Over on my other weblog I've been asked what I found wrong with Shotokan karate. A good question. I trained in this Japanese-based martial art for about nine years. Then I flew the Shotokan coop and earned a black belt in a less traditional mixed style after three-plus additional years of training.
Now I'm almost three years into an almost exclusive emphasis on Tai Chi – which most decidedly also is a marital art. Some would say the ultimate martial art. But who's to say?
The trend line of my martial arts philosophy was expressed in the title of my "I'm getting softer with age" post. I used to enjoy feeling, like most Shotokan practitioners do, that this hardest of the hard style karate systems could kick the butt of any other style.
But now I'm not into arguing about absolutes. Which is a big part of the reason I grew disenchanted with the absolutist mentality of Shotokan. Back in 2000, when I was thinking about shifting to a different style, I came across a web site called "Shotokan Planet."
[Update: Notwithstanding what I said below, Rob Redmond’s marvelous collection of Shotokan writings is still around in a different Internet incarnation. I searched for the articles mentioned below that I liked so much. Couldn’t find them. Redmond doesn’t have an explicit “heresy” section anymore.
Lots of other good stuff on his site, though. I enjoyed “Returning to Creativity in Karate” (design your own kata – that’d be a shock to Shotokan!), “The Courage to Allow Others to Quit” (right on), “There is no standard” (rank testing is highly subjective), and “Ranks: the Kudzu of Karate” (Japanese culture drives Shotokan’s love of conforming hierarchy).]
It doesn't exist anymore. Unfortunately. Because I got a lot of inspiration and support from Rob Redmond's "heresy" essays. He expressed what I was feeling about Shotokan, but at the time wasn't able to put into words so clearly. Redmond said:
Did you know that most people who take a martial art think that the style that they study is the best one ever invented? Of course you did. If you are reading these documents, then you are probably studying Shotokan karate. You have probably heard many people make fun of Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, and Ninja Training. You've probably also encountered people from those arts that roll their eyes when you say something good about Shotokan.
So Ninja training is silly. I agree. But so is Shotokan training. Much of what we do is not applicable in the street anymore than what most martial arts teach. It is rigid, structured, and obsessed with good form. We'll teach it to anyone, even people too small and weak to ever be able to fight. We do lots of things which are inconsistent, nonsensical, and downright silly like a Ninja school. You should be aware of what these things are.
…If you can't find fault with Shotokan, then you haven't given it much thought. In fact, to me, it is axiomatic that if someone is a true expert at something, they will have many complaints and criticisms of the way things are in their field of expertise.
The more I learn about Shotokan, the less I like it. Every year that passes helps me to find new things that I am disappointed in. The more I progress, the more limitations of Shotokan become apparent to me. If you cannot see the inherent weaknesses and holes in whatever you are studying, you don't know much about it.
The main thing that turned me off about Shotokan was its rigidity – both physically and philosophically.
Tai Chi recognizes that everything is a blend of yin and yang, softness and hardness, yielding and strength. By contrast, traditional karate is way over-balanced on the yang side. Blocks, punches, and kicks are bone-crushingly powerful.
But power is just one aspect of fighting. It can be easily deflected or avoided, as was evident at every one of the Shotokan tournaments that I attended and took part in. Traditional karate is big on the idea of a single "killing blow." However, highly skilled Shotokan black belts could hardly ever demonstrate it in practice. So what good is an ideal that almost never manifests in reality?
[Update: Along these lines, I came across this right-on couple of paragraphs while browsing through Redmond’s current web site:
Meanwhile, someone who is relatively unskilled and nothing like an actual fighter, such as myself, can drape himself in these Japanese credentials on the walls and around his waist which allow him the self-delusion that he is in fact a real fighter - because someone else says so. Even though reality shows us that real fighters are men in incredible physical condition with bulging muscles, relatively aggressive dispositions, and cruel life histories, the delusion is so desired that the Japanese characters on the wall coupled with a little marketing about the effectiveness of Karate training leaves some of us believing that we have become professional assassins.
I believe that in reality we could put a case of beer in six big marines and push them in through the front door of any Karate headquarters in Tokyo and they would clean it out. While I don’t wish to see anyone injured, I think it would do wonders to break the nearly hypnotic belief that some have about their own fighting skills and the value of their pretty certificates hanging on their walls for some of the big names in Shotokan to finally come out of hiding and participate in some of the many open events that are held around the world and receive the solid defeats that they no doubt are aware they would be handed were they to dare to compete outside their own association’s events.]
