10 Books Every Karate Nerd Must Have (+ 1 DVD)

Do you like reading Karate books?


Because today, I’ve put together a quick list of a few of my favorite books that every Karate Nerd™ should own.

To save you time, I’ve also added a small blurb about what each book is about, followed by my own personal comments.

Of course I’ve read them all – numerous times!

Check ’em out:

#1: Bubishi: The ‘Bible’ of Karate

Translated & compiled by Patrick McCarthy

“Treasured for centuries by karate’s top masters, Bubishi is a classic Chinese work on philosophy, strategy, medicine and technique as they relate to the martial arts. Referred to as “the bible of karate” by the famous master Chojun Miyagi, for hundreds of years the Bubishi was a secret text passed from master to student in China and later in Okinawa.

No other classic work has had as dramatic an impact on the shaping and development of karate: all of karate’s legendary masters have studied it, applied its teachings or copied passages from it.

This beautiful new hardcover edition features over 250 line drawings, photographs and calligraphy throughout. Along with additional commentary and a new foreword from Patrick McCarthy, the first person to translate the Bubishi into English, this book is an excellent addition to anyone’s library.”

Comments: Okay, here’s the first one on my list – for a reason! Although Bubishi isn’t a physically ‘big’ book, it’s still pretty dense – and super important. Why? Because it’s the earliest written record of a genuine martial arts transmission from China to Okinawa (the birthplace of Karate).

So, historically speaking, the Bubishi is essential to your library.

The stuff you find in the Bubishi , i.e. kata techniques, self-defense, pressure points, combat tactics, herbal medicine, philosophy etc. is exactly what old-school Karate consisted of. This particular translation is by far the best one, because the editor, Patrick McCarthy, is the world’s best Karate researcher.

–> Get it here, amigo!


#2: The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate

By Funakoshi Gichin

“Gichin Funakoshi, “the father of karate,” once said that “the ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory nor defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”

To support this life-long stance and offer guidance to future practitioners, he penned his now legendary twenty principles. While the principles have circulated for years, a translation of the accompanying commentary has never found its way into publication–until now.

As axioms, Funakoshi’s principles are open to various interpretations. “There is no first attack in karate” has occasioned endless discussion about its true meaning. Many of these ambiguities are clarified in the commentary, which is also filled with philosophical musings, fascinating historical episodes, and advice for anyone seeking a better Way.”

Comments: This book is so awesome. Containing the famous “twenty guiding principles of Karate” laid out by the legendary master Funakoshi himself, this timeless collection of wisdom will have you thinking a lot.

I seriously love the authentic feel of the book (physically), and even though the book is actually a lightweight, the content really speaks for itself. I could write a whole book about each single page. Really.

–> Get it here, mate!


#3: Karate-Do: My Way of Life

By Funakoshi Gichin

“Linking the time when karate was a strictly Okinawan art of self-defense shrouded in the deepest secrecy and the present day, when it has become a martial art practiced throughout the world, is Gichin Funakoshi, the “Father of Karate-do.”

Out of modesty, he was reluctant to write this autobiography and did not do so until he was nearly ninety years of age. Trained in the Confucian classics, he was a schoolteacher early in life, but after decades of study under the foremost masters, he gave up his livelihood to devote the rest of his life to the propagation of the Way of Karate.

In telling of his own famous teachers – and not only of their mastery of technique but of the way they acted in critical situations  -the author reveals what true karate is. The stories he tells about himself are no less instructive: his determination to continue the art, after having started it to improve his health; his perseverance in the face of difficulties, even of poverty; his strict observance of the way of life of the samurai; and the spirit of self-reliance that he carried into an old age kept healthy by his practice of Karate-do.”

Comments: Another book by Funakoshi Gichin, and one of the first Karate books I ever read. Unlike most other Karate books, this is more of a “story” type book.

Basically, if you want first-hand accounts of how Funakoshi and his awesome teachers (Itosu and Azato) applied dirty Karate skills in their daily struggle on the unforgiving streets of ancient Okinawa, this is your book. Fascinating old-school Karate stories, with a high re-read value. Love it.

–> Get it here, comrade!


