a wise alternative as you say. The rather large problem is you have to get your hands on the opponent to use it--just look at Lyoto Machida's 1+ minute dispatch of MMA-Wrestler C.B. Dolloway.... Fight Night 58.On the alleged superiority of Muay Thai and KYO Karate over Shotokan, there's a very vivid strategic difference in fundamentals that needs addressing. Briefly, IMO Shotokan places more emphasis on building the traditional karate foundation from which to fight effectively. Muay Thai & KYO Karate place great emphasis on actual contact fighting and in conditioning the body to both give & receive physical punishment. Traditional karates in general provide for the latter but it is more of a specialty than a mandate.For Shotokan, to succeed in actual fighting, achieving the karate foundation sought by Shotokan is most important. What that standard is and the particulars on how to achieve that is more sophisticated & takes a greater investment in time & effort than the applied fighting methods of Muay Thai & KYO Karate.Some of these MT & KYO fighters are tough as nails-no question. No question that MT & KYO Karate can be very difficult to fight against.If a Shotokan karate fighter's foundational skills are wanting or incomplete, the styles you advocate will [IMO] most definitely destroy the Shotokan karate stylist. I note that it is the MMA competitors who do train Muay Thai who have soundly defeated Lyoto Machida in the UFC. To be fair, all these have been gifted, top level athletes as well.HOWEVER, although I personally am not a big fan of Shotokan, I CAN NOT accept a generalization that a professionally competent Shotokan stylist can't stand up to MT or KYO Karate. Shotokan, IMO, is aiming at developing a broader set of martial skills than the latter two popular full contact styles--their focus being on taking & dealing out punishment.Whether or not Lyoto Machida's Shotokan-based style can prevail, is well how the individual fighter's style makes fights--as they say in MMA.
      • Bucksmallsy
        Ohayô gozaimasu ShotoNoob,Osu !My apologies for this long winded email but this is an opportunity to support Mr Peter Griffin in his above post which hits home regarding Muay Thai and Kyokushin vs Shotokan.Your post was very interesting to read by the way.From personal experiences I must mention that Traditional Shotokan Dojo's located in Japan, Europe and South America have standards that 'are' exceptional. Especially on a technical level.Although, Japanese, European, and South American Kyokushinkaikan Dojos under Matsui Kancho, or Matsushima Kancho, or some of the Kyokushinkaikan off shoots (Seidokan - Nakamura Kancho New York, and Buyakuren Tokyo , Daido Juku etc); display ridiculously high standards that make these aforementioned Shotokan schools not even worth discussing! Just the training standards alone within Kyokushinkaikan are light years ahead of any highly respected Shotokan Dojo in these three continents. This is a fact; not an opinion.Furthermore, the Shotokan grading format pales in comparison to any Kyokushinkaikan grading standard. Again, I speak from experience having also been graded by Soke Hirokazu Kanazawa myself. (And that is an experience I hold dear to my heart on just how lucky I was to no only compete in front of him winning at Nationals in addition to successfully grading Shodan under him).Here is an example of what I mention above : Kyokushin Yudansha or 1st Kyu grades (brown belts seeking to become a Yudansha) must adhere to the strict protocols of the Kyokushinkaikan grading mandate.Regardless, of whether one is under IKO1 IKO2, IKO3, etc, each candidate must perform the entire Kyokushin Syllabus from 10th Kyu (beginner) right the way through to their current grade (i.e. 1st Kyu, Shodan, Nidan etc). In doing so, the grading for someone going from say a 5th Kyu grade to a 4th Kyu grade must complete ALL testings for 10th, 9th, 8th, 7th, 6th, 5th Kyu first before even attempting their 4th Kyu exam. And some don't always pass ! Hence their grading lasts around "3-4 hours".No one in Shotokan has an grading that lasts beyond 3 hours when testing for their Shodan, Nidan, and up. And the Shotokan gradings are even shorter in time (examination) for Kyu grades (around 30 - 45 minutes, sometimes less).Shotokan just does NOT compare to the Kyokushinkaikan gradings. In fact, Shotokan gradings are lucky if they last a couple hours at most regardless of the level being attempted. (I speak from experience having graded also as others like me in Shotokan before moving across to Kyokushinkaikan). Grading to become a Shodan is meant to be next to impossible, and unfortunately too many