“Help – I’m Changing Karate Style!”

Now and then I receive e-mail from readers who have questions on various Karate related topics, and one topic that keeps popping up is styles.

More precisely, changing styles.

As people advance in their “chosen” (most often it just happened to be the nearest dojo, and not a choice at all!) style of Karate, they gradually learn that there’s other styles, schools, organizations and sensei out there – making them doubt their own stuff. Everything seems so exotic compared to the same ol’ Karate they’re used to!

Sometimes they’re wrong. Changing isn’t the solution, they are just bored with their lack of overnight progress and want more visible results, ending up changing styles more for the sake of changing environment rather than changing styles for the sake of preventing stagnation. That’s just unnecessary.

But sometimes they’re right. They are realizing that their current situation is not working anymore, and just like in any random James Bond movie they have to get the hell out of there before the metaphorical radioactive nuclear bomb blows up.

Like this e-mail I got last week.

It went (emphasis added by me):

Dear Jesse-san,

Thank you for reading these words, because I don’t want to waste to much time/words on this. By “this” I mean a problem of changing.

Bluntly put, I’m leaving my club and I’m considered one of the “oldest young students of the club” with this brown belt around my buttocks. I don’t care about color really, but here is the difficult part for me, where some of your advice could be useful and much appreciated:

I’m moving away from a Shotokan-club where I’ve been training for 5 years now, a club that’s slowly turning into a “McDojo” like you would say (no more discipline, no more spirit, more and more students who don’t give a damn and who aren’t put back in line, more “mass training”…) And it’s killing me that no one sees what I see. I’m trying to talk about it but the subject is like taboo, and still I feel… guilt, shame by leaving.

Like all the others students are almost begging me to stay “by being an example ” and all that kind of stuff…..What can I do without feeling to betray these people ? Can I change my karate-style without losing the small experience i have built up? I’m looking for the “pure” karate (bad choice of words I know), not the watered down stuff they teach everywhere, where is the spirit gone ? Where are the roots of karate? […]

Sorry for the sea of questions above, but I realise I’ve lost my way, lost my way in what karate is, lost my way in the search of the spirit of karate.

I’m lost. There, it’s so simple.

I’m reading ALL of your articles, but can’t find a simple clue that could help me move on.

The big question is, where am I now ?

I hate asking like a little child for directions, but well, here you have it all. PS. Love carrot-cakes with some hot peppers in it by the way!

Deepest regards,

Cedric from Brussels

See what I mean?

This is a problem indeed, and my friend Cedric is not alone. People ask me similar stuff every week (except they usually don’t bribe me with new carrot cake recipes!), so for everyone’s benefit I thought I would today publish an expanded version of my answer to Cedrics e-mail.

Hopefully more people will learn something.


Dear Cedric-san,

This is a problem of global proportions – you are definitely not alone.

Changing style is never easy.

If you’ve been climbing a mountain (style) for several years you don’t want to one day hear that you’re on the wrong effin’ mountain, right? You don’t want to be told that you need to slide all the way down from your current mountain and start all over again, on the mountain next door. Especially not after almost getting to the “top” (black belt seems like the top for most Karate-ka), right?


But also wrong.

Why? I’m so glad you asked. Because, progress in a certain Karate style should not always be likened to climbing a mountain. Sure, mountains are great, but we need to look at trees. Advancement in Karate should be likened to climbing the branch of a tree.

The tree of Karate.

If you do Shotokan, and decide to change to Shito-ryu or whatever, you don’t have to fall all the way down from Mt. Shotokan and run over to Mt. Shito-ryu to start climbing again.


All you have to do is retrace the Shotokan branch of the Karate tree back to where you can easily jump over to the Shito-ryu branch without falling down from the tree altogether. Obviously, this will be the easiest if you are either a complete beginner or a very advanced student (Shu-Ha-Ri), while intermediate students will have a bit tougher.

But still, anybody can change their style.

You see no matter how many different branches a tree has, and no matter how big the tree is, it always has roots and a trunk.

The roots are shared by every branch.

So is the trunk of the tree.

The roots are hidden below surface though.

The trunk is visible to all…

Think about what the above metaphor really tells you, and you should come to realize that changing styles is not so much about forgetting everything you know and starting all over, but more about viewing stuff from a new perspective. You’re just shifting branch of the same tree. Like a Karate monkey, jumping to a new spot.

The trunk and the roots never change.

Your position relative to these only change.

And knowing that; styles suddenly seem less interesting. Yet people generally advice against changing styles of Karate, even though it might sometimes be legitimately needed. They come up with all kinds of excuses, saying you will have been “training in vain for all these years”, and you “need to be loyal to the dojo”, you “don’t show respect”, and you “dishonor the gods” yadda yadda.

Ninja please.

Let’s compare a dojo to the public school system: When you were a kid, and you were done with elementary school, you changed school, right? We all did (unless you were a bit slow). When you were done with high school you graduated to a new level of education, right? That’s right – university. Where one school stops another one begins.

Because that’s how education works.

