The Karate Compass: How to Always Know What You Should Practice in Karate

Selenium is good for your sperm.

That’s what a lady whispered to her husband behind me at the supermarket yesterday, as they inspected a new energy drink containing the mineral selenium.


I wanted to turn around and say: “Look buddy: If you have fertility issues, there are more important things than energy drinks. Start with getting more sun (vitamin D), sleep better, eat better, avoid stress, remove your iPhone from your crotch and exercise more.”

But I doubt he would listen.

Because people want easy solutions, with minimal effort, for maximum results.

In Karate too.

Like, have you ever heard somebody ask a sensei how long it will take them to get black belt? Or if they can learn the next kata? Or when they can start sparring, or competing?

In short, we want satisfaction and we want it now yesterday.

But as you know, real Karate doesn’t work that way.

Karate forces us to take the long route, and provides no real map for the journey.

That’s why it’s so hard for some people to keep training, even when they know that persistance and fighting spirit are key components in the endless quest for becoming awesome at Karate.

Sometimes I think it would be easier if people just followed their Karate Compass.

…what? I haven’t told you about the Karate Compass before?

Well, allow me to explain then:

See, when people ask me, “Jesse-san, what should I be practicing? My punches, my kicks, my kata, my kihon or my kumite?” I always reply with a threefold question, designed to kickstart their internal Karate Compass:

The questions are:

a) “What do you resist the most in Karate?”

b) “What are you most afraid of in Karate?”

c) “What do you avoid the most in Karate?”

The answer to the above is your Karate Compass.

That’s what you should practice.

(Feel free to take a minute to answer the above questions. I’ll wait.)

Your answers can range from the mundane (memorizing a new kata, hurting myself in kumite, ripping my new gi pants) to the more philosophical (never reaching my true potential, not living up to my own/sensei’s expectations, allowing the status quo to dictate my life) etc.

Resistance, avoidance or fear – call it what you want – is your most reliable compass in the land of the Empty Hand and shows you exactly which direction to go in your continued practice; no matter what your current belt, rank, flexibility, strength, skill or knowledge level happens to be.

  • Follow the compass, and your rewards will be nothing short of mind-blowing.
  • Ignore the compass, and nothing will ever change.


Allow me to share an anecdote:

One time we had this gasshuku (advanced training course) at our dojo, and we were practicing some kicks standing on the tatami mat. Suddenly, one of our brown belts runs off the tatami and starts practicing on the wooden floor instead.

So I ask him: “What are you doing? Get back on the mat!”

His reply? “No, it’s too soft there. It’s easier to kick over here on the hard floor.”

[awkward silence]



What this guy failed to realize was that he should have stayed on the tatami precisely BECAUSE it was harder. BECAUSE it made his kicks worse. BECAUSE he risked losing his balance, looking like a fool.

That uneasy feeling is your Karate Compass.

It always points to where it hurts most – physically, emotionally or spiritually.

And, as you’ve probably figured out by now, this always implies a choice:

Do you follow the compass…

…or do you ignore it?

The day you dare to dance on the edge of your comfort zone is the day you realize that your doubts and fears are actually an internal compass just like this; to be used either as an excuse to quit or a challenge to push through.

The choice is up to you.

At the end of the day, Karate is highly personal endeavor and the choices you make in your day-to-day training will undoubtedly reflect not only your “belt level” but your regular life outside the dojo too.

And for most people, that’s where it really counts.

So choose wisely.

And yes, no choice is also a choice

“Karate is an abyss and an enigma; grasped only through deep thinking and careful understanding.” – Miyagi Chojun (1888-1953)


Have YOU ever experienced the “Karate Compass”?

Leave a comment and let me know.