people claim to be a black belt which quite frankly is an insult to the whole concept of what a black belt should be !Muay Thai gradings are also somewhat similar to Kyokushin and do not simply host an grading lasting a couple hours and your done. Their gradings (Muay Thai) are unbelievably difficult; much like Kyokushin. Just ask Judd Reid Shihan (Kyokushin and Muay Thai who just completed a couple years ago his 100 Man Kumite (see video "100 Man Fight").Everything Mr Griffin states is absolutely accurate. Shotokan Yudansha whom compete in Kumite at the International level continue to get their asses handed to them each and every time when faced by a world class Yudansha from Kyokushin. Again, another fact !As for the Lyoto Machida Sensei mention; Lyoto Sensei is competent in Shotokan, and has had to make significant adjustments on many levels to his MMA game. Most importantly - Lyoto Sensei had to put his ego in check; go back to the drawing board, and unlearn all that he knew (eg. Shotokan), because it just was not working in the Octagon. In addition Lyoto Sensei had to then learn Muay Thai, Kyokushin, and Ju-Jitsu to truly complete the circle within himself which then resulted in many victories inside the octagon. Again, another set of facts, not opinions.I am grateful also, like many others I know starting out in Shotokan, having won several Provincial, National, and even International Open Kumite events. And in doing so not only did this allow me / us to see the significant holes in Shotokan; but more importantly it exposed the truth of how it really is in Shotokan vs Full Contact Fighting Arts (Muay Thai and Kyokushinkaikan).Too many people make up shit along with their tall stories about what they say they have achieved etc, etc, etc.To me, Lyoto Machida Sensei is a true 'Martial Artist' and I admire, and hold him in high regard. But everyone reading this must please remember that Lyoto Sensei was prepared to address the floors in a discipline (Shotokan) that just doesn't cut it against "real fighters" (UFC / MMA / K-1).Lyoto Sensei was prepared to do what 99% of martial art practitioners will not do, and that is forever placing themselves out of their comfort zone.Growth only happens when one is uncomfortable (very uncomfortable). And so too like so many Martial Arts, Shotokan is just TOO comfortable and impractical !"Shotokan is out of date",..full stop !Otherwise Shotokan would be the flavor of choice amongst all UFC / MMA / K-1 fighters. Which it is NOT !Here's one simple question for everyone reading this !Q.Why do UFC / MMA fighters continue studying Kyokushin but not Shotokan ???,A. because Kyokushin works in the Octagon and Shotokan doesn't !Yes, I agree with you on the foundations of Shotokan and , Shotokan has given me a solid foundation to build upon, but that is it ! its a foundation, and nothing more !After all, didn't Sosai Mas Oyama study directly under Gichin Funakoshi grading Yondan in Shotokan before Kyokushin was even created ! ??? !.And so, in order to put this argument to bed once and for all - by taking the best Shotokan Kumite Yudansha in the world and placing them up against the Top Kyokushin fighters would be and has been consistently proven in and of itself to be a one sided event.Q. When is the last time anyone saw a Shotokan Yudansha even in the ring for an K-1 event ??,..A. Never !Far too many a time do the Shotokan guys end up hobbling off the mat from receiving Kyokushin's notorious Gedan mae-washi-geri (much like the Muay Thia style thigh kick) or they are stretchered off due to being KO'd by a Jodan Mae-washi geri (following through round house kick to the head).Either way; the facts are undeniable, and easily accessible to all now that Youtube has it all for everyone to see !Also, please remember that many of the Youtube videos titled 'Kyokushin vs Shotokan' are incorrect ! As both fighters are in fact Kyokushin. So please research properly and when you find the correct video evidence that is genuine with Shotokan vs Kyokushin fighters , it is very much a one sided event - with Kyokushin undeniably finishing their opponent.In conclusion - the whole purpose of any martial art is to fight ! UFC / MMA has become the much awaited acid test to proving what works and what doesn't (on and off the mat). With the common denominator being us as human beings , we all have two arms, two legs, two eyes, and this is how we have been able to quickly find out what works, when, where, why, and how !Hence UFC / MMA and even the K-1 fighters all use either Muay Thai, or Kyokushin for their stand up training; nowhere in there is Shotokan to be found !Dômo arigatou gozaimashitaOsu !
