This Challenge Will Laser-Focus Your Karate

It was a hot evening in August, 1952.Piano-player

David Tudor approached his piano on stage at the Maverick Concert Hall in New York.

In his hand, he held a stopwatch.

As Tudor sat before the grand piano, he closed the keyboard lid.

Then, for 4 minutes and 33 seconds, he sat in complete silence.

Without touching the piano.

This was the world-premier of a piece called 4’33” by composer John Cage, where the pianist is instructed to not produce any sounds for 4 minutes and 33 seconds.

The audience was outraged!

Needless to say, this “non-performance” made all the newspapers’ headlines.

Here’s what the composer said in a later interview:

“The audience missed the point. There’s no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside, then raindrops began pattering the roof, and people themselves made all kinds of interesting sounds as they talked or walked out.”

johncage433 (486x640)
The first page of John Cage’s historic 4’33” piece.

It’s fascinating.

Silence makes people uncomfortable. 


Because, when the environment isn’t filled with sound, we have to listen to ourselves.

And many people are not comfortable with themselves.

In fact, some people’s internal dialogue is filled with poison.

So what better antidote than Karate?

Listen up…

Today I want to challenge you.

The challenge will laser-focus your Karate.

(Unless you cheat.)

Here’s the challenge:

For one whole Karate class,
you cannot say anything.

Not a single word.

I want your body, spirit and technique to do the talking.

Not your vocal chord.

In fact, the only thing that can come out of your piehole is “kiai!”

That’s it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

“Jesse-san, that sounds too easy. It even sounds silly! What good would it do to stay silent for a whole Karate class?”

All right.

Let me explain something for you.

I’ve found three major reasons why people talk during Karate class:

1. First of all, many people use talking as an ESCAPE from hard training. When they’re forced to do something difficult or uncomfortable, they use talking as an excuse to rest. They ask for “details” or “pointers” to give them some breathing room. Why? Because they’re afraid of dancing on the edge of their comfort zone.

2. Secondly, many people talk because they don’t TRUST their skills. They never try anything new without knowing exactly what / how / when / where and why it needs to be done. It’s paralysis by analysis. Instead of “learning by doing”, they’d rather talk, then try a little, then talk, then try a little bit again, then talk, and then, finally, hopefully, maybe, perhaps… do it.

3. Lastly, and sadly, many people lack HUMAN CONNECTION. Their days are filled with loneliness, so they come to the dojo to socialize. They crave the talking, like I crave carrot cake. That’s fine. But it should be done after, or before, training.


Although these reasons are natural, I want to challenge you today.

Can you stay silent for a whole Karate class?

That’s 60-120 minutes, depending on your dojo’ schedule.

Believe me – the shift you’ll notice in your focus is mind-blowing.

It’s like an overdose on determination!

When I’ve conducted this challenge with my own students, especially kids, I’ve had magical moments. People get happy.

It’s strange.


Suddenly, “new” sounds start to emerge…

  • The snapping of punches, blocks and kicks.
  • The swoosh of stepping, shuffling and sliding.
  • The unmistakable ambiance of concentration, ambition and effort.

When you think about it, it’s not silence!

It’s the music of Karate.

I encourage you to try this, and see how quickly it amplifies your focus.

In todays multitasking-crazy environment, the ability to focus with laser-like precision is more powerful, and needed, than ever.

Don’t you agree?

Take the challenge.

