How Karate Stole Its Kicks (Video)

Have you ever wondered…

Why isn’t there a single traditional kata with mawashi-geri (roundhouse kick)?

I mean, it’s the most popular kick in Karate tournaments!

Yet, it was never taught in Okinawa – the birthplace of Karate.

(In fact, there are no “flashy” kicks in the books published by pioneers such as Funakoshi Gichin, Motobu Choki, Mabuni Kenwa etc.)

The old-school Karate kicks were mostly straight/low (as seen in traditional kata) suitable for self-defense.

But modern Karate has tons of spectacular kicks…

How come?

Some people think they came from Kung Fu. However, the southern Chinese styles that influenced Karate utilize the same kicks as Okinawan Karate. Other people think the kicks came from Taekwondo – but it’s actually the other way around (don’t tell the Taekwondo people).

The truth is that Karate’s modern kicks were copied from a French martial art that was introduced to mainland Japan long before the Okinawan masters arrived.

It’s called “Savate”.

And one Japanese sensei used it to revolutionize Karate…

Watch the video:


  • Clive Carter
    Thank you Jesse for this truly insightful video. Please let tae kwon do know this point. I have only ever met tae kwon do to be very aggressive stating “Shotokan“, stole tae kwon do style kicks, from them. In fact, we stole them from the French! It might make you laugh. Yet, it’s more important to practice them then worry where they came from. Thank you Jesse for this lovely video.
    • Thanks for chiming in! History is fascinating, right? :)
      • Manuel R.
        Wait--did original karate have any kicks at all? I'm confused. Or did original karate have low kicks only?
        • ??
          Yes, original karate have only low kicks. In all of katas of the Gojo ryu, the only kicks you can find is mae geri,and non of them would aim opponents` body beyond the belt.
  • Rodney Ockimey jr
    As usual great job. I love new information. I was always told that the kicks came from tae Kwon do.
    • Thanks! It's easy to stumble over contemporary assumptions.
      • Joseph Perkins
        I read in The Shotokan Karate Bible, that it was the son of Funakoshi Gichin Sensei that incorporated Savate kicks into Shotokan
  • David
    Thank you Jesse-San. Your depth of knowledge and understanding of karate are awe-inspiring. An amazing video, which definitely makes a lot of sense and truly explains how ‘modern karate’ came to be. Osu!
  • Thank you Jesse for sharing your research. Enlightening on many levels; historical, functional, spiritual. Demonstrating yet again the ingenuity of the mind and the power of the human spirit.
    • Thanks for your kind words! Glad to hear it resonated.
  • Anoop
    What were the kicks that were taught in Okinawan Karate?
    • Mainly the ones suitable for self-defense (as handed down through kata).
      • Anoop
        But the kicks in kata vary from style to style. Shoto kan concentrates on side kick while Shito ryu katas focus on front kick. Is this just the difference in the fighting philosophies of different masters?
    • Chris D
      Low kicks. Okinawan karate was very survival-oriented and high kicks often tended to get them taken to the ground and killed by invading forces.
  • Thank you Jesse-san for sharing .
  • Josh Simmers
    Excellent video and great historical information. Thank you for the education, Jesse Sensei.
    • Just doing what I love! Glad you liked it. :)
  • Al Taylor
    Great job Jesse, I did research 30 years ago concerning Korean kicking techniques, and found Tae yon a very old system that borough kicks found in Northern China, in which jump kicks were used by Hwarang warriors to kick the enemy of horse back, I know of Savate, but not the input into Japan. Thanks so much for your knowledge
  • Claud Wolf
    Oh my! As a Tang Soo Do practitioner since 1986, we were taught that our kicks came from some mysterious temple scrolls, despite the fact that they look more like old Okinawan styles than anything modern. Some of us have accepted the fact that the name was borrowed from a Korean student of Funakoshi, Won Kuk Lee, and some of the kata, and that is why so much of Moo Duk Kwan looks like Shotokan. But the kicks? All Korean! Now you are telling me national pride muddied the facts and nobody wants to give credit to any foreigners for the purity of their ancient art- ancient since the 1920s that is. At first, I was incredulous, then in denial. Now I find it the ultimate hoot that my classical roots aren't classical at all! One might think a hoax was perpetrated by our instructors, but they aren't historians and the Asian method of teaching doesn't encourage questioning of the one that introduced you to the style. Truth hurts, like an ancient spinning back kick. It also clears up a lot of questions I had hidden in my subconscious. The thing is, some believe the Savate origins are from sailors, who imported moves from contact with China. We know that in the '20s nationalism would prevent the Japanese from anything that had a Chinese influence but in Savate, they may have received some in a roundabout way! Don't know if it's true but I want it to be!
  • Nice work Jesse. I always learn when I read this blog!
  • This is very good to know that you us knowledge...
  • thanks for this great content sir. ib will also share this important information with my friends and once again thanks thanks for the motivation sir!
  • tryggve rick
    there is a mawashi-geri in the bassai kata, same as practiced in traditional chinese wushu., the sole of foot hit palm of hand. the mawashi geri was changed when applied into competityion fighting, esrly on delivered with the ball of the foot(is that hows it done in french boxing ?) later changed to the one we see today, with streched foot wrist(thats may be from savate?)
    • Good observation! That's called "mikazuki-geri" (crescent kick) and is generally applied below the waist as a scooping/oblique kick to the knee. The reason we often kick the palm of the hand in kata is to counteract the rotational momentum and pull/unbalance the opponent.
  • Roni
    There is no Sources in your video . No direct link . There is a Mawashi Geri in Unsu kata (from the ground but still) Jka technical program has been created by Masatoshi Nakayama who have studied Northern Style of kung fu under Sifu Pai. There is a 1924 video of funakoshi and students where it is shown plenty of kicks including Mawashi and ushiro and others. In 1934 Gogen Yamaguchi from Goju ryu develloped a kind of chudan circular kick and other kicks along the jiu kumite. Kanken Toyama develloped Bogutsuki Kumite and studied Northern chuan fa in taiwan . All the stances, the lunging techniques and the chi-mei (one hit one kill) have been borrowed from kenjutsu. Answer me and tell me im wrong.
  • Hi jesse, An historic information, I love the way you write your views Your depth of knowledge and understanding of karate are inspiring. I have 2 children we watched the video before this they love the way you talked/showed about the kick. Thanks once again to make some interesting for us.
  • Takeda
    I just love how Europeans try so hard to claim the origin of everything they love for themselves. That’s truly fascinating.
    • It gets hits I guess. People trying to techniques as stolen miss the point I feel. Not only is it nigh impossible to trace back the cross exchanges of techniques mean they are constantly in flux, being borrowed, developed returned, mostly by individuals I feel. As Roni mentioned there is nothing backing up the claims, nothing showing where Savate got their techniques, only picking one style and practitioner. It is just as likely that the practitioners learn and adapt the techniques that Savate also learned and adapted than specifically "stole" from Savate. A simple search around will show so much was happening in the world as a whole with mutual Martial Arts exchanges. Efficacy was attained mostly through practice in specific rules or circumstances. Individuals from countless "styles" all contribute and for sure Savate is in same boat (pun intended) as all others.
  • Val Kucherenko
    Hi Jess, was Shaolin's kung fu round kick and Side Thrust or Indian Silambam kicks introduced in China before Savate only in the 17th century was born? Val

Leave a comment