Why Modern Karate Is Broken (& How You Can Fix It)

July, 1921.japan_map

World War I is officially over.

Japan’s economic bubble is exploding.

To keep people from thinking about the imminent postwar recession, the Japanese government decides to boost public entertainment.

As we all know, media is the best medicine for a harsh reality, right?

One day a special program is shown in cinemas…

It’s the world championship in boxing, between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier.

Many Japanese people had never seen boxing like this before.

They were AMAZED!

You see, in Japan, they traditionally used weapons for fighting – like the long/short sword, bow & arrow, spear or knife. If they didn’t use weapons, they fought using wrestling, throws, sweeps, joint locks, chokes and so on.

Fighting like these Western boxers did was insane!

Japanese martial arts didn’t have anything like it.


What an incredible opportunity…

The Japanese leaders noticed people’s reaction to boxing and saw this as a brilliant chance for strengthening the nationalism and unique Japanese spirit (yamato damashii) of its citizens.

Famous boxers would be invited to promote the sport in Japan. Public demonstrations would be held. Boxing clubs would open and exciting boxing matches would be broadcasted around the nation.

This would boost the samurai spirit of Japan!

There was just one small dilemma:

Not all people liked the idea of bringing in more foreign influences.

The Japanese school system, military model & infrastructure was already based on European influences, particularly from Germany, Great Britain & France.

Couldn’t some Japanese people teach boxing instead?

Well, believe it or not…

In 1921, a Tokyo magazine published a groundbreaking article by Sasaki Gogai, who told the Japanese public that they shouldn’t look to the West for foreign experts of fistic traditions, as they themselves possess such skills in an island kingdom to the south.

That island was Okinawa – the birthplace of Karate.

The same year, crown prince Hirohito had visited Okinawa on his way to Europe. During Hirohito’s visit, a demonstration was given in his honor by a group of local performers.

The cultural show included dancing, singing, live music…

…and something called “Toudi”.

Toudi was the name of the local martial art in Okinawa. The name literally meant “Chinese Hand”, signifying that it was influenced by ancient Chinese fighting arts.

The demonstration involved a variety of strikes, kicks, blocks and punches against opponents, as well as fighting without opponents – like shadow boxing.


This rural fighting art, from the tiny island of Okinawa, could indeed become the answer to boxing that the Japanese were looking for!

One of the performers was the perfect man for spreading Toudi to mainland Japan. He worked as a school teacher, was educated, spoke good Japanese and had practiced Toudi since young age.

His name was Gichin Funakoshi [1868-1957].

(Or Shoto, as he liked to call himself.)


He became “the chosen one”.

In May 1922, Gichin Funakoshi was invited to the 1st National Athletic Exposition held in Tokyo’s Ochanomizu district, to promote Toudi.

His presentation was a hole-in-one!

Everyone in mainland Japan loved Funakoshi’s stuff, and convinced him that his skills were much needed in times like these. He could now complete the quest of his teacher Itosu Anko, who years earlier had spearheaded a campaign to popularize Toudi in Okinawa via the school system.

Funakoshi could bring Toudi out from its cradle, make it an official Japanese martial art and honor the legacy of his master at the same time.

Aaaaaaw yeah!

To help him, a man named Jigoro Kano offered his support.

Kano was the founder of Judo. He had gone through a similar process of modernization himself (Judo was created from Ju-Jutsu) and knew that his mentorship would be needed for Funakoshi’s upcoming task.

This proved to be 100% correct.

(In fact, Funakoshi’s students later recounted that their sensei would frequently remove his hat and bow on the street outside of Kodokan, the headquarter of Judo, to show his eternal gratitude for Jigoro Kano’s invaluable help.)

Now, here’s where things get interesting…

Since Japan was a culture of conformity, Toudi had to undergo a number of radical changes to become accepted as an official martial art and fit in with the other Japanese martial arts of the time; like Judo, Aikido, Kendo, Iaido etc.

For example, the name had to be changed.

You see, the Japanese hated everything with connections to China. To practice a martial art named “Chinese Hand” was politically out of the question.

In 1933, the name was officially changed to “Karate-Do”.

“The Way of the Empty Hand.”

(Related reading: 10 Differences Between Okinawan Karate & Japanese Karate)

And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

funakoshi_gichin_heian_nidanEverything became systematized, codified and formalized.

Ritualized acts and Japanese terminology were introduced, along with a belt system, kyu/dan ranks, uniforms, new techniques, simplified movement patterns, the shift from self-defense to character development, tournament rules, new kata names, safety regulations and more.

This was the birth of modern Karate.

But Funakoshi wasn’t alone in this.

Every Okinawan Toudi practitioner who came to Japan, including pioneers like Miyagi Chojun, Mabuni Kenwa, Motobu Choki, Kanken Toyama, Taira Shinken, Uechi Kanbun etc. had to conform to these new rules.

Like the Japanese saying goes; “deru kugi wa utareru”.

(“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.”)

During this period, the concept of “styles” was also invented.