#4: History and Traditions of Okinawan Karate

By Hokama Tetsuhiro

“Tetsuhiro Hokama is one of the most prolific writers on the history of Okinawa martial arts. Unfortunately for most of us, the majority of his books are written in Japanese! This volume is a noteable exception […].

The first section deals with the history of Okinawan Karate: Origins of Martial Arts, Martial Arts Pioneers, and The Evolution of Modern Martial Arts. All three sections deal exclusively with Okinawan fighting arts and teachers, and there are plenty of photographs throughout, many which have NOT been published in other books on Okinawa karate.

The book includes a training guide section, including one kata demonstrated by Hokama sensei himself. The unique chapters cover things like ‘Ekkinkyogi’ – physical practice and internal power, ‘Kappo’ (rescusitation techniques), ‘Iron Hand’ hardening, ‘Kakie’ (pushing hands), 2-man body-hardening exercises, kata, bunkai and more.

Comments: I have to admit something folks: Hokama sensei is a true badass. How do I know? I’ve visited him many times in Okinawa, training at his dojo, even staying at his house – which has a huge section dedicated to his Karate museum.

So, if you want to experience the written collection of professor Hokama’s amazing historical & technical knowledge – without having your fingers broken (literally!), or giant boards smashed over your head (been there, done that, got the t-shirt) – this book will be perfect for you as an overview of basic Okinawan Karate and its history.

Buy it. Read it twice. Learn it.

–> Get it here, buddy!


#5: The Essence of Karate

By Funakoshi Gichin

“Gichin Funakoshi is a legendary figure and the founder of Shotokan karate, the most popular style of Japanese karate, with millions of practitioners worldwide. In The Essence of Karate, Funakoshi creates, in his own words, a narrative of modern karate. He explains the philosophical and spiritual underpinnings and includes memories of his own training, as well as recollections of other karate masters and the history of the martial art. He also discusses the importance of winning without fighting, and the reason why many great martial artists improve with age.

The preface has been contributed by Hirokazu Kanazawa, President of the Shotokan Karate-do International Federation (and Funakoshi’s disciple). He fondly writes of his memories of Gichin Funakoshi during his youth and what he learned from the master. In the afterword, the founder’s great-nephew, Gisho Funakoshi, shares previously unknown personal anecdotes about his “Uncle Funakoshi.””

Comments: Yup, Funakoshi Gichin again. You see, apart from being “the grandfather of modern Karate”, he was an insane writer – producing more material than many of his peers. And yes – the material is great.

I actually got this book personally signed by a living Funakoshi family member in Okinawa (as I wrote here), so needless to say, this book is pretty special to me.

The book contains golden nuggets of Karate wisdom, and the physical feel of the book is awesome. I love both the design and the content. The book truly outlines the essence of Karate and should be mandatory reading for today’s Karate youth especially. You’ll know why when you read it.

–> Get it here, hombre!


#6: Okinawan Karate: Teachers, Styles and Secret Techniques

By Mark Bishop

“Written by a well-known figure in the Martial Arts community noted for his outspokenness, this book is an engaging and rich text, certain to provoke and please. ‘Okinawan Karate’, long sought after by connoisseurs of Okinawan Martial Artsl arts, is the definitive survey and examination of traditional Martial Artsl arts of the island.

With detailed lineage charts of most of the major Okinawan Martial Artsl arts systems, sequential photographs displaying the distinctive techniques of his subjects, solid reportage, and frank quotes from his interview subjects, Okinawan Karate is a complete and encyclopedic source of information.”

Comments: If you have any interest in old styles of Karate, this book is for you. The author, Mark Bishop, basically went everywhere in Okinawa’s traditional Karate community and scribbled down his cool experience – the sum of several face-to-face meetings with a plethora of incredible Karate and Kobudo masters, most of whom are dead now.

The fact that an Okinawan friend of mine (a 7th dan shihan) bought this book for his own study says a lot. The book contains wonderfully rare photos (I’m a sucker for rare Karate photos!) and a great directory at the end too. Highly recommended for history buffs and people who like weird/rare/secret stuff.

–> Get it here, pal!


