The Japanese Pizza Problem: Karate’s Tasty Parallel

So yesterday I was at this pizza place, right.

Shakey’s, it was called.

There is something special to be said about Western food in Japan.

While on one hand the Japanese people think Western food is cool and stylish, they still have a hard time accepting it all as real food (indeed, the Japanese word for “food” is the same as for “rice”) and often resort to tweaking it, adding stuff, removing stuff and generally just Japanifying it to their taste.

So, when I walked into this pizza place yesterday, I wasn’t surprised to see people eating pizza with a big bowl of rice on the side.

Is that because they love rice so incredibly much? Partly. I think it’s mainly to remind themselves that they are eating “real” food along with these crazy Western pizzas and pastas which are – deep down – not truly considered “real” food by the Japanese.

At least not by the older generation.

Anyway, here’s the deal:

For 980 yen (which is roughly 12 dollars or 8,5 euro) you got unlimited amounts of pasta, pizza, soup, drink and ice cream at this place. No time limit, no food limit, no nothing.


This place was friggin sweet.

There were around five kinds of pasta and even more kinds of pizza, constantly updated with various toppings ranging from squid (complete with squid ink), broccoli, mushrooms, tuna, salami and salad to beef, sweet potato, corn, onion, ham, wasabi… you name it.

They had basically invented every pizza you could think of, trying hard to make it as Western looking as possible (from a Japanese person’s perspective (one was even named Hamburger Pizza… and yes, it tasted like a Big Mac)), while keeping some Japanese influences (the squid/broccoli/wasabi pizza) for those who can’t stomach “Western” food and want to keep their Japaneseness intact while still feeling stylish eating their “exotic” pizza with rice on the side (drinking ice green tea of course).

I love it when cultures meet.

And for dessert?

A banana-chocolate pizza with caramel sauce and coco puffs sprinkled on top, along with a kiwi-pineapple pizza with melted marshmallows. Colored sprinkles on top of that one.

That was just…



I couldn’t help but eating it all.

More and more.

And more.

I became literally obsessed with trying every freaky pasta, every weird pizza and all of the juicy drinks and soups (there were around twenty soft drinks and four different soups, including chunky curry) they had to offer. This was crazy. Why hadn’t I found this place before?!

Through the speakers you could hear the Godfather theme music slowly playing…


I don’t know how many hours I was in there, but it wasn’t enough.

If you’re Italian, I’m truly sorry.

I hope you haven’t died of laughter yet.

I can really imagine how generations of hard-working Italian pizza pioneers are rolling over in their graves as I write this, but the truth is that this place was amazing. Traditional? No. Super good. Super cheap. Super great service. Super much food. Yes.

Oh, yes.

Mamma mia.

It appears the Japanese have taken something from one culture and adapted it to their own culture in a remarkable way with great success.

So, as I sat there stuffing myself with endless amounts of cheese and weird toppings, I started thinking:

Aren’t we doing the exact same thing with Karate?

I almost choked on the food for a second.

Just think about it…

McDojos, as we call them.

Tailored, tweaked and shaped by Western “grandmaster senseis” during years of self-experimentation with the Oriental martial arts learned mostly from books, videos and seminars, ultimately creating a product that the Japanese themselves would surely laugh at, but more or less successfully perfected over the years for the target market of their own culture. The Western one.

Now, we know for a fact that most McDojo suck ass.

But so do many traditional dojo too.

I’ve been to more wack “traditionali Italiano” pizza parlors than I can even remember. And people do tell me I have a good memory.

I especially remember one place (in Italy) where the pizza was all burnt and stuff, and the olive oil was actually running down my forearm as I tried eating the damn thing.

So here’s a question for you:

Perhaps there are some awesome McDojo’s out there?

Just like Shakey’s Pizza in Okinawa?

No, they might not do everything “according to the book”, and people from the country/culture of origin might very well laugh their butts off, but is that a problem? Really, is it? For who?

For nobody important, that’s who.

Who cares if Mr Miyagi walks into your dojo tomorrow and starts laughing at your watered down kata?

It might still be good?

Logically thinking; with so much crap out there some of it just has to be good!

I truly think that my Okinawan sensei would laugh harder than I’ve ever seen him laugh if he visited a dojo that taught kicks higher than the waist, used punching bags, MMA moves, Judo throws, focus pads, pilates exercises, yoga stretching, Krav Maga tactics or CrossFit drills to spice up their Karate. He would laugh even more when he found out they have insurance policies, contracts, drop-in fees and more than two patches on their gi.

Of course he can laugh, because that’s not Karate to him.

It never will be.


But there is no reason for anyone to care what he thinks. Unless you are a sensitive wuss, of course, whose sole reason of existance depends on the fragile approval from other people of higher “status” than yourself. We do what we have to do, and we try to do it well.

So… what’s the catch?

(There’s always a catch)

Well, I’ll let you in on a secret. Here’s the part of my pizza story I didn’t tell my friends at the dojo yesterday: After I finished my two-hour pizza/pasta/ice cream marathon, I puked.

Not much, just a little.

It came like a reflex, I didn’t even have to try.

And that’s the catch.

You see, it doesn’t matter if the food is super cheap, super awesome and super stylish if you’re going to throw it up anyway. You just waste your time, your money and your dignity.

What looked awesome on the surface was exactly that.

Awesome on the surface.

Believe me, a kiwi-pineapple pizza with melted marshmallows and colored sprinkles on top is tasty the first slice, pretty delicious the second slice, quite yummy the third slice, but downright disgusting the fourth slice.