The reason was simple: If your Karate looks different from my Karate, they can’t be called the same thing, can they? Therefore, every sensei had to register a name for his “style” with the Dai Nippon Butokukai (Greater Japan Martial Virtue Society).

A new type of instructor license was also invented, called “renshi”. This was done mainly to avoid awarding Karate teachers any pre-existing titles like shihan, kyoshi or hanshi, as they were considered too noble for common island people.

This is where Karate became BROKEN.

Let me explain why:

Remember how I wrote that Karate was seen as a Japanese alternative to boxing?

There was just one problem…

Toudi was a complex fighting art comprised of strikes, kicks, punches, blocks, grappling, throws, joint locks, ground techniques, escapes, counters, pressure points, weapons and much more.

But the Japanese didn’t need all this!

They already had those things in their own martial arts (collectively known as ‘Budo’).

So they decimated Karate’s technical registry.

Karate was ruthlessly pigeonholed to satisfy the needs of contemporary Japanese society and political agenda.


The meat was scraped off the bones, and neatly packed in a 3K format:

Kata, kihon, kumite.

This is why many Karate practitioners lack the ability to handle real-world situations.

The limited arsenal of modern Karate simply doesn’t empower the average Karate enthusiast with the skills to address its original purpose (civil self-defense) anymore.

Kenwa Mabuni, a friend of Funakoshi, admitted this later:

“The Karate that has been introduced to Tokyo is actually just a part of the whole. The fact that those who have learnt Karate feel it only consists of kicks and punches, and that throws and joint locks are only found in Judo or Ju-Jutsu, can only be put down to a lack of understanding […] Those who are thinking of the future of Karate should have an open mind and strive to study the complete art.”

– Kenwa Mabuni [1889-1952]


Is all hope lost?

Are we doomed to studying an incomplete martial art?

Definitely not!

The original Karate techniques are not “lost”. 

They are still here – hidden in plain sight.

Embedded in conceptual time capsules known as KATA.Nakazato-Joen_bunkai

And the key to revealing their secrets is spelled:


You see, kata still contains the essence of how Karate was originally meant to function.

(Related reading: The Bunkai Blueprint: A Simple Framework for Applying the Kata of Karate in Practical Self-Defense)

That’s why the traditional saying “hito kata, sannen” (“one kata, three years”) holds so much weight with Karate practitioners who strive to extract the practicality hidden in kata.

Karate was a complete art.

You can make it whole again.

Understand kata to understand Karate.

Your link to the past is your bridge to the future.

Bring the essence back!


Big thanks to Patrick McCarthy, the world’s #1 Karate researcher & author, for providing me with the historical insight presented in this article. Check out his new edition of Bubishi: The Bible of Karate, where I had the honor to contribute the prologue.