  • Alex
    Actually if you have a sensei thats more modern than he will tell you to loosen your stance in kumite and only keep it long and deep in kihon and kata to strengthen legs
    • Luca
      I agree. My sensei says that we train in long, deep stances because when you are fighting, your stances tend to be shorter and higher - so if you train in low stances then when you fight your stances will be the correct height
  • ShotoNoob
    RESPONSE TO JESSE'S "THE 4 STRENGTHS OF THE WORLD'S MOST POPULAR [KARATE] STYLE;"JESSE has done the hard work in laying out a thesis on the value of the Shotokan Style of Karate.Many decry Shotokan on a number of fronts. This is particularly true of much of the MMA community. Here's my thumbnail response to the 4 Strength of Shotokan Jesse has proposed.1. Shotokan' Global Popularity. Shotokan does appeal to the masses. Without question, Shotokan is accepted as a door for most who want to participate in the traditional martial arts experience.No doubt, as Jesse and others have said, the uniformity & simplicity of form in the curriculum's design have enabled Shotokan's success.2. "Big Strong Movements." I believe one of the truly huge lessons advocated by Shotokan--is rounded physical fitness. Shotokan conditioning & techniques are designed to develop just that.MMA and boxing critics often claim that these fighting styles require better physical conditioning than traditional karate. Take a close look at how Shotokan karate basics SHOULD be practiced and that myth is dispelled.Part of the differences in method is that Shotokan aims to provide a broader-based physical capability, not just strength, reflexes, endurance & ability to take punishment. This is a post or posts in of itself....3. "Shut Up & Train." There's always the karate critics who claim traditional karate practitioners are simply marching up & down the floor acting like robots. I guess the rebuttal is that presumably the Okinawan Masters who designed all this had some idea of what they were doing.I'm one who questions what I'm doing in karate class all the time. Have gotten into some heated arguments and even been asked to leave a karate school. The defining difference is that one should think before opening one's mouth and even more important, think throughout the training exercises. Traditional karate is a thinking man's game, IMHO.The "SHUT UP & TRAIN" MANTRA affords a fine opportunity to accomplish the latter.4. "Historical Gems & Facts." My understanding is that Ginchin Funakoshi was somewhat of an academic. Accordingly, we see in Shotokan karate copious detail about traditional karate techniques, drills, concepts, etc.If we want to better understand what we are doing (or supposed to be doing) in our karate training--seems like Shotokan offers an excellent place to start & refer too.Especially if we want to COMPETENTLY take exception to the Shotokan Strength #3. "Shut Up & Train.SUMMARY: Talking about traditional karate will never make you a bona fide karate fighter. Never will training alone. IMO, training to the standards & intensity advocated by Shotokan karate will, however, most certainly get you well on your way....And it took a rather diminutive academic to point the masses in the right direction.
  • Bucksmallsy
    Dear All Shotokan Karateka's,Osu !Having graded in Shotokan under Kanazawa Kancho many, many, years ago, and Kyokushin; aswell as Judo it wasn't long until I knew Shotokan WAS and still IS to this very day completely and utterly useless in the REAL world, or the ring.Lyoto MACHIDA Sensei is a competent Shotokan Karateka, however he too realised upon having his 'arse handed to him' in the ring several times that a problem existed in his failure to end his opponent ! And so, MACHIDA Sensei specifically took up Muay Thai and Ju-Jitsu to address his flaws which lead him to victory against many Muay Thai, and Kyokushin fighters alike. WHY you ask ??? , by training in Muay Thai (FULL CONTACT Striking) - MACHIDA had both learned and endured the physical punishment required to withstand significant thigh kicks, and knees (Muay Thai/Kyokushin), in addition to his assimilation into grappling (Ju-Jitsu). This gave MACHIDA Sensei the ability to receive physical punishment with the know how and physical resilience needed in order to respond and end his opponent !MACHIDA Sensei will admit himself that his Shotokan Karate as taught to him by his father; gave him the foundations required in part to some respectable skills, however it gave more on WHAT he was lacking as a True Martial Artist ! which became evident once in the ring against the Full Contact opponents (Muay Thai / Kyokushin).There simply are no elite level Shotokan Yudansha that could ever hold their own against an elite Kyokushin Yudansha. Sosai Mas OYAMA proved this having himself been a student under Gichin FUNAKOSHI; whom graded OYAMA Sosai to Yondan. The proof WAS the