I think I had like fifty slices.

It looked so awesome I simply had to!

But after twenty slices you slowly start to realize that some things are perhaps not meant to be on a pizza.

No matter how cheap, delicious, awesome, exotic or stylish they seem to be.

There probably is a very good reason to why there aren’t more chocolate-banana pizzas with caramel sauce and coco puffs around the world.

  • Yes, you can eat it on rare occasions.
  • But definitely not several times a week.
  • And definitely not more than a few slices.

It appears that some things are simply not meant to be on a pizza.

I think there is a good reason to why the Margherita is the world’s most popular pizza. Is it a coincidence it is also the most simple one?

I think not.

By now you surely understand I’m not talking about pizzas anymore.


  • Brian
    The only "problem" I see with McDojo's is that some people go into these places, wanting to learn real self defense or martial arts. They don't know necessarily what is good or not, and they get lied to and ripped off, and even an over-exaggerated self confidence, which can cause them serious trouble in the future, especially if they ever encounter a real threat and then later (if they're lucky to live through it) exclaim that karate is bull and doesn't work. McDojo's make it hard for real martial artists to get respect and appreciation for what they do. I'm probably rambling and I'm sure you already know this stuff, but I personally live in a very small town and I find the impact of ignorance about real martial arts affects me greatly. It limits a lot of what I can and can't do and I have zero respect from my coworkers and townsfolk. They probably think I'm just some kind of dancer or something just because I don't go around showing off or beating people up regularly. I train at the dojo and on my own, and not out in public forums, so because I'm not a show off, I get no respect when I mention I'm a martial artist. Personally, I blame quite a bit of this on McDojo's. Normally I wouldn't care what people think, but the problem arises when I can't get time from work to attend special training or ridiculed by people I know around here and teased and lawdy knows, "judo chopped" at all the damn time. ...sorry for the rant on a great post by you, Jesse. ^_^
  • Manuel
    I'm pure italian, I've been to foreign countries a couple of times, I understand what you're talking about, and while one in Spain I found a very "italian pizza" there are some pizzerie in Italy, "pizza parlors" as you call them, where I would never ever go for a meal, as their pizzas are just disgusting.... I must say I'm glad you puked a little, because I swear I would have puked just when entering that place! hahahahah!
    • Manuel
      oh, and, with [my Okinawan sensei would laugh harder than I’ve ever seen him laugh if he visited a dojo that taught kicks higher than the waist] do you mean that ME -a 23 years old karate guy with a waist that seems made out of iron, and can't fly a kick higher than elbow level- really doesn't need to kick that high?
  • Diego Romero
    argentine pizza FTW. oh, wait, karate?, yeah, mcdojos suck, and all that, yeah... uh... go karate? :p
    • Martin Mallet
      Cuartito con vinito mistela.
  • andrey
    2011-6,25. 11 pm Tampa Times. Oshu ! Yes you are right in Okinawa the buffet. When i was there 1991 we make the round one days was Shakey's, the other Mc Donald and the last one was the Kentuckey Fried chicken buffet. not far at all. At a walking distance from Sobe , Matayoshi Sensei Dojo The Colonel sanders was very popular in that time 2 story resto high ..., We save money and we feel at home at our last day with Matayoshi Sensei we went to the Tea House Of The August moon to celebrate it was litlle more expensive there of course but we had fun and great times.... Congratulation for your succes and the informal videos. oshu !!! andrey from tampa bay.
    • Thank you andrey, nice to hear from you again! :)
  • Szilard
    Apparently the proof of the pudding is still in the eating. But than again eating so much regular pizza would make one puke too. So what is the conclusion: it is OK to do something McDojoesque thing once in a blue moon? Like making up a kata (as you insisted us to do in an other article) or performing your favorite kata with a screwdriver in one hand and a hammer in the other, doing kumite with a punchbag attached to the front hand? I would definitely try all those pizzas you were talking about, but maybe over a longer stretch of time, like trying one every Friday.
  • warrioress
    Excellent comparison.
  • Keia B.
    You've fused my two greatest loves: bad food, and karate. This article made me laugh harder than I should've, but I thank you. I will definitely have to find this place when I am in Okinawa.
  • Jack M
    to continue on the Pizza-Do (seewhatIdidthere) theme, even if the toppings are delicious and go well together, if there is too much, you just can't pick out and appreciate the ingredients. And sometimes the whole pizza would just collapse and it all falls off. Also, If the base of bread, tomato and Mozzarella isn't good enough the pizza will be poor, regardless of the toppings. This is why Margherita is the best, because it only has the base. That's a remarkably complete metaphor. wow.
  • Sören
    Thank you... now I'm hungry! (Good post as usual, anyway. ;) )
  • Ian
    Where I come from, "Hawaiian" is a popular style of pizza ... ham & pineapple. It's delicious. Some people I know hate pineapple on pizza because it's "not traditional" but ... it's still friggin' delicious. If it's a good pizza. In this piszza metaphor, I think we are at risk of coming to a false conclusion that "non-traditional dojo" = "mcDojo" ... but it's not that easy. Look for *good* food and *good* karate, regardless of whether it's "traditional" or not. Oh, and Jesse ... ... if you eat fifty slices of Pizza, you ARE going to throw up. It's not a karate metaphor, it's gluttony. ^__^
  • Seijin
    I like the part of the statement that some things are not meant to be on a pizza. Same shit applies to mcdojo's out there to spice up their so called "karateduh".

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