After I became a Shotokan brown belt my rank advancement came to a halt. I kept testing to go to the next brown belt level (you have to get to the third before trying for a black belt). I kept being told that my sparring (fighting) skills were better than my kata (form) skills.
OK. Granted. But some of the criticisms of my basic Shotokan expertise were off-base – a product of looking at students through an assembly line, one-size-fits-all mentality. After failing a rank test I heard, "Your shoulders were too high; that's a sign of tension." A photo taken at the exam even was given to me as proof.
I went home, took my shirt off, got into the stance that I was in when the photo was taken, and looked at my shoulders in a mirror. Yes, they looked just like they were at the exam. I tried to relax them further. I couldn't. They were relaxed. I've got broad shoulders. My shoulders look different from most other guys' shoulders.
You'd think that an advanced Shotokan black belt, like all of the examiners were, would be able to take into account an individual difference like that. However, Shotokan isn't big on individuality. If you're a second degree black belt, then maybe, just maybe, you'll be allowed to tweak a move in a kata to better suit you.
Until then, though, it's the Shotokan way or the highway. Rob Redmond again:
You go to your instructor and tell him that you are no longer making progress, and that you are very frustrated. Your instructor will appear sympathetic, and to fill his piggy bank, he will recommend that you train even more. "You need more training." Hell, you should train until his corvette is paid for.
This bad advice also comes disguised as "Don't think, just do." Or how about, "Reading about it is one thing, doing it is another." Over the last century, a cult of anti-intelligence has swept the martial arts.
The last year of my Shotokan training I entered several tournaments. I was over 50 and a mere brown belt. But I'd go out and bang around in the freestyle kumite (sparring) with black belts, some much younger than me. I beat a twenty-something brown belt who was about to test for his black belt. I took a third-degree black belt (an instructor, no less) into an overtime period before finally losing a kumite match by half a point.
In the kata (form) competition, my Bassai Dai performance got a score equal to that earned by several black belts. So I was feeling pretty good about my advancement chances going into the next testing, where I hoped to finally make it to the second of the three brown belt levels.
Everything felt good during the testing. My basic kicks and punches were on. So was my semi-free sparring. Ditto, my kata. I didn't want the testing to end, I was enjoying myself so much. Then came time to stand at Shotokan attention and get feedback from the lead examiner.
He ripped me up one side and down the other. Per usual. Up to that point I'd cringe when I got negative comments at an exam. "Your shoulders are too high, your timing is off, blah, blah, blah." This time I calmly looked the examiner in the eye. I heard what he was saying, but it was like he was talking about someone else.
I knew what I was capable of doing with my karate skills. I knew that I was making good progress. The only problem was, what I was learning wasn't what Shotokan karate valued. It was something else.
Standing there, I didn't know that there was a more flexible mixed martial arts style that could take this "something else" and build on it. Shotokan was all that I knew, the only style that I'd ever trained in. But I came to learn that the world of martial arts is much larger than the territory Shotokan is comfortable exploring.
I read Rob Redmond and journeyed away from traditional karate, a decision I've never regretted.
The axiom should therefore be reprinted with a different line of text. Karate training that requires a lifetime is bad karate training. For every student, there is a time when training ends. For people who make their entire world revolve around a karate dojo, that time is death.
For everyone else who simply wishes to learn to take a different perspective on themselves, that time could be after six months or ten years, but the time eventually comes. Know when it has come, and have the courage to recognize it and do the right thing by yourself.
I posted this comment to another related article, but it applies here ...
After reaching the Brown Belt in Shotokan, I stopped Shotokan training and switched to other martial arts forms: kick boxing, tae kwon du, Wushu, and then Tai Chi.
I stopped Shotokan because I couldn't find the philosophy applicable in real life situations.
I stopped kick boxing because it has limitations on how and where you hit - and it lacks much of the spiritual strength of other martial arts.
I stopped tae kwon du because they practically forget they have hands!
I found everything I need in Wushu ... well, almost.
I suddenly discovered Tai Chi, although I didn't have the chance to practice Tai Chi (just a few lessons from a travelling instructor).
Wushu is what you want to learn if you are looking for the fancy movements you see in movies, if you are really concerned about standing a fight in the neighborhood, and if you are looking for a profound philosophy.
However, Tai Chi adds to that an incredible flexibility and health improvement as well as deeper philosophy. Moreover, Tai Chi is almost the only form that you can practice till the day you die (getting so old in age)!
By the way, my martial arts journey has been going for almost 14 years ...
