What Is Ikken Hissatsu?

Ikken Hissatsu is a Japanese term that is used quite frequently in Karate (especially Shotokan). What does it mean? The term, in itself, is actually not abstract or hard to understand – it means simply to “kill with one strike”, or “one punch kill”. The exact definition is “One Fist, Certain Death”

That’s horrible!

But important.

Now, of course we don’t want to kill people. Can you even do that with a single blow? Some people claim they actually can do a “killing blow”, and that is the “true way” of Karate. Other people sarcastically replie that no man can deliver a “killing blow” with every strike, it’s impossible!

Personally I believe the term “Ikken Hissatsu” should not be taken literally.

It is merely a philosophical statement of attitude.

I mean, the idea that you should physically be able to kill somebody with one blow is quite naive, right? Of course it can happen, but the chance is not that big. It is bigger in Japanese sword fencing, Kenjutsu, where the expression originally comes from, but a fist is simply not a blade.

Instead, you could call it a “fighting utopia” or something. The goal is to always finish (note the word finish, instead of kill) the opponent with one (the first) blow. And if that doesn’t work, use another. If you need to, use a third. But execute every blow with intent, the attitude of “this will be the final blow”. Always expect the first blow to be the last, but never rely on it.

It sounds quite cruel, but if you don’t think like this, then you are sort of betraying yourself. Being purposely weak when countering an attack – in other words not thinking “Ikken Hissatsu” – is being cruel to yourself! And why would you want to be that?

In short, every technique should be performed with full intent and conviction, or you might as well spare your opponent the trouble and hit yourself instead!

For a more Western approach, “Ikken Hissatsu” can be compared to the latin term “Carpe Diem” – to cease/catch the day. The philosophy is the almost the same. If the opponent leaves an opening, you have to take it right away, 100%. It might never come again! Cease the moment, carpe diem.

So, “Ikken Hissatsu” is not really a practical/physical expression, but, like I said, more of a philosophical statement of attitude. This applies not only to punches or strikes, but also to kicks, blocks, throws and joint locks. For example, if you block your opponents arm in the optimal way, he/she should not be able to use it again!

Does “Ikken Hissatsu” apply to areas outside of physical violence? Of course! You can apply it to everything from cooking to sleeping to cleaning your house. It’s the same mindset but a different environment.

I would like to conclude with a quote that really embodies “Ikken Hissatsu”:

When asked for a brief definition of a good Karate person, Shoshin Nagamine replied:

“Kisshu fushin”


“Demon’s hand, saint’s heart.”

I really like that.


