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Karate-Do Kyohan Facsimile Reprint – Book Review

The picture shows the Karate-Do Kyohan Facsimile Reprint.

Karate-Do Kyohan is one of the foundational works about Shotokan Karate Do by Gichin Funakoshi. Last year, Laurent Poliquin published a new facsimile reprint. Gichin Funakoshi expert Henning Wittwer reviewed the book for us.

Karate-Do Kyohan Facsimile Reprint

Some time ago I was asked by The Dojo to review a “new” book by Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957). I thought my task would be to check the Japanese to English translation and share my opinion on that matter, since I wrote earlier about some translation problems in Funakoshi’s biography. However, when I received the book, I was baffled. While the cover is in English, the content turned out to be Japanese. I found that strange. Would it not be more logical to publish a Japanese work with a Japanese title?

The cover proclaims that the book is a “facsimile reprint of the original 1935 edition” of Funakoshi’s 1935 Karate-dō Kyōhan. I made out an English “foreword” by Laurent Poliquin, who identifies as “senpai” and a member of a karate organisation, which turned out to be one of the many derivatives of JKA. The reason he wrote the forward is unclear to me. Is he the person responsible for the facsimile reprint copy? The copyright of the book refers not to him but a company in Canada.

Gichin Funakoshi

Objections to the Forward

In the “foreword” Poliquin tries to connect the facsimile reprint copy with the previously published English edition by Ōshima Tsutomu, and a translation done by Harumi Suzuki-Johnston in 2005. Poliquin is quick in pointing out that the two English versions did not have the benefit of a “revision by the author.” He wrongly claims that some of the content of Ōshima’s English edition has been altered. While this seems to be true when we compare it with the early editions of Funakoshi’s Kyōhan one has to understand that Ōshima translated a 1958 version of Funakoshi’s work that was finished during the lifetime of the author. Ōshima decided to include some parts of the 1935 edition to enhance the content.

Another uninformed claim by Poliquin is that the Suzuki-Johnston edition is a close reproduction of the 1935 version of Kyōhan. While this is what the advertisement states, in truth it is based on a Japanese reprint from 1985, not identical to the first edition as it claims.

The Page Order of Karate-Do Kyohan

First, the pages were “adapted” so that one can turn over the leaves in the “western” way, which means one reads the left page first and continues with its facing right page next. This works in theory only in this case, since the Japanese version is an old-style book intended to be read from the right to the left page. This reversed order of the original Japanese pages results in creating an awkward reading experience. To give an easy to understand example I simply refer to the photos for the kata Heian Shodan, which are presented side by side in the order of the kata. In the Japanese original the order of the photos is:

4 – 3 – 2 – 1 ←

This makes perfect sense if one reads it as intended from right to left, which everyone able to read Japanese would do. However, in the facsimile reprint copy the order of the photos from left to right is:

→ 2 – 1 – 4 – 3

So even if one is able to recognize the Japanese numbers for the sequence of the photos, one has to concentrate in order to understand the intended flow of the illustrations, which is mixed up now. In fact, already looking for the original page numbers turns out to be difficult since they are in the middle of the fold, just one example of how the printing quality of the facsimile reprint reminds me of cheap photocopies.

The Digital Version of the Karate-Do Kyohan

Since I was asked to review this book, I have to emphasize one important point. Years ago, a digital version of Funakoshi’s Kyōhan appeared online, which is what the publisher of this facsimile reprint copy appears to have copied, although the publisher does not mention this.

For example, Ogasawara Naganari (1867–1958) presented Funakoshi with a beautiful calligraphy. A photo of it appears in Funakoshi’s Kyōhan. In the digital version two little paper marks can be seen in the upper part of this picture. Naturally these paper marks are absent in other exemplars of the Kyōhan. Yet, one can see them in facsimile reprint.

Similarly, the photo illustrating the hand weapon “ipponnukite” in the digital version shows a scratch on the back of the hand as well as a white circle bottom corner. The same signs appear in the facsimile reprint.

Finally, notice to the seals at the imprint of the book. If one compares the position of the seals in the digital version with the facsimile reprint copy one notes that they are identical.

This means that the editor of facsimile reprint copy simply makes profit out of an initiative to advance academic research in karate. The result of such behaviour is that other researchers or institutions will be more hesitant to share the fruits of their labor in the future.