Posted by: info | July 16, 2007 at 05:35 AM
That was very interesting and about a world I know nothing about. I do know though that fundamentalists, in any persuasion, do the same thing-- get to some 'absolute' point, know it all, demand everyone else accept their truth as the ultimate, and have no reason to learn further. It is how you know something is fundamentalist.
Posted by: Rain | July 16, 2007 at 07:44 AM
info, we seem to have traveled similar martial arts paths. Interesting. You've reached pretty much the same conclusions I have.
Yes, Tai Chi certainly is a style that can be practiced into one's ripe old age. "Elders" are venerated in the pages of Tai Chi magazine, something you won't find in most other martial arts styles. And they can still kick butt.
I like Tai Chi for its deep philosophy, as you pointed out. Also, for its elevation of formlessness over form, similar to Wu Shu in general. Flexibly responding to an attack or altercation without pre-set routines makes a lot more sense than falling back on rigid "thou shalts."
Rain, you may not be familiar with martial arts, but you definitely understand the basic issue with different styles -- because it indeed is the classic case of fundamentalism vs. open-mindedness.
Some styles are eclectic. Others hew to the straight and narrow party line. Shotokan is much more of the latter variety. I think it has more than a little to do with Japanese authoritarian obsessiveness, as contrasted with Chinese flexibility and inclusiveness.
Posted by: Brian | July 16, 2007 at 10:02 AM
I took shotokan for half a semester in college (I was already a black belt in a kempo style school: www.kojosho.com). I saw that difference immediately. The kempo school I was part of took into consideration the differences in all of us. There was a very nice mix of hard line martial arts as well as a softer side, the Kojosho forms. I have looked at other martial arts as well, and I found Tai Chi. It's philosophy and practice are what a true martial art should be. As Brian saiy, formless in it's form.
Posted by: Eric | July 16, 2007 at 02:05 PM
I've been a dyed-in-the-wool internal martial arts fan since early childhood. My passivist mother allowed me to take Aikido in 4th grade, because she heard it had no offensive hits or kicks (not entirely true but hey it got me in the door). I learned from that little bit of training that internal styles have very practical martial applications. I was a runt til early high school, and smart -- and thus highly sought after as a punching bag. But no one could get a punch or a hold or a kick in on me after only 1 1/2 years of Aikido training.
I've studied Tai Chi since and enjoy it very much, I agree with the above comments about a more well-rounded approach to movement, life, and conflict in that form (as well as other internal forms) over external or hard forms of martial arts.
Right now I'm practicing Jingui Golden Shield Qi Gong. It not a martial art, but an energy art -- that's what I really need right now in life. I have chronic health problems that I am addressing by practicing this style. I am finding good results after not much time.
I will continue to study martial arts, but I can't see ever doing an external form. I'm just too old, soft, and philosophical.
Nice post, enjoyable reading.
Posted by: Bpaul | July 16, 2007 at 04:30 PM
Having watched a few of those ultimate fighting cage things it appears to me that free style wrestling may be the most useful martial art. I speak as a tai chi practitioner of ten years or so.
Posted by: R Blog | July 23, 2007 at 06:13 PM
I've been reading Rob Redmond's articles for several years and have found them interesting. I have also been studying Shotokan for about 20 years, with a few years off in the middle. However, what I do and teach is probably not really traditional. I do the forms, I do the basics, we put on some pads and hit each other once in a while just for fun though I don't give a rip about fighting and won't get in a bar fight in my life. Its simply good exercise, we teach a lot of kids, and make them concentrate for an hour at a time. We enjoy getting together as a group. Bottom line is that I still think of what I do as shotokan based, but we keep it a fun family, make up some new katas, and just enjoy the workout. It doesn't have to be that dogmatic.
Of course now that I am getting older, when I work out alone I do yoga. I incorporate that into the shotokan classes also. No need to give up on shotokan, just adapt it to how you want it.
Posted by: Todd | July 24, 2007 at 10:48 PM
you dont know what your talkin about. ive been taking shotokan karate for 7 years now and i've got my second degree black belt. and let me tell you we do realize we dont have "authority" over the other styles. we realize the strengths and weaknesses our style has when put agianst the other forms. you sit there and made it look like we people in shotokan are a bunch of arrogant fools. i dont appreciate that at all.
Posted by: jeff wethers | March 16, 2008 at 11:48 AM
Jeff, I didn't say that Shotokan claims authority over other styles. My point (among several) was that Shotokan, like most defined martial arts styles, considers that its approach is the best.