#7: Machida-Do: Karate for Mixed Martial Arts (DVD Box)

By Lyoto ‘The Dragon’ Machida

“Lyoto Machida, son of karate master Yoshizo Machida, is one of the top-ranked mixed martial arts competitors in the world. After earning his karate black belt at thirteen, he mastered a number of other martial arts disciplines, including sumo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Combining techniques from the various disciplines to form an unorthodox and highly effective fighting style, Machida took the martial arts world by storm, defeating legendary mixed martial artists such as BJ Penn, Rich Franklin, and Tito Ortiz. Now, for the first time, Machida divulges the secrets to his revolutionary fighting system.

Whether you re new to the martial arts or an experienced fighter, Machida-do is for you. Detailing everything from stance to complex combinations to elaborate counterattacks to intricate ground fighting tactics, Machida has left no stone unturned. In Machida-Do, Lyoto Machida shares the fighting system that elevated him to the top of the MMA mountain.”

Comments: An extensiveDVD box featuring Lyoto Machida, the hugely successful point-Karate fighter to become a champion in UFC, the world’s biggest Mixed Martial Arts organization. Wow. In this 4-DVD set he shows exactly which Karate techniques work in the cage… and which doesn’t.

Machida’s evasive style, footwork and classical Karate counters – adapted to the full-contact rules of MMA – make this a must-buy for every serious fighter out there. It also includes ne-waza (ground fighting).

So if you want to be the king of the dojo, this is for you. Believe me!

–> Get it here, bro!


#8: The Little Black Book of Violence: What Every Young Man Needs to Know About Fighting

By Lawrence A. Kane and Kris Wilder

“Men commit 80 % of all violent crimes and are twice as likely to become the victims of aggressive behavior. The Little Black Book of Violence is written for men ages 15 to 35, and contains more than mere self-defense techniques. This book provides crucial information about street survival that most martial arts instructors don’t even know about. Kane and Wilder explain how to use awareness, avoidance, and de-escalation to help stave off violence.”

Comments: The dojo is a fun place where we laugh, sweat and enjoy some exercise. The street, on the other hand, is a nasty place where we cry, run and scream. At least until you’ve read this book.

If you read this book, you will learn the difference between Karate for the dojo and Karate for the street, by exploring the gritty sides of Karate in this all-encompassing book (as related to self-defense), featuring tons of stuff that your sensei probably won’t/can’t teach you.

Kids, close your eyes – this is real stuff. Contains a lot of street psychology and verbal skills too.

–> Get it here, homie!


#9: Kata: The Key to Understanding and Dealing with the Japanese

By Boye Lafayette De Mente

“Literally, the form and order of doing things in Japan, “kata” is the cultural conditioning that causes the Japanese to think and react in the way they do. The secret to understanding Japanese business, culture, and society is explained by this cultural framework upon which Japanese behavior and etiquette is built.

Veteran Japanologist Boye Lafayette De Mente explains the concept of kata and offers the reader insight to the art of bowing, the importance of apology, the origin of the Japanese obsession for quality, and other key cultural ideas which, when mastered, unlock the mystery of Japanese professional and social interaction.

Comments: The meaning of the term kata will never be the same again when you’ve read this book. I know, because I read it many times when I lived in Japan.

Although the book has nothing to do with Karate directly, it has everything to do with Karate indirectly, i.e. through Japanese society & culture – which, as we know, serves as the historical backdrop to the evolution of Karate. In other words, if you’re interested in the cultural landscape from which modern Karate flourished, this is the book for you.

Japan is kata, and so is Karate – you just don’t know it yet. But soon you will.

–> Get it here, dude!


#10: The 3 ‘Best of KARATEbyJesse’ Books

By the world’s handsomest Karate blogger

“Straight from the best Karate blog in the galaxy, comes three long-awaited books from Amazon #1 best-selling author Jesse Enkamp; featuring some of the most popular hand-picked articles of KARATEbyJesse.com on the art, science, knowledge and culture of Karate online. WARNING! Strictly recommended for Karate Nerds™ only! May contain traces of awesome.”