And to me, Karate is all about educating – yourself and others.

A dojo can only contain a certain amount of information (unless the sensei/sempai continually develop their own skills, which is rare these days) and when that is not sufficient… you upgrade. To a higher level of learning. To search for more higher, advanced knowledge. Not to change because you’re simply bored with your current situation, oh no, but because you’re done with your current situation. Finito.

Simple, but most of all logical.

Unless you’re completely sure, for a fact, that you’re continually expanding in width of knowledge (quantity) and/or depth of knowledge (qulity) in your current Karate, you should change style, dojo or sensei immediately.

People graduate from regular school all the time

What makes Karate so special we can’t do the same?

Oh, that’s right...

“Obligation” (1) and “Respect” (2), I’m told.

So let’s look at those:

1. If you ask me, your only obligation is to a) Karate in general and b) yourself in particular.

Look, if you don’t improve anymore, Karate as a whole won’t improve. Therefore, by not changing from an ineffective style or dojo, you’re effectively hindering the evolution and development of Karate as a whole. And I don’t like that idea. So…


But beware: if you make your plans public, the group will always want you to stay – by brainwashing you with words like “betrayal” and “loyalty”. But groupthink is like war: It starts out with everybody going “yeah man, do it for the team!”, and ends up with you all alone in a bloody mess on the floor.

Our time on this earth is too short to not do what you want to do, and my guess is that after you leave others will definitely follow. They just don’t want to be first.

You need to take one for the team, compadre.

2. And respect? Give me a brizzake.

The one who is disrespectful is not you, and it never was.

It’s your sensei.

You respected the dojo, style, sensei/sempai and everyone else including their pets for years, paying your fees, getting your belts, going to seminars, being polite to higher ranked jerks and so on, but they’ve clearly not kept their part of the “respect-equilibrium” lately.

Your dojo is turning to a McDojo… but you did not sign up for that, did you?

I’m getting to the end of this reply, so here’s the deal, Cedric-san:

Your dojo is a sinking ship.

And last time I checked, the captain was supposed to leave last.

Not you.

You’re not the captain, are you?

So, take one for the team.

A man gotta do what a man gotta do.

In any case, I guess that’s enough wisdom for one e-mail reply. Whatever you choose to do in the end, good luck and always believe in yourself. I’m no guru of Karate, I’m just a guy with a blog. It’s your choice. Your Karate. Your style.

Your life.



Addendum: If anybody has any experience with the above stuff, feel free to share in the comments. There is no correct way to handle these things, since situations and reality differs, but we can always learn something from each other.

PS. Carrot cake recipes also welcome.


