My 7 Answers to Possibly the Most Fascinating Karate Master’s Thesis Interview Ever?

Have you ever wondered about the “possible connection of martial arts and movement to literary and composition study”?

Neither had I, until I got this interesting e-mail last week

According to my new online friend, Oliver-san, who I assume practises some form of Karate; “The reason I am emailing is that I would like to interview you about the possible connection of martial arts and movement to literary and composition study. I think there is a great missed opportunity here.”

Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen, but nonetheless Oliver-san posed seven deadly questions to me, all related to the art of teaching – through a vehicle we know as Karate. Apparently, it’s for some master’s thesis on teaching English using kinesthetic techniques culled from martial arts. Pretty cool.

Anyway, I figured, since my reply was in the 1500 words range, perhaps you guys are interested too?

I think you oughta be.

Not that my answers are mind-blowing or anything like that, but the questions might get you thinking… yourself.

At least that’s what I hope.

So, to make a long intro short, without further ado, here’s my quick answers to seven pretty tricky interview questions posed to me through e-mail by Oliver-san last week, a true Karate nerd in the nerdiest sense (I mean, who writes a master’s thesis on this stuff?).


 #1. “How do you think Karate could be used in an educational setting?”

Well, looking past the obvious historical examples of Karate (along with Judo, Kendo and other kinds of Budo) being employed as physical activity in the Japanese school system (during post-Edo/pre-WW2) with the primary purpose of aiding Japan’s escalating war machine by producing strong, able bodied, fighting spirit induced youths with a fearless “ready-to-die” attitude, Karate can be used in much more civilized ways in a modern educational setting – provided it is taught by the right person in the right frame of mind.

More specifically; Karate related events, ideas, concepts and items can be researched and analyzed, with parallels and conclusions being drawn in numerous ways to ultimately arrive at a conclusion/lesson that the teacher wishes to impart.

Examples of good subjects with obvious connections to Karate include, but are not limited to: literary study (using the plethora of scriptures, magazine articles, books and essays written on Karate – historical and contemporary), history and geography (for instance; the vital routes of material and immaterial trade in old Indo-China, Siam, Okinawa, Japan etc.), language (primarily Japanese, Okinawan Hogen, Chinese), religion (Zen Buddhism, Confucianism), philosophy, politics, physics, marketing, economy… the list is basically endless when you really start to think about it.

Oh, did I mention anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, sports science, nutrition, first aid, sports medicine, herbology (did somebody say “Bubishi?”), psychology (of any flavor), anthropology, hoplology (I love that term) and much, much, more.

It depends entirely on the context (i.e. what you want to achieve with the education in question (goals), target group of learners, their capacity and interests, your resources etc.)

#2. “What do you think the pitfalls would be in using Karate educationally?”

The main pitfalls, as I can identify them (from the top of my dome), are mainly:

  • Being overwhelmed by the inherent diversity of Karate, resulting in confusion.
  • Zooming in too obsessively on only one/few aspect of Karate (as a natural reaction to the shock of realizing the above).
  • Difficulties in finding reliable sources of knowledge (as always, with more information comes more crappy information).
  • Hard to motivate students to take an interest in something they have virtually no experience in (and if they have, it might be some McDojo/Karate Kid stuff).
  • Needs a remarkable teacher with above average domain knowledge (in more fields than one!) able to connect the invicible dots and continually provide Blinding Glimpses of the Obvious while remaining admirably humble in order to continually grow himself/herself.
  • Hard, if not impossible, to get official funding/economic support for such a seemingly “narrow” subject as Karate and its related practises.
  • Lastly, like in everything that has to do with education, there is the pitfall of students becoming slaves of the system – not interested in thinking for themselves anymore. “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” – Albert Einstein

There’s probably more (I know there is), but my head hurts. You get the point.

If you are going to use Karate in an educational setting, you’d better know what you’re dealing with.

#3. “What do you think should be taught and why?”

As mentioned, pretty much everything.

(Well, except the “kill all Communists, this is war!” things.)

However, with that being said, some areas are more suited for a civilized educational setting than others. Mainly, the theoretical parts (as opposed to physical training).

Why? Because starting from this end will hopefully lead students to seek out physical Karate training later by their own will. Which is paramount, because it means they are more likely to a) actually enjoy (and keep) training, since they aren’t forced to do it by some old authority fart, and b) understand/learn it better and faster, since they have so much theoretical knowledge as a solid base (they know what to expect).

That’s what I think.

Makes sense?

By the way, this just reminded me of an awesome quote, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (French writer and aviator):

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

#4. “How does Karate help you read body language (i.e. kinesthetic literacy)?”

If you ask me, there are two basic routes to how Karate can help you read body language: Learner-Learner (1) and Teacher-Learner (2).

(Of course, a good teacher should always be a learner too, so just see these as basic labels for now…)

1. Learner-Learner: If you are practising Karate with the same attitude as it was originally intended (like my old chain smoking super secret sensei in Okinawa keeps yelling to me: “OMOIKIRI!“), you will quickly learn to read people based on (predominantly subconscious) combative signals related to fear, aggression, insecurity, hostility and such. These cues are 99% body language (nonverbial, i.e. eyes, mouth, shoulders, body and head position and direction, subtle facial twitching) and are, I believe, practised more effectively in the older Japanese martial arts (including Karate) than any other martial art (Western and/or modern) where common features of the training environment include acts such as talking, using loud music, random chilling and socializing; to the point of making training nothing more than a game of escaping reality (as opposed to training for facing reality) – effectively eliminating any significant progress and/or carryover to real life in this specific area.