first World Championship in JAPAN for Kyokushin which was an Open Card entry to anyone from other disciplines. Consequently ALL those that were NOT Kyokushin were either KO'd, or TKO'd due to their inability to stand up from all the thigh kicks that Kyokushin is renowned for ! This IS still true today !As for the strengths of Shotokan one need look no further than to Sosai Mas OYAMA's methodologies applied within his founding art of Kyokushin Karate. Of which Sosai was also a highly ranked Yudansha in Goju-Ryu under Yamaguchi Kancho.Sosai took the most practicable and real life methodologies , thus fusing them together for the birth of Kyokushin. Kyokushin Karate to this day IS and continues to be the most functional form of Karate (including its off shoots, of previous students going off on their own to create Seidokan, Ashihara, and OYAMA). Shotokan is at the very best a building block only for its strong physical foundation (stances) and nothing more.To think Shotokan Karate IS functional and will stand one in good stead out on the street or even in the ring/Octagon against Full Contact Strikers is a cardinal mistake ! I speak from experience of thirty years, and being graded in two different disciplines of Karate, and Judo. These two disciplines in and of themselves continue to give me the much needed reality checks in order to maintain my own integrity within Kyokushin, and Judo. I do however realise that Shotokan DID give me one solid set of legs after 14 years of staying deep in continual horse stances. But that is all it gave me; and the knowledge of what I was lacking when I too had my arse handed to me by a Kyokushin Karateka (Brown Belt). A most humiliating experience; but a necessary lesson to realise the Shotokan Kuro Obi I was wearing was NOT in anyway shape or form close to the standard of that of a Kyokushin Yudansaha, let alone a 1st Kyu !Looking back now some 15 years later I know I made the RIGHT decision to become a student in Kyokushin whilst maintaining Judo. Overall, some very hard lessons learned, and significant injuries, but I know that the Kuro Obi I wear now IS "real" along with my tried and tested experiences both on and off the street ! Martial Arts is NOT about what one can take; it IS about what one can endure (meta-physically); hence Kyokushin like Muay Thai epitomises this with all the physical punishment, as does Judo because they are 'full contact'. The more one can take meta-physically, the more true one is to becoming a true Martial Artist. Unfortunately Shotokan doesn't endure anywhere near the level of physical nor mental punishment faced within Kyokushin Karate, nor Muay Thai. These ARE the facts !Osu !
    • ShotoNoob
      KYO KARATE & MUAY THAI > SHOTOKAN, YES & NO!!!I'm not fan of Shotokan Karate, yet I firmly believe Shotokan karate done well is very effective.As this is a traditional karate BLOG, I'm going to frame my response within the framework of the BLOG author presents. I'm going to do this in 3 parts: (1) Jesses' MMA match experience posted here on the BLOG, (2) Some insight (mine) on the his losing exchange referencing Shotokan karate, (3)Jesse's traditional karate-tree analogy presented in this post.1. THE MMA MATCH (JESSE LOSES). Jesse decides to 'reality test' as you recommend and take the MMA-Full Contact Fighting Test. As a traditional karateka, I'm all in favor in reality testing.Fight does go on too long, Jesse & MMA competitor are jostling around in in-fighting range. Jesse gets TKO'd by the MMA competitor's elbow strike to head. GAME OVER.According to your "Machida Logic," Karate (Jesse) lost & MMA (Jesse's competitor) won. Since you like to BE factual, the only valid fact that can be logically concluded is Jesse lost. For my justification, I'm going to defer to Jesses' Apple Tree Analogy Post here. Jesse is the apple. Jesse is not all the other the other karate apples from the numerous karate branches of the hundred's of years old karate tree. AGREE?To be right, we don't want to be illogical and rush to extrapolate that since Jesse is an advocate for Shotokan karate (in this post), that his loss means the Shotokan karate branch is defective & the problem, as you propose.2.MY INSIGHT FROM SHOTOKAN. Jesse was defeated by an elbow strike. Happens in fighting, MMA--AGAIN,AGREED?Well what does Shotokan karate have to say on the elbow strike, is Shotokan karate so lacking that elbow strikes aren't covered. It so happens Shotokan does recognize the elbow (uchi), and that the elbow strike is a legitimate (kihon?) technique, empi uchi. Moreover, I believe I have been taught a couple-of-three versions of empi uchi.So just staying within Shotokan, if I have been taught & have practiced empi uchi, shouldn't I factually & logically expect my Shotokan opponent to use empi uchi against me somewhere in the training (certainly by the time a black-belt is reached as you state you have), numerous times?We