  • Greg
    As usual, great article and some good steady advice (and pointers) for the chap who wrote to you. Thanks for sharing this with us :) Greg
  • Te'o
    I think this is a good subject and happens to people a lot. In fact, it happened to me because of a move to a new state where my previous 'style' was not taught. After interviewing, me interviewing the head instructor, with a least a dozen dojos, I finally settled on the best one. I feel I made a great choice and I'm happy with it. The one issue that comes up, and I think it really is a matter of ego and humility all at once, is the issue of rank. Most likely, the new dojo will not take you over at your current rank. Are you humble enough to drop rank? Are you humble enough to start over learning a new system? Are you flexible enough to see the good in the new system so you can learn? These were all questions that I struggled with, but once I got over them my experience has been great. It's pretty amazing, and not an altogether bad experience, to tie on a white belt again and assume the student position position. Just some thoughts, maybe more later...
    • I have been tying on a white belt for the last 3 years. The first time I did it in a Kyokushin Dojo, I come from a Shotokan background, I must admit I didn't like it but these days I really love walking in to a new Dojo and tying on my white belt. I am currently living in japan and have been traveling to many Dojos it is fun when I visit a Karate club and they whisper jouzu and it is fun when I go over to the Judo club where they slam me to the mats whispering gaijin. To: Cedric I would say spend 10 euro on a white belt and visit as many Dojos in your area and price range as you can over the next month or two and then settle in some where full of fun people who train hard.
      • LR
        I am in the midst of a style change, and happily bought a white belt (we learned to be humble, right?). But what stopped me in my tracks was that I am going to have to grade through all kyu ranks (I am sandan in my previous style). I honestly would rather wear a white belt for 3 years and then regrade for dan. But that's just my ego talking, I'll get over it.
  • Gary
    I feel that if this were the year 2002, this would have been MY question to Jesse as i can relate 100000%! You need to do what is right for you. Karate is not a team sport but rather an individual path. Jesse is correct on everything. The best thing that I've ever done in karate is leave a McDojo after 6 years and train in a traditional and disciplined style. I never looked back...and you won't either. Best of luck, Cedric.
  • I have changed my karate style, but only because I moved. When I lived in Illinois I trained Shuri-Ryu and reached the rank of sankyu and I was very happy with the training at the time. It was challenging, kihon- and kata-intensive and had a solid curriculum to follow, and that dojo also offered judo and iaijutsu classes on different days so I got to cross-train a bit. When I moved to Arizona (the starting place of Shuri-Ryu, ironically) I could not find a dojo near enough to where I lived or worked that I could make it to on my unusual work schedule. That led me to only training at a judo dojo that I could make it to and training my karate at home. After I moved to another area of Arizona and changed my work schedule, however, I was able to look around at karate dojo in the area and eventually settled on a Shorin-Ryu dojo. I can definitely say that the curriculum is not as well defined and they are not as nit-picky on kihon but it is still challenging, fun and very informative. I can honestly say that bunkai has really opened up for me here and we get to spar with contact and grappling together, which is always fun. I was allowed to keep my rank because my basic techniques were strong and I just needed to learn different kata (which I'm still doing, obviously), so I still have a brown belt on but don't have any "official" rank in Shorin-Ryu, which is fine. I'm just enjoying the training :P
  • Matt Jones
    All karate is the same, the kata, and the emphasis on kata is what's important. It's like two sides to the same coin, except there are way more sides to karate than two. I like what Jesse said when he said it's the sensei's fault. Because it is, period. If you have to change styles the only reason should be because you have a teacher who just doesn't know enough. And if you're lucky enough to find a teacher who does, then he/she should be able to take what you know and and show you how it relates to karate as a whole. We're all doing the same thing. What I would look out for is teachers who "combine" the best of different styles to make theirs more effective. Trust me if studied correctly your style has enough to offer. All those teachers are telling you is "I don't know what I'm doing and I want to look bigger than i am." So don't look at your style or your teacher's style, look at YOUR karate and your teacher's karate. Do you know your teacher on a personal level? Close enough to see into his karate and know you can't touch it. If not then I'd consider finding a new teacher.
    • Gary
      Well put!!
    • shane
      i like the first line. A style is just someones interpretation of karate. The roots of the tree are always the same.
  • Cedric
    Okay, here's the chap that asked " the " question to Jesse-san...and I didn't really expect to find myself here haha ! ^^ First of all, thank you to the "carrot-pie king" for putting this on his blog, and thank you for all those who have already commented ( very very constructive by the way ! ) It makes me feel a little bit less lonely here. I'm not really someone who is chasing after "the" belt, it's just a piece of tissue who keeps my karate-gi together. I will not even think about strolling in a different dojo and keeping a shotokan kase-ha ryu brown belt tied reaaaally tight, when it's a different style that is being taught ! Well okay, they will see that my karate-gi isn't sparkling spotless and all, but it will be a stiff new white belt that will hang around my waste... First thing I learned before throwing punches and kicks : respect and humility are the foundations of Karate-do. And the trademark of authentic karateka. I'll keep you updated with how things work out for me, hoping that my experience could benefit other people ! A big thanks to everyone who will read this ! And hail to the Carrot pie King !! ;p
  • Patrick G
    We had a student move from interstate and join our Shotokan club. He was studying Shito Ryu previously. While he had to learn our Kata and do a bunch of things differently it was relatively easy for him for a few reasons: 1. He came from a club with an excellent Sensei, it was definitely not a McDojo 2. He was already a black belt 3. He was young and motivated, had a great attitude and trained hard For these reasons he was given the respect he deserved from our Sensei and wore his black belt from day 1. He also earned the respect of the rest of us very quickly, and we earned his.
