What’s missing in Karate today

Disclaimer: I am expressing my OWN opinions and no, there are no sales pitch in here, I am not affiliated to Amazon or any other e-commerce website, I just happen to own these books I am referring to.

Last Saturday, my newer students were in their first “Kumite” session facing each others.

To experiment, I only taught these kids some attacks and some defense outside of the “known” karate norm (the distanced, jumping, screaming tag fighting), it was just put your hands up and block the attack and counter, when close just grapple your way out instinctively.

I briefly described the rules allowed nowadays by WKF and got them started.

What I saw was a raw method of fighting (presumably they are kids) but I managed to filter some patterns. For example, one of them was mostly into grappling, so he just hit some “air” shots and then grabbed his opponent and tried to throw him to the ground. Others were into hitting each others aimlessly with no regards to distance, timing and throwing some presumably illegal shots.

In one fight, I hinted a kid to wait for the opening and hit that spot with a straight gyaku-zuki. He applied it to the book and it was very beautiful (Karate eyes wise).

That got me thinking:

I’ve read somewhere that in Karate there are no shortcuts…..

Is it true? or is it just a lack of AWARENESS of base concepts outside of Karate (or MAs in general)?


No need to teach someone what distance is, people have some sort of idea what it is but few of us are AWARE of our reach distance without practice.

Then we can move on to what to do when attacking or counter-attacking distance is met, what to do when grappling distance is met, what to do on the ground, how to move…

Luckily, a big world-wide move is happening these days toward a better understanding of Karate as it should be; pioneered by some people who are meticulously dissecting Kata bunkai and ditching useless junk; the likes of Patrick McCarthy sensei and Ian Abernethy sensei.

The resulting bunkai interpretations show more close combat focus than a far distance controlled one, talk about grappling!!

So we got that close distance fighting covered with proper Kata bunkai, a little Judo or Jujitsu won’t hurt.


Gaining AWARENESS of timing a certain technique takes practice especially since distance AWARENESS is a pre-requisite.

So timing goes hand in hand with distance.

One of the great effects of competition Karate (not full contact) is the great focus made on proper distancing and timing as well as footwork (the jumping one). I consider this a huge advantage over the mainstream stand up martial arts (non jumping around ones) for several reasons:

1- Get someone from those styles (non jumping type) to fight a Karate-ka (the jumping type) and notice how annoying it is to fight someone always on the move.

2- The distance norm has been thrown away in Karate (and some other competitive arts like TKD) when the use of slides started. Nowadays a Karate-ka can EASILY attack (with very high speed and accuracy) from a distance that is NORMALLY considered too far or safe.

3- Great speed is achievable due to the nature of Karate’s constant and repetitive practice of very well thought techniques and competitive focus.

4- The nature of scoring forces the Karate-ka to produce a very clean technique requiring excellent timing and distancing.

Feint, faking, trapping:

The most widely used approach I know about:

  1. Test the waters (fake the attack to cause alternating tension)
  2. Attack the opening when distance is met (stick to the basic attacks for beginner mode)
  3. If no opening exists, create it by feigning and combinations (Frank Brennan, Elwyn Hall and Alain Le Hetet come to mind here with excellent combinations, feigns and tricks).

But most of it is missing. Where do I start?

I only witnessed it once in fact, he was a 33 year old competitor with an old school way (like some 70’s JKA fighter) of doing stuff and so many weird hand movements that he tricked us all WATCHERs into some movement and threw a mae-geri that landed so clean it was a sight.

Where did that go? Why it disappeared? Where did it come from?

I do not know but it works, it’s proven and it should be used once I can figure out some of it basics (in my case of course, comments below for your cases).

Moving away of attacks, sabaki:

Accidentally, I noticed that it is still widely used in Kyokushin Karate in tournaments.

Coming to mind: Lyoto Machida

This has also disappeared in favor of speed and straight line attacks with the who connects first approach.

But it is proven, it works and yet again I do not know where it comes from because I don’t see it in katas while I notice it lots with Aikido practitioners.

Boxers use it in moving their heads out of danger, moving your whole body is a more advanced skill especially since everyone think they should only protect their heads and that they can take any body shot to any part which is totally ridiculous.

Strategy, Tactics:

When to use this on what opponent.

Well we see this a lot, but it’s not as smart as people think.

For example, I would say that in stand up the most important attack is low kick attack.


Because most people have no clue how to defend it and when connected…well that’s done.

In order to offer a sound stand-up self-defense, the low kick defense can never be ignored.

(It is illegal in tournaments but I think it should be re-introduced and even scored on proper contact – no need to ditch a martial art just for the sake of getting to the olympics – Football players get more injured than Karate competitors these days).

Probably relevant:

  • Is sound GROUND knowledge needed?


  • Is it advised to go to the ground?


  • Why?

Against one attacker, yep if you HAD to.

More, if you had a death wish; go for it

(no matter what some crazy BJJ people say, you can’t defend yourself on the ground against multiple opponents.

Same goes for some crazy Karate people saying that grappling skills are useless).

The Misconception of Martial Arts:

Just read “Meditations on Violence” and you’ll get an idea.

My saying: “You can’t dodge a bullet, can’t knock it out and surely can’t take it to the ground!!”.

Why did I add this point?

People need to understand the limitations of Karate and its proper use.

Fighting Spirit:

Coming to mind: Rafael Aghayev (A manifestation of indomitable spirit) – I specifically did not link to a video because there are many featuring him.

How to teach this?

I do not know if you can.

You can teach a person to become almost fearless (in fact it’s a self made journey).


Think Kyokushin again, they are not afraid of pain they always charge in no matter what

Talk conditioning, very hard one.


I believe Fighting Spirit has multiple faces:

1- Mostly related to a person’s beliefs about him/her -self especially “I am not good enough”, “I am not worthy” and cousins.

2- Mushin.

WHY do I think this way?

Mushin is a state or a level where the ability to apply proper technique at any time comes without any thought

(these thoughts will most probably come from fear or be negative in general stemming from negative beliefs).

In the context of Life in general:

  1. Mindful meditation comes to mind.
  2. Maybe reading and applying the Power of Now.
  3. Using some belief changing technique (http://www.mortylefkoe.com/)

Kumite wise; I have only one way – to teach sound reflexes:

I call it SLOW MOTION kumite.

It’s a method of continuous VERY VERY slow sparring (yep, toooooo slow).

The concept is simple, let the fighter THINK of the technique to apply at a certain moment (or as a counter) repeatedly until

it becomes a habit then he/she can let go and just BE when time comes to apply in real-time situation.

Finally, these days what I mostly notice is “medal-rage” and anger and not fighting-spirit.

I believe Fighting spirit should be devoid of feelings but driven by proper beliefs (talk Elwyn Hall  or Toshihito Kokubun).

Proper Usage:

Karate is like anything else you commit to in life,

  • It won’t teach self-discipline.
  • Won’t make you a better person.
  • Won’t take you from zero to hero.

YOU have to do this.

Karate; JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE in life is just a tool you can use for whatever purpose

and in life we all seek to become stronger, healthier etc… all in all better human beings because we need something to make our journey worthwhile and without dreams, goals and achievements our existence looks meaningless.

(Throwing in a poetic closure)


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