can't say all the fault of Jesse's loss is the "karate branch" of Shotokan as you imply, because elbow strikes are an official part of the Shotokan curriculum. What we can say is that Jesse failed to defend or outdo the elbow strike. This points to the distinct possibility that the problem lies with Jesse's real-time application of his karate personal style(s).One beneficial aspect I see in Shotokan is that Shotokan goes into great detail. MMA protagonists are always lauding Muay Thai striking versatility including elbow. Well, Shotokan is detailed on various striking techniques and has elbow strikes too.Let's go back to the losing exchange by elbow strike for a minute. Shotokan, like all traditional karates, has a large segment of kihon (basics) about techniques called blocks. Some Shotokan karate manual's set out 5-6, 8 basic blocks, expanding to twice that number or more for all blocking applications.Blocks are a defense against strikes. Is it possible that among the numerous block detailed presented by the Shotokan karate curriculum, that one or some could be applied against empi uchi? I would think that the traditional karate principle of blocking strikes could include or be extended to any strike, here an elbow strike. AGREE?Shotokan karate, the traditional "karate apple tree" in general teaches blocks against strikes--that's a fact.JESSE'S KARATE APPLE TREE ANALOGYJesse's Apple Tree analogy says to me is that all the styles of traditional karate greW & branched off of the principles & traditions embodied in the original Okinawan Master's tree planted hundreds of years ago. There are certain foundational principles which underpin and which give effectiveness to all the forthcoming karate styles. this is what accurately defines traditional karate.I used the Shotokan empi uchi striking technique to illustrate this concept in a very limited way. Shotokan karate is the art of self defense. A Shotokan stylist who walks into a bar and claims he wasn't expecting an elbow strike from a liquored up patron, a Shotokan stylist who goes in the MMA area and has no answer for an elbow strike--he can't logically blame it on Shotokan.. Empi uchi is plainly presented & detailed right there in the Shotokan curriculum.You hade a disappointing experience with Shotokan karate. That's not uncommon. You made a change that was personally better for you. In terms of logic and facts, though you judged the branch (Shotokan) and the tree (traditional karate) by the apple (yourself).I don't personally care for Shotokan. But the lesson made plain by Shotokan training is that elbow strikes take place in fighting, and Shotokan provides 5,6-8, 16 or more defensive blocking alternatives for you to choose from when someone throws any kind of strike.I can throw elbow strikes. I'm prepared to block strikes, including elbow strikes. It's called doing the traditional karate curriculum.Before you factually & competently judge the tree, I used a simplified example of a certain technique--the elbow strike TKO to show you need to be certain you're meeting the standards of traditional karate training. The Apple is just not the tree, as Jesse says, the Apple is a BY-PRODUCT of the tree.
      • Wa Go Ken Sa
        Very well put. Objective, critical reasoning at it's finest (as opposed to the very subjective "factual" statements by whatshisface over there)
      • Rudra Acharya
        Well quite critical I'd say but (A VEERYY VEERYY BIIIGGG BUTTT....) MMA is totally different than karate because the full form of MMA is Mixed Martial Arts..I can say that even a Karate World Champion may lose against a professional MMA fighter. The reason is because both have training and different set of rules. In Karate during kumite you have to use straight punches only that also is semi-contact while in MMA its just fight in whatever way you may wish like...more than that a person who truly knows every nook and corner about karate, a person who has learnt and mastered every technique of Karate will be easily be able to defeat anybody in this whole planet....because all the other modern forms of martial arts like Taek Wan Do, Judo, BJJ,etc etc are derived from Karate...and Karate is also the evolved form of Kung-Fu (where one imitates animals). Plus anyone with full knowledge of karate (who can be called the True Karateka who has mastered every form of Karate) will eventually be at par with Bruce Lee, as Karate as whole includes mastery of Non-Authenticated Kung-Fu). Coming back to MMA, MMA has very very different set of training with most of it being concentrated upon only and only street fighting with no bars and no dirty tricks (like biting, eye gouging, etc etc), where innovation is the only key to success. In MMA speed and power is important while in Karate a certain speed with power and mostly technique with spirituality is concerned. In only some ways you may be able to compare with MMA.
