Why I Stopped Practicing My Karate Style. (Maybe YOU Should Too?)

jesse_enkamp_karate_seminar_canada
Teaching a “style free” seminar for everyone.

“So… what style do you practice?”

This is a question I get a lot.

(Especially since releasing “KARATE ON FIRE!”)

And to be honest, I hate that question.

Why?

Because I can’t answer it!

I don’t have a specific “style” anymore.

I practice ALL styles.

I PRACTICE KARATE.

And… perhaps YOU should too?

Let me explain.

But first, let’s define the meaning of style.

What is a Karate “style” anyway?

A style is a codified set of teachings, aimed at systematically teaching you Karate.

That’s it.

It’s a vehicle for transmitting Karate.

But, here’s the freaky thing:

Your style doesn’t tell the whole story.

It’s not The Truth.

Karate is actually much MORE than your style!

You see, a style just represents a tiny slice of the whole Karate cake. That cake is freaking huge. And very delicious.

It’s like a carrot cake.

And that’s why I hate being asked; “What style do you practice?”

Because I can’t limit myself to a style!

I want the WHOLE cake!

Yet, I have met Karate people who think “their” slice of cake tastes better than everyone else’s. They think it has some secret ingredient that makes it superior.

(Recommended reading: Is Your Karate Dead or Alive?)

But they’re just assuming – because they’ve never tasted anything else.

I think they’re fooling themselves.

You see, in 9 times out of 10, the only reason you practice your style is because that’s what is taught in your dojo. You probably didn’t taste the whole cake before choosing.

In other words, you got randomly handed a piece of carrot cake, and you try to justify this obvious “non-choice” by hailing its greatness.

But it’s all the SAME cake, dude!

And there comes a point in your Karate journey when you need to wake up and smell the frosting.

Let go of your style.

Comprende?

It’s like crossing a river: You start by building a raft. Then you sail over. But once you reach the other side, you can leave the raft behind you. It served its purpose. It was a vehicle. Just like your style is.

In other words, your fixation on a “style” might be holding you back.

Perhaps it’s time for a change?

Don’t get me wrong though;

I’m NOT saying styles are unimportant.

On the contrary, styles are super important. They are essential! They are what makes Karate unique, diverse and interesting. In fact, the developmental process of Karate, known as “Shu-Ha-Ri”, requires you to start with a proper style in the beginning.

(Related reading: How You Can Master Karate in 3 Steps (Shu-Ha-Ri))

However…

The longer you practice Karate, the less your styles means.

It’s almost paradoxical.

There’s only one cake – just different slices!

And that’s why “what style do you practice?” is one of the smartest (and hardest) questions you can ask someone who practices Karate a lot, like me and you.

Their answer will reveal how far they have come in Karate.

Are you ready to bite that cake?

Bon appetit!

“There is no place in contemporary Karate for different styles. I have heard myself and my colleagues referred to as the “Shotokan style”, but I strongly object to this attempt at classification. My belief is that all “styles” should be amalgamated into one, so that Karate may orderly progress into man’s future.”

– Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957)