I heard this many times from my sensei. And criticisms of this "We're #1" attitude are sprinkled through the 24 Fighting Chickens web site postings, whose author knows a heck of a lot more about Shotokan than I do. See:
I'm glad Shotokan was a good fit for you. For others it isn't. Shotokan has its pluses and minuses, like every martial art system. If the people you've been involved with recognize this, that's great. Humility is a good thing.
Posted by: Brian | March 16, 2008 at 08:25 PM
If you ever watch a mixed martial arts fight (cagefighting, UFC, etc.) it is difficult to determine what a fighter's style is. To be successful in this sport you must be proficient in stand-up kickboxing as well as groundfighting skills of jiujitsu and wrestling. Sometimes you can recognize a fighters emphasis on certain stylized techniques which indicates their background, but to fight in this sport adhering to a specific stylistic system rarely works. The lack of adaptive flexibility is a liability which can easily be anticipated and countered.
In the early days of this sport, specialists in specific styles such as shotokan, kempo, tae kwo do, etc. found themselves easily defeated by brazilian jiujitsu artists and the strict jiujitsu fighters sometimes found themselves unconscious as the result of a boxer's punch. While jiujitsu was most effective in the early days, because most real fights end up on the ground, the sport evolved to the point where a melding of ground and stand-up techniques was necessary. Hence the term "mixed martial arts" or MMA.
This sport has many rules to protect the fighters from severe injury. Things like eye gouging, groin kicks, strikes to the spine and base of the skull, etc. are prohibited. Also, certain standard defense postures commonly used in this sport such as the jiujitsu "full guard" would never work in a real life-or-death fight with a skilled opponent. Still, this sport resembles most closely the reality of an actual fight while still keeping the fighters from actually killing and maiming each other.
It is very hard to maintain a classic shotokan (for example) horse stance when your attacker has you on the ground in a choke or submission hold.
Posted by: Condor | March 17, 2008 at 02:56 PM
Ok, wow, Of course you only have quotes from that bob redmond fella, you are upsessed with him! You were also not in a good shotokan school, so I do not see why you are so biased and why you are categorizing a really big group of people, sure, in katas you have to do the same movements, no duh, that is what a kata is, it creates MUSCLE MEMORY, and in the street, or anywhere else, you can change it how you want to, this just helps you remember so you dont think you just do. And all forms of martial arts have forms and katas. Everybody knows that EVERY single martial art has weakness or more. BJJ is only good on the ground. Taekwondo is only good if they are not up close to you. Shotokan is all about distancing yourself, hitting people, and not getting hit. You are biased, and really do not know what you are talking about. You have hate in your heart, and your taking it out on karate. Good for you.
Posted by: David | June 18, 2010 at 01:16 PM
And condor, you obviously have not trained in traditional shotokan, we do, and we go over self defense a lot, but we also mixed in brazillian jiu jitsu, and we know a lot about shotokan, we do throws, takedowns, joint locks, pressure points. I could break your knee or break your toes with one kick. Have you ever heard of Lyoto Machida? He practices Shotokan karate in the UFC, and he is the LEAST hit fighter in the world, his record is 16-1-0, only losing his last fight to a Muay Thai fighter, however he was fighting really off that bout.
Posted by: David | June 18, 2010 at 01:25 PM
Hard-Karate_Stylist re Author's; "What I Don't Like About Shotokan."
I have studied the hard-style karate of Tang Soo Do (TSD) for many years. TSD shares many similarities with the hard-style karate of Shotokan. Both typically rely on aggressive, physical force performed in a linear manner.
Shotokan karate is just about my least favorite karate, for many of the reasons you have cited. I too, have run across instructors who are more interested in their success more than the student's (Hence, the unwarranted criticism you received.).
Shotokan karate, however as a representative of the universe of traditional martial arts (TMA), does present major facets of a workable tradtional martial art very well. These involve (A) rounded physical fitness and (B) mental discipline. These two bedrock skills form the foundation for basic martial art cabability. The karate fighting techniques are laminated on top of these bedrock skills.
Non-TMA fighting methods may or may not provide rounded physical skill; they generally fail to provide the mental discipline seen in proficient TMA's and karate fighters. The previous commentor has pointed out how Lyoto Machida's Shotokan base has prepared him for success in MMA.
I have seen a lot of criticisms of karate and Shotokan in particular-- a lot of it is valid. Shotokan and hard-style karates like TSD tends to attract a lot of aggressive, physically forceful one-dimensional individuals reflective of the obvious, outward characteristics of the style, especially pre-black belt.