  • Bucksmallsy
    Dear ShotoNoob,Here are TWO questions for you:(1) Have you ever done a 20 man Kumite in Kyokushin / Muay Thai ??? (Full Contact - NO padding, NO gloves, NO Shin Pads)figting ONLY Yudansha's 20 x 90 second rounds.(2) Have you competed in National Open Judo in your country ???If not, I suggest you at least give it a go.What's more, IF you are a Shotokan practitioner please for the love of God put yourself OUT there and attempt the two above aforementioned disciplines for real.If you are NOT a Yudansha in Kyokushin / Ring fighter Muay Thai and Judo be prepared to get seriously hurt - otherwise don't attempt.Having been a successful Shotokan Karateka in my country many years ago and well known, I was fortunate to have success at Provincial and National Open WKF tournaments as well. However as I've already posted earlier on this topic - sparring Kyokushin fighters, and doing Randori with my fellow Judoka's (Yudansha's, and some Kyu grades), is extremely hard if one is not conditioned and competent at grappling and striking.Shotokan IS a point fighting system and futile against ANY and ALL full contact disciplines. Shotokan Karateka's do not train their entire body for full contact impact nor do they train their bodies for being hit full contact by another person. In addition Shotokan does NOT have a Kumite Testing structure for all grades like Kyokushin and Muay Thai.Furthermore; regarding grappling - Judo is without question a game changer if all one has is a striking background. Over 80 % of UFC / MMA bouts end by submission (choke, arm bar, knee bar) or Ippon Nagewaza. As for the other 20%, the strikers all have grappling backgrounds - hence their ability to read their opponents grappling mistakes and capitalise by strikes which results in KO / TKO (the 20%).Every person I know whom has graded successfully in Shotokan and attended a solid, and respectable Kyokushin School (IKO1, IKO3), have in turn laid down their Shotokan Kuro Obi and made the switch to follow not only a traditional path of Karate, but a discipline that maintains its hard training, and physical conditioning to this very day.After all, Sosai Mas OYAMA himself was a Yudansha under Gichin FUNAKOSHI (4th Dan Shotokan) before he created Kyokushin; was he not !???!Training in many Shotokan Dojo's worldwide; never have I seen any of their Yudansha attempt Shiwari Bat breaking. After all, Shorin Ryu, Goju Ryu, Shuko-Kai, Shito Ryu almost ALL Schools in Okinawa train this way, yet Shotokan doesn't, why is that I wonder ??Either way, Shotokan practitioners need to seriously consider other Full Contact disciplines for fear of coming face to face / competing against Full Contact Yudansha's (Kyokushin/Muay Thai) or face the likelihood of receiving significant and permanent injuries.Again, the key is to condition one's body like the trunk of an OAK tree, and the rest takes care of itself !Q. WHY is Kyokushin the most successful Full Contact form of Karate ?, A. because Kumite is a regular occurrence in training; thus, to have a strong Defence, one must have a strong Offence.Osu !
    • Shotonoob
      BUCKSMALLSY RE 20 MAN KUMITE KYO & MUAY THAI...NO,I have neither participated in full contact / 20-man contests or Judo National Opens. NOR do I wish to.NOR do I see why Shotokan karate practitioners of any stripe should be required or challenged to do so.Traditional karate in application is self defense. Prevailing in a "hard man" contest where injury is likely to happen and at the expense of the development of the mental & spiritual base which is what makes traditional karate so effective, is not my path.On preparing to get serously hurt, that's why I train to end the confrontation in seconds... not trade blows for time on end, prolonging & elevating the danger of losing the contest and heightening the risk of injury, including serious.I don't care that 80% of MMA bouts statistically end by grappling. I care about, in self defense, in disabling my opponent efficiently & effectively by a blow or series of strikes measured in a matter of seconds. Is grappling a threat? Sure. Is grappling another tool? Sure. Traditional karate provides for grappling... yet makes clear that potent strikes are the most practical way to go.All this worship of Mas Oyama. He was a karate master who promoted an adaptive style of traditional karate... now all but lost in tough guys slugging into one & another like kick boxers among so much of his following today. I don't want to be a knock-off of Mas Oyama,,, I want to beat his stylist followers by adhering to traditional karate principles.Maybe Shotokan isn't the best style to do that. That's a personal call. But it's far bigger folly to pretend rubbing shoulder with the ghost of Mas Oyama will cause one to become a better karate fighter than JKS Shotokan done diligently.The key is on conditioning oneself into a tree trunk. The traditional karate key is developing a strong karate base of body, mind & spirit, where the mind actively rules.I've fought karate students who follow the Muay Thai / Tough Guy-Boxer Mantra... including incredibly conditioned one. They're all dangerous on one level or another and they are all vulnerable to the tools of Shotokan or any traditional karate style. Especially and particularly Mental Discipline.KYO is the most successful form of full contact karate? You mean KYO attracts those who deal in punishment; either to oneself or to others. Learn by punishment. There's a place for tough conditioning in traditional karate; however, the mind always comes first.I defeat the type of full contact fighter you describe right out the box. No standing around slugging it out. It's over very quickly. The look of shock in my opponents is stunning. Shotokan karate presents precisely the model to do so. So does the more traditional KYO curriculum. The really fundamental principles are the same.All traditional karate teaches self defense against aggression, people trying to instill fear. The ultimate answer is mental discipline. Not becoming a tree trunk.