109 Comments

  • I feel your pain. Gensei-ryu, Shotokan and Shito-ryu hybrid here.And the more I know about different styles the more I understand about Karate.Great post!
    • Amen to that! Thanks for chiming in. :-)
      • Danny
        A style is where your karate (or martial art connection) is born and raised. It's a personal home base where you learn the first steps, the basics, ones roots. When growing and becomining more independend (experienced)it is the natural way to explore (expanding mind and ground)and grow further more as far as possible. But it is always good to come home, a solid base, a solid stance for effective execution of power. Building your house with the bricks, cement and knowledge one gathers is a good thing, but again, without a solid base it can not even stand weak forces. I'd like to add the suggestion that the basics/styles (all martial aspects) start from the center of the cake in time going outwards.
        • I absolutelly agree. I do Ryuei Ryu, but I (we) do some katas from Goju, which is like a brother style for us, being both from Naha... and a few from Shorin.We also go to diferent styles seminars, because you can always lern something interesting from other styles, and I agree, is the same cake!But as Danny said, is good to come home, to the solid base... because I can´t perform a Goju Ryu kata as well as a Goju Ryu practitioner. They have other concepts...(for not to talk about Shorin, or Uechi!) They´ve spent all their life perfecting their bodies to that style!So, for me, is good to be open to other styles (and other martial arts too!), but I think you have to specialize in just ONE. Like in music, I think...Anyway, is just my opinion... Good post anyway!
          • Thanks for sharing your points of view. Indeed really interesting insights.I agree that I won't be able to perform a kata as well as a pure Shotokan practitioner, but at the same time when I practice for example Bassai Dai Shito ryu style and I switch to Shotokan style (or switching from Pinan to Hehian) I can feel the different ways in which my body moves, and the different ways you can generate power.I know that Shotokan base might not be as solid as a pure practitioner, but I feel that my Karate knowledge is growing more and more solid.And that is a great feeling :)
          • I know what you mean, in fact I do the same thing. What I´m saying is that you have to be very solid in one style, and try to be real good on that one... Then you can flirt with others. But as my kyoshi says "you can´t catch two rabits at the same time". As I said before, I can switch from Ryuei Ryu to Goju Ryu (even if a Goju Ryu sensei could see some weak points), but to try Uechi that is almost as far as another martial art! Of course I can go to seminars, have fun, and I can learn great concepts that I can add to my stuff... but to MASTER a style... that´s another thing.Anyway, that´s my point of view... Of course I can be wrong.
          • pan
            [obv. with no intention to be offending etc]the birds metaphor is off tho, because it refers to volatile, moving away things-beings etc, while the analogy of the author of the article is more precise and real, all karate is karate, it is different ways to reach the same end result [in fact i'd go as far as to state that all martial arts move towards that end, eventually becoming one, not a new concept and understanding either, as one departs from delusions and egoism and emerges to oneness and the budo way, that appears to be as the ultimate, simplistic truth]. it is that end result that cherishes and preaches and not moving from place a to place b to place c etc forever, with no understanding and appreciation, with no accumulation-integration, but rather integrating all, and eventually become a round, less egoistic, more universal and at the same time [as paradoxical as it sounds] more unified-one, being more complex yet ultimately simple while unified-connected. i believe that produces infinite peace [the length of realization of all of these] leading to a phase-state where physical manifestation and violence become for 99 /100 of the cases unnecessary, [but that latter is rather more philosophical so better left out for this time, and which, ironically,i think was even funakochi's [a guy that had been taught and seen already many styles etc] end result, dream and belief..but i suppose anyways]
      • Eric
        What are your thoughts on IsshinRyu
        • I have been a part of Isshin-ryu Karate for about 7 years now, but I also train in Wing chun, Bak Mei, Escrima, BJJ. this style is created from G?j?-ry?, Sh?rin-ry? by Tatsuo Shimabuku in Okinawa. Karate was highly influenced by white crane kung fu, so it seems that all styles compliment each other traditionally when you have trained long enough.
      • Hi jesse the kyokushin karate why their not punching in the face their not traing punching in the face why their not blocking their face thanks
        • Nick
          I'm no expert, but punching to the head is a bad move usually. A good blow to the face can be very effective but it doesn't take much to miss and be hitting skull bone which will easily break bones in your hands. I practice Goju-ryu and we practice a few face attacks and they crop up in the kata too. My conclusion is that unless you can guarantee to finish a fight with a blow to the face/head you are better to avoid breaking a hand and having to fight on with a large disadvantage.
  • Thomas
    Great article! Our dojo switched from Kyukushin to Inoue-Ha Shito Ryu three years ago. After the first seminar (with Soke Yoshimi Inoue himself), our sensei told us he felt like a white belt again! I think that's a very good sign.
    • Good sign! :-)
  • Sean
    As a philosopher (job profile: breaking down borders of the mind) I couldn't agree more. Of course - sarcasm on - you don't get a lovely colored belt, or a Dan certificate with a desirable number for tasting the whole cake and understanding the way of the martial arts - sarcasm off. And as human beings adore dogmatism because it gives them a sense of security (clearly defined goals and quality standards are met = a feeling of self-efficacy), most people would get very nervous over the notion that style doesn't matter all that much beyond the didactic function of initiating trainees into the art in a systematic way.When people ask me for a piece of "wisdom", I tend to tell them "overcome your ego and dogmatism". The world would be a much better place to live in. Can you taste the tolerance and kindness?
  • Dave Leduc
    Great article . It hits home with me because I don't practice a style as well . It was a tuff question to answer at first , and most who ask are a little puzzled at first . Thanks Patrick McCarthy Hanshi I can answer that question rather quickly . And thank you for this article it will help some people to see the light .
  • mario
    Hi there!For me the cake represents Martial Arts in general. All of them use the same principles.Instead of studying a different karate style, I say practice boxing, muay thai, catch wrestling etc. It will make your style stronger, your mind more open.The base of all, will always be my initial style. The more I learn about other martial arts, the more I appreciate Karate. Karate is the best base to study other martial arts. The way to the top has many paths ;)
  • I agree that a martial artist who wishes to learn will explore other paths in order to improve.The "style" is less important than the lineage. I have known instructors who I respect the skill of and others in the same style who I think have little skill. I can attribute that to the individual, but also to the lineage. I think saying I am a direct student of Kensei Taba Sensei says more than naming a style.
  • Yes! You speak the truth, sir.All that matters is what you can do and what kind of person you are. That's why I just say I’m a martial artist. The most powerful lessons are found in the similarities between styles, not the differences.Keep rocking it, Jesse-san!
  • William Diaz Diaz