  • Joe Paden
    As a brown belt, you are just starting to understand there is something deeper, more involved than the standard stuff. Changing style may not be needed, it may be you just need to change instructor. If you're into kata, and I know Shotokan doesn't stress the bunkai, then you may need to change style, because without teaching bunkai and the concept within them, kata is nothing more then a funny little dance. Point being, it depends on what you're in it for. If tournament & sport is what you're about, you may not need to change ryuha, but if kata is, then deep analysis of it is important and most japanese styles I've had experience with does not stress that. Good luck. Joe Paden Maryland, USA
  • hans
    In the eighties, It was all martial arts for me. I was very into karate, judo and internal chinese styles. For karate, I was very interested in the differences between the major japanese styles. I would have liked to train in different dojo at the same time, but some sensei would not have that, they wanted me to choose, for me not having the right students attitude. So I changed three times, but only after obtaining black belt. I started in wado, moved over to kyokushin, and changed finally to shotokan. Of course I was told to change the way i did things every time, but it was very rewarding in all. I would loved to have trained goju, for they were the only style doing bunkai back then, but there just was no dojo around. Now, some 25-30 years later, I just do my thing, geezer-judo, and a lovely mix of all karate, chinese stuff and yoga I have ever been exposed to, and I love it.
  • Manuel
    I changed dojo three years ago. But mind my words: I changed DOJO not STYLE. I was practising shotokan quite badly, because of my low-qualified sensei, I went to another shotokan dojo, where the sensei is far more better, and there I continue my training. I was lucky, I admit, to find a good dojo with my same style, but you don't always need a new style, but just a brand new sensei! ;-)
  • herrle 58
    Personally i like your comparison to the tree the most, Jesse. I would even go further and compare the roots with martial arts in general. Nothing wrong with changing style or sensei, as long as a search for deeper/broader knowledge is the reason. A real sensei will even encourage his students to study with other teachers ...when time has come.
  • Jim
    This may not be as bad as it seems. Sport or recreational karate may not be for you after 5 years of training. Your interests are changing as they have for many of us. What I did years ago, ( as a teacher who was getting bored with training ) was ( without leaving my style ) that I began training in other styles to supplement my shotokan training. Mind you, this was after more than 15 years in shotokan. I did not switch styles, but, rather, cross trained. If you are truly tired of shotokan, visit other schools and see if you like what they do better. You might find that you can't find any that will satisfy you, so you might have to find other ways to get satisfaction.
  • Szilard
    I have changed stiles several times, because I always went to the "closest dojo", and sometimes I moved to a new place, sometimes my dojo. I avoided McDojos and taekwondo, but sometimes it was a close call. (Do I want to drive 50 minutes to train, or just walk over to the other side of the street?) I wish I lived close to a jujitsu place just once, but that never happened. Change is good. Come on, my sparring skills will not diminish just because I change my belt color from brown to white. I had a lot of fun and lots of surprised senpai. I'm telling you it is fun even after they learn to be careful, because karate is not just like a tree, it is more like a net, your stile is imaginary. Your stile is a well selected path on the net, we can call it a branch, but there are connections that your stile will never visit. Any two stile shares lots of nodes, they separate for a while, and then share a few nodes again. Of course this will make you understand things better, you will not have to get bogged down to the details so bad, because you already know how to kick and punch, you can focus on the big picture from the beginning. At least that is how it affected me. I was like: "OMG, this is what my sensei was talking about all the time, but I didn't get it, because I was focused too much on the next technique, next kata that I had to learn and perfect, I just could't see what he really meant." I have to add that an other very good way to "restart" is when you stay in the same dojo, and start to teach beginners. This is probably true in every discipline, not only in karate. Teaching and restarting are great learning opportunities.
    • Frank
      I could not agree more! Great comment!
  • Burt Maben
    What's a McDojo? Is there a quantitative definition or just an opinion based on perception?
  • Julia
    This article strikes a personal chord, because after 8 years at the same dojo, I am switching dojos, though not styles. The head of the school, who was very high ranking in the style I am in, died in 2009, and there have been many nasty possesion battles over the school. In short, many good people have broken off from the dojo, and are opening their own dojos, while the original dojo is becoming a competition-focused McDojo. I have been training at a Shotokan dojo(though my primary style is Okinawan), and after much conflicting information, I have decided that there is no " Shotokan Way" or "Gojo way" or "Shito way" , but only the Best Way. Every person's body is different, and no person's "Best Way" will be the same, but you might have to branch out from your own style to find your "Best Way". As you said, everything is just a branch in the tree of karate.
  • peteampil
    Jesse san I do not see anything untoward to switching to another style or even a different martial art.......for any reason, financial, change of address, boredom, injury, etc. Most of us had done it, coming from other martial arts into another.......there is always something new to learn, even if only in one's perspective. At the start, there used to be only one martial art to use and, with the advent of Mixed Martial arts, we seem to all be converging back into one....... Combat Engagement may involve the use of everything we learned at that point in time and does not mean using one's Muay Thai skills against someone's Sambo Wrestling or Kyokushin kai skills..... we use all resources available including a stick or beer bottle or even running away in order to survive.....in the final analysis, I agree with your affirmative tone to the query of Cedric. fampil@hotmailcom
  • Igors