  • YakazukiMike
    Hey Jesse,I had to chime in because I can't believe what you wrote. In fact, I had to re-read this particular sentence over again three times to make sure it wasen't lack of sleep on my part. When you stated "found it hard to extract natural and practical self-defense techniques from the traditional style of Shotokan"Umm... you must not be looking too hard because this is practically embedded into the style. True traditional Shotokan is a no-nonsense, military style that teaches body mechanics for maximum damage. Nearly everything is split-second, linear, and devastating. My sensei, Eric Swick, has multiple awards from the IBAA http://ibba.webstarts.com/hall_of_fame.htmlNow, you can clearly see that one of the awards is MMA instructor of the year. This is because he trained boxers, not karate-ka, karate-motified mma (basically traditional karate) and was very sucessful with it. I was there at the cage of choas when our guy knocked out a huge brute with a simple movement, reverse punch drill he trained on. One hard punch and the guy was down.So in conclusion, you're argument makes no practical or even academic sense and has more holes than swiss cheese. I recently found you're site and liked the articles I saw, but now I have to question you on you're judgement somewhat.
    • ShotoNoob
      SHOTOKAN FOR SELF-DEFENSE: YES OR NO? | I can agree with the Author's viewpoint. I, however, think your's is the better view. | People tend to take a position on a style of karate based on certain conventions. Once one establishes a premise based on that, the conclusions then logically follow. | The failure in these conclusions then arises from a premise assumed to be correct or true. While a legitimate conclusion my be drawn, the premise limits or excludes relevant facts or the larger picture. | Your response that fundamental Shotokan karate kumite technique can be devastatingly effective in self defense--points out exactly what I am saying. | I think it's easy to look at certain Shotokan karate conventions, characteristics of techniques, the structure of training, etc, and find faults or probable improvements. But that is not the point. The point is can Shotokan done well be highly effective. NO QUESTION. | Do other traditional karate styles have better self defense applications or higher sophistication than Shotokan--SURE. | IMO, the larger view is when talking effective self defense, can Shotokan get you there? Any style of traditional karate can.... the real challenge is understanding.... | Great vignette, thank you for an excellent point made clear to all....
  • i love martial arts very much.when my age is 14 i learn kung fu & karate.but now i want io learn shotokan karate & jka karate.i want to learn shotokan karate iskf organization.i live asia,india,w.b.,kolkata.in kolkata there are any branch of iskf?
  • tog
    Hello,It is my first post here; so, excuse me, if it somehow feels awkward. First of all, I am not a current or former champion (never even participated in a arm-to-arm combat tournaments, though did in fencing), not a black belt. I am 40 years old, always trained sporadically 3-6 months (for different reasons, but at high intensity). In fact, my highest achievements have been so far green belt in shotokan (starting point), a blue belt in kyokushinkai, yellow Shito-ruy. In between, I did some boxing, Isshin-ryu, kickboxing, mua thai, grappling. So, here are my uneducated thoughts on this topic. Second of it, most of MA gyms in US and Canada are either McDojos or close to it. In my native country of Azerbaijan, most of karate gyms would have closed down if they run this so-called ‘’ traditional karate’’- all half-baked kata’s, no actual impact and conditioning. Having moved to North America I was looking for good MA gyms. Have seen many bad gyms, but in US I was lucky to meet sensei Nathan Ligo, 4 dan in Kyokushinkai, very technical fighter and coach, in Montreal, Canada it is Mikhail Zimmerman, 3 dan Kyokushinkai and Alain Marten 4 dan in Shotokan. So, one has to just search for a good gym and put very hard work, a lot of sweat, sometimes, blood in ones efforts. A few typical points I cannot resist mentioning having read the discussion. Shotokan style really favors speed and precision, timing and attacking from the distance and using 2-3 strikes combos. Footwork is fine, too. What ruin its strengths are rules for competitions, like one clean shot and done (very difficult in reality, fight goes on after landing the blow), too soft strikes (no hard contact thus no body conditioning), the usual fighting stance makes it hard to use leading limbs (head is often poorly protected), limited lateral movements, lead leg exposed to low kicks, reduced and almost forgotten waza techniques. Lyoto Machida actually used mostly basic Shotokan moves, please, watch him beat Rich Franklin, Stefan Bonner, BJ Penn, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Vernon White, Thiago Silva, Rashad Evans. It was his fight with Shogun Rua ( a very good Muaythai kickboxer) that forced him modify his style as mix of Shotokan and Muaythai. But as he ages, his trademark speed advantages diminishes, plus his game has been studied. Kyokushinkai, also, suffers because of its kumite rules. Very poor footwork, almost no head movements, limited self-defense techniques, non-existent (grappling), I recall every time I tried throw someone during sparring (like AshiBarai or OsoGari, hip throw) I would get reprimanded. Body Conditioning is great, strikes are hard, techniques are more various than in Muaythai. Original Kyokushinkai vs Muaythai matches were great, just look here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRoCXBdaV8U. Shotokan by design cannot work with big boxing gloves. Kyokushinkai and Muaythai are better suited for K-1 format. Look, what happens when decorated K-1 champions enter MMA, they sometimes struggle even with striking (Sam Greco, Semmy Schilt, Tyrone Spong, Alistair Overeem and so long) because gloves are smaller, angles are different, risk of takedown. Speaking of Shotokan and Kyokushnkai friendly matches, let me be clear, a lot of them have been by knockdown karate rules ( no head punches or grappling). Very rarely, they do by both rules and then chances are fighter dependant. Like, in this case, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h08xkGDixko P.S. Lyoto Machida took MuayThai to prepare for his fight against Tito Ortiz and he had troubles with its moves. 1st and 2nd World Championship in JAPAN for Kyokushin were by kyokushin rules.