    I been practicing Martial Arts now for 30+ yrs , people that knows me used to call me "The Nomad" , because I used to practice in different Dojos , and sometime critized , I always said when the real moment arrive the styles disappear ,is only you and your Karate , your article it's great , love it!.
    • Sorry to bust in, but you raise a great point, William. It takes time and effort to find "your karate". And "your karate" will likely change over time.Correction: Time and effort are only required if you want your karate to be effective! If you want to suck, you can train a month here and a month there, then award yourself a 10th degree black belt in You-Do. :)
      • Carola
        True
  • Robert Wisniewski
    I started my journey down the martial arts path 54 years ago. And I have found what you say to be true. But you have to be willing to make sacrifices. You will probably never attain high rank and titles will elude you. No one will know your name. But you will be a more proficient and happier martial artist. While no one will remember your name they may remember your skills.I know many who have the rank and titles but they are alone with no students and in constant turmoil. I am still having fun at age 64.
    • John
      Although I don't disagree with you, I just thought it is worth mentioning that Bruce Lee held no rank in any martial art yet studied different styles with Wing Chun Kung Fu as his foundation, though he still became very well known. Not that this should be anyone's goal.
  • Excellent article! It speaks to why Cecil Ryu was born----and will eventually be abandoned as my own students progress in their Way.
  • Szilard
    Yes sir, as soon as I have squeezed out everything I can from this style, I will . :) But seriously, I don't hear this any more, but it used to be that when someone reached the 2nd dan level he was supposed to start training in an other style. An other karate style, Aikido, Wing Chun, thai box, you name it, whatever he feels like a good idea doing at that point, and by the time the 3rd dan exam comes around he was supposed to embed it in his karate. This means he should still perform a picture perfect karate, but all the kata and standard exercises should have different interpretation. You thought the opening moves of shisochin were aggressive stabbing attacks? Now you might see them also as blocks that attack the opponent's balance. Etc... People do karate for lots of reasons. Some just wants to experience the world in a drop of water, and a single style of karate is the drop of water for which they have the talent to explore. For others doing more than a major and a minor style makes more sense because they want more beautiful martial dances, or they want to be really good at self defense, or they don't find in a single style the answers to the challenges they face. It is all well, karate would be a boring place if everyone did it for the same reasons.
  • LOL, my Sensei actually let me test for 10th kyu in Shindo Jinen-ryu using my Hayashi-ha Shito-ryu basics that were still ingrained in me even after 27 years of not training. I passed with flying colors. Then I got to work learning the Shindo Jinen-ryu basics. It was more important that I advance - Sensei knew I needed more challenge than just standing there waiting for newbies to stop tangling their own arms up. It didn't take long to get up to speed with Shindo Jinen-ryu basics. I have an appreciation for both sets of basics - there's distinct advantages to both styles.A few months ago I watched a Kokondo karate class. I saw all sorts of lovely possibilities in the way they do their basics. Fun stuff!Tournaments are a great way to watch different styles. Occasionally I'll make a new friend and we'll grab a bit of floor space somewhere out of the way and compare notes.I've noticed when it comes to kumite there's a lot of room for diversity. A teeny bit of Wing Tsun has been incorporated into the kumite of some karateka from our organization. No surprise given that one of the senseis used to study it, and I see it in the senseis that he trained. I've had a few classes under him myself, so it's part of me now. I'm thinking yet another sensei might have taken something from boxing - his students love ducking and weaving, and just this past week he taught me to do it.One notable kumite experience I've had was sparring with a black belt from another style - an Okinawan style that to me, anyway, screams "to be applied in combat on a fishing boat" judging both from his katas and his kumite. I had to keep him at a distance and get out quick after striking. If I accidentally let him in close - hoo boy, was I in trouble 'cause that's where his style trained him to work. Very fun stuff!So yeah, there's something to be learned from every style :-) I love your carrot cake analogy :-)
  • Mark Laderwarg
    "The longer you practice Karate, the less your styles means."So true of all martial ARTS. But, eliminating styles is just about impossible. B. Lee tried it with his no-style JKD. Now there are dozens of styles of his no-style art. It's human nature to classify. Goes back to Adam.Still, it's a habit we must mitigate.
  • Pascal
    Great article. When I started karate I didn't know there were styles... I started to learn Shotokan without knowing it at first. For me it was karaté... Shotokan was the most taught style in south west of France at that time. I later had à chance to train with Wadu Ryu practitoners in England then Kyokushin in Germany. I loved learning a little of different style but I think it's mainly because I was taught by genuine karatékas, irrespectively of their style. But in my humble opinion you need to have enough of your first style under your belt before trying another. Osu!
  • andrew johnston
    I want to eat the whole cake, too. But I don't think I'll be able to practice karate afterwards.
  • Here, here. 15 years of Shotokan, then I moved on to Wing-Chun, Kyokushin, MMA then Judo. After that I packed up and went off to Japan where I studied SeidoKaikan and Ashihara as well as Judo and Aikido for two years. In the end it all has brought me back to the same place. Oh yeah and I have recently become very interested in Uechi Ryu's Sanchin and Shito Ryu's Chatan Yara Kushanku.Some days I feel like the guy who has eaten more than his fair share of the cake at the wedding.Thank you Jesse for posting this. There are a lot of people who need to hear it.
  • Alvaro
    thank you for this wonderful and great article.
  • Jonas
    So when a parent or a new prospective student comes to your dojo to sign up, and asks "so what style of karate do you teach?" how do you answer?
      • Leandro Martins de Lima
        I know this post is almost three years old, but I cannot help to reply and compliment you. I would like just to share my thoughts about this styles talk. In fact I don't really liek to use the word "style" in this context; I believe the style is something particular, the way one assimilates and reproduce something. It's something completely personnal, developped by the understanding and comprehension of something. I prefer to call the compilation of a set of techniques, methods an practices as "school". Shotokahn, Shito-ryu, Shorin-ryu, Goju-ryu, I see them all as schools, each one with its own foundations, rules, principles and some divergent techniques and applications, but most of times they are pretty much alike. Still style is unique in the way that none of my friends are like me. We do repeat the same moviments, attacks, blocks, the same dachis, the same katas, kihons and else; all of us follow the same bases of techinques, respect the same rules and follow the same discipline in our school, Kyokushin. But in the end each one of us is unique, each with it own characteristics. One have more stamina, other moves more freely, another one is more precise, another is faster, another likes to brawl. This is just my philosiphical concept for the word.
  • Kevin