  • Eugene
    i've heard my shihan, arashiro sensei, say this time and time again. it's what he was told in kumite when he was competing in college. i might've heard it by sakumoto sensei in okinawa too. it's been so long, too long, i want to go back!!
  • Hi Eugene! So you're still around huh? I see you went on a "commenting spree" :) Okinawa is waiting for you...
    • Parsa
      hi jess i follow your videos good job im working kyokushin i read something a bout ikken hissatsu i want to have this power like mas oyama 1 hit and end the match how i should start and how i can find it do you know a book or bombo or anything like that?
  • Louise at Apples
    Howdy, I really enjoyed this post. I have just started up a site and making rather diverse content. Would you object if I write about this article? Obviously I'll provide you and this site due acknowledgment and place a link to this page , thank you.
    • No problemo! /Jesse
  • diman
    Thank you for the enlightening article on 'ikken hisatsu'. I have been struggling to recall the term for it at this time that I am trying to explain the underlying meaning for ippon in kumite. Your article has been the best at it that I found. Moreover, I like your video archives. Although I have been a Shotokan practitioner for years I have always been impressed by the bunkai of other styles particularly Okinawan and Gojuryu. Thanks again.
  • ????????
    I admire Japanese culture
  • Newy
    Nice article. I was talking about this idea with a couple of my mates. We had come to the aggreement that the goal should not be to kill, but to destroy their will to fight. By attacking with such power and control, that should they still stand, will not want to continue. It turns their mindset from hurting you, to defending themselves.
  • Aima
    Hi! Thanks for the article. It's very interesting. It gives a deeper understanding of the term Ikken Hisatsu. Very useful info for my grading essay. =)Thanks again. ^_^
  • Leo
    Let me propose another interpretation. I don't know facts about the history of this term, but think about following: As often and willingly stated, "Karate was the way of the pesant to defend against the Samurai occupation." I will hold to that imagination. Now imagine. You are a pesant in a society where your only right is to be treated like shit. Now you cross the way of a nobleman and you b*tch bowed two inches too little, so he gets the impression, your disrespect should be punished by cutting your head off -and he absolutely has the right to do so. Now it is clear, once the sword -which in almost all societys (where swords are known) at all times all around the world is a sign of nobility- is drawn, you are as good as dead. Or do I misinterpret the fact that Iai students mostly learn to draw the sword? Well, I think the only chance for you poor pesant now is to run away and never come back. But sometimes it is not possible just yet. This limits your options dramatically. I would say there are few more than fight or die. So, again: once the sword is drawn, you can consider yourself dead. In this case "Ikken Hissatsu" would mean "last chance (-use it well)". Which itself is near to the way of thinking in Zen practices.
    • endou mamouru
      you wrote a very large matter lol
  • wizman
    I also believe "ikken hissatsu" is more philosophical. I personally use it to mean that whatever task you have ahead, finish it to the best of your ability first time.
  • Katheryne
    Does anyone know if "Ikken Hissatsu" is the source of the "Esah!" cry often heard in karate dojos? I've been told that "Esah" means "energy", but the spelling of that word (frequently used by karate dojos) seems wrong if it's a real Japanese term. The pronunciation of "e" is typically short "eh" and not long "eeee". Also, I can't find a translation of energy or power that sounds like Esah. An abbreviation of i-sa makes more sense... especially since Osu is an abbreviation of 2 terms (oshi shinobu, onegai shimasu or ohayo gozaimasu, depending upon your opinion). Any thoughts on this? Google has left me sadly without an answer (for once). - Katheryne
    • Newy
      Hey I haven't heard of Esah being a term for energy. I think the word you might be looking for is Kiai. Ki meaning spirit and ai meaning shout. That is the name of the sound you make, however, it is not the sound you make. Each persons kiai is different, as there is no correct way to kiai (but there is wrong ways, if you hear one you will know if it is wrong). Also not to sure on the word Osu our dojo doesn't use it. From what I remember the word Osu doesn't exist anywhere in the Japanese language, but it exists more as a slang word. It came in to being when younger peoples brought karate into the universities. I think it was as a result of not having an established sensei, with the environment taking on more of a sparring session atmosphere. So it was more like talk amongst friends, than talking to a sensei. And it has grown from there. As I said I am not sure so I would look around a bit more, seen an interesting article a while back, I'll try to link it/ Daniel Nieuwenburg
      • Katheryne
        The "esah" is different from the Chi-channeling "Kiai" the students say. "Esah" is something that other people say about the person who is performing. A bunch of the kids will often say it in a sing-song voice. EEEEEEEEEESAAAAAAAAAAAAH! Takes about 3 seconds. I once found an extensive linguistic analysis of Osu on the web. Can't find the link again though, dangit. Basically, the Colloquial/Slang interpretation you mention is from the "ohayo gozaimasu" meaning, which basically means "hi" and is extremely familiar (especially without the gozaimasu). The Kyokushin Karate kids stick with the "oshi shinobu" meaning, which means to "push to the limits of endurance". The "onegai shimasu" meaning is popular among "Go" players--it's said before games take place. Just some background there. But the mystery of "esah" continues...