  • AK
    Follow this up with a series of articles on the point Jesse!
    • Thanks for chiming in buddy! :-) Can you be more specific? Give me an example of what you are interested in reading more about.
      • Andrew B
        Have you considered an article exploring the first three techniques of Pinan Shodan/Heian Nidan? There are so many effective techniques that can be gleaned from this one sequence - it is brilliant! This kata made me realize that traditional kata are like a great piece of literature that can be interpreted in a multitude of ways or a jazz composition where variations are made on a theme ... Is it a defense against a "hockey fighter", where someone grabs you with their right hand and punching with their left? Is the defender responding with a double block, creating an opening for a whizzer grip, punching and throwing their opponent over their knee? Maybe it is like a classical jiu-jitsu "shiho-nage" style throw, who knows? Whatever it was originally meant to be, it is fun regardless of the original intention - thanks Karate! Best regards, Andrew
      • AK
        Hey Jesse, with pleasure! I'm thinking a 'Why Modern Karate is Broken' series, each article effectively treating an individual issue with modern Karate, but very specifically targeting those that aren't already "in the know" as it were. For example (and I know of course that you have things of the sort already on the site, but nonetheless) an article specifically targeting "modern karate-ka" who know nothing with regards to kata application/bunkai/"practical karate" etc., and go through first the history of where the things come from before explaining why they are vital to "fixing" karate. And the same kind of thing for ideas like "tradition", conditioning etc. etc. etc. :)
      • Gadsdenguy
        Karate School/Liberalism School "Karate school" is code for "Liberalism school". The dojo is a place where liberals can go to hone their skills in duplicity and political correctness. The dojo is a place where conservatives can go to learn how to function in a progressive society. The free thinking conservative can sell his soul and adopt the socialistic principles of the left. He can compromise his values and integrity for social acceptance. The "conservative", being a critical thinker can opt for a second option though. The "conservative" being a critical thinker can choose to expose the improprieties, such as; double standards, cronyism, cliques, gossip, political correctness, and lack of personal accountability. The second option is a tempestuous route to travel and not for the faint of heart. This route can also be very rewarding in a poignant, spiritual sense. The culture within the dojo is identical to the culture in a large corporation. When I was a white belt fifteen years ago, I coined a phrase,"99.9% of everyone you meet is not who they portray themselves to be". It became quite apparent early on in my training that there was an air of duplicity. It was like everyone was wearing a poker face. No one wanted to say too much or say something that may be deemed socially unacceptable. It was a perfect environment where everyone was on their best behavior. It was a culture shock for me. I came from a blue collar environment where everyone was a little rough around the edges, they weren't perfectly refined. If you had something to say, you said it and if they didn't like what you said, well get over it. There were no hidden agendas or ulterior motives, everything was out in the open. The dojo environment is a constant game of chess. In the dojo everything you say or think and the way you act are constantly being evaluated and cultivated for future complicity. The seniors in the dojo called it the "Dojo Family". It’s a cult of elitism deeply woven into the fabric of the dojo. You have to be a "go along to get along" type of guy to be accepted into the dojo family. It usually takes about ten years then you prepare for 4th Dan. As I approach the Yondan mark it’s time for me to make a choice between complicity with the status quo or maintain my individualism and stay true to my core values, and continue to expose the double standard improprieties when necessary. I am disgruntled with the fact that the dojo environment is so synonymous with liberal society. I theorize that the style started to liberalize soon after the grandmaster died in 1948. From September 8, 1868 through July 30, 1912 was the “Megi Period”. At the beginning of this period the Japanese government had five objectives. Three of the objectives were to industrialize, militarize and westernize. The Okinawans did not want to militarize because they thought they could be looked at as a military threat to other countries and may cause war. They also looked at western constitutions and were looking to develop their own constitution. They did not like the American Constitution as it gave too much power to the people. The Imperial leader did not want to give up that much power. They looked at more socialistic models such as France. In 1948 the Grandmaster died and the son became Grandmaster. He was a progressive and wanted to westernize the style. In 1956 the son sent an American Marine who had studied under him in Okinawa to America to teach the style. I contend that there were senior students of the father that did not agree with the direction the son was taking the style. These were old school, hardcore, traditionalists who thought it best to keep the style a pure form, extremely lethal discipline, only to be perfected by the totally dedicated specially trained competent practitioner. For the success of the son's plan to Americanize the style, he had to make it "all inclusive". So he and his minions decided to make the word "Karate" translate to "Accept". "Karate" traditionally means "Empty Hand". Then as they progressed through the process, the physicality of the style was too harsh for the average student. So they came up with the brilliant idea of making the word "Wauke" translate to "Accept" as well. "Wauke" traditionally means "Block". Now the style evolves into something much softer and tolerant for the average student. This all translates to the driving component, the almighty Dollar. And the all mighty Dollar remains the driving component to a successful Karate school to this day. In my view the style has come to the point over the last ten years or so where it lacks virtuosity. It’s exactly the same degradation of values that has occurred to our society due to progressivism, socialism and collectivism. There are no leaders that speak out against unethical