    I always have mixed feelings about this. I think it is a good place to be for someone with a strong foundation in a "style" to know what will work or not work with that base. All too often though, people look at the Bruce Lee approach of the "style of no style" and "absorb what's useful, and discard what's not" with no base or skill set to know those things.I like to do what I call "cross referencing" instead of "cross training". I look at things from another style and see how it applies to what I already do in strategy or tactics. I don't have to learn their basics and execution many times like I would with cross training. That's just my approach though.
    • Cross-referencing is essential, Kevin-san! Thanks for chiming in.
      • Maybe a visit to Shuri Castle the (birth place of karate essentially) will tell the truth lol. all karate are equal! :)
  • Mike Addison-Saipe
    Jesse-san. So, so right on! I couldn't make it to knx15 but bought the videos and here's the thing. I practise Okinawan Kenpo. But I think there is so much to learn from Hokama sensei (GoJu Ryu of course.) One of my affiliations is to a group whose instructors originate from Isshin Ryu. Sometimes there is conflicting information. A long time ago I came to the conclusion that no-one was right or wrong. The (usually technique) situation just needed to be seen in context. Then everything becomes clear. Naturally this assumes good performance of the technique. However, regardless of "style" there seems to be little disagreement over what constitutes good technique. Thanks again for your insites and for helping others think.
    • Awesome Mike-san! Glad you liked the KNX15 videos. You are right - there is no 'wrong' or 'right´ in Karate. Just different. Thanks for supporting my work!
  • Carola O.
    I do not agree. The style you train is important. Every style has puts different emphasis on breathing, punch, hard and softness, kumite, selfdefense.... you name it. The style you chose is the mother/basic you feel comfortable with. Later on one should be curious and open to other styles to abroaden your horizon. Whatever then happens is like she ha ri
    • So you do agree! :-)
  • Alexia
    Hi Jesse, correct if im wrong but i think that the basics in every style are really similar, arent they? I mean you have spoken about it before referring to karate as if it was a tree. Karate as a whole is a tree and the branches are the styles. So, when having to practise another style you just have to undo less than if you were a beginner (that means to me that the basics are more or less the same)
  • How reassuring as a (date I say) Shotokan practitioner to be reminded of Funakoshi's words. I think it's a case of learning all the rules first and then being free to explore, not the other way around. I also find who my teacher is to be more relevant than the style. I never stop learning with my teacher of the past 3 yrs and never once have I heard him use the term Shotokan (he actually asked me not to use it in any of our marketing/comms). It reminds me of similar debates in Yoga. Ultimately we're all going the same way, it doesn't really matter which vehicle we use.
  • Carola
    @Jesse: In the end it doesn't really matter????
    • Exactly! :-)
  • Karate Do:My Way of Life by Funakoshi Gichin I believe that that we have many great masters and that we should study intersecting agreement to find the laws of karate and study context when we note a difference of opinion or experience.
  • Salima
    Jesse San, I LOVE how everything you talk about reinforces what I hear in my dojo!!! If you're ever in the Naples, Florida area, we'd love for you to visit our little dojo. The guys there hear me talk about you all the time.
  • Jeff
    I am currently studying Matsubayashi Ryu and Udunti in Okinawa. I really enjoy practicing both and find it stimulating because of the differences (there are a lot of differences). But, I do think that asking the question "what style do you practice" or perhaps "what style are you currently focused on" is valid. Maybe some just want to tell you that their style is better, but many, like me, are just curious and want to hear more about it. Just my two yen.
  • pmoviglialeibovich
    Greetings from Argentina.I agree with you, but i have to say that yours is not a new idea: almost 70 yearss ago, Toyama Sensei said that "a name is just a name, the karate styles are basically the same". I think that the main reason for the quantity of "different" "styles" of karate is that people need to belong to something. And the other reason is, perhaps, the enormous ego of some masters. Karate is one of the most "multi-syled" martial arts, and that's because of the egos. This year i trained several months in a dojo here in my city that had the slogan "the real martial tradition", it was kinda a mcdojo (actually, i stoped training there for that issue), but made me think a lot about why would this sensei consider that his dojo or style is better than what i've learned before. I don't know, it seems that it's easier to divide rather than join schools.
    • There is nothing new under the sun, my friend :-)
  • John
    There are definitely differences among karate styles in basic techniques, katas, and kumite approaches. Just considering the kata though, one would have to expand one's horizons if one wanted to learn more katas. There are relatively few in Wado Ryu and Uechi Ryu, for example, while Shotokan has about 26 (depending on the organization), Goju Ryu about 16 or so, but Shito Ryu has about 60 (also depending on the organization). When considering basics, there are differences between, say, Itosu- and Higaonna-influenced styles. Shotokan is more linear; Goju is more circular. In Shito Ryu there are both linear and circular approaches. So, yes, there are many slices to the cake. Not everyone can eat that much but for those who can, it is worth the calories to investigate other legitimate karate styles after one reaches a certain level in the style one has pursued for a while (say, after reaching brown belt level). But there are those who will never eat the whole cake no matter what because they believe their style is simply the best there is, so for them they will have to stick to a thin slice but hopefully not think all cakes are the same.
  • Exactly. Styles are a teaching tool, they're not karate itself. I suppose I would describe it as my "There is no spoon" moment. I came to this realization several years ago. Of course all the old karate masters said the same, decades ago, but who listens to what a bunch of old farts say?
  • mayaheikal
    in all of rgypt there is only one style: shotokan.... so i cant do it but i want to.
    • mayaheikal
      *egypt
  • Kim
    If styles were to go away, wouldn't that take away the ability to go and train in other styles (or to gain a foundation in one style, as so many argue that we need)? And if they're all the same, then why do we need to go to others? (just playing devil's advocate here a bit)I think there are differences in techniques and in approach, but many of the underlying combative principles are the same. But seeing those similarities in combative principles requires that you see karate as a vehicle to gain combative skills - to steal another analogy, I think that's the roots of your tree.
  • i like the way people do this art. Its so fast and perfect. Karate gives a perfect shape to body and increases power of throw. i work-out at fitness center in delhi which trains us also in karate, i will join them soon ...
  • i like karate style and all activity which is done in this i like the way people do this art. Its so fast and perfect. Karate gives a perfect shape to body and increases power of throw. i work-out at fitness center in delhi which trains us also in karate, i will join them soon ...
  • Don't agree 100%I quit my first style (Kyokushinkai) after 10 years because the emphasis was on hierarchy and sport frighting - not self defense - so I sought out a system that did.A better analogy than different slices of the same cake would be different kinds of car - you don't get Model T Ford if you want to outrace anything on the road and you don't get a Ferrari if you want to drive off road.
    • Bob
