Exploring The Karate Mentality: Respect It Or Check It

Was everything better before?

An expression heard now and then, most often by veterans in their chosen field of study, is that in ‘ye olde days’ – before all these modern inventions – things used to be “better”.

Better… or just different?

There’s a thin line.

Take video games as an example:

Today, kids spend countless of hours gaming in front of a computer or TV, in mindless quests for virtual “gold” and “experience points”, so that they can take their fantasy creatures to the next level; slaying trolls, monsters and gnomes in imaginary fairy tale settings.

But, before World of Warcraft came along, kids would be reading books instead (unless they were outside playing cops and robbers, or working in mines.).

So what’s the difference?

Well, a book gives you the plot, right? But it doesn’t tell you what everything looks like. In other words, you are required to produce and visualize the written scenarios of the book by yourself, in your mind. An online computer role-playing game is the exact opposite. Here everything is already visualized for you. The monsters look like this, the wizards look like that; this magic spell is purple, that barbarian is hairy and so on.

The only thing you need to do yourself is to decide whether you want to go right or left, slay this monster or that monster.


Using your imagination has now been substituted with merely using regular everyday logical thinking.

And if we are to believe one of the greatest geniuses in the history of mankind, Albert Einstein, [“Imagination is more important than knowledge…”] then perhaps things were not only different, but indeed better in ‘ye olde days’. At least in this matter.

So what about Karate, then?

You don’t have to read a whole lot of interviews with senior authorities of Karate to realize that the state of Karate in the world today is a tad bit different to what it was when these veterans were growing up.

Different, but better?

In some ways yes, in some ways no.

It seems that with the recent expansion (boom?) of sports science for everyone, along with related expensive high-tech gear, some traditional Karate training methods have indeed been changed for the better. An example of updated knowledge would be the relationship between arthritis and the makiwara, or breathing and Sanchin kata. And let’s not forget the relationship with broken backs/damaged knee joints and Shotokan-style kihon.

(What, that was a secret? *Oops…*)

Anyhoo, style bashing aside, one thing that has definitely changed for the worse is the originally Confucian concept of the relationship between a sensei and his/her students (or the senpai/kohai system, if you will), along with its inherited cultural values.

Let me tell you.

A long time ago, in an age where most people thought the world was flat, that you could dig a hole to China and that knowing how to copy Tila Tequila’s makeup was very uninteresting, there lived a dozen or so really famous Karate masters in Okinawa.

Many boys and girls wanted to learn the secret art of Karate from them, but few were accepted. This is a fact, evident from the writings of many great Karate pioneers of old. Just to give the general idea, I’ll let my homie F-Gizzle drop some knowledge on yo’ ass:

“In the past, masters would first look at the character of the potential student before agreeing to teach them. Those whose natures were deemed inappropriate, even in the case of one’s own child, were strictly forbidden from receiving training in the martial arts.”

– Funakoshi Gichin

This was the way it was originally done.

And it’s perfectly logical, isn’t it?

Would you teach any bum how to shoot with a gun? Doubtful. You would first see that they were calm an relaxed to their nature, make sure they don’t have any trouble with the law, no evil intentions, and most of all absolutely no connections whatsoever to Don Calzone, the local gangster boss who desperately seeks to wack everyone who owes him dough.



Finding these things out later – after you’ve taught a potentially deadly skill to your trusted pupil – could come as a rude shock, kind of like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.

A rude, rude, shock…

Which, when we look back, perhaps is the reason to why so many excellent Karate masters and technicians were created in the first place. Because their minds were only forged by constant Karate practise, not created by it.

Having a correct mindset and attitude was what got them accepted into Karate to begin with!

Everyone knows that you can’t build a house on uneven ground.

It would be ugly, expensive and potentially dangerous.

[please tell me you understood that analogy]

But that is, in fact, the case with modern Karate instruction – where the almighty yen rules supreme.

So, to get to original point of this article – which I strangely haven’t even mentioned yet – here’s an e-mail I received last week from a handsome young man named Joshua; from a dojo with members of an exquisitely refined taste in blogs.

It goes:

Mr. Jesse,

At my dojo, a lot of my friends look down upon having a crisp, white, “prissy” gi at competitions. I think it’s practical, and that it would kind of suck to have people with old, foul-smelling uniforms running around at competitions. What are your thoughts on having a Gi that one only uses for competition? Without a doubt, the majority of the competition crowd at my dojo use your site and YouTube channel more than any other source on the web for Karate, so I’m sure your opinion would matter.

It’d be super cool if you wrote an article or something.


Now, besides pointing out the obvious fact that Joshua-san most likely has a severe beating waiting from his smelly friends the next time he comes to the dojo (censoring e-mails? who, me?), there is another point I want to make clear.

I didn’t even know this “problem” existed.

It’s like, back up, wait a minute, hold it… he wrote what?

People are walking around with filthy Karate uniforms… at tournaments, even!

What the billclinton is going on here? Seriously? Surely this must have been be a joke, but it wasn’t, as my continued e-mail discussion with Joshua-san revealed.


So, J-dog, tell your Karate friends the following:

Sure, things might have been better before: People read books (=knowledge) instead of playing stupid computer games, people had to develop a correct mindset and spirit before being accepted into the dojo of a master (=producing top-notch Karate exponents), Coca-Cola would always come in a glass bottle (= it actually tastes better, doesn’t it?) et cetera, but there’s no need for us to relive the harsh poverty-stricken era of dirty, worn-out clothes that was Okinawa during the golden pre-WW2 days of Karate.