behavior. If you do speak out you are scorned and ostracized from the consensus. This is indicative to the big corporation or government as well. At some point in time people who attained positions of leadership, not by merit, but by cronyism or just being at the right place at the right time, they created a narrative to protect their own ineptness. They said; that if you speak out against improprieties you will be black balled and held back from advancement. The majority of spineless simple minded people will fall in line as long as they get their promotions, bonuses, fancy diplomas to display on their walls and their fancy ceremonies and belts and stripes and other regalia to show everyone that they are somebody. I also coined another phrase after being involved in Karate. "It's not hard to win over the hearts and minds of people when you hold their future and glorification in the palm of your hand".There is a perplexing aspect of this whole concept. I have made many friends and comradery with my fellow practitioners. Many of the men and woman I have worked out with over the years are good Conservative people that have good work ethic and are in line with the Conservative principles that made this Country great. Why would they subscribe to such a liberal doctrine with in the dojo? I hate to use the term “Drones”. I think they just lost their way and conformed to an ideology that is conducive to their success in a liberal society. Probably to necessitate their financial security and feed their families, I understand that explanation and it is very dangerous. Our society has been bombarded with propaganda from the main stream media that Political Correctness is the proper frame of mind to be in so we will be accepted all around the world. Most of us have been coerced by public opinion. Remember, “He who stands for nothing, falls for everything” (Alexander Hamilton). Succumbing to liberal concepts and political correctness can and will be the end of our existence. To have a “go along to get along” mentality is all that is needed for tyranny to take a foothold on our liberties. I also understand the addiction of Karate. The exhilaration, the adrenaline, the endorphins, the dopamine, released by the brain while engaging in karate can be intoxicating. In the beginning of your training all these feel good drugs and the personal growth aspect are what kept me diligently practicing for self-improvement and stimulation. I can see how I was blind to the big picture 15 years later. You get roped in and slowly go through a planned regimen that will eventually conform you to a liberal. A weak or unassuming person will just follow suit and think nothing of the transformation process. They will not see that they have been liberalized. I love Karate but I did not sign up to be converted to a liberal. I’m a conservative Constitutionalist and proud of it. I’ve seen a lot of awesome practitioners leave the dojo over the years with no explanation. I wonder if they also had problems with the dojo politics. I guess they just elected to leave silently. I’m a secularist by nature, I make sure people in positions of power and influence are kept accountable. This mentality does not coincide with this dojo.
        • Dominic
          So uplifting and refreshing to read your post. I am at a crossroads in my journey as I struggle with the behaviour of some senior instructors within my organisation. It's great to listen to a true Karate ka. Thanks
        • Nadog
          Ho hum. Yet another redneck using Jesse's site to unload his grievances. Yes! It's great to be against refinement and culture, to be rude and hostile towards those blind slobbering fools who are "liberal." We actually live in a liberal democracy, but that probably is something you don't understand. With your ten years of experience, by now you must be a master! I guess you are in a position to form your own style. No doubt it will be one involving at least ten guns! Frankly, you sound like a troll who lives in your mother's basement. I suspect also that your karate is not very good. Please do us all a favour and limit your future words of working-class wisdom to 10,000 words or less. It was such a long boring read!
      • Ahan
        Jesse, This truly is an outstanding article. Your points here are historically irrefutable. Moreover, what people in the West generally think of as "karate," in reality is a Japanese flavor of an Okinawan tradition. Furthermore, if one attends these so called "karate" events in just about anywhere here on Okinawa, what they are actually watching, more often than not, is a yamato-boomerang, ie yamato-recycled Toudi that has come home to impose yamato-style culture over the top of Uchinanchu, or if you prefer, Ryu Kyu traditions. For example, that "white suit" and ubiquitous black belt is from yamato. Those two impositions are thoroughly Japanese. Brilliant article. Thank you for the fresh air. Ahan
      • Norman
        Excellent article. That's why as a Yondan in Renbukai Karate I as many Karateka out there are bringing the Jitsu back into Karate. And secondly we are saying NO to corrupt organizations such as the wkf and all of its sport nonsense monkeys!
    • Colin Jolly
      Good informative write up Jesse, funny how we class it as modern karate when it's nearly a hundred years old (the modern side that is) !!!
    • e0richt
      excellent article jesse. my thoughts of kata in terms of actual self defense... you need to break the individual components (the bunkai for a part of the kata) and use it as basis for one step kumite style attack / response. One thing you will notice is that the formal kata is a pale shadow of how you actually do the techniques with a partner. Even Ian Abernathy looks really different when showing how the techniques actually works compared to just the kata "dance"... I think the long sequences in kata was just to be able to pass the techniques down to the next generation and to help with that memorization (maybe also to hide their "secret" techniques from people watching).
  • steve
    Hi Jesse san, Another insightful read Thank You
    • Cheers Steve-san! Thank you for reading.
  • Josep
    Amen, Jesse Sensei! Best article of the past two years. Period.
    • Wow, that makes me glad to hear Josep-san! I'm always trying to drop bigger & better knowledge bombs. Thanks!
    • Melissa
      I agree. I've enjoyed this article the most of all!
  • Ted Yearwood
    Enkamp Sensei, It is refreshing to see someone so knowledgeable willing to share that knowledge so freely. Thank you!