And I believe you must have strict standards in TMA & karate; HOWEVER, the rules must always serve the progress of the practitioner. It takes an intelligent and well-schooled instructor to make the correct judgement call.
In summary, I agree it best to question the methods of training. The bigger answer is to seek the fullest understanding of what TMA or here, Shotokan karate, is trying to accomplish. THEN, work towards that accomplishment.
My read on this article is that you were taking the right approach; your Shotokan intructors should have broadened their own views and should have been supportive.
In closing, your Shotokan instructors shared the same negative approach as the '24-fighting chickens' author--aggressive, heavy criticism. With this I differ. Finding fault is the easy thing to do; defining & executing a path to real accomplishment is very hard.
Will be getting a new e-mail address.
Posted by: Hard-Karate_Stylist | August 09, 2010 at 01:41 PM
I have to disagree with your blanket assessment of Shotokan karate. Not all schools are run that way. Less then twenty four hours ago I tested and passed to second level brown belt; second kyu. In addition to our standard training of basics we also engage in very practical self defense. Many of the black belts who train here are cops or even professional bodyguards. My instructor has mentioned many times to do " your karate" clearly understanding the individual strengths and weakness of everyone. As far as corvettes ? I know for a fact there is no profit being made here worth mentioning. The president is one of my closeset friends and the occasional profits went to treating us all on a night out. We pay half what most schools pay and as an advanced student I have seven different opportunities to train per week. I'm sorry you had a bad experience but not all places are the same.
Posted by: Steve X | September 21, 2012 at 11:12 AM
I am really glad that I found this post. I have not studied any martial arts before but i just recently found a place near me that taught karate. It had Shotokan and Tai Chi training only. I've been spending the past 2 weeks thinking of what kind i should take. Thank you for the help.
Posted by: Clay Clifford | January 05, 2013 at 11:01 PM
mann you are totally off on this one shotokan is not about rigidity at all its all about getting connection through your entire body and releasing energy through one focal point in your body to create a very powerful and fast technique. The reason that you might have held your own against someone that is ranked higher than you is because you might have better physical skills than the other person. Or simply because the other person is not that great at free style kumite. BUT what you do not understand is the fact that he understands how his body connects he understand that you have to squeeze muscles together at the same time and also rotate your hips in such a way that causes more force to come out. NO you are to focused on the fact that you were thinking of your self as a macho guy who thinks he is better than everyone else... along those lines i have trained shotokan for 17 years and i am still a 3rd degree brown. it is not all about belts.
spiritually it is invigorating, every day you try and better yourself.
Posted by: Mikael B. | April 22, 2013 at 06:28 PM
Mikael, I'm not sure if you have practiced other martial arts styles. If so, you might have a different opinion of Shotokan karate.
I now have a black belt in a style that was more eclectic, flexible, and practical -- in my opinion. I also have studied Tai Chi for eight years, with quite a bit of emphasis on martial applications.
I can tell you that compared to Tai Chi and other more "internal" martial arts styles, Shotokan karate has a crude understanding of root, body rotation, whole body power, and such.
Again, this has been my experience. Others will have different opinions, and different experiences. I'm just sharing how I see things.
Posted by: Brian Hines | April 22, 2013 at 08:24 PM
Rob Redmond is a frustrated product of a McDojo. Even though he claims he went to Japan to train, I believe he went to a McDojo chain in Japan. He has nothing positive to say about the art, he's nothing but a bitter man having a mid-life crisis.
Posted by: Alex | May 07, 2013 at 06:18 AM
As stated, Shotokan is rigid. Tai Chi requires the body to be relaxed. A rigid punch equals a dislocated or broken shoulder. From a self defense perspective, I have found that the repetitions and slow movements along with deep breathing of Tai Chi has caused its essence to embed itself into my muscle memory to the point that it becomes instinct and very usable should I ever face an opponent. I have only taken Tai Chi for 8 months and I feel more confident than I did after spending 5 years with Shotokan. Pull the arm of a Tai Chi student and they will follow and use the force of the pull agains their opponent, because they stay loose and relaxed. Pull the arm of a Shotokan student and it will most likely break.