Thus, in a Learner-Learner setting, practising Karate with a friend opponent that focuses just as intensely as you do, you’ll quickly learn to read his/her body language (concentration will heighten your senses and increase your awareness) for clues to what/how/when sh*t is about to go down.

Invaluable, if you ask me.

2. Teacher-Learner: The second main category as I see it, when it comes to practising the skill of reading body language through Karate, is to be found in the Teacher-Learner setting (please keep in mind that this goes both ways. It’s not “Teacher to Learner” for a reason.).

When you are transferring knowledge, hopefully through an awesome, fully-tailored, personally customized combination of ‘visual/kinesthetic/auditory’, body language is the one and only true receipt of the transmission of knowledge.

This is not something that is understood immediately by everyone, but the longer and deeper a relationship goes between Teacher and Learner, the more obvious it becomes for them both when or if a piece of advice has actually gone through or not – despite congratulatory cheers from a Teacher or heartfelt thanks from a Learner. Screw that. After a while you’ll quickly learn to interpret the hidden clues in body language, and accordingly change your plans (adapting) in the blink of an eye when it comes to teaching and learning in the optimal way.

The differences between the Learner-Learner body language setting and Teacher-Learner body language situation are many in the beginning, but as the relationships progresses they gradually overlap, eventually becoming one and the same. That is when you realize there is really no difference between a teacher and a learner – whether a black belt is doing full contact kumite with a green belt or a red belt is teaching a kata to a yellow belt.

At least that’s my experience when it comes to kinesthetic literacy in an educational Karate environment.

#5. “Do you think Karate could help students fight The Man?”


(okay, to be honest, I don’t really know what The Man™ is referring to).

Karate can help a student fight anything, as long as one has understood the Who, What and Why’s of oneself and one’s enemy. Sun Tzu taught us that a long time ago.

No matter if it’s The Man™ or The Woman™

…or The Government™.

#6. “How does Karate help you see the interconnectedness of things?”

Duuuh? How does it not help me see the interconnectedness of things?!

In fact, I’ve heard there’s a whole freakin’ blog dedicated to this somewhere…


Karate helps me see the interconnectedness of things by, through its sheer diversity, forcing me to think outside of the box if I ever want to have a chance of surviving/expanding/thriving in this curious pursuit of awesomeness I’ve for some reason got myself stuck in. Although my chosen path is Karate for the moment, the same “sight of interconnectedness” can certainly be developed in any field vast enough (with a big enough emotionally upsetting gap between crap and awesome), provided that the person in question is genuinely interested in becoming the Best One Can Be™ (what’s up with all these trademarks recently?).

In the end, “seeing the interconnectedness of things” is really not about knowing this or that (identifying the dots), but understanding the process that eventually brings one frome dot A to dot B. When you have reached that stage, when you have realized that you can safely forget the dots for a sec because they are secondary, when you have that priceless process ability… you become what people would term “world-class”.

At anything you please.

Although it might have started in such a “simple” pastime activity as Karate.

#7. “How do you think seeing this interconnectedness helps you in non Karate pursuits?”

Didn’t I just answer that?

Once you can identify and break the components down, you can put them back together into something brand new.

(I trust you see the usefulness of this ability in any endeavour.)


Good luck with the master’s thesis Oliver-san!

Over and out.


  • Matthew
    This explains why Karate always comes up in my conversations. Even though I try to suppress it to prevent sounding like a Karateholic.
    • boban.alempijevic
      YES!!!, IM NOT ALONE :) Hi, my name is Boban....... I'm a.... KARATEHOLIC! and I'm--- PROUD ABOUT IT!! :D
      • warrioress
        lol. ME TOO!
  • Francis Duguay
    You juste quoted Saint-Exupéry in a essay on pedagogy and karate. I love you. Le petit prince would rock the dojo!
  • Oliver
    Thanks so much for the response, Jesse-San! I am glad I got you thinking so much. Just to respond to the "fighting the Man" question, well an important type of compositional pedagogy (way of teaching or explaining writing) is Critical pedagogy. This pedagogy is one that focuses on using writing to enact social change in the world, fixing the inequities of the world and encouraging students through various stories about different cultures or different social problems to take on those problems when they leave school. Also, I do practice Karate along with Xing Yi, and Crane Gong Fu. My first love is Karate, though.
  • CharlieL
    Hi Jesse - thanks for a superb post. Especially like the answer to question #6 - "a big enough emotionally upsetting gap between crap and awesome". Love it. Would like more clarification on who The Man™ is? Cheers, Charlie
  • Szilard
    Your answer for question #2 is true in any field of interest: mathematics, history, any language, or any other subject really. Actually a lot of your answers too.
  • Gus
    I don´t speak english well, only spanish. Yor page is so good, Is very hard to me translate from English to Spanish. but I do it. Congratulations. Oss Sensei
    • Martin Mallet
      Hola Gus, en castellano tenes esta que es muy buena. ¡Aprender bien inglés nunca esta de mas abre muchas puertas! ¡Oss!
  • Andreas Quast
    love it

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