    • Thank you sensei Ted! I'm just a humble Karate Nerd standing on the shoulders of Karate enthusiasts willing to support my work. Glad you liked it!
  • Excellent article. Makes one wonder about the place of WKF type sports kumite in the context of the art...
    • Any thoughts on this Jesse?
  • Faby from Brazil
    Jesse, Perfect article. Congratulations for your good job. The karate practitioners thanks. Oss
  • Pleiades
    Excellent, informative piece. Answered a lot of questions I had about why Karate seems so 'limited' in some aspects of self-defence. It is certainly easier to teach in its modern (3K) form, especially to kids (which form the backbone of money-making dojos). Joint locks, grappling & floor work require a lot more time, room, discipline and things like floor mats that are sometimes not available in the many non-purpose built dojos. Nevertheless, there are many other MAs that do include all those things but are far less 'popular' than Karate, perhaps due to their complexity.
  • Ken Frownfelter
    Great article! I wrote a similar essay recently for a thesis I had to write for my Shodan ho. However, yours was so much more eloquent, as always. Keep up the great job!
  • Carlos
    Jessy, Great Article. Thanks for making so many things clear, in such a marvelous way. God bless.
  • Ossu! Wow, I love kata, now I have one more reason to love it! Thank you!!! I am dyslexic, so bunkai is absolutely vital to my learning. So I can't just imitate the movements - I have to experience the kata and learn to re-create the experience when it's just me. And what I find is even though I must go deeper in order to memorize everything, I'm still not even scratching the surface of any given kata :-) So much fun stuff!!! Anyway, one of my Senseis told me that katas are our textbooks - thanks for expanding on that idea!
  • ShotoNoob
    The Article Author Always Brings Controversy... IMHO, the "Karate By Jesse" articles are required reading. I hold different views on traditional karate. I would start with what Shotokan does correctly, rather than criticizing it. I believe Shotokan trained to the principles it espouses will provide a very effective martial art. I also agree with the Article Author that looking @ other karate styles can assist in this journey.... even present a 'better' alternative to Shotokan. But I feel karateka spend too much time on pointing out how they have a better realization as opposed to just training the curriculum intelligently.... I ran across another traditional martial arts group that is highly critical of this article and it's favorable view of kata, bunkai, etc. Again, I feel these critics are more interested in holding themselves out as the 'authority' rather than do the research & training the Article's Author did here.... This article lends great insight to the evolution of karate by a respected & long-time highly-credentialed karate authority. Why not leverage off of that insight into making one's present karate training more effective.... as opposed to just saying, "Ah ha... look @ what's wrong with...?"
    • KyokushN00b
      Yeah but it(Shotokan and others including the one I practice, Kyokushin) is such an inefficient way of doing martial arts. Unless you are the son of a great master of Shotokan whose father has the time to decompress the kata, etc, it will never apply in civil self defense. Let's face it, it will not be practical. This seems like such a waste of time to me, putting effort something that will never fulfill its purpose. It kinda bums me that if only mainland Japan accepted Karate as it was, things would have been different. Knowledgeable minds in Karate need to rewind the history and promote Tuidi or at least incorporate techniques from Judo and other martial arts when teaching students karate like Jon Bluming.
      • matt
        kata has always been an extremely effective way of training martial arts skills and even without the "decompression" of the kata like you mentioned it still has practical application. Kata is meant as a way to teach the techniques of a style to the students but more so it is a training method that strengthens the body and nervous system to be able to move and react in a strong, fast, and flowing manner without the hesitation that a beginner would experience. One of the issues with modern training and the perception of kata is that most people don't understand that the traditional training of kata consisted of practicing them somewhere around 300 times per day for about 3 years each before moving on to the next kata and during that time the body would be "forged" to perform the techniques that were absolutely devistating. Even in modern karate training, kata still has its place but the student needs to look to the possible applications and try to understand not just the "moves" but the purpose of the moves, the understanding of footwork and developing a strong stance as all effective karate begins with a strong stance and good balance.
  • Ian
    Thanks, Jesse-san! The funny thing is ... that boxing match that you talk about back in the 1920s was from a style of boxing that had already undergone the same sort of "now it's broken" evolution that karate was about to suffer over the next few decades. http://www.iainabernethy.co.uk/article/james-figg-first-bare-knuckle-boxing-champion That said, I still see some value in what came into karate from Japan during the 20th Century ... we just need to bring back what was lost from the 19th Century ... Okinawan baby, Okinawan bathwater ... Japanese baby, Japanese bathwater ...
    • KyokushN00b
      I guess martial arts around the world became "civilized" and domesticated in the 20th century.
  • Jesse-San, thanks for this interesing article. Nearly two years ago I stopped practising after receiving my Shotokan Dan grading in 2011, hanging on for a couple of years but then simply not finding the strength anymore (or will / motivations, that is) to drag myself to the dojo anymore. I'm pondering exploring Ju-Jutsu at the moment, so I hope this could make martial arts fun again. All the best, Uwe
  • Danielle CT
    Mind blown! You make excellent points, nowadays it's about feeding the ego. I agree with you.
  • Nikki
    Great article Jesse San thanks for the wisdom makes sense
  • Parrot123
    Hi Sensei Jesse! "In 1933, the name was officially changed to “Karate-Do” - How do you know the date exactly? - We have an official day of karate? I heard that We have two different days! Thank you for looking the mistakes of karate and the most important... Bring solutions to fix them!!!
  • Jim