About the Author

Henning Wittwer took up his karate practice in 1992. From the beginning he followed the Shotokan current, initially in the more sport and tournament orientated organizations. Since 2005 he published his translations of old Japanese sources and his research regarding karate in German as well as in English journals and magazines. Wittwer is the author of many books. For his English books please see Amazon.

The picture shows Henning Wittwer´s book about Gichin and Yoshitaka Funakoshi. Henning is also our reviewer of the Karate-Do Kyohan.
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TAISEI: Most famous Karate Gi in Japan in The Dojo Shop

The picture shows Tadashi Ishikawa wearing a Taisei Karate Gi.

TAISEI belongs to the most popular Karate Gi brands in Japan. However, the premium Karate Gi manufacturer is almost unknown in the West despite famous brand ambassadors like Tadashi Ishikawa (8th Dan) from JKS. The Dojo is going to change this now. “Together with our distribution partner SaikoSports are we going to offer three of TAISEI´s premium Karate Gis in our The Dojo Shop: KAZE, MIZU, and HI“, says Dr. Christian Tribowski, managing director of The Dojo. Read here the full story about TAISEI and what makes their Karate Gis so special.

TAISEI: The Story

In Japanese Dojos we see TAISEI’s karate suits everywhere … serious and disciplined Karateka in perfectly fitting Keikogis. We could feel the tension in the air. And the aesthetics of their movements is still persistent in our mind.

Dr. Philipp Lang, Managing Director, SaikoSports

TAISEI means “peaceful life,” said Kenzo Takasu, smiling but firmly. Mr. Takasu is the owner and master tailor of TAISEI. He started karate over 40 years ago and still trains himself. But right from the start of his Karate life, Mr. Takasu was confronted with a major problem for Karatekas: bad fitting Keikogis. Luckily Mr. Takasu is a master tailor by training. So, he decided to utilize his skills to solve this problem.

The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
Mr. Kenzo Takasu in his workshop

For several years, he improved his own Karate Gis by changing their shapes and sizes in order to make them more comfortable and visually appealing. During that time, he gained a lot of experience about the optimal cut and the perfect material for a Keikogi. He learned what it takes to create a Dogi that fits well, has an elegant and traditional design but is yet robust and long-lasting.

His improvements and redesigns of his Karate Gis even caused the interest of his Senseis. Therefore, he started to alter their Karate Gis, too. Not long after that, he also took care of the Keikogis for his fellow Karateka in his Dojo.

The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
Mr. Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
The picture shows the TAISEI workshop.
The TAISEI workshop in Aichi prefecture in central Japan.

The demand for his alterations grew significantly. Due to this success and and because of his wish, to design own Dogis, he opened his own workshop in his home prefecture, Aichi, in central Japan. Here a very traditional Japanese building he designs and sews all Dogis by himself. For Mr. Takasu traditional designs and most comfortable but elegant cuts are of paramount importance.

His Karate Gis even caused the attention of Karatekas far beyond Aichi. Today, TAISEI officially supplies one of the biggest Karate associations in Japan. Renowned grand master Tadashi Ishikawa (8th Dan) of the JKS is one of the most prominent ambassadors of the TAISEI Karate Gis.

The picture shows Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.
Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa wears the TAISEI Karate Gi.
The picture shows Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.
The picture shows shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.

Mr. Takasu is very happy about the endorsement of by Karate grand masters like Shihan Ishikawa. He says that his craft, like karate, is one of the few constants in our fast paced life’s. The master himself, however, is at rest. He sings songs during his work and still using his JUKI sewing machine. Seeking always perfection and premium quality in his work he puts the values ​​of Karate-Do into every handmade Dogi. The new owner should feel the spirit in every part of the Keikogi.

The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
Mr. Kenzo Takasu and his JUKI sewing machine

What makes TAISEI different!

The key to optimal Karate training lies, on the one hand, in the execution of techniques. On the other hand, the fabric and cut of the Karate Gi is also very important. It must perfectly fit, give enough freedom to move, and must look good. It also must be manufactured under humane and ecological sustainable conditions. Then, a Karateka can fully concentrate on karate training. “

Dr. Philipp Lang, Managing Director, SaikoSports

Three major features make TAISEI Dogis special and different:

  1. Triangle Cut: It makes the Karate techniques faster and more precise without resistance.
  2. Japanese Blue-White Effect: The Karate Gi stays longer white.
  3. 180° Movement of Legs: Guarantees absolute freedom for the legs in Karate training.