Comments: What? Seriously. Don’t give me that look. Ever since I wrote The Karate Code (which became a #1 ranked Amazon.com best-seller!) people have asked me for new books. So, after letting people vote for their favorite KbJ articles, I edited them and added some new stuff and put them in three awesome books. Get them if you want to support my work. Good karma included. My eternal love too!

–> Get ’em here, you sexy beast!

PS. If you’re tired of books – check out the Seishin gi. Very limited stock left.


That’s it!

10 epic Karate Nerd™ books.

Happy reading! ; -)

PS. There are MANY more books (and websites) that I recommend in my FREE 7-Day Karate Nerd™ E-mail Guide.


  • pete ampil
    Jesse-san I have read the Mark Bishop book on the lineage of all the major names in the Okinawan martial arts and it contains a great deal of info....... When I started karate lessons in 1969 , I was not knowledgeable enough to know that I was doing Kobayashi Shorin ryu thru Sensei Seigi Shiroma. Also,I would appreciate knowing which book includes info on why Kancho Hirokazu Kanazawa left the JKA Shotokan group to form the ISKF .......although they welcome Karate practitioners from anywhere to their Kuguhara Hombu thru Kyoshis Manabu Murakami and Nobuaki Kanazawa .....Season's Greetings peteampil@in.com peteampil@yahoo.com
    • Josep
      Dear Peter, Kanazawa Soke created SKIF. ISKF is a different group. I readed in one of his books that he planned to go back to JKA but the death of Nakayama Sensei made it impossible. Oss!
      • Barry Rodgers
        Not sure if Kanazawa Sensei intended to go back to the JKA. However it certainly seems that he wanted to reconnect with Nakayama Sensei.
  • Chuck Johnson
    Hi Jesse, If you don't have it you should add "Shorin Ryu Seibukan Kyan's Karate" to your list. It is a masive 400 page book with high quality color photos. It shows how they pratice their basics, Kyan's kata and their kumite sets. There is a brief intro to each kata with who taught Kyan the form, it's special characteristics and what the name means. If Kyan didn't pass the meaning of the name then Shimabukuro sensei actualy admits he doesn't know! Their dojo kun is the same as Funakoshi's and he speculates on that as well. The book does not show applications to specific kata exept for a two man kumite based on seisan. How ever, the kihon practice, kata, and kumite drills fit together in such a cohesive way the use and meaning is often quite clear. In other words their kumite drills are based on kata as are the kihon sets. Just an awesome book. I've posted info below. Not sure is it is available in Europe or if you can only order from US. Merry Christmas, Chuck St Louis, MO (PS-not a seibukan practitioner) www.seibukan.us 406 - 8.5 x 11 pages, 1253 color photos, historical photos never published, extensive historical research on the Kyan (Motonaga) Family never published. Contains all kata and kihon of Shorin Ryu Seibukan. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Softbound - $70 Shipping Cost $15. Contact us for shipping cost outside of the continental United States. Order Now --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    • Israel
      I just received this book and would agree that it is a great resource. I am very new to Shorin Ryu Seibukan and this book will be a big help in my training and practicing away from the dojo. Not only does it show the forms and kata, but there is included the history of Shorin Ryu and its founders. Very interesting read.
      • Camila
        Hello Israel! My name is Camila, I'm from Chile and the school where I have practiced for over 9 years turn to Seibukan a year and a half ago. I have been looking for this book on the internet but with no luck. How did you get it?! I know it is a great resource and I really must have it!
  • you forgot some important books: "Empty Hand" by Kenei Mabuni, "Koshiki Kata" by Roland Habersetzer, "The Essence of okinawan Karate-Do" by Choshin Nagamine, "Karatedo-Nyomon" and "Karatedo Kyohan" by Gichin Funakoshi, "Klassisches Karate-Do" by Werner Lind and "Wu - A German with the masters in China" by Maik Albrecht. concerning the Bubishi: i've not read the Bubishi by Patrick McCarthy. I've read the Bubishi by Roland Habersetzer
  • Martin Cassel
    Hi Jesse-san! Books are okay for a Karate Nerd, but books alone for Christmas.... - a bit sad. You need something to practise the wisdom of the books in - get a Seishin Karate Gi! And after the practise - how about some carrot cake - to refill the batteries! ;-) Have a wonderful Christmas time! Martin