    Great article as usual !!! Keep up the great work!
  • Andrew O'Brien
    Thoughts after reading your article: 1. Would karate, and martial arts in general, be as popular and widespread as it is today if Japan had not developed the 3K format? I doubt it, and Okinawa and the whole world should be grateful it did. 2. Does karate need a new, more comprehensive format to maintain and build on the success the original 3K format has provided? 3. Perhaps more than one format is needed. The 3K format seems to be a proven and relatively safe way to introduce the masses to karate (martial arts). More complete (comprehensive) formats (which already exist) would be a good way to preserve more of the original Okinawan karate which appears to have been richer, deeper and broader (more complex) than that introduced to Japan via the 3K format. The comprehensive format could also be used to examine/test new techniques and insights which might be integrated into the art so it continues to develop and become richer and more effective. Perhaps the comprehensive format would not be as effective or even appropriate a format for introducing children to martial arts. 4. Could a dojo (or karate organisation) adopt a two format teaching model? The 3K (WKF competition) format could be used for children and adults who wish to compete in WKF style kata and kumite competitions. The more comprehensive format cold be for those who wish to learn a more comprehensive fighting system focused on effective self-defence or who which to compete in competitions with rules similar to those seen in MMA/UFC fights; adults or black belts for example. Perhaps some dojos in an organisation would specialise on one or the other. 5. If a more comprehensive format became popular would the quality of instructors be high enough to create an acceptably safe training environment? 6. Grappling, throw and choke techniques can be taught safely in a controlled non-competitive environment but would they be safe to incorporate into kumite (a competitive environment) practice? There may be not need to incorporate it into kumite. 7. The 3K format provides a relatively safe environment for children to be introduced to the martial arts and to develop their character. 8. The 3K format, if taught properly, allows people to continue to study the art into old age and older people can continue to train alongside younger people. Would this be the case if the format became more comprehensive and included the application of grappling, throw and choke techniques in everyday training?
    • Thanks for the input Andrew-san! Great insights. Your thought process resonates well.
    • Ryan Neale
      If not incorporated into kumite in some way it will be difficult to know whether you can perform these grappling techniques on a resisting opponent or if one is engaging in fantasy bunkai. I come from a Kyokushin background though, so I believe heavily in kumite-based testing.
      • We have the grappling component incorporated into our syllabii in bunkai, StreetSafe component and randori kumite. It is possible to incorporate and practice with resistant flow drills also prior to free fighting.
    • Dod
      Good discussion! The big problem with the 3K format is that the kumite usually means rules-based sports kumite, whereas the kata were designed to deal with the context of violent criminal street attack where you will start close, stay close, and end it brutally in a few seconds. Therefore the two don't combine well - and it shows in some of the resulting "bunkai"! Pressure testing and non-sports kumite is essential, but it should be built around sound kata principles and techniques. Sports karate doesn't have to be excluded and it can have benefits, but be aware of it's limitations in reaching the original goal of karate. It is just one of many training tools.
  • This was an excellent piece of information. I love Bunkai.Thank you for all your work. I am looking forward for more great articles this year. I think is going to be a great year for Karate.
  • Evan
    Hey Jesse-San. Thanks again for another great article. Luckily for all of us you have been able to devote the time to the research (with Pat's help!) to pass all this on to everyone. Everything you write is very worthwhile. Is karate generally taught in schools nowadays in both Japan and Okinawa?
    • Thanks Evan-san! Judo and Kendo are more popular, but many schools have Karate clubs also.
      • Evan
        Thanks Jesse. Hope to see you back in Australia soon!
  • Alex V
    I'm chiming in with an agreement with what Andrew O'Brian said, and think this should be a thing. Think us Karate Nerds can get this of the ground like Seishin or KNX? Love your articles Jesse, and I share them with all my fellow karateka as often as possible. Keep on writing!
  • My karate heart open if I red this article...! So wonderful! I have to show it my sensei. He is already 72 years old and have the same opinion like you! Thank you very much Jesse!
  • Dod
    I think time will show the last few decades as a period where karate took a temporary wrong turn. It is quite extraordinary how people who trained even for decades were quite ignorant of the history and propagated wildly inaccurate ideas about karate's development. Thankfully, the information age is generally bringing karate practice back on path. There may well become a more noticeable split from groups that find it difficult to accept rules-bound sports karate as only a relatively small and recent part of the karate mix.
  • Fayad
    Very informative article. Every time I start reading your articles I am 100% sure I will get some new information and you never made me disappointed. Thank you Jesse-San for providing us such great knowledge. But isn't it disappointing that today the WKF promotes only the "so called modern Karate" when everyone knows that it is a sport and not the real stuff. Many traditional styles such as Uechi and Shorin practitioners are not seen much in competitions as per my knowledge. It might be because the traditional masters do not find karate as a competition item. But I do not turn back from the truth that Karate became so popular today because of it become a sport. But I have some sad feeling when I see people make fame and money in the name of Karate and the traditional Karate people are not getting noticed..
  • M