    Dear Cedric from Brussels. You put too much emotions in your Karate practice and too less mind. Rather not in Karate practice than in conception: "I dislike this!.. I'm alone!.. What I can do?.. How awful!......and so, and so, and so...." You must have at first to make out: ....What you want? and ...What you need? Weight out these two things with presence of mind and truth will debouch. I think you are standing in-front making the Decision in your life and aren't ready for this. Your instructor gives you Belt without strong mind training. Leave him and make strong reconsideration. Belt isn't on your buttocks, it's tied around your waistline! Osu! Great comments. I read them with interest. Thank all commentators very much!
    • Cedric
      Dear Igors, Thank you for your comment and counsel ; it is true that you can see a note of desperation trough my e-mail to Jesse-san, the carrot-pie king. To much emotions boiling me up...but those are the triggers that made me open my eyes on what's going on in my dojo : more and more students ( money ), less and less discipline : by that, I mean simply the fact to shut up and listen to what the sensei/senpai has to say, to do the kihon/kata/kumite and moxo correctly, without yapping, farting, answering a fr*gging phone, coming late, talking about nonsense, etc...the list is long but I guess you can see the picture. When I began walking the Way, it was blood (rarely), sweat (all the time and everywhere on the floor) and tears (sometimes...), but at least you pushed yourself to your limits. I felt it trough every inch of my body and soul/mind. Ok, it was maybe rough and we were fewer every month, but at least I got a " decent " ( poor choice of words I know) level of experience in Karate-Do. Now it's rather playtime for children and grown ups, (example of my sensei telling me now : "don't make them do to much push ups, you're almost a nazi when do that kind of stuff" O_o ????) and i'm lucky if I can break a sweat during training. Why all this has happened, I don't know, and I guess I'll never find out. So what do I want ? Continue to develop, evolve, walk the path again. To push myself harder and harder, both spiritually and physically. What do I need ? Guidance, from someone who can direct my efforts in the right direction, and not use me by making me walk in circles, or by throwing nice colored belts at me... Not a belt-chaser, and never will be. (I'm fine with white anyway, always a beginner :) If I find a new sensei, and he's teaching in a different style, so be it. As long is i'm not standing still ^^ Big thanks again for your comment Igors !! :D OSU ! PS : It's true for the belt by the way, it's the waistline not the buttocks hehe :p
      • rb
        Hi Cedric, As I have moved around within Europe quite a bit, I have found myself changing clubs and even styles. I began my training in Shukokai , but I now train in both Wado Ryu and Shito Ryu. In fact, for the past 18 months I have been living in Brussels. If you are interested, I can give you the details of an excellent Shito club in Brussels. From your email and comments I think it would tick most of your boxes.
  • Dojorat
    It could be by opinion but the definition most serious karateka would agree on is that a McDojo is one whose only purpose is business and making money. Usually there is little to absolutely no focus on things like kata bunkai.People are usually promoted often and easily seemingly without making an effort.
  • Disconnected
    This happened to me, only after 9 years of training, a black belt in Kobujutsu and a brown belt (with stripe-san!!!) in karate. The story is a more shameful one (for me), but maybe sharing it will add to the joint experience. I had been training faithfully for all of those years, trained about four to five times a week, held maybe two classes a week as well, and I was enjoying the hell out of it. I liked doing my katas, and the bunkai, and the weapons stuff, but I hated sparring. I still did it when needed, but I just wasn't into it. Besides, doing the other stuff should teach you stuff, shouldn't it? For me, the wake-up call came at a grading. I had not planned on grading that time, but my sensei said "you should do it, it's a good time for you". So I raised the fees and applied. During the process, I had to go some few rounds against different opponents as part of the requirements. Now, to all of you, (and to me when I write this today), this is a perfectly reasonable, and even today, after not having done karate or any other martial art, being out of shape and everything, I would get in there, pop in a mouthguard and let people beat me up a bit - there's not much to it and people aren't out to hurt you. But back when that happened, I failed. I remember thinking that I had done all right. I hadn't cowered or ran, I had done my rounds, I had approached it in a way that felt reasonable to me - striking with opponents my size, going to the ground with bigger opponents (which made sense). But I was failed the grading. Of course, this is part of the learning experience, and happens to the best of us. Maybe my sensei at the time thought that there was a lesson to teach me here. I took it hard, but came back to the dojo the next training session and continued going at it. But a seed of doubt had been sown that day. I disagreed with the reasons for failing me. At the same time, a friend of mine had already moved on to be an mma beginner, and he kept telling me stories about how cool it was. Still I persisted. Then my sensei came to me, a couple of weeks after my grading and said something to the effect: "you failed last time, but in a couple of months you can try again". I thought about the grading fees, which would have to be paid again, about my inability to actually fight and how that suddenly was the key point instead of all of the kata and applications I had been practising, and the coin dropped. I left the club the week after and signed up for mma classes. I was never any good, and I didn't do it for more than three years I think, but I wasn't afraid of getting punched in the face anymore, and nobody tried to milk me for grading fees. It was a win. Now, before you all rip me to threads for abandoning karate, and reminding me that it was my own damn fault for being a pussy, let me pre-empt you by saying that I totally agree with you. It was certainly my own responsibility to learn to fight, but I had been told for nine years (and graded, and so on), that I was doing the right thing. Imagine the dissonance. I guess the point, and the lesson here, which applies to this post is - screw tradition, it's never a good reason for doing anything. If you know in your stomach that what you are doing no longer works, jump ship, take the sunk costs and start anew. Your years won't be wasted (even if it may feel so at the moment). I continue to read Jesse's blog with pleasure, and commend his commitment to the art.