  • dave oxley
    what is wrong with you people?.....All of you armchair warriors! I have faught in the ring, have faught in life, loved and been torn apart through loss, one punch one kill!....ask yourself, if someone was raping your wife, if someone was hurtring your children, what could you do?, put your pathetic wingings on line to make you feel important? i have had to defend all that i hold dear, i have had to fight believing i might die. thirty five years i have looked for an answer through training in the martial arts, the answer i have found is, there is nothing you can take from me that i would not truly give.......including my life, but you would have to work realy hard to get the last bit!! haeeeeeesh, oooosh, yaeeeeeee,? you spend so much time shiteing on about the noise people should make you would never see the punch comming!! Get a grip ,and go out and fight full contact in the ring, no pads, no head gear bear knucklke to bear knuckle, kick to maim and be kick to be maimed!!!!, when you have lost or won, come back and stop shiteing on about silly noises!!!!
  • Paul Botha
    Nice take on Ikken Hisatsu, Jesse. Sober and clear, I thought. @dave Oxley: bud, not sure what you are on about, but you might have the wrong thread? If I'm fighting for my or others lives, the philosophical will dilute to the actual: shutos to the throat, neck break throws, etc.
  • Nice article, the phrase "ikken hissatsu" is used outside of karate more, and it is like the english saying of "to kill two birds with one stone" which means the one action may have two not just one result. So when this phrase is said no one really assumes they are being literal and requiring us to kill two birds with the use of one stone. Regards Rachael
  • Jesse San i think you know, that people with all sorts of Martial Arts background and interests follow your writings and introspections. I read them with delightment, because i myself like to see me as a TaekwonDo Nerd. ? I like this japanese concept of Ikken Hissatsu / or Carpe Diem or Mindfulness : be in the moment, live life to its maximum, do everything with full dedication in all aspects of life. Be your best version at all times. All the best and good inspiration Ana Heé
  • "Ikken Hissatsu (One fist one kill)" is one of the most frequently misunderstood concepts in all karate. None of the Japanese senseis I associated with, hundreds in numbers from both Okinawan and Japanese styles, knew its origin. It was actually Mas Oyama (Choi Yeong-eui, born in Korea immegrated to Japan at age 16) of Kyokushin Karate who made the concept popular through his autobiographical books as well as catoons and animes depecting his life's stories, When I read his books back in my high school days in Japan, I felt that he had misunderstood its concept entirly as he described it as "A single punch (or kick) must kill a person," perhaps due to cultural difference and/or his military experience/education. Unfortunately many people who read his books or manga, or watched the anime "Karate Baka Ichidai" adapted his line of thought. However, the truth is... "One fist one kill" is the karate version of "Issha zetsu mei (One arrow one life)," which is also misunderstood sometimes that each arrow must take a life. "Issha zetsu mei" is one of the most important concepts in kyudo (Japanese archery). It means that when you release each arrow, you should feel that the arrow is the last one in your life -- give everything to it. For more info, I recommend books authored by German prof. Eugen Herrigel including "Zen in the Art of Archery." It's another evidence pointing the Okinawan (Shuri-te) karate's origin to the Heian-era samurai who were expert archers.
  • Dean Fraser
    carpe diem: seize ( not "cease" ) the day. Really like your articles, especially teaching kids in karate. Good stuff, sometimes I run out of patience and don't know how to stop some kids in karate class from acting out when I'm taking the class; even worse because they know they are getting me mad ( sort of a control thing, making me lose my cool ). I've copied three of your articles ( 5 Keys To Teach Kids Successfully; 3 Things To Being A Good Karate Instructor That Kids Love...; and "The Broccoli Method" ( sounds like the Bourne Conspiracy ). Also 6 Words You Can Say to Be a Good Parent ( was really good; I always wanted a parent to tell me, that "they see something in me that will really grow and get better in the future". Maybe like, "You're going to be a great engineer when you grow up!" Maybe they will, maybe they won't, but just hearing somebody say that, would have always been something I could have come back to. I'm doing fine now, I think your parents did a good job with you, and you do a lot of studying, especially about the changing of Okinawan karate to fit Japanese karate, the abolishing of the term, "Toudi te" because of the Japanese political climate. Good cultural study. Keep on doing what you're doing, it's great. Dean F. :)
  • 8Dan
    No my friend, one strike punch is a deadly technique to punch in the heart zone (chest) and stop the heartbeat of a person. Some intelligence operators from FSB, CIA, MI6, Mossad and so know this technique. They just killed russian Navalny with this.

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