      Style, perhaps not, but one's specific school and one's teachers and fellow students may be more relevant than one's style. I practice a style called "Isshin Kempo" which is itself a hybrid of Isshin Ryu and other influences, developed in the 1970's, still very open to exploring ideas vs. dogma. And of course Isshin Ryu itself is a hybrid of other styles developed by a practitioner of both, so perhaps it is in the genetic code of Isshin Ryu to synthesize. But over many years of practice and searching, what I have never found at any other school, regardless of style, was the same quality of leadership and mentorship, and the same ego-less and mutually supportive yet challenging environment among students that has been so important in my training. I think the problem, in a nutshell, is closed-minded dogma vs. open-minded pursuit of understanding.
    • Mike Addison-Saipe
      I see where you're coming from Sean but it's just that people are hung up on the concept of style. Modern schools are style/competition based (even the ones who claim they are not). So you went "old school" - Karate Jutsu will always open the door to Karate-do but not vice-versa. In old-school times there was just a bunch of masters/experts who put stuff together from various sources and trained and taught it. They encouraged their students to go and train with other masters. It's modern Japanese Budo heirarchy that has created styles - and I agree with Jesse. The more we move away from that and into the roots the more benefit we derive. We should catch up some time and talk more.
      • Ahh Mike - good to hear from you again :)yes we must catch up sometime - I am looking to get back into the DSI after a long absence to focus on other areas of my personal martial journey.I do not disagree with the point about needing to look outside one's "style"- my dissension was with the cake analogy given that my experience in Kyokushin was that adopting ideas from other trad Japanese karate-do styles was moving sideways not forwards: 2 slices of the same cake is still just the same damn cake. Thus I abandoned it to pursue firstly Okinawan and then American Kenpo.
  • Ice cream
    Very awesome points! Bruce Lee mentioned something close before. Too many people focus on styles themselves too much, but ignore the meaning behind it. So jesse chan what style do you pratice?lol
  • Thant Coleman
    I agree wholeheartedly! Years ago I began to say I practice Kempo. I’m using Kempo in the generic sense that Karate is used. The difference is that I’m intending to communicate the fact that I aim to stay closer to the Chinese roots and methods in my practice. My basis is and always will be Naha Te, more specifically Okinawan Goju Ryu but at this point (30 years plus) I have certainly included methods, concepts, kata and techniques that most consider to be outside the Goju syllabus and inherent in kung fu only. Anyone knowing history is aware of the common roots and should readily acknowledge that all is in reality one in the same.Beautiful analogy and I couldn’t agree more that “it’s all one cake”. Most people specialize in a “slice” and think that they have the whole!From one Karate Kempo practitioner to another ... excellent article! Keep’em coming!Thant
  • I agree to a certain extent. I am currently on that journey myself training in Okinawa in different styles several times a year. Prior to this I have acquired a Yondan in Wado Ryu.So. My question is this.Whilst as an individual, I can attain knowledge and seek out what is useful to me and relevant for my size and shape and ability, I am also a teacher of my own Dojo. Which teaches Wado Ryu karate and kickboxing as it's two main flavours, how do I teach if I have no style?Let me clarify.I am new to the world of Okinawan Te and have been training there for the last 3 years at various times throughout the year. I have found many useful things for myself, but I am wanting to change styles for my students. We never really had a Wado lineage and my previous instructor of 12 years sold out and became a massive McDojo, leaving us no option but to leave and start a school of our own.My two options are this.Declare a new start and retrain in a new style. Probably Shorin as it's basically the base lineage of Wado and won't be too much of a shock to my existing students.Or do I teach the strikes and blocks and bunkai from different systems and say that we study Okinawan te? Am I therefore not exacerbating the problem by effectively creating my own style? As so many have done around the world already and caused so much fragmentation.As a teacher, how do you 'not' have a style? You need a syllabus and set of guidelines to what to teach or surely chaos ensues? And then the kata from the systems usually uses the waza from the same system to some extent. How do I choose which kata to teach? And if I spread it wide across different systems then I would surely be teaching umpteen variations of the same waza?Mmmm..... interesting concept for an individual but a very dangerous path for a teacher if they wish to keep their students/encourage more?
  • Nicolaos
    Sensei, Allow me to disagree with your article. It might be true, to a certain degree, that not sticking to one style might have certain advantages which have to do with taking the best part of each one, correcting in that way their shortages and weaknesses. However, any shotokan karateka who trained for many years and with high level instructors knows that shotokan is so wide and encompasses such a wide range of moves and techniques that is not really necessary to train in other styles. Shotokan karate uses techniques that are used by many other styles of karate and not only. There are techniques and moves similar for example to boxing, aikido, kung fu and so on. The syllabus of Shotokan Karate is really huge, but as I said rarely taught mostly due to lack of time and expertise of the instructors. Only inspired high level sensei with several Dan and many years of training are willing to teach this part of unknown shotokan karate rarely shown otherwise. As such, with a style like shotokan it is better to stick to it, devote as much time as possible to it, and you can be sure that you will be practicing techniques and moves filling all the gabs you thought existed, like combat in small spaces, throws, arm locks, and so on. And all these in Shotokan Karate only!! With great respect, Nicolaos Nicolaides, Ni Dan JKA
    • pmoviglialeibovich
      By saying this, you're just assuming that shotokan includes in it's curriculum the techniques of both naha and tomari te, and also the pre-Funakoshi techniques of shuri te. That's just wrong.. this I say because I know that in shotokan you don't practise tuidi, neither kake uke or mawashi uke, your stances are lower and longer, you tend to go foward or backward, not to the sides, you have very few knock ups and use a lot more kicks (and taller ones) than in all the other styles. By this, i'm not saying that shotokan is worst or better than the others styles. But, really, you can't assume that learning only shotokan you'll be learning all about karate..
      • Nicholas G.
        Jesse is absolutely right. We as karate practitioners tend to put too much emphasis on styles and recognition from our peers in said styles. It is an ego thing. However, my Karate is rooted strongly in Shotokan with influences from other styles that I have been exposed to along the way. I would like to correct your assumptions about " our practice of techniques in Shotokan" as follows; 1. Mawashi Uke is practiced as Kihon and is a component of the Nijushiho and Unsu Kata. 2. We, in our dojo, practice kake uke and it is a component of the kata Hangetsu. 3. Most kata in shotokan emphasis chudan or gedan level kicks ,apart from the nidan geri in Gankaku and the jodan maegeri sequence in Heian Nidan.It is important to cross train but it serves no purpose to belittle styles that you haven't studied indepth.