    • herrle 58
      Sorry that this happened to you, Disconnected. I would like to know the amount of the fees? In our system we don`t believe in tests, students are graded for their progress and without a fee! Everything else is more or less cheating, i believe.
      • Disconnected
        It wasn't exhorbitant, but it was enough that I as a student felt that I was getting the short end of the stick...
  • Oscar
    I recently read a Karate book where I found an interesting concept. I might get it all wrong but this is what I understood, something like this: Martial Arts styles are like the fighting strategy, while the kicks, punches, joint-locks, throws, etc. are like the tactics. The strategies change, while tactics remain the same. For example we can find the wheel kick(mawashe geri) in several Martial Arts . The human body moves just in certain directions. So punches, kicks, etc.(tactics) will not vary that much between different Martial Arts, but strategies might(styles). This what I grasp of what I read anyway. I really, really like Karate, more than anything else. But I find not only the different styles but the different Martial Arts also really interesting! I wish I could live long enough so I could practice and get to a decent level on all of them. Imagine how long I should live then... I still have a long way ahead of me just training Karate... in any style. :)
  • warrioress
    I came across something like "Shotokan doesn't put much stress on bunkai" more than once. I'm a Shotokanist (I just added a new word to the dictionary, so what?) and most unfortunately we don't do much bunkai in our dojo. I wonder if it's really the style or the instructors who put the emphasis on the wrong things?
    • Josie
      We don't do any bunkai at my shotokan dojo either. I had never even heard of it until I found this blog.
  • Joshua
    When I (and some of my fellow karate-ka colleagues) switched to a stronger dojo, it sparked a growth in the first school, and although this growth was not until after months of hardship, it truly did make the original stronger. What I'm saying is, don't just disappear, Mr. Cedric. If you disappear without informing others of your decision, especially your sensei, more than likely your absence will be denoted as you quitting. **WHICH ISN'T WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU WANT.** Keep training, no matter what (< exaggeration), and once you've found a stronger dojo, maybe introduce your new sensei and your old sensei. If they both have some good sense, maybe they'll both find new strengths in the other way of training, and adapt accordingly. If they don't have the aforementioned sense, you can always hope for a noteworthy EPIC BATTLE. ganbatte!
  • brian
    Hi all I agree with jesse that the gentelmens teacher let him down(but i think the guy should have talked to his instructor and voiced his concerns and if the teacher blows him off he should get out of dodge) Had a similer thing happen to a guy i traied under who did a modern form of hapkido(his taecher was ranked in hapkido,judo and taekwando and some what taught all three under hapkido) His instructor would not let him train with other people.So he drop out after 20 years and started over some what(his rank and knowlged did allow him to be ranked in the new system) he was happy with the change and enjoyed the new material most of his students went with him. I have told a number of my own instructors that there are other systems and appproches would like to study most didn't mind. But also if you do decide to change systems or approaches make sure you do your home work and don't worry about rank. I gave up on that years ago as to me it had no bearing on my studies even sikped a few gradings at my last place because it held no interest for me and my teacher still taught me new stuff even if i did not have a new belt. As far as the shotokan bunkai stuff depends on the instructor i trained with a well know and eirlly american JKA guy he mostlly taught basic stuff as far as bunkai with some judo and kajukenbo stuff untill you had gotten the basics down both in practice and kumite( we did full contact point sparing with only face guards,cups and gloves on a raised wooden floor which made things intersting)but once you got to a point he would teach r invite you to after class stuff. There is nothing wrong with change just make sure you are doing it for valid reasons and not personal inscurites and always voice your concerns with your teacher or senior members. thankyou brian
  • chris
    I just changed styles recently due to a move. I was 1st kyu when I left, but wasn't really itching for shodan anymore. In fact I quite dreaded the idea of testing. What I do know is that some time around 3rd or 2nd kyu, I reached a point where every thing I did in karate had, to me, glaringly obvious errors. Every kick and punch was its own special reminder that I don't know jack. So switching styles wasn't hard. Luckily the only club nearby is one that has sempai and a sensei who seem to both be quite knowledgeable and more importantly, able to pass on that knowledge. I simply view the style change not as changing styles, but just completely new katas and techniques that I practiced rarely or sometimes never at all. Just additions to the list of things I don't know jack about.
  • Maria
    I changed from a Shotokan-derivative style (we make these things in South Africa) to International Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate Federation after obtaining my 2nd dan in the abovementioned hybrid style. It was quite a traumatic decision because it meant I would lose friendships, hurt feelings and generally bring a whole lot of wrath down on my head. And then I remembered - it is only karate and not a religion. I pay to train, I put in every drop of sweat myself and karate is my "happy place". I can do what I want and I did. I approached the Sensei I wanted to train with and asked him if I could train with him. We agreed that I would start as a white belt in order to go through the grading process again. I am grading for blue soon and enjoy every moment of the journey. I don't have the same urgent desire to grade and obtain higher ranks as I did the first time round and I feel a connection with Goju Ryu which I never did with my first style. My happy place is even happier :)
  • Ian