Posted by: Michael | July 25, 2013 at 06:19 PM
I studied shotokan karate for a year and became frustrated by how slow I was learning things .I tried Taek won do but it was so full of fancy kicks and i realized i was too big for that and then I learned boxing for a year and got good at it and then some basic wrestling and now I have realized there is no true complete martial arts so now what I am doing is teaching myself whatever moves I cam try to form them in combos practice what seems like practical and eliminate what seems like only good foe stunts in movie.This along with a through regime of physical conditioning and I am getting better and learning quickly. The only thing a person need to be successful in martial arts is understanding of basic body mechanics.
Posted by: shubham | August 03, 2013 at 09:02 PM
Reading this original article was a pleasure, and it expressed purely what has been a long standing fact about Shotokan, and other relative traditional karate systems. Very strong in force, and very weak in flexibility, this system can and often is a character builder, but a destroyer of individuality. Culturally oriented indeed, it is the epitome of rigidity. Most students of fighting arts, and particularly in Western thinking, thrive on flexibility and innovation, coupled with strength, skill, and determination; not just what the supreme being god instructor of the old school systems wishes to permanently install in all students, regardless of individual structure or aptitude. Great article, with great accompanying commentaries. Almost any student of fighting styles who has experienced training in Shotokan (or Goju ryu, or Shorin ryu, etc.) should relate to, and benefit greatly from this article. Thank you Brian Hines.
Posted by: Brent Nelson | August 22, 2013 at 10:26 PM
Interesting article. I have studied Shotokan for about 25 years, and been an instructor for only the few last years. For a few years I studied Chun Kuk Do, based on Tang Soo Do and Tae Kwon Do and some other styles. What is the most effective in self defense and most interesting to practice is hard to say, based on the style only. I was fortunate to have sensei's with a excellent understanding of Martial Art in both styles, and they had the ability to teach both technique as the styles , the application of techniques, and how to develop spirit.
We have to keep in mind that we have different motivation for training, but my experience is that the understanding of WHY the style tells us to train as they do is essential. And therefor the Sensei's understanding and ability. In the Shotokan style, you first have to master the basics before you are allowed to start real training. The first grade of Black Belt is named “Shodan” which means the first degree. It is only when you have achieved the first black belt you have proven that you are ready. You have developed muscles, use of the body, how to create maximum force, developed reflexes, how to analyze your opponent, the right balance between tension, speed, force, agility, bone breaking and what you need to now start training in effective self defense. You do not use the Kihon in fighting, that is just to prepare your body and mind for the real training that starts from black and up. So Shotokan demands a lot of patience and training disipline from the practitioner, and that does not fit all of us. So, I agree, Shotokan fits not all. And it reminds me, that this is an important matter continue to educate my Shotokan students about.
Posted by: Jan Helge | September 06, 2013 at 05:44 AM
By now most of us are aware of the MMA, mixed martial arts, cage-fighting phenomenon that has surpassed boxing as the preeminent fighting sport, commercially at least. The UFC has pushed boxing out of the limelight.
When MMA first started, experts from various fighting disciplines would meet in the cage. Karate vs boxers, boxers vs wrestlers, kung fu vs wrestlers, bar room brawlers vs muay thai, etc. Results varied.
When the Brazilian jiu jitsu fighters came on the scene they were dominant. No one, including black belt karate experts, could last for long against their grappling and submission skills on the ground which is where most real fights end up, sooner or later.
This changed the face of the sport. Now, it is a prerequisite to know jiu jitsu as well as wrestling and stand-up kickboxing. If you are weak in any of these areas you are unlikely to succeed in this sport.
I am wondering what practitioners of traditional karate and kung fu styles think of MMA. It seems to me that their skills, while effective against an untrained opponent or a desperate mugger, would be inadequate to deal with the variety of fighting tools in the arsenal of a good MMA fighter.
I think MMA training supplants traditional boxing, karate, kung fu in its versatility. If I were a young man today wanting to learn a self defense, I would go to an MMA gym rather than a shotokan or tae kwon do school. Also, weapons. But here I am speaking strictly of unarmed defense against an unarmed opponent. Mano a mano.
This is not intended as a put down of Shotokan/kung fu. Rather, I am saying that instead of learning how to work only on fuel injection systems, I would also want to learn how to work on transmissions and brakes, etc. in order to become a more well-rounded mechanic.
Or, I could just eat lots of doughnuts.
Posted by: tucson | September 08, 2013 at 02:44 PM
Karate is not practical, I speak from experience. It is too rigid and inflexible. The forms taught are based on patterns that dont hold water in real life. If you want to be a well-rounded martial arts expert then learn boxing, jiu jitsu, wrestlig/judo.