Beside that, TAISEI Keikogis distinguish themselves from other brands through some more features. The traditional Japanese cut of TAISEI is the result of decades of experience by Mr. Takasu. He has compared cuts of other brands to find the best fit for Karate training. The different Karate Gis, TAISEI offers, differ mainly regarding their fabric thickness: HI (13 ounces), MIZU (11 ounces), and KAZE (9 ounces).

The picture shows Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.
The picture shows Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.

The special cut enables absolute freedom of movement for the arms thanks to the high seam under the armpits. How high the level of craftsmanship of Mr. Takasu is can be observed at the seams of the suits. They are processed from the inside out and have a barely noticeable inner web. Every Dogi comes with an integrated inlay in the upper back area.

All Karate Gis are made in Japan and from 100% pure and high quality cotton (original canvas cotton). That gives the suit an impressive and inimitable sound.

No Difference between Kata and Kumite!

Another major feature of TAISE GIs is that there is no difference between Kata or Kumite Gis. All Karate Gis come with a traditional cut.

However, heavy Karate Gis are often preferred for Kata. Light ones, on the other hand, fit better to Kumite. TAISEI offers Karate Gis between 9 and 13 ounces.

TAISEI Karate Gis

The Dojo is going to offer three TAISEI Keikogis in The Dojo Shop:

KAZE 9 oz

KAZE (風) literally means “wind” in Japanese. The lightness and elegance of the TAISEI KAZE Karate Gi gives the feeling of being surrounded by pure and fresh air.

The picture shows the Kaze Karate Gi from Taisei.
The picture shows the Kaze Karate Gi from Taisei.

MISU 11 oz

MIZU (水) literally means “water” in Japanese. The dynamic and straight elegance of the TAISEI MIZU Karate Gi gives the feeling of water in constant flow.

The picture shows the MIZU Karate Gi.
The picture shows the MIZU Karate Gi.

HI 13 oz

HI (火) literally means “fire”. The energetic and powerful elegance of the Taisei HI Karate Gi gives the untamable strength and creative power of a blaze.

The picture shows the HI Karate Gi by Taisei.
The picture shows the HI Karate Gi by Taisei.

All TAISEI Karate Gis can be individually embroidered upon request.

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How Karate@Home makes Online Karate Possible

The picture shows the logo of Karate@Home.

Karate@Home has filled a void. Online classes have long been a taboo in Karate – especially in traditional Karate. Serious instructors did not teach online. That was the common sense until recently. Karate would need physical contact and online classes would lead to the McDojoization of Karate. The result was a wide field of dubious online Karate providers in the internet but no serious and professional supply of seminars and classes. Some McDojo´s even advertised their seminars with absurd promises like “Black Belt in 100 Days!” For the wast majority of Karateka online classes were, therefore, off-limits.

However, the global COV-19 outbreak and the official measures to deal with the pandemic like social distancing and prohibition of contact sports made it impossible to train together in a Dojo. Within a few weeks and sometimes days Dojos had to shut down their operations and cities and whole countries went into lock down. Joint training sessions and classes became unthinkable for month. And nobody knew when the Dojos would reopen again.

How has Karate@Home emerged?

Instead of waiting until the end of the pandemic, some proactive instructors and Karateka took the opportunity and moved their classes online. They wanted to offer their students and members at least a bit of training and relief from the uncertain and stressful situation.

So did Martin Buchstaller, 5th Dan from the Cologne, Germany, former member of the German national team and former president of the German JKA branch DJKB. He streamed his first online class on Facebook on March 19, 2020. It came as a surprise for him that besides his students many of his Karate friends from around the world joint the training while they were locked in their homes.

Among them was a friend of Martin, Nadja Koerner, 3th Dan, also former German national team member and currently based with her husband in the USA. Due to the positive feedback Martin received both teamed up and decided to create an online Dojo on Facebook. The name Karate@Home suggested itself because most parts of the world had to stay at home. Therefore, the living room, the home office, or the bed room turned into a Dojo for the desperate Karateka.

Martin and Nadja described their motivation for the creation of Karate@Home as follows: “We’re trying to help in his challenging time of the virus. People have to stay at home and they are afraid of loosing family members and friends.” Their online classes, therefore, offered a relief and kept Karateka training despite the hardship of the pandemic.