    • Martin-san... you should literally be standing here next to me when I write these things! Also, chocolate. Lots of chocolate. ;)
  • jules
    I have it on good authority that you don't exchange gifts Jesse?
    • Why wouldn't I, Jules-san? Gifts are awesome! :)
  • Radu Munteanu
    Hello Pete You should read soke Kanazawa's book "Karate, my life". Is is a interesting chapter - Jomei (expulsion) but i don't know exactly if it's tatemae (facade) or honne (truth). Anyway - differences of opinions. The new federation is called SKIF (Shotokan Karate-do International Federation), not ISKF. Season greetings to all and ... keep the good work Best regards Radu
  • #1 on your list sounds intriguing. I think I'll start there - I am, after all, only a beginner :-) #8 shouldn't faze me - after all, I survived junior high school :-P Looks like you put together a list of top-notch authors. Thanks!
  • Jeff
    Although technically not a "Karate" book, I would also add The Book of Five Rings (Miyamoto Musashi) to the list. Technically it is about killing your opponent with a sword, but a lot of the principles apply to self defense Karate, and is a plethora of quotes to use in the dojo to sound deep and insightful. "When practicing bunkai drills, remember, from one thing, know ten thousand things. The bunkai I see in this technique may be different than what you see depending on the context and your individual fighting style. You might see an arm lock, I see an arm break. You should investigate this thoroughly." See, even this dumb white boy can sound like an ancient master when ripping off bits and pieces of Musashi. (Before anyone flames me, I give Musashi the credit for anything I steal from him, and then I embellish on it to apply to Karate instead of sword fighting)
  • Eric
    My nephew is doing Taekwondo now, and he is way too young for these books. His birthday is coming up, and I'm looking for a gift to get him. This article suggests the Ultimate Flexibility book: http://www.sandovalkarate.net/gift-buying-guide-taekwondo-student-life/. Is that a good one for kids? Or should I get him some equipment instead like breakable boards?
  • Frank Baehr
    What about "Tales of Okinawa's Great Masters" by Shoshin Nagamine?
    • Tim
      Agree re Tales of Okinawa's Great Masters. But I think The Essence of Okinawan Karate stands alone. Great book.
  • Will
    Mas Oyama's books? I would be so upset if I ever lost my copy of Oyama's "Essential Karate/Classic Karate". I would love to get my hands on his later book, "Adavanced Karate," but those go for $100.00 on Amazon. :/
  • Devin Persaud
    Jesse-san I have another book to add to this list: The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. Slim but truly a wonderful read. I recommend it to any and every martial artist out there. :)
  • e0richt
    I treasure the following books: "this is karate", "mastering karate", "Essential karate", "vital karate" - mas oyama. "sabaki" - kancho ninoyima "Fighting Karate" - Ashihara
  • Brad McClung
    I have been looking for a comprehensive reading list for what feels like a LONG time (probably because my hunger for learning the history of karatedo). So, thank you so much for writing this article!
  • Dan Rosenberg
    How can ‘Moving Zen’ by CW Nichol not be on the list !
  • The greatest technical book on Karate, in my opinion, is Dynamic Karate by Nakayama Sensei.
  • Akiyama Wellness Center
    A must have for every karate nerd "Goju-Ryu Karate-Do Desk Reference Volume 1 Introduction and Historic Chronology" - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09KF2F8TS/ The author nailed it
  • Can you review my new book for Shotokan beginners? https://www.google.com.au/books/edition/KARATE_WELCOME_TO_THE_DOJO_JINDOKAI_KARA/-VlZEAAAQBAJ
  • Rui Duarte
    Of the three Funakoshi books, if you were to choose only one to give a complete view of Funakoshi thought, which would it be?
  • Rui Duarte
    What would be the best booklist (3 max 5 books) to read karate philosophy?
  • NishikiKarate
    You could make style spesific classification of books + Own list of colorful art page books and non colorful gray photobooks. Most karate books are ruined by gray photos where you really don t see a thing without microscope lens.

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