The 10 Rules of Old School Karate

“Classical Karate.”

“Traditional Karate.”

“Old-style Karate.”

“Orthodox Karate.”

These descriptions, and many more, are frequently thrown around, when people are talking about their style, school or association. They want to feel original, like what they do is the “one and true way” and everything else is a variation or copy of their stream. They feel safe, somehow, knowing that what they do is the “original way”, because then you can’t go wrong, can you?!

“Hey, we do like this because the ancient masters did so hundreds of years ago. It’s the old way, so it can’t be wrong”.

Okay, okay, calm down, let’s see.

There is a simple test to see if what you train is actually the “old way” of training Karate.

Please answer the following ten questions (based on historical facts):

1. Do you frequently try your skills in fights with other people/thieves/thugs/streetfighters to see if it actually works? You can either decide the place and time to fight with someone, or you can just search your town for a gang to fight. Because that’s what they did in the old times

2. Do you constantly train and study one kata every day for years, (approximately three years), before you even think you have grasped something as essential as the basic stance and footwork of the kata? Because that’s what they did in the old times.

3. Do you frequently pursue activities tht may look like the exact opposite of Karate, like calligraphy, philosophy, literature, music or gardening? Because that’s what they did in the old times.

4. If you are an instructor: Do you make new students beg for months, give you gifts, and have them perform chores around the dojo/house, before you finally – with a hint of doubt – accept them as your students? Because that’s what they did in the old times.

5. If you are a student: Did you beg for months, give your sensei gifts, and perform chores around the house/dojo, before you finally – with a hint of doubt – became accepted as a student? Because that’s what they did in the old times.

6. Do you consider the three K’s of Karate to be these: Kata (form) Kumite (sparring) and Kihon (basics)? Or do you consider them to be: Kitsui (hard), Kiken (dangerous) and Kitanai (vulgar)? Because that’s what they did in the old times.

7. Do you consider applications and techniques brought from China (mainly Qin-na, Shuai Jiao and Quan-fa), mixed with your own Okinawan mindset, combined with a big dose of Siamese Boxing (like the preferance for closed fists over open, unlike in China) to be the source of what you train? Because that’s what they did in the old times.

8. Do you train with weapons and various farming tools (converted into weapons), with names like tonfa, sai, nunchaku and kama? Do you also train with sharp Chinese broadswords (da-dao), spears and hilebards? Because that’s what they did in the old times.

9. Do you frequently lift weights designed specifically to aid your Karate-techniques? Do you repeatedly hit your fists, forearms and shins into wooden poles covered in straw/hemp-rope? Do you also hit other hard stuff, like trees, rocks, buckets of pebbles, stones, bamboo and such, to harden and strenghten yourself? And remember, you have to hit thousands of times. Because that’s what they did in the old times.

10. Do you simply refer to your training as fighting (in your language)? Or sometimes Chinese fighting, because you really admire the high standing prosperous culture of China? You may absolutely not call it the way of the empty hand or anything like that. Just call it fighting, or combat, or preferably a highly local word for “whooping ass”Because that’s what they did in the old times.

Oh yeah, they trained in their underwear as well.

You’ll have to do that too.

——- End of questionnaire ——-

If you answered yes to the above ten questions, you are truly training “Old style-Orthodox-Traditional-Super-Ancient-Karate”, just like it was practised in Okinawa many moons ago.

However, if you answered NO to any of the questions above, please stop saying you practise/teach “Old style-Orthodox-Traditional-Super-Ancient-Karate-jutsu-Toudi-Whatever”, just like it was practised in Okinawa.

Because you don’t.



  • Saxon_Thor
    Thank you for this post Jesse, it was educational and humbling.
  • Szilard
    #1) No, and I believe that is just a legend. We had thugs and people fighting them on my side of the world too, and they did not live long enough to have students. #2) That is pretty much what I do. #3) Yes of course. #4) I am not an instructor, I guess nobody tried hard enough yet to become my student. #5) I pay $100 a month, with my financial situation that is a shitload of begging. #6) You just told something that hit me like when I was told at 13, that masturbation was OK. Yeah, hard, dangerous and vulgar, that is what I was thinking about karate, and I was not wrong. Yee-haaa! #7) Check. And I heard it from my sensei Gabor Ats, back in the 80s. #8) Yep, openhanded first, than with weapons. All katas including the basic Pinan series and Shinpa that weren't really weapon katas, still they are good to get really comfortable with the weapons. #9) No. At least not as often as I would like to.#10) Fighting does not translate well to my language, so when they ask what I do, I just say karate, and let them fill the mystic blanks.So there are 2 nos. I hope that qualifies me as a modern martial artist.
    • Re: #1Kakedamashi (a fight to test your skills) was a popular practice among Karate practitioners during the “old-days”, and there is testimony to prove this. For instance Mabuni Kenei reports that his father, Mabuni Kenwa "was freqently challenged to kake-damashi. These challenges he would accept, and would choose a quiet corner of the town to serve as venue..." Similar stories are told by Funakoshi Gichin (about Itosu and Asato), Choshin Chibana, Motobu Choki, Kyan Chotoku and practically every other olds-school Karate pioneer. Thug life!
      • Szilard
        I believe you are much more of an authority on the topic than I will ever be. And anyways, we might just talk about the same thing. These stories are always about ancestors and teachers. I can't recall any stories about a trainer saying he would accept fights. Well, except for William Cheung. And even he "did it only in the past". Probably the mythic Oyama Masutatsu would have been up to any challenger. Alas the real one was not that type, at least not after 1964. Still he was good at sending his students to fight for the honor of his school, so I guess there might be something in the tales about long dead people risking their life by accepting challenges.
  • Greg
    Great article, many thanks for sharing this :)
  • Carissa
    Wow, this is extremely enlightening, humbling, and most of all, fascinating! Amazing to think about how people trained "back then." How much things have changed, for better or worse. Thanks for this.
  • Jason
    I just finished reading Shoshin Nagamine's telling of how one of his sensei's Choki Motobu mastered Karate in his time in "The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do". He had to beg to be taught. He went out and aggressively started street fights specifically to test his skills.
  • Dave
    Practicing, studying, performing, traditional Okinawan Karate does not mean doing several of the things mentioned above in your 10 list. Tell those things to someone like Grand Master Morio Higaonna (10th Dan, Hanshi, Goju Ryu IOGKF) about the way he instructs his students and you'll be in for a big surprise my friend. His students encompass the world and he only teaches traditional Okinawan Goju Ryu! Just because he doesn't tell his students to go out and pick fights with others, or gangs, doesn't mean he isn't instructing his native art. Although using modern weights is not the same as using boards and stones, the results are the same (I do prefer the old hojo undo though because it's natural but not necessary to be a traditionalist). Learning a traditional style is about the depth and meaning of the kata. When you get down to it, it's all about the kata. This is your basics put together to create the kata as well as the meaning and applications of the moves from your kata (bunkai). A few years ago, no one was even interested in kata until a new revolution of the old ways was reborn under Okinawa masters Higaonna, Nagamine, etc. and their sons and senior students and the writings of people like Patrick McCarthy, Higaonna, Toguchi, and others led the way to take us back to the traditional. Yes, they did those things that you mentioned, but that's not what makes it traditional in any way. The study of the "art" and the "kata" are the essence of traditional karate and not what you claim in your article.

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