    As I understand it, "back in the day" a sensei would have only a few students, and the bond between student and sensei was intended as a significant, life-long one. Move that forward into the present day, and we're into a "mass production" model where a "successful sensei" could have a hundred students or more at any given time, most of whom are kids who drop out of karate some time in late teens or early adulthood. Some students and senseis still manage to form a bond similar (in a modern and multi-cultural way) to what could have been seen long ago in Okinawa, Japan, China or wherever. Lots don't. The nature and depth of one's individual relationship with one's sensei will have a big bearing on how easily one ought to consider a change of styles. And let's face it, any halfway decent dojo gets a bit of a "family" feeling ... you train together for a few years on a regular basis, you hit each other, you throw each other to the floor, and all sorts of other nasty stuff to each other ... all the while remaining friends and having a great time ... a group dynamic gets created. That's worth something, and worthy of being nurtured. So it's hard to leave. And people are, understandably, hurt and offended when you leave. The more you have become an integral part of that group, the more they get hurt. (If you have been with your dojo for only a few months before you switch, it's weeks before anyone asks whatever happened to "that guy with the beard".) Ultimately, I think it all boils down to this: the farther you are "in", with a sensei and with a dojo, the harder it is to get out, and that's how it should be. BUT sometimes one still needs to get "out" regardless of how difficult that will be, and if one is truly in that situation, then the path forward (and out) is the one to take.
  • Cedric, Martial arts has changed dramatically over the past 35 years since I started learning and I understand your comment about McDojo's, I feel the same. My advice is if you are not happy then just thank your Sensei for what you have learned over the years and just let him know that you are either having a break from martial arts or you are going to train in another style. As long as you don't lose your passion for martial arts and the reason why you joined in the first place, it will all work out in the end. I remember talking to my original Master Instructor Chong Yoon Rhee, who new that I was training in different styles. He said "If you ever want to reach gold, dig in one place". I stopped all other style and focused on one. I now run my own organisation www.unitedtaekwondo.com.au and the frustrations that you experience no longer exist. I also wrote a book "Self Confidence - The Martial Arts Way" so that people like yourself will be able to find what you are looking for in martial arts. I hope you find what you are after All the best Master Paul
  • Naomi
    I've changed karate schools more times than I can count, and some of my instructors have supported my choice (while others have tried to bribe me to stay) and what I've found is that the instructors I have learned the most from tend to be the ones that are constantly improving their skills.
  • Victor
    Hi Jesse-san... Well, I warn you in advance, this is going to be a long message and probably a very unusual one... Where do I start from? Ok, I'm going to spend just a few words on who I am. I am... a "former" kick-boxing practitioner (you're going to understand why in a minute) who accidentally fell in love with martial arts and combat sports and at the (late) age of 17 started practicing kick-boxing. My gym (or dojo, as you would say) was special to me: I could myself growing in a good environment, with good training mates and a good master, who was in love with his work and is students and I could perceive this by staying with him. I also was a guy with several self-confidence issues (actually I still am a guy with several self-confidence issues :) ) and my master helped me in many times when I thought that I wasn't cut for this sport and was going to quit. But I never did, until now. In the last year this changed. Or maybe it's me who's changed and I still can't figure this out. I started to "feel" that he was getting attracted more by the "profits" of his work than by the sport itself. Some of my training companions started to partecipate in competitions, and my master started worrying only about their performances and neglect other students who trained without competing (like myself). It is natural to give priority to those who are going to participate in full contact competition, but it is not good to neglect the others too. I stopped going to the gym 6 months ago. I was only bored, I was going to the gym but not getting better and eventhough I asked my master his help, he just said "train", and "training" meant "be a sparring partner for black belts who have to compete while they clean the floor with you and I [the master] tell them how to do it better without giving you a hint on how to react to those champions". On the top of that, because of university problems (had to take many exams and barely had time to see my family) I started practicing martial arts alone or with some friends who practice many other styles just on saturdays and we casually took pictures during training and a former companion of mine saw those pics and said "don't train with them, come back you fool". Obviously my master saw the pictures too, and when I casually met him and greeted him a few days ago, he didn't even say hi, he just looked the other way and passed me by. It hurt me and made me realize that maybe that gym was not what I was looking for. I'm experimenting many styles by fighting against them and practicing together with them - I have a group of friends who I train with and we made this group to learn from each other :) - and I'm wondering if it's time for me to move on to other martial arts... Please Jesse-san, give me an advice. I'd like to start anew because I may have put aside my past, but my love for martial arts is still burning and it's far from being shut down by this experience. Thanks for reading this, and, as you would say, Ossu! Victor, from Italy
    • Victor
      By the way, with "he was getting attracted more by the “profits” " I'm referring to the master. And sorry for mistakes I might have committed, I'm Italian so English is not my native language :(
  • ricky may
    Jesse-San, I understand now from reading this article and your other ones about different styles that they don't matter quite as much as most would think. However, I'm still curious! What style(s) do you prefer, practice, teach, and why? And also, is there an article where we can hear more of your story? Why you started, when you started, what style, your path in martial arts and how and why you went achieving it the way you did? I want to hear more! Haha thanks man and I think you are freaking awesome and if you didn't live half a world a way I would be coming to visit your dojo soon! -ricky
  • franz
    i want to change style,from okinawan karate to kyukushin karate,it is possible? im blue belt, it is the third belt i got by doing the exams,i wanted to change style mostly because i wanted to practice more kumite,so i can still have my same belt by changing style or i have to start all over again?? i mean it is posible to do a revalidation test in kyukushin style ? so i would not lose my current belt grade.