Posted by: Bata | September 27, 2013 at 11:25 AM
Generally people I know with a kung-fu background admire mma for what it is: a sport.
I think it's great, but my problems with it are three fold. Firstly, that type of training is very prone to injury. Most mma guys I know have messed up their joints and back.
Secondly, there is too much of an emphasis on unarmed combat and one-on-one combat. Neither assumption is realistic. Going to the ground is suicidal if two people attack you.
Finally, there is not due consideration to attacks on vital targets like groin smashing and eye gouging and throat ripping. People do lose fights by those methods on the street.
So it's a good sport, but it is not able to replace kung fu.
What I think kung fu men have learned from mma is that a good martial artist is firstly an athlete...
Posted by: Z | October 29, 2013 at 07:54 PM
Most skilled mma fighters know how to attack vital areas even though they are off limits in the cage.
MMA fighters are used to getting hit hard on a daily basis and are less likely to be stunned by a barrage of blows in a street fight.
Groin vulnerability in the "full guard" position used as a defensive posture in mma fights would be impractical in many street fight situations.
Kung fu offers a more wholistic philosophical approach than mma as well as weapons use. Some would find kung fu more satisfying in that respect while others would prefer the raw physicality of mma.
Kung fu can be practiced into old age. MMA is not for anyone much over 40 although you could be an instructor/trainer past that point.
Repeated hard blows to the head received by mma fighters are a health risk short and long term. You want to be able to remember doing the sport that caused you to lose your memory when you get older.
Posted by: tucson | October 29, 2013 at 10:05 PM
I'm getting older I studied shotokan for almost four years I want to study something I can learn to be quick at taking out my oppenant I don't want to go to the ground my body can't take it but I want yo be effient what style is for me
Posted by: Tj Davis | April 24, 2014 at 04:56 AM
Duhh, Japanese karate is an art. A modern system based on Budo principles. Everyone knows how to fight. Westerners do not understand the differences between an art, Budo and Koryu.
Posted by: Robert Gaynair | February 05, 2015 at 06:46 PM
First of all, I'm a Shotokan practitioner and I love it and I've also trained in other traditional martial arts and even some mix martial arts. A couple of things came to my mind as I read your blog. First, I dont know when you were testing how your shoulders looked because I wasn't there but if you were given feedback that you need to relax your shoulders it's for a reason. I also have that same issue and I'm constantly criticized about it and told to relax and my sensei along with my senpais explain that when you're tense you telegrapgh what you're going to do or intend to do and gives away to the opponent about what you're going to do. Whereas, being relaxed does not telegraph to your opponent what you're going to do and catches them off guard. Secondly, just because you had a bad experience in Shotokan doesn't make all Shotokan dojo's bad and ineffective. The Shotokan dojo I train in does not believe that it's for everyone and that we're superior to other martial arts. Now with that said, I have experienced martial art dojos that think their style is superior than others and I have steered clear of them because like the Karate Kid movie I liken them to a "Kobra Kai" brand of martial arts and in most cases they are a big fish in a small pond. Thirdly, as far as the "rigidity" of Shotokan for me personally it works because although I haven't been diagnosed but I think I have some form of ADD or ADHD because I get distracted and lose focus easily so having the rigidity in Shotokan really does help me with focus but ofcourse I'm only speaking for myself and perhaps for you or for anyone else in that matter may not work and that's ok. Furthermore, along with the rigidity comes the structure and I may riff some feathers here but remember this only me speaking on my personal experience I think it's important to have structure in martial arts because it gives you a foundation to build on rather than spontaneity although it seems when you get more in the upper belt levels you increasingly get more spontaniety but when you're in the lower belt phases it's more structured and less spontaneous because like I said eartlier you're building a foundation. Furthermore, I can attest that it works because I served in the military and when you're a recruit in Boot Camp you're surrounded with structure and rigidity but it's to give a soldier a foundation to build on so that when it comes to the battle field which is spontaneous and caotic the soldier can take from the tools from his/her foundation and put it to use but if you have no foundation then you have you literally have nothing.
Posted by: Kenny | September 05, 2015 at 10:55 AM
Traditional Shotokan Karate is and always have been a very effective Martial Art. Most traditional Martial Artist live a Budo way of life and has no intentions of competing.
I disagree that most real fights end up on the ground. The average street fighter doesn't know Brazilian Ju-Jitsu or Wrestling. I don't think any traditional Martial Artist would find himself on the ground in a confrontation with a street fighter.