    Hi Jesse, I agree with your issue with "competition people" when they perform a bunkai. Many times you see them do things that aren't even compared with the kata. Those people do these things in bunkai to impress the judges and audience. So my question is: Isn't the reason why everyone do these things because they have to, and there isn't another way to win from teams when they do those flashy things that aren't right with the Kata? Please don't get me wrong, I'm doing many competitions by myself but I don't feel any different compared to other people who don't do any competition and I really agree with you're points. I wish the referees these days had the same mindset as you. I really like your articles by the way! Thanks
  • Luis Lugo
    Great Job Jesse with your research and for sharing this article. Keep up the the good work! And keep the research & knowledge coming!
  • I know two kata, and I've been practicing one of them exclusively for two and a half years now. The other is waiting for when I hit my five year mark. These are my only credentials. When I first started, I was constantly looking for the definitive answer to the movements. I've come to the conclusion that there are no right answers, maybe never were answers and that there don't need to be. There is only the efficient transfer of kinetic energy. The contact points can change, but the energy transfer remains the same. This is kata for me. If I need to move a body, strike it, or lock it, the principles behind the movements stay the same, I'm just grabbing different stuff or touching things in a really fast violent way. Just my take. It's super simple. It just takes a ton of reps to get there.
  • Dear Jesse, thank you for this amazing article! If it were literally true that other budo arts are more "complete" and karate is “broken”, then it would make more sense to just learn one of the other arts instead of karate. Indeed, I’m primarily an aikidoka, and always saw karate as something quite boring and limited tbh. But at the same time, I was getting a feeling that there was something lacking or “broken” about aikido, and started learning aikijujutsu to try to fill in the gaps somehow. Then my aikijujutsu sensei took me to watch a karate grading at his friend’s club (2nd dan and 4th dan) to broaden my knowledge / experience. And I was blown away. It was so aggressive; so beautiful; so exciting. In the kata, I just saw a dark intent and beauty which I admired, but wasn’t able to “read” as techniques at that point. But in the kumite, I saw locks and throws and balance breaking and ukemi – somehow packaged very differently to aikido - and realised that I needed this so badly; so have been learning karate ever since. You say that “Karate was a complete art. You can make it whole again.” I believe that aikido was also a complete art but that it has also been stripped of something, and now has too heavy a focus on compliance and harmony? And yet it also still contains mysterious, precious elements that karate and aikijujutsu don’t appear to have (I can’t really speak about any other martial arts). Philippe Voarino writes, "Aikido leads to the discovery that forces that are generated by any fight are not opposed but complementary and can be brought back to unity […] Modern Aikido simply forgets that the whole Universe is a harmony between tensions and, instead of taking ground on the firm realty of that dualism, one thinks that dualism can be ignored, put aside a priori. "[…] Transforming the opponent into a partner […] negates that great law balancing the cosmos O sensei always had in mind. It implies the destruction of the very source of Aikido: the notion of opposition." Your post makes me feel like there are tantalising fragments of the puzzle lying all around us – we just need to understand how they interlock - and how to assemble them . . . ?
  • H. Nuno Oliveira
    Excellent! Is it possible to get a pdf of this article?
    • Uwe
      That shouldn't be too hard. Select the text & images with the mouse and paste them into libreoffice, then select "export to PDF" from the "File" menu. Uwe
  • Paul
    Wow, this is just... The last sentence gave me goosebumps, it was THAT shocking :) The whole article, they way information is presented (and the information itself) is simply magnificent! Where has this article been all my life :)
  • Fascinating! Thank you for sharing this.
  • Zenith
    Hello, first of all, excuse me if my english isn't good enough. I trained Kyokushin-Kan some time ago, but I stopped after one year and a half of training. I still do some researches about karate and I looked at many of your topics. But I still wonder if one can learn to defend himself/herself on the street by using the technics from the Pinan series and the physical preparation from the Ura katas. I mean I didn't stay long enough in that dojo to learn more complicated katas, so I want to master what I learned and use it on max. Even if that means a minor modification of some movements to suit my fighting style. Note: I was never taught Pinan Go, but the sensei showed us Pinan Yon one or two times. I learned most of them from internet.
  • Plus the problem with most of the todays katas, they are over mutated without the real understanding, by the egos of the masters! So you must be very prudent when you try to unhide the real meaning of the movements! by Zsolt Szenasi - Smart SHITO World Martial Art Concept - SWMC
  • Jack
    Trouble is my Bunkai (probably) sucks! Damn!
  • John
    As always I find your articles interesting Jesse. Frequently you speak of the major styles where It seems that technique is sometime diluted and knowledge lost perhaps as a result of expedience or economics ... lets face it Karate can be hard, some of us are not as young as we used to be. But there are styles where the traditions of the original style are still practiced and employ techniques from multiple older styles. In the style that I practice Chito Ryu it was developed specifically to include practical features for self defence including throws, holds, locks, grappling and weapons full contact. The stances are smaller to enable maneuverability, and the techniques direct always with purpose and without flourish. Dr Tsuypshi Chitose also practiced, Judo 6th Dan, Kendo 4th Dan, and Kyodo 4th Dan. He was awarded 10th Dan and Hanshi (Grand master) designation from the Zen Okinawa Karate Kobudo Rengo Kai. He died in 1984. Dr Chitose was one of a small group of modern karate pioneers, responsible for bringing Okinawan Martial Arts to the Japanese mainland. Dr Chitose combined what he had learned with his knowledge of physiology and anatomy, ensuring an ergonomically sound karate. Dr Chitose also had a major influence in the creation of bogu kumite.