Did he win because of the nice gi? Or did he have the nice gi because he is a winner...?

We have easy access to crisp, super white Karate uniforms, made out of the finest blend of cotton and strange chemicals that you can possibly find, which can be bought for a smaller fortune from numerous well-known brands such as Shureido, Hirota, Tokaido, Adidas and others.

So why settle for less?

In fact, not do I only urge you to always look sharp…

I command you to.

Because whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever style, dojo or organization you belong to – you represent all of us.

That’s right.

You represent me.

And I’ll be damned if I am to be represented by somebody wearing a yellowish, pooh-smelling, unwashed Karate gi with month-old blood stains on it (and don’t tell me that is actually ketchup from your pre-workout Double Whopper with extra cheese).

That’s not me.

And for all of us, I hope that’s neither you.

When you look good; you feel good – and when you feel good; you do good. Staying f-f-fresh and clean (just go ahead and imagine a DJ scratching that) is quite simply a recipe for success.

Karate begins and ends with respect.

Begin by respecting yourself.

Because you’re worth it.

And, in case you’ve already forgotten: to the world you may be just someone… but to someone you are the world.

The world of Karate.


  • Can you lend me some bucks to buy some new clothes?? Here in the 3rd world we have to wash our only karate-gi too often and we have some holes on them... You see... We live in a place where 90 % of population do what possible to live with the 10 % of the resources remaining...
    • Merry Christmas! ;)
  • Carl
    you mare so right. Coca-Cola taste so much better in the old school bottles.
  • Diego Romero
    back in my days RPGs had Thac0 and non-weapon proficiences...
    • Oh yeah, the old taco...
  • Jim
    Man, oh man, i wish we did not need to have these lectures but the truth is we seem to. Kareteka's, the world over it seems are struggling with the concept of self-respect which starts first with coming to the dojo in a clean and tidy Gi. My chief instructor and I have literally gone hoarse trying to hammer something as simple as clean Gi's into students, somewhere along the line 'as far as i have seen in any case' people have associated looking like a vagabond to being tough....but in the dojo....oh dear
  • Mohammade
    Who on earth is Tila Tequila?? :')
    • Like the Japanese say: "Not knowing is buddha" ;)
  • Viking
    When we set to colonise the world we left the wimps at home do their washing. Clothes that can stand up on their own are a sign of how tough you are. Causing your enemy breathing problems from the pungent aroma is something to be proud of. Clean clothes are to attract people who like flowers. Perhaps some nice ribbons to go with the clean clothes?
    • 'Perhaps some nice ribbons to go with the clean clothes?' Dude, what do you think your belt is for? ;) Only kidding of course - hope you are too Mr Viking! ;)
      • Viking
        One of my hero's is Miyamoto author of the book of Five Rings who never had a bath because it put him at a disadvantage. What a man. Japanese too so he must be right. In my own lifetime Gaz of the smelly Gi, for over a year would screw up his Gi into bag wet 3 times a week, leave it in the bag, get it out straighten it up a bit and put it on. The stench was to die for. I mean if you hit him the resulting infection would be likely to kill you. Eventually peer group pressure put a stop to his manlyness. He should have just toughed it out. He was my hero for a while, respect.:-)
        • As Konishi Yasuhiro (Takehiro) once told me: "Ninjas had an easy time locating and killing samurai, because the stench from their oily/greasy hair could be smelled from miles away!"
          • Viking
            The Vietcon could tell when Americans where in their tunnels as they could smell the flowery scent from their soap. :-)
  • Jorge
    good article jesse s
  • Joshua
    This article made my day
  • Aaron
    Made my day too. I go to the same dojo where clean gi's are considered unnecessary and being only on my 2nd Adidas Champion gi have been made fun of for being "prissy." Good article and Josh and I will be happy to take the beating for it. Plus, what's better than a new gi? I mean come on!!
    • Joshua
      Some people are like "I wash my gi when it stands on it's own." Grody!
  • Kevin
    I have found it interesting that there is this myth in the US about not washing your belt and how it takes on this mystical symbol, yet in Japan it is considered gross to not wash your belt with your uniform. To them it is just a part of the uniform and should be washed as such.
  • Kristal Suell
    You are doing a very impressive job! This is an so cool article.
  • Geoff
    I tend to be tense during training so my gi jacket is always wringing wet at the end of every session. My training gi is a little beaten up with a few holes but it is washed and ironed between training sessions. I think that having the discipline to wash and iron your gi between sessions is just a natural extension of our karate training.
  • Imprezy Motywacyjne
    Excellent to find out your site during this week.
  • Debroah Morrissette
    I have to admit that your post is very interesting. I have spent a lot of my free time reading your content. Thank you a lot!
  • Thant Coleman
    I represent my dojo and myself. I am always clean as is my gi (it helps to own a few) on each new day of training. My gi is always washed and ironed and I noticed that my students often take the same level of pride in themselves. The peer pressure of looking sharp works just as well. Wearing a clean uniform is a sign of respect in ones self and in ones organization. Being a Marine Corps veteran I certainly agree with the previous post mentioning that a degree is discipline is involved in keeping up your uniform!
  • Toi Toi
    Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pics to drive the message home a little bit, but instead of that, this is excellent blog. A great read. I will definitely be back.
  • Madelyn
    I am so glad for a sensei who believes in personal hygiene. This is his words to the kids in class: Karate is not punching and kicking and being tough. Karate is washing your gi. Karate is making your bed. Karate is washing your dishes! That, my friends, is a karate lifestyle. Not stinking up your dojo.

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