    • Ian
      That's going to be up to the Sensei at your new Dojo, but often what I have seen happen is the student starts over at white but due to his previous training is able to pass through the first few belt levels more quickly. Focus on the experience and the learning rather than keeping your belt, and you will be fine.
      • franz
        well that complety reasonable and okay. i mean having the white belt until im i lear the difference sof the style to pass to the belt i was, so great,thanks for the reply
  • Devin
    I having this problem right now. My karate feels stagnated at my current school. Since reaching Shodan over a year ago, I feel like I'm not learning anything new. I want to switch schools, but I feel obligated to stay as I help out with the kids' classes and I've known these guys since I was 8 years old. It's tough.
  • Josie
    I do shotokan, but I'm moving to another state and the nearest shotokan dojo is to far away. I really, and I mean really, don't want to switch styles. There are plenty of American karate and taekwondo dojos, but I'm not a fan of either. What should I do?
  • Kev
    For those contemplating Cedric's decision, I have been practicing karate for over 22 years, and began my training while I was living in Japan. By luck, my sensei believed it was necessary to learn different styles and he taught both Naha-te and Shuri-te styles. He learned both throughout his life, and achieved elite rankings independently in both. He encouraged me to learn different perspectives which led me to further my martial arts training in Aikido. He received criticisms from his two masters for "mixing" (both masters are globally recognized names), but I was lucky that my sensei was not bothered by these pressures at all. He created a unique environment to keep an open mind. I am currently studying a 3rd style of karate, as my previous two styles do not have an elite level dojo near me. I am lucky again, and have found a group of sensei that value the varied perspective I can offer on stylistic variations of kata and bunkai. Regarding kumite, without question, learning more than one style is a benefit. The differing approaches make you more adaptable, more varied, and much harder to predict. There is one tradeoff to switching styles, and that is a deceleration of achieving higher ranks. If karate is your career consider the tradeoff carefully, but wasted time under a poor sensei is just wasted time. If karate is for personal growth, and you don't care which rank you have, then explore and critically assess any dojo in which you invest your education and development. Didn't the early Ryukyu Masters travel to Fujian Province in China to expand their knowledge? If you find a new style at a dojo with elite spirit and humble mastery among the sensei group, your added knowledge will be respected. I am a 2nd dan, and theoretically given my years of dedicated practice I could have attained a higher rank. Still, I often get asked to teach parts of classes that are highly technical, or explain how different styles approach a conflict or technique. Frequently, very skilled and high ranked sensei ask for my input personally, which is more a testament to them as masters, their self-assuredness to ask, and as Jesse said, their desire to continually improve. Please let me offer two closing pieces of advice. First, attend training seminars where you can see the variety that different dojos and styles offer. Everyone who trains seriously should do this. Second, if your current dojo asks why you are leaving you owe it to them to answer honestly, that is how you show them respect for what they have shared with you thus far. Your honest feedback could and should improve the quality of the experience of the karateka that continue to train at the dojo in question. My original sensei in Japan, is still my sensei. I still visit and train with him. He is still learning from different styles and forms of martial art.
  • Josh
    About respect and loyalty : if your sensei cannot help you grow and is preventing you to look for something else he is no sensei ! From my readings on history of karate it's clear that old masters used to encourage their students when necessary (and ready) to seek other teachings and experiences. There was no "barriers".
  • Romina A. Luna
    I left the dojo where I trained due to an injury (herniated disc). The sensei that used to say we were a family did not ever even send a whatsup message to check if I was fine... (actually couldn't walk on my own because my legs would get disconnected from time to time due the herniated disc pressing my spinal cord). And then in many places in my city I saw old mates from the dojo saying they left because the sensei got greedy and turned the dojo into a dojo... I had seen that happening before I left, Sensei giving belts to ppl just because they pay and go to class but not actually doing what that belt meant... a black belt being rude, not able to do a green kata, etc... "they deserve because they come every day...." gosh if the go every day and can't do their katas or behave properly then the belts don't matter anymore... Anyhow, now after 2 years of rehab and a bilateral lumbar blockage I'm able to do things to some extent. But I'm afraid that I'm not able to fully train like when younger. I would like and advise on changing school, style, or even martial art... but how you explain a sensei you won't be able to do all the things others do, (besides the herniated disc I'm also obese, trying to lose weight) I can't run much and I'm afraid of being pushed to the ground and hurt myself again, but I also need the peace of mind karate used to give me... SO if anyone would kindly give me a piece of advice I would really appreciate that.
    • Tim
      I would suggest switching to Tai Chi. Karate training might be too risky. Tai Chi is good for peace of mind and can be a good, safe workout.
  • Izael Gomez
    Hi Jesse Sensei! Is it okay to change styles even without renouncement? I plan to engage in a combat style from a kata-centered style.
  • Priyanka Agrawal
    Hi, I have given exams till orange belt (7th kyu) in Shotokan form of karate. Now, after a gap of 5 years, I joined another class which teaches Shito-ryu form. Should I start from White belt again or can keep my grade? Also, there is a protocol of junior and senior belts which was not there in my previous system. The orange belt I have is considered junior orange. So I'm supposed to take senior orange belt then only I can move to green belt. I don't mean to change styles. It's just that I had to move to different cities for college and now job. And it's difficult to find the class that reaches the same previous form. Please help.

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