Shut up and train! 🙂


  • Gary
    i love this!!! Silence is golden. Most people don't know when to shut up and constantly talk about nothing!! Nice article, Jesse San! Actions always speak louder than words.
  • Lauren
    This is classic! As an assistant instructor, I have found myself frustrated with the amount of distraction, back talk, and excuses that come out of my companions/students mouths. We usually say ous. It's our go to word. We tell the white belts to not argue or make excuses. If you understand what we just told you, say ous. But I like the silence better. It's uncomfortable. It adds a new dynamic of teacher/students relationships. Quit asking me if what you're doing is wrong! If it is... I will tell you! I'm forwarding this to my Sensei! I hope he uses it!
  • T. Manner
    Heheh, from teachers point of view you are probably correct but but but I have seen enough techniques where the purpose is anything but clear and I certainly hate to do anything without knowing what I am doing. Usually a very short question clears that, no need for a discussion! That I an a R&D engineer by profession might have something to so with it ...
  • Dave In Minnesota
    Silence is also calming. It will help your mind and body settle into the zone. Excellent article Jesse
  • I did exactly this with my class a number of years ago. We had one student that would tell her life story to a fire hydrant if she though she had its interest. Needless to say, she was ready to explode after 90 minutes of not being able to speak. My annual "dust off" class is held on the night closest to New Year's Day. This year it lands right on the first. I've been wondering what kind of torture, er, enhanced class I was going to do. This might very well become a part of it. Thank you for posting this!
    • Haha! Thanks for your comment Chuck-san, good luck! :-)
  • Osu! [bow] That is quite a challenge. However, I would like to modify the challenge to allow for the expectation my Senseis have of me to say "Osu!" :-) [bow]
  • gerry lilley
    challenge accepted !!
  • A great challenge, sir. No joke--doing this changed my life when I started in martial arts. As a teacher, I also stumbled into TEACHING without speaking when I lost my voice. It made everyone watch more closely and forced me to get to the essence of a lesson, instead of over-explaining. (Who, me??) Either way, the silence was deafening! :)
    • Thanks for chiming in Ando-san! :-)
  • Ian
    . . . . . . .
    • ShotoNoob
      Have just 1 point, a single "sound-bite" came to mind when I read Jesse's "Shut Up & Train." New at my present karate school, I went to a morning class where there were only three of us. The Head Instructor (3rd degree black-belt), myself (white-belt) and a young 20-something man dressed in loose fitting sweats. With few of us, the class was a bit informal. I came to practice my 1st beginner level kata and the instructor had time to give me a lot of attention on my form. Anyway, he pointed out the manner of my hand chambering was wrong (technically by the style he was 100% correct). With practically nobody there, I took the opportunity to engage in a discussion & explain my thinking, my practice on chambering. He wasn't receptive and I wanted to get my perspective in, my reasons across; and so we went back & forth--him not willing really to entertain any reasoning. Suddenly, the student in the sweats lost patience & stalked over to the heavy bag & commenced doing some high-jumping spinning back kicks, causing the heavy bag to swing wildly, violently all around. While doing the kicks, he then hollered across the floor at the Head Instructor: "Your student is talking to you!!! He has something to say!!! WHY DON'T YOU TRY LISTENING TO YOUR STUDENT(S) FOR A CHANGE!!! Well the immediate thought that went through my head was, "WOW, I'd never in a million years be able to kick like that." After that, I turned to the Head Instructor and asked, "Who is that guy?" The Head Instructor replied, "He's my brother." I said, "What's his rank?" The Head Instructor said, "A 2nd degree black-belt and an instructor at another branch." NOW, I think my comment is a pretty good post. Still, like the "guy" in sweats, no where near IAN's.
  • Mario
    Because it's simple it's hard, but... effective! Thanks for this great idea.
  • Chris
    I assume the only talking on the instructors side is calling out the kata, waza, kihon, etc...correct?
    • Correct, Chris-san.
  • JESSE.once again , most practical and useful reminder....fact of the matter, Bakkies sensei ,strictly enforces this rule....and it works! Like everything in life, we need constant reminders to refocus and appreciate the things we do...Zanshin..vital component we wish you and all your many followers a very prosperous 2015 ps..i am settling for some coffee and carrot cake ,whilst i check out your site again!
  • Krzysztof
    4 minutes and 33 seconds = 273 seconds. And ?273° on the Celsius scale is an approximate value of absolute zero (the minimum temperature possible). So, the length of this composition symbolizes absolute silence.
    • Krzysztof
      • Cool! You're a smart one, Krzysztof-san!
  • tkc ^_^
    Is there going to be a karate course near London any time soon, cuz Bilston is really really far away :( + it's a school week so it's doubly impossible to go :'(
  • kris
    I like this but you said only kaia but what about the moments when ur instructor asks u a question and you must answer? obviously you must answer, but is that deviating from this?
    • Florian Pean
      the only answer you should give your instructor is "hai!"to show that you understand his instructions.
  • @jraulhernandezi
    I will try this with my guys, will be fun even though will not be easy at all HAHA. (sorry my english kinda sucks)
  • Guilty of number 1! But that was last year. Several months ago I realised I needed to preserve my energy and talking had to go. I say a lot less now and in return have a much deeper stance. Well worth the pain of shutting up :-(
  • Sounds like most of our classes. You are supposed to only speak when you are adressed by the teacher ;-)
  • Beginner