  • Well... maybe I have to focus a little bit on kumite... It's the part of Karate I avoided the most in the latest training period. Thanks for the useful hints Jesse!
  • Michael Nissen
    Hmmm, I remember my Christams holidays, when I had a lot of problems with my sidekicks, and really hated when my Sensei wanted me to make some So, Everyday, when I had the opportunity to make a few sidekicks in at my home, I did. At the end of the holidays, I found out my sidekicks was improved. A LOT! So I´ve really used my Karate compass. Now I just need to practice my kicks to be higher.
  • Szilard
    Following your karate compass I might become the founder of the first ever karate stile based on sit-ups.
  • mkultra329
    Good article. My compass is telling me I need to practice kumite more frequently and stretch more frequently.
  • David Francis
    Answers to questions 1, 2 and 3. After damaging my right knee just before last Xmas in a 2 onto 1 jiyu-kumite session (I was the 1) - Jiyu-Kumite, Jiyu-Kumite, Jiyu-Kumite. Guess I just need to get back on that horse.
  • kynzing
    I have some problem with my kata but my kumite is awesome .I can beat up anyone in a sparring match since I fight a lot at school or at my campus.That the only karate compass I've got up with . Can you write an article on how to improve your kata ??
  • Graham Worthington
    "I wanted to turn around and say..." Being a frivolous kind of fellow, I would have turned around and sung: "Tad-poles, tad-poles, Swimmin in de stream"
  • Ian
    Every compass I have ever seen had a needle that always points north, and a "tail" on the needle that always points exactly the other way. Depending on how the needle is designed, sometimes it's hard to tell the two ends apart, so the unwary hiker (or karateka) can end up headed in exactly the wrong direction.
    • Very good point Ian-san. I am sure many Karate-ka have confused the "tail" with the "head".
  • David Gimberline
    Good thinkin', Jesse. Keep up the good work. :)
  • Mark Hess
    “What do you resist the most in Karate?” For myself I started training to learn self defense...not another language or culture or my compass tells me to spend more time on Japanese language and culture and Budhism...well that clears that up...?
  • Mmmm... I avoid really low stances (too much effort!), I'm afraid of leaving a class knowing I could have done more (usually my stances were too high!) and I avoid any 180 or 360 degree turns in kumite as I know I'm not quick enough. Pretty obvious where my work lies!
  • I have to train to not compare myself with others in the dojo, and to keep my endurance when it comes to repeat a technique a dozen of times and I want to manage staying on a kihon position along time while waiting for my sensei to correct the other students And some other things. I will always follow the Karate compass! Thanks Jesse!
  • My compass, jumps in general :/
  • KarateMama
    Argh. Cold-weather training, here we come :-P
  • ray
    I found this most interesting. my instructor keeps saying that weapons training will allow me to flow more fluidly. Since it is not required I skip it most of the time. I am free to train them every class yet I choose not to I always have an excuse, like running, or weight training, work kept me late etc. This is the only thing on my compass that I can see, yet I do not feel like I am afraid of,avoiding, or resisting. I do plan on doing the weapons training more when I can. I actually like it when I can not get a technique down easily. I hate to do Kata but train them daily. I hate to run yet still find myself doing it as often as I can. I feel burdened by weapons training but I want to train them. They just dont seem important to me at this time. perhaps we call this a Karate sun dial?
  • ray
    Come to think of it I do have something. I am reluctant to and avoid belt testing. not that I lack confidence of my skill, I just think that the test and belt system is a sham. I am not even required to pay for belt testing. I sat at yellow for over a year because I did not want to test.
  • Hari Haran
    This compass is a great idea. It can be used in every area of your life. Thank you so much for the great articles here.
  • Ruth
    Quite agree, what you DON'T want to focus on is precisely what you SHOULD focus on. Or, when someone asks "What should I practice - punches, kicks, kata, kihon or kumite?" just reply simply "Yes."
  • Alex
    1. Resist change in technique when I learn from someone new. Teacher says kick this way for reasons A, B, and C. I do it, but in my head I am thinking I am going to do it my way for reasons D, E, and F. Then at some point (humbling experience) I learn that reasons "A" through "F" and variations One and Two of the technique are both tools in the same tool box and it would have been a lot less painful had I just shut up and color. 2. Fear Kumite. I am not afraid of getting hit, hurt, bruised, or bloody, but he place my mind goes and how my ego takes over then it being about aggression and winning is unhealthy. It feels like taking a step back. 3. Avoid basic drill. God i really hate basic drill. At some point I got it in my head that I was good enough and I know for a fact that, that is not the truth. In a nutshell it all comes down to driving away ego. Lego my ego.

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