  • Great article. There are so instances that we come up with so many different techniques when we practice bunkai that are not taught in the modern dojos. Most Karate Kas focus on memorizing the Kata and just perform it. Most of them are blind when it comes to the meaning of the Kata. Great research and would like to read more articles on the same subject.
  • Tulu Ush Shams
    Dear Jesse San, I am a JKA Shotokan Practitioner and my country representative of JKA. Is it ok if we share your articles in our JKA group Facebook account by translating those in our language by referring your name as contributor? We encourage our members to study details into the variety of Karate world.
    • Most definitely! Just include a link back to the original article. Thank you!
  • Teguh
    Another great article, Jesse-san. It is heart-breaking to see Karate which once was a complete Martial Art got watered and trimmed down to how we know it today. This makes Karate looks inferior to other martial arts. But not to me, though.
  • Hi Jesse san, Thanks for sending me the link ... appreciated :-) As always ... I am VERY proud of the wonderful work you're doing and happy to be counted amidst those to have mentored you. Bringing together like-minded people in pursuit of common goals and celebrating empowerment, personal achievement & camaraderie through the art of Karate. My best to Silja & Oliver
  • Isaac Florentine
    Wonderful article Jesse Sensei! I am glad to see that my dear Friend Pat McCarthy Sensei contributed to it. Keep up the excellent work you are doing to promote the art of Karate-Do that we all love so much. Isaac Florentine
  • Daniel son
    Jesse in this article and another one you mentioned how Karate Do isn't pragmatic for real life applications of self defense. There are obviously other reasons to practice Karate. Now some people say its not the style but the instructor and student who decide. Just to clarify if someone is looking for a martial art for the primary purpose of self defense, don't take traditional Karate styles like Shotokan, Shito Ryu etc. ? Based on the article after being introduced into mainstream Japan the traditional Karate styles were modified for a more civilized time and it became more about athletics and character development. Is this an accurate analysis of traditional Karate?
  • Ronny
    The “problem” is that Karate has become a sport rather than a complete self defense martial art. So, for the people who practice Karate for the sake of self defense there is per definition a flaw or something “broken” in it. But for the sportman it is no problem, see boxing which is more broken than Karate as a self defense tool, and we have no problem with boxing at all, right? Masutatsu Oyama saw Karate as Budo, I can support this conclusion with this article: http://the-martial-way.com/memorial-service-in-memory-of-sosai-mas-oyama/ And also this one: http://the-martial-way.com/budo-and-kyokushin/ From this article: Always remember that the true meaning of Budo is that soft overcomes hard, small overcomes large.” ~Mas Oyama “For a long time, I have emphasized that karate is Budo, and if the Budo is removed from karate, it is nothing more than sport karate, show karate or even fashion karate – the idea of training merely to be fashionable. Karate that has discarded Budo has no substance. It is nothing more than a barbaric method of fighting or a promotional tool for the purpose of profit. No matter how popular it becomes, it is meaningless.” ~Mas Oyama
  • Lucas
    I Want To Know If my Style ( Shorin Ryu) Is also Broken and Incloplete... because a Thought Shotokan was a Watered Down Version of Shorin Ryu... Shorin Ryu would be The complete Version of Shotokan Karate?
    • Shirosan
      just train all styles of karate
  • Lance Velez
    Great article as usual ! Truth is we can not really know the original bunkai taught as most of it would have been lost in time so the option would be to study the kata and try to get the gist of what the moves mean. I believe that there are too many Kata taught in most styles impossible to truly master all of them plus the way they are taught today lacks the depth of the original kata in Okinawa . Sad to say it would be easier to learn. Muay Thai and a bit of Judo / jiu jutsu and be effective. Compared to studying a kata. My take would be the applications of a kata must be simple to do and do a lot of damage if they are too complex there is a chance that this is a spotty interpretation. Practical application is critical.
  • Henry Posadas
    Yep pretty accurate except it forgot to mention three other facts. First Okinawans hated the Japanese and gladly hit stuff from them, second even before Funakoshi was invited to Japan, Itosu already changed Karate when he converted it for Physical education and finally Japanese Martial arts changed its nature and purpose from Jutsu to Do starting the Meiji Restoration.
  • "Your link to the past is your bridge to the future." I love it!
  • Vsantos
    Thank you for excellent article. Very interesting sensei Jesse. Oss
  • Per Kristoffersson
    looking at old footage of Funakoshi & co. it's interesting how different Shotokan back then is to Shotokan now. like modern interpretation of Shotokan has dialled everything up with lower stances, more pronounced techniques and less throwing (there was a lot of throwing in those old videos). as for destroying karate, well, just don't limit yourself to karate, mix in weapons and grappling from the other arts. while the Japanese may have been very much for perfection in everything you do, we don't have to be perfect judokas or iaido practitioners. in fact, we don't have to be "perfect" in our chosen styles as this "perfection of style" apparently has gone beyond what the old masters did. Except if we compete in kata or are concerned about grading of course because then we would want technical perfection according to the modern standards.
  • Nice article, thank you. You skipped the part about Motobu Choki Sensei defeating the European boxer, and Funikoshi Sensei accepting the credit for the win. This changes the story a bit, does it not?
  • Andrew Guler
    Hello Jesse, very interesting article on the history of Karate, thank you. There’s one thing that isn’t clear to me. In a youtube video Stephen Wonderboy Thompson said that the flying kick was invented by peasants to kick an attacking Samurai off his horse. Is that true? If so, how does that fit in with Karate being developed in the 19th Century, when the Samurai were not attacking peasants from horseback, anymore. Thanks, Andrew.

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