    • As a Wado Practitioner, I have been training in Okinawa several times a year now for the last 3 and a bit years.I have been lucky enough to train with all the 'famous' names (Higaonna, Kuba, Higa, Shimabukuro Sensei etc) and some lesser known but just as famous (Hokama, Masaji, Shinzato Sensei etc) and I have seen a plethora of styles and even variations on styles whilst doing so.I could easily say 'oh Wado is the only japanese style to have 'true' jujitsu in it from Ohtsuka Sensei's background' and 'it's a complete fighting system and all you will ever need' and such like etc etc. But by doing so I would sound like a complete idiot. Yes I've been true to my base style for many years, practiced it and believed in it. I've sought the 'secrets' and unlocked bunkai moves and fluidity of movement. I've embraced the traditional side and partaked in the sport side (heavy in some Wado variants) for a great fitness and reflex based workout.I HAVE seen what Wado has to offer.If I adopt the attitude that my karate style is the best and no-one can show me otherwise then how can I call myself a true Martial Artist?As the life of a Karateka, it is one of servitude to the art. A life of learning, training and eventually teaching. (for some)But when teaching is a goal you have achieved, you realise that your learning has only just begun as you never learn as much as you do until you teach. Then you ask the questions. Then you seek the knowledge and not just from external sources but from within. You 'let out' the karate within and explore it. Lay it down in front of you and try to fill the gaps and seek new ways of understanding and new answers to questions you already thought you had answered.Going back to Okinawa. The times I train there, rank is irrelevant as frankly I feel like a beginner most times I try a new style or technique.I use all my previous experience, I relax and contract at the right times (or so I think) and yet still I manage to not quite get it and have to be shown a few times again and again. I've been punched, pulled, slapped, thrown and pushed to limits I never knew I had whilst training there and yet still I return.Why?Because I seek knowledge.I seek fresh answers to old questions and I seek new questions to old answers.I want to be the best I can be and I realised long ago that even a lifetime of devotion and learning will still leave me with gaps. How can we say our style is the best? There is Sanchin kata, (differing greatly from style to style) which is a staple of Okinawan te, and many other Okinawan kata that are still a mystery to me.Can I comment on shotokan? Yes, I feel I can. I have a Shodan in shotokan and Wado has heavy links to the style as you will know. I have also been lucky enough to train at the JKA headquarters in Tokyo several times, meeting Mori Sensei and training with Naka Sensei, even lunching with him and learning so much from him and his style as well.A closed mind is an empty heart. Whilst devotion to your style is commendable, listen to those whom have gone before you, like Jessie San and see the wisdom in his words. Whether one agrees or disagrees is irrelevant, he has the knowledge (hard earned) and he walks the walk when it comes to Karate, he does the hard work and he speaks from experience. Therefore, maybe, just maybe he has a point. My advice? Close your eyes. Take ten deep breaths and open them. Hopefully you will see how much you are missing and join us. Maybe I'll see you one day in Okinawa? I'll buy you a cocktail :p from the Dojo bar.Just my two pennies worth. Peace to you all.
      • Paul Reynolds
        Sensie Jessie: Shu Ha Ri is Inspiring/good teaching explaination. I'm a Yondan (4th dan) Shotokan nearing 69 yrs old and dojo work is non competitive now. I was one who was mentored in the "follow-me, don't ask" old Japanese & Korean sensie ways with no English translation in the old country's dojo's on/off for 20yrs. The Vietnam War caused a lower lumbar spinal injury that prevents kumite and jumping techniques, however, I'm motivated to karate in spirit and slow kata etc. Any suggestion for the crippled ole warrior! for I desire upper level knowledge for advancement, however,American dojo's are distasteful...lacks oriental spirit, too commercialized, and lacks the instruction intensitity of the Japanese, Okinawaian, Korean dojo atmospheres! Sensie Jessie, I urge for upper knowledge and continuation. Your suggestions alone, and not of others below masters level, would be deeply appreciated for I'm assessing a direction of upper-level self-satisfaction & promotional advancements. Domo, Paul R. Yondan
  • Nicole Siaw
    Personally I believe there are 2 types of karate-ka, the specialist and the explorer.Specialists tend to stick to one preferred style, he/she goes into detail of that style, studies the origins, the history... basically anything regarding the style.. he specializes in that style. Ask him anything and he can answer.And then there's the explorer, that one guy that is always thirsty for knowledge, learning new things.. trying out new styles all the time, grabs any oppurtunity he/she gets and eventually become more of a hybrid martial artist.. You can call them a jack of all trades but a master of none, tough its not as bad as it sounds.Both of them are just as great as a martial artist, just different types of learners.It doesn't matter which one you are, just never forget that never dimming spark of interest and always seek to learn more. Whether its your own style, or another style. ;)
  • M Robbins
    Being new to Karate, 3-4 years old, I find this a bit confusing. Our school has linage back to Master Parker. But from what I read we seem to be more into the, common (if I can use that term), kenpo style. We learn a little Judo, some Krav Maga and some other techniques while hitting a lot of the traditional kata. From what I have read we certainly aren't puritans. So what do we call our "Style"?
    • A rose by any other name. Mr Parker was never an advocate of traditions, be they years, months or seconds old. His Kenpo includes elements of the very things you mention being included so all power to it!
  • Mike Addison-Saipe
    Just call it Karate and keep studying. Try and do a trip to Okinawa at some stage and do some classes with a few schools.Either it will all become clear,or it will get more confusing.Many will want to label your school as "free-style" or "hybrid". The reality...The truth... This is how all Karate schools began in Okinawa. The Japanese are sticklers for the "purity of the tradition" - but the Okinawans took what worked,adapted it to their culture , environment and understanding of combat as it was at the time - and there we have it. A school of traditional Okinawa karate! I trained in Silat in Malaysia and was amazed at the close connection to Karate - until I found out that the Malaysians and Okinawans had been trading as far back as the 13th century.If they traded,they exchanged ideas. Whether you stay with your current school,or try another, the bottom line is - KEEP TRAINING!
  • Nippon takimu
    Remember, Karate is from Okinawa, Japan. Japanese take loyalty as the most important element of a person. Being a drifter martial artist shows the lowest form of true Bushido. No one can even perfect a single art, why try 10. Be loyal to your style, It is not a question of which style is better, it is the question of your character.Lowest character of a martial artist is Jumping around dojos. The more you list as your "styles", the lower your credentials are to the best traditional martial artists you meet.
    • In other words Nippon takimu you buy into to the idea that traditional karate is all about hierarchy and reinforcing traditional, feudal values.Yes it is - that is why I got out of it. I started martial arts for self defense reasons having been in two separate attacks on the street where I was outnumbered 6 to one on both occasions. I was not interested in selling out the ability to protect myself for the sake of a system of exercise designed purely to militarize a population of young men into a horde of lunatic screaming 'banzai' as they raped and slaughtered their way across south east Asia.Yes loyalty is important - but the most important is the loyalty of the instructor to their students - not the other way around. Any instructor who does not deliver quality teaching to their students and instead palms them off with useless drivel is not worthy of the student's time. Under such circumstances the student is perfectly at liberty to look elsewhere and is frankly a moron if they do not.