    In the transition between techniques there must be a moment of total relaxation a moment to regain your balance and your place as part of nature. It is this moment of total silence and balanced relaxation that you have time to hear the birds sing and the wind blowing through the trees. If you watch the top karate people they always produce the same technique whether it is at the start of the session or at the end. This is because the reset and start each technique from the same place one of relaxation and peace. Lovely article you know what karate is about in my opinion.
  • talprofs
    'Shut up and train' is my new personal -- and, of course, silent mantra! Curiously this was the ethos present in my early days of karate study, as my first instructors had been trained by the Japanese, and so asking questions of an instructor during class was strictly prohibited. As a recent returnee to Karate practice, I understand that the harsh dojo discipline of my formative Karate years is not necessarily thought of favourably in the European dojos in which I have practiced latterly. Nevertheless, I have found the the 'Shut up and train' approach to dojo practice is producing an interesting three-fold effect: (i) I concentrate more effectively and try harder -- and so I learn more; (ii) My juniors (kohai) try their best when partnered with me; and (iii) My seniors (sempai) are more willing to test my mettle when I am partnered with them. So, a win-win-win situation! I am also making a conscious effort to remember to smile after kumite drills with my juniors (it helps them relax and reminds me of my humanity;-)). @talprofs
  • Marianne
    I think that it all depends on the atmosphere and customs of the particular class...My iaido class is always silent, with no questions or discussion...This is quite appropriate for a class where we do want to maintain a distance between in each other...During a karate class, however, there is more personal interaction, and more communication will occur naturally... I would want to make use of both types of classes.
  • Marianne Matchuk
    I do appreciate both types of classes...Internal reflection and concentration as well as those featuring discussion and external exploration...
  • Novice
    I started reading this article and thought "Yes, being quiet and concentrating is important" but then I got to the three pointers and the examples were way too spot-on for me to ignore as basic instructions. Kind of nice to see I'm not the only one with this problem. Hi, I'm Novice and I chat during karate class more than necessary (everyone: "Hi, Novice!". Whenever I make a mistake it keeps repeating itself inside my mind until I can't concentrate well. I often start analyzing myself why I made the mistake or at worst case crack a joke or laugh nervously. It's even worse when we train kumite (just technique) since compared to others I can't always grasp immediately what we need to do in which order and practicing with someone else puts me in the spotlight in front of them. Last time we were practicing junzuki at our own pace, focusing on the last part of the step and timing. I wasn't doing so well and needed a lot of correcting, to the point I got a bit nervous. At one point I asked/explained something, standing still. To my surprise sensei just nodded and politely asked me to continue, even though he usually comments something. I guess that was his way of saying "Stop talking and continue practicing to improve, you're distracting yourself." I really need to sort out the way I handle mistakes, practice more and chat less. I also mustn't be afraid of it so much because if I don't train the parts that are more difficult I can't improve as much as I'd want.
  • Simon Bank
    And to top it off, the instructor can also perform the education without words. Learns a lot about looking and understanding through your vision and body. Can also be done with complicated technigues with several elements. I come mainly from Jiu-Jitsu, where we I have also worked with this. It is dificult to instruct, but you get a totally new point of view.
  • Self evident truth....but one needs to be reminded , and once again, you hit the spot with this post.....Kyudo ...the jewel in the martial arts crown , teaches this as fundamental .....deep concentration....sending your spirit into the target...even before drawing the bow.....not even inner chatter is permitted.....compose your body...empty your mind ...
  • We managed 15 minutes of silence in class yesterday - not very impressive perhaps but we were all amazed at how much we covered in those 15 minutes :)
  • Kitsune
    I do this almost every training session
  • Graziela
    That's a really cool challenge, but I don't think it works during the whole lesson. Sometimes, you may have to ask your instructor something or as an instructor, you may have to explain a certain move. Maybe you could say, that they should be quiet during the kata or kumite or just practising moves. But silence teaches ou to listen to the enviromental sounds or sounds of others. When I was sick a few weeks ago, I kind of learned to recognise my familiy member's(Mom, Dad and 2 sisters) sounds of for example walking.. Silence raises awareness. With kids, you could try to play a game with them, where one of them would have to close their eyes and someone else has to do for example a seiken zuki and the one with the eyes closed has to guess who did the move.
  • Isobel
    Interesting! On the flip side, we don't speak while training. 2 hours go by and all I say is Osu and Kiai. Asking for clarification is very rare, we do what we are instructed- and if we are incorrect we either figure it out through action or Sensei will fix it. I never really thought about how beneficial this is...but then again we always go for drinks after. If you still don't understand, thats a great place to get into deeper conversations about movement/mindset... I don't know a lot of dojos that do this.
  • Excellent again. When I was in Okinawa for the first time studying with Shimabukuro Zempo Sensei, I always took notes and asked questions. One day, he pointed to his mouth then touched his eyes, and I got the message. Often more is learned in silence. It was a good thing because I lost my notebook in the Taiwan airport.

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