  • John
    Reading through comments it strikes me that the feelings one has about any given style appear to be similar to how one might approach their tool shed.If your purpose is for killing as efficiently as possible then skip traditional martial arts and purchase fire arms or mines or what have you.If your purpose is to test yourself through brutal combat then choose a brutal combat style (Kyukushin, MT,) add more tools Jujitsu or the like for a "ground game"If you want your kids to learn discipline, self respect, and healthy lifestyle then pick a good teacher of any number of styles.Worthiness of a tool is how it is used and who uses it. Don't ask a hammer to cut wood planks like a circular saw and you will be a happy person.I am contemplating a return to training after many years away. I have fought an actual war, had two kids, been back to school, changed jobs, moved a bunch. I don't care about how tough I can be or fighting in tournaments, I think self defense is a mostly a mind set and judgement issue. So while I started in a Kyukushin and judo/aikido style. I am considering Shotokan to help me with flexibility fitness and fun. While learning something more about the history and culture of Karate.Good choice or not...I don't know but I will chose based on the way I feel about the instructor and what my budget can handle.
  • Kudzanai
    I was reading sun tsu the other day. And I come to a chapter which describes the solid and the empty. Now according to sun Tsu the empty can mean unprotected or open. Now since Karate is translated as empty hands does it also translate to unarmed as some of us have been led to believe.How can i protect myself against someone with a knife if I can not use one.
  • Mike
    Another fun fact about Shotokan: Won Ku Lee was one of the original students of Shotokan. He then took Karate back to his home land of Korea, and used it to create one of the original Kwan styles of TaeKwonDo. So if any of you like or dislike TKD, you can thank Shotokan.
  • kenoa
    i 100% agree, its really good for self defense and for self improvment, becuse whit my sensei all of his students were, the nicest guys you would know.If you have attitude in karate then you will not succeed in it, in the tournoments or in the style. all of my sensei"s students are succeedin in life.So where did shokatan start. it started in a univirsite in japan, by a master call gichin fukonoshi.
  • tashi JKA and ITF TAEKWONDO PRACTITIONER
    Karate is Funakoshi Gichin`s invention, he founded terms and concepts and systems. In Okinawa is called tang hand (te), should not be called karate. Karate is Japan's cultural industry, Okinawa people should not be use this name, because at first they despise karate.
  • Ito Matsumi
    In all the photos of Gichin Funakoshi, you don't see him "low and deep"...then again he was only 5 ft tall. What's being taught as Shotokan and what Shotokan IS, are two different things. Funakoshi wasn't a fan of kumite, and if you read his writings he deliberately went out of his way to avoid conflict. Shotokan is the search for perfection, with the benefit of protection but at the cost of what Funakoshi saw as the purest pursuit of non-conflict.
  • Rudra Acharya
    Nice article. Well me being a Shotokan Karateka have struggled most of the time getting adapted to the different styles of the same katas that are taught in both Shito-Ryu and Shotokan...Like take the example of Bassai-Dai (Which is My grading kata..XDXDXD) both Shito-Ryu and Shotokan have an effective bunkai but what the difference is that the sequences are quite a bit different...I may be feeling this because some katas like Bassai-Dai, Kanku-Dai, Jion and Enpi have been inscribed into me like brands on a cow....However what you are saying is not entirely wrong as well like Goju-Shi-Ho-Sho and Goju-Shi-Ho-Dai's Shotokan Version are tougher than the Shito-Ryu ones...but like if you begin with Chatanyara Kushanku and Annan it becomes very easy to master the stances if you are a 1st Kyu...(I am a 1st dan...XDXDXDXD).....

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