  • Maximiliano
    Amazing! I found myself thinking about this idea a couples month ago and started searching about "styles" in the internet, thanks to that, I found this incredible blog than opened my mind to keep digging in the world of karate and martial arts like kendo and iaido. Now, would you mind if I ask, How do you manage to learn about new styles without losing focus of your own? Becouse, I assume , most of as would love to keep training every day, at every time, but with a job, family, friends,etc we have to choose have we dedicate time to our training, specially if there so much to learn about "our" style to add more techniques of others
  • Liam
    I totally agree. I have my roots with Goju-Ryu but for me i am branching out and eating up that whole cake.Everytime i learn from others who have different roots i feel special and get that white belt feeling all over again. And that keeps me motivated to train everyday with my heart.
  • Alex
    A Ryu in Japanese Martial Arts generally means far more than a "style", it includes all the techniques, not just of one weapon, but of a range of weapons, the philosophy and strategies (I refer to those old kenjutsu schools). It was the military school of its day,it was not simply about "stylistic differences". And they had a system of transmission, whereby when a student got their menkyo kaiden, they can branch out, start their own school, incorporate other techniques etc. Fast forward to 1933 when karate was formally recognized by Dai-Nippon Butokukai. They had to formalize their syllabus like other Japanese martial arts of the day, they had to have ranks (Renshi, Kyoshi, Hanshi), etc. Why? Because it was about preservation. If every student learnt only 50% of what his sensei knew,and self-discovered the other 50% himself, within 2 generations the art would have morphed into something else! That is why Shihan level sensei need to attain their Menkyo Kaiden, meaning, they have to learn 100% of the existing system, including training methods,techniques, and culture, before they can branch out, teach others or start a new school. Those masters who followed the system in 1933, their styles are largely intact today, and those who didn't, well many have disappeared, or been assimilated, or had morphed into something-else unrecognizable. The "Ryu" system was set-up to preserve karate. Those who want to learn need not stick to one style or Ryu, but those who want to teach karate, had better learn a whole system(get their Menkyo status) before teaching someone else independently.
    • Of course Funakoshi wanted to do away with the ryu system, he was an admirer of Jigoro, and he envisioned karate become unified like Judo was. Unfortunately, he didn't succeed in this.
  • Charlie
    This was a rather interesting article to read. So, how do you suggest a person to try different slices of the "cake"? To train in a different style once getting to a certain high level in one style and train it till a high level aswell? How many different"styles" have you practiced so far?
    • Alex
      The Ryu-ha system does not restrict the student from learning other styles, it never was meant to. It does, even today, ensure that the teachers have to be qualified. For example, all black-belt instructors have to teach under the nominal management and supervision of a shihan unless he is a shihan himself. Black-belt gradings are only conducted by Shihan level instructors and approved by the Hanshi. Students can learnt what they want anytime.
  • Alex
    Students can train as many styles whenever they want. The ryu-ha system is meant to ensure that the teachers are qualified.
  • Liam
    I agree with you on this as you should drop the uber importance of restricting yourself to just one style. I am selfish and want to learn whatever I can from any style of karate, because I want to eat that whole damn cake. When I learnt my first Kata (Jion from Shotokan) outside of my native Goju-Ryu, i got excited and wanted to learn more.
  • Every style has its pros and cons. In my school the basic style is still Shotokan, but I have been adding other things to it. Joint locks, takedowns and groundwork are rarely done in (so called) traditional Shotokan schools but if you think about it a lot of techniques can be used for one of these purposes. I wonder why at some point these explanations have been discarded. When I get students coming over from other schools they are a bit shocked at first because of my different approach until I tell them why I do things differently. It's all there and most have been practicing it for years without even knowing it. Letting go of the way I was tought Shotokan was the logical and sensible way to go for me. "Many Martial Artists talk about keeping an open mind but few really do."
  • sheldon scheepers
    This is so true, I am currently training in Funakoshi karate and im starting to learn Shotokan because I feel that to really learn karate you should be able to know as much as u can about Karate in general :), My goal is also to teach karate as a whole aswell and not to teach my students any particular style :)
  • Akshat chaudhari
    If we see practically all styles shotokan shitoryu gojuryu and many others don't have quite a difference between them. Or atleast any major difference other than small kata variations . No style is better than other just as your cake , all of them have same height same widht ( importance ) same nuts ( pain ) and same cream ( fun )
    • Akshat - yes you are right. All of the what I call 'vanilla' karate styles are more alike than they are different.The exception is a more modern, practical style and that is what I abandoned trad Japanese karate to train in! Very glad I did and would never, ever go back.
  • Teguh
    I totally agree with your point of view. I've studied Shotokan for more than 7 years and Shito-Ryu for some times. Now, I'm studying Kyokushin from the very beginning. And if I have the opportunity, I will also study Goju Ryu. Like you said, Karate is like one huge (cheese) cake. Shotokan, Shito-Ryu, and Kyokushin are only 3 slices of the whole cake I've tasted so far. I'd want the whole cake
  • Akshat
    Hey jesse i was wondering for a long time but as you said that all styles( shotokan, shitoryu goju ryu, wadaryu, etc) are the piece of the same cake , don't you think all martial arts i,e karate, wing chun, jkd, taekwondo, muay thai, krav maga ,etc are also the pieces of the same cake ?I know that "Karate is a lifetime study " like every martial art but still it would be a damn more delicious that th cake your talking about. Just thought so, if we could study and practise each of them it would be so fun to learn them.What do you think about it?
    • N.S.
      I'm not Jesse, I know. But I'm also one of the people who has a mindset like yours. I always believed that Martial Arts used to be one. But certain circumstances had split it into many. I think it's good if you also open up to learn other martial arts as well. But you need to have and master your own basic martial art first. Then you can open up to other arts as well if you want. That's just my opinion anyway
      • Akshat
        Do you have a background of any other martial art ? If yes can you tell something about it? I know that this is a blog for karate but still, do you or anyone has anything to share something about it? Just curious:)