Don't compare no holds barred fighting with Shotokan or any other tradition Martial Art. The UFC style of fighting is a sport and it's practitioners train for full contact sport fighting with rules. How would they fare against 5 attackers on the streets? A traditional Martial Artist train for discipline and self defense and train for multiple attackers both armed and un-armed.
No Martial Art style is better than the other. I have been training in Martial Arts for almost 35 years. I'm from the United States where I started my training and I've been fortunate enough to live/work and train in Okinawa, Tokyo, Europe and Africa. I'm a high ranking black belt in Shotokan Karate-Do(my bread and butter), Japanese Jujitsu, Kickboxing/Muay Thai and several other arts. I favor Shotokan and Ju-Jitsu above all, but found that no art was better than the other. Every Martial Artist should take what you think is useful from whichever art/arts you study and master it.
Stay humble and stop the criticism.
Posted by: Arcino Stanley | November 13, 2015 at 06:15 AM
I've been practicing shotokan karate for close to nine years and while you do make some good points here, I have to dissagree. I'm not going to be the one to say that shotokan is the best style of karate out there because really it is an individual choice to be made based on your physical ability. I myself am built bigger than most people my age (I'm 16 years old and im 6'0 240lbs of muscle), so because of this shotokan fits me almost like a glove. I can easily develop my power in my moves and throughout my years of training i have developed immensely in the areas of speed, flexability and explosiveness. I understand there are some who try shotokan but simply cannot attain the level of power required to advance to high levels, Ive seen many students leave my dojo because of this and because of the rigourous and rigid style of the art. I dont agree with what you said about Shotokan not being big on individuality. The form is the basis of the technique, obviously you need to have the right form or your move wont be effective. But pertaining to what you said about the situation with your shoulder, that isnt what every dojo is like. It may only be my sensei who is like this, I wouldnt know, but he trains every one of us on a personal level. Sure he trains us to do the same kata and has us all do the same moves, but he lets us add our own tweak to it as long as the base form is still present. Ive never seen this "cookie cutter" mentality that you describe.
Next, when you say that most of what is taught in shotokan isnt effective on the streets, you are mistaken. Shotokan is one of the most effective styles for self defense. Like the man who commented before me said, you can't compare traditional martial arts to UFC or MMA sport fighting in a ring. If a trained Shotokan black belt, or even a lower belt if theyre trained enough, ends up in a confrontation with one or multiple attackers, they will win. Assuming they have been properly trained. Shotokan trains you to defend yourself against single or multiple armed and un-armed attackers. The same can't be said for someone trained to take their opponent to the ground.
Posted by: Wyatt Morris | May 11, 2016 at 06:00 PM
You are still getting comments on this blog 7 years after you wrote it! That's fantastic! I am glad you found something of value in the quotes. I think my position on shotokan enthusiasts and how some of them are overly nutty is fairly reflected in a couple of your comments above.
You got to the heart of it: Karate isn't a thing, it's just an instruction set. The person make the karate. Karate isn't a way of life for everyone. Karate is a phase of life for most, and that's ok and healthy.
The people telling you things like "you don't understand karate" are just frightened because they for some reason are afraid what you wrote is true.
If it rings true for you, it probably is. Follow your heart. And best of luck.
Posted by: Rob Redmond | February 06, 2017 at 05:47 PM
If you are talking about effective Martial Arts then Traditional Shotokan Karate is the more effective martial arts. There is nothing better then learning martial arts and achieving a first class black belt. I am from India and achieved black belt. Now i am sharing my experience to train the next generation. Started karate class with name called http://www.right2fight.in On your topic of concern, i must say every martial artist has the same goal. One should respect it and take further with their mastery.
Posted by: Raj | March 02, 2017 at 03:36 AM
After passionately practicing karate for 36 years, I discovered internal Chinese martial arts and I fell in love with it. All that time practising karate I felt that something was missing, but I wasn't sure exactly what. During the pandemic, as I couldn't practice at the dojo anymore with other people, I started practising taijiquan and other internal Chinese martial arts. I immediately felt home, I felt like that's what I've been searching all those years. I grew tired of the rigidity and stiffness of Karate, particularly regarding the kata. Some karate styles like Goju-ryu claim to be using both go (strength) and ju (softness), but I don't see much softness in that style. I found a very high level of freedom, fluidity and harmony into internal Chinese martial arts. If people are comfortable with Karate or Shotokan or whatever, no problem, but I wasn't anymore. I'm happy to be on the path that I'm on right now.
Posted by: Marty J | September 29, 2022 at 11:12 AM