  • This is a great article and one I wholeheartedly agree with. If I am correct, the translation of Ryu is close to that of school? Now if you compare Karatedo to your school life when you were a child/teenager - just because you went to a school in Cheshire (England) and your friend went to school in Melbourne, doesn't mean you haven't been fundamentally educated in the same way. Of course there are slightly different syllabus & standards but this is still relevant that you went to school to learn to read, write etc - you may go to University or you may go to work afterwards, but you still need to stand on your own 2 feet and get on with your 'way' of life - it's the same in Karatedo (all MA) - you have to find your way! I'm a Shitoryu practitioner (only for the record!) but I will train with anyone as I can absolutely learn from anyone. I do enjoy learning about the old ways and specifically Shitoryu/Shukokai but we can't remain fixed to the old ways, that would be mad! (just my opinion). I love the way Jesse comments on Karatedo and not styles - we all need to stick together, train together and learn together - the sooner we all realise this the better. The governing bodies/Karate associations should actively encourage styles/clubs/associations training together. The EKF has historically all been about Sport Karate which is fine but we also need to cater for the budo/traditional side - I read they are looking at this with getting some structure around new types of EKF courses for it's members - I really hope this happens. Anyhow, enough rambling - Thanks for reading (I hope!). Always yours in Karatedo, Andrew.
  • Paulo Roberto Costa Galvão
    Jesse, when I began learning karate my sensei was Akio Yokoyama, and his style was named Keniu-kai, today Keniu-ryu. I was living in a city named Belo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon) then. I came back to my home town, Rio, where almost everybody practices Shotokan. I got my black belt as a Shotokan fighter. I love learning Shito-Ryu katas. It's a pity so many people insult Shotokan, insult Funakoshi on the Internet. Those are petty minds. Patrick MacCarthy is one of those petty minds who HATE Gichin Funakoshi. It's a pity in my past life I had to work hard on fields other than teaching karate, so I couldn't learn Shito-Ryu, but now that I'm "old folks" I'm gonna take Shito Ryu lessons. I'm sure there must be some Shito-Ryu school in Rio. After Shito-Ryu, and after my 75th birthday, I'm gonna learn Goju-Ryu, and so forth... Paulo Roberto (From Rio with OSS, which means the same as AXÉ (ASHEH) in Capoeira)
  • Aung saw moen
    Oss !! Jesse Enkam sensei, your article remind me of two two things of two days that is , when I was having a lecture by my sensei and at end I asked that "what is the difference between Shito Ryu, Gojo Ryu, Wado Ryu, Uchei Ryu and Shotokan ?? He replied me "Just only the spelling... Find similarities instead of differences" and from that day I become Karate nerd hehe XD, guess what another thing , when I ended up my functional workout at gym inside my university, a sports management officer asked me that "What Karate do you do?" I replied "Karate" ..He asked me second time same question and I replied "Karate ..Karate I do" hahaha .. that was a funny day of mine .. :D Oss
  • Nick Ruff
    So I recently commented on one of you ig posts "what style do you do?" You never replied and now I see why haha I really like what you're saying here. I've been going to 3 different dojos lately with 3 different "styles" and ive come to find exactly what you said here to be true. Thank you for all of your posts and videos they really help me in my journey. Nick ruff, Shodan
    • There you go :-) Thanks for supporting my work Nick-san!
      • Karl
        Thanks. I am going "towards" that non-coloured belt - or "another thing". I have plateaued. By the way "carrot" sounds like "karate". I am losing interest but remain curious.
  • Robert
    I know this is an old post but I read it recently and then today came across this."I have been practicing karate for a long time, but I have not yet mastered the core or truth of karate. I feel as if I walk alone on a distant path in the darkness. The further I go, the more distant the path will become, but that is why the truth is precious. If we go forward to find the truth of karate by all our strength of mind and body, we would be rewarded little by little and day by day. The truth is near but hard to reach.My friend, Mr. Jingyu told me the maxim as follows: "The ultimate formula to the truth is no formula. If you wish to master no formula, you have to master a formula. If you master a formula and no formula at the same time, you can transcend life and death." I suppose the ultimate formula to the truth is Tao, the Way. I cannot understand this maxim well, but sometimes I feel I understand it well. I think we have to master "a formula and no formula", then we can study karate in depth and get the truth of karate."BREATHING IN AND BREATHING OUT IN ACCORDANCE WITH "GO" AND "JU" A MISCELLANEOUS ESSAY ON KARATE by Chojun Miyagi, translated by Sanzinsoo http://yamada-san.blogspot.com.au/2007/12/breathing-in-and-breathing-out-in.html
  • Mimi
    Great article. But heh, I still don't know where to start. I wanted to make the choice myself instead of 'this-dojo-is-the-closest-by'. But for now I'll keep it at Goju-ryu, as that was my very first karate lesson and I loved it. I may move to shotokan, because it sounds awesome and so new for me as well. I've done Taekwondo in the past and Karate seemed like it, people said. So I looked deeper into that and for now I like it :)
  • Gabriel Fernandez
    Very good article, as always . I left my style 5 years ago, I have grown since then, I understand other things that previously limited me. I appreciate your inspiring work for many martial artists who need this type of article to make decisions.
  • Abhijit Sharma
    "Technique, is a trap. Style, is a prison. Kung fu is meant to liberate." a line from a movie called Birth of the Dragon, it actually reflects your idea. I agree with you. Thank you
  • David
    I'm a Kravist. I train for the defense of myself and my family. Rank is unimportant to me. Style doesn't matter as long as I train effectively and consistently.
  • ZZDoc
    The concept of ‘lineage’ conveys more weight and understanding of sources and methods than ‘style’. The term should be employed more widely in conversation but unfortunately is not.
  • CJ.
    I feel the same way. I am studying Goju I am almost to my black belt. I like to go to other dojo and study different styles. I feel the same way. I want to be karateka that has no style. I like what Bruce Lee said He not part of any Style. Thanks so much for refocusing my mind.
    • ZZDOC
      Bruce Lee's gifts aside, across the past 50 years I've found the need to filter much of his yada yada. You will understand that when I counter his claim that he is 'not part of any 'style'. He took that which he found utilitarian in his martial arts experience, combined with his personal philosophy, and evolved a personal '-do' and '-jutsu' which he published in his book 'Tao of Jeet Kune Do.' Going forward into the real world of semantics I trust that if you inquired of someone's 'style' of martial art, and it were the aforementioned, the response to 'style' would be 'Jeet Kune Do.' This is why words such as 'tao' and 'ryu' carry far deeper meaning. Framing your inquiry as 'what are you studying or training works better. Hence, 'Jeet Kune Do" or 'The Way of The Intercepting Fist' follows as a proper response. Onegaishimasu!
  • ZZDOC
    I’ve reprised the foregoing comments, including my own, and have reflected upon my own experiences studying both Naha-te and Shuri-te based karate. Fine and gross motor skills differ among systems and one can find oneself confused during transitions. The Shu Ha Ri is a journey of many years. It can be frustrating if what one is bringing to the new experience is deemed ‘wrong’. I’ve already learned three different ways of executing a knife hand block and each one of the ‘systems’ has offered rationale as to why theirs is best. I’m for settling into what is comfortable and works for each individual in that body types, skills and fitness levels vary. However, one had best be into the ‘Ri’ phase of the journey before one can exercise any level of independence and freedom from dogma.
  • ZZDoc
    Author ‘pan’ makes an interesting observation. Once you no longer have to pay the rent and satisfy a consumer base possessing less than lofty views of what they are there for. Perhaps your influence might persuade them that there is more to it philosophically than just ‘’Oss’’, a word which some do not yet understand is reviled by Okinawans. An issue which Sensei has addressed in his writings elsewhere. Onegaishimasu. Rei!

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