The picture shows Nadja and Martin, the co-founders of Karate@Home.
Nadja Koerner and Martin Buchstaller have founded Karate@Home and manage it.

How does Karate@Home work?

Today, Karate@Home offers a Facebook page, a Youtube channel, and Instagram account. Interested Karateka can watch previous training sessions and discuss their most favorite hobby: Karate. The center of gravitation, however, is the Karate@Home Facebook group with more than 15,600 members from over 110 countries. Here Karateka can find a calendar for the daily online Karate classes, further information, and the watch parties in which the training sessions take place. Everyday, one 1-hour session is offered. The instructors, who lead the seminars, come also from all over the world. Talented but less prominent instructor teach classes as well as prominent instructors like Shinji Akita, Yoshinobu Ohta, Don Sharp, and Shane Dorfman.

After deciding to start the Karate@Home project Nadja and Martin reached out to their vast network. “We rallied our network and had soon a full schedule of top instructors (former world champion from Canada, chief instructor JKA England, Sweden, Norway, etc) till the end of the May.” Since May, the network has grown. Talented but less prominent instructor teach classes as well as prominent instructors like Shinji Akita, Yoshinobu Ohta, Don Sharp, and Shane Dorfman. They even managed to organize an online class with Lyoto and one with Chinzo Machida.

The Costs of Karate@Home

Nadja and Martin conceive Karate@Home as a Shotokan-only, non-political, non-profit, and despite the JKA logo in their official brand logo “Karate@Home” non-association based community. That means that both handle the whole work and project just by themselves without external money or manpower. And yet: all classes can be taken for free.

The picture shows the official logo of Karate@Home.
The official header image of the Karate@Home Facebook page.

Therefore, Nadja and Martin shoulder the costs like tremendous work hours and expenses of Karate@Home by themselves. Martin commented, for instance: “I only slept 3 hours per night during the first 4 weeks. After I arrived home from the office, I had to announce the instructors online, took part in the sessions, said thank you to the instructor and went back to the computer to organize the next day class.” The amount of passion, determination, and the readiness to make sacrifices to start and run Karate@Home has been enormous.

And Nadja and Martin still show there gratitude. Every instructor, who has taught a Karate@Home classes, receives a certificate in a classical Japanese look.

The picture shows a Karate@Home certificate.
Every instructor receives a Karate@Home certificate after they have held their class.

Faster than the Big Associations

But their determination and willingness to go the extra mile during a global health crises has paid-off. On the one hand, Karate@Home gave many Karate practitioners hope, relief, a community, and a sense of doing something during the difficult times at home.

On the other hand, it has proven that a serious online Karate concept can work. While, of course, it cannot replace real life interactions in a Dojo, it makes it possible to train with instructors from all over the global without the burden of flying and high expenses for airfare, accommodation, seminar fees, and food. By utilizing the means of digital media. All it requires is a strict sense of quality or, as Nadja and Martin say: “certain standards”.

By doing so Karate@Home has even shown the big Shotokan associations what is possible. Especially the JKA has set up its online program only recently. Without a doubt Karate@Home started quick-and-dirty (a common phrase in the world of digital startups). It had the advantage that it did not have to consider established structures like associations have to. It could start from scratch. But to utilize this advantage and to make things like an online Dojo possible it takes courage, ingenuity, pragmatism, and team work – and very little sleep.

What are Future Challenges for Karate@Home?

But will the success story go on? Karate@Home has established itself as a serious player in the online Karate field. Like every organization or social movement it also faces some challenges which it has to overcome or, at least, has to manage. What are these challenges? We think there are at least three.

Will the Interest in Online Karate be the same after COV-19?

Time will tell. But Karate@Home did not require large investments. So even when the curve of interest flattens the losses will be small. A small poll among their members in their Facebook group suggests that their will be Karateka interested in online Seminars even after COV-19. How big this group will be is uncertain and has to be tested.

However, Nadja and Martin have already plans for the post-COV-19 era. One is to visit every instructor, who taught a Karate@Home class. Considering the roughly 100 instructors they hosted so far, this will be a challenges in itself – but a rather nice one. Beside that they plan 3-day Karate weekend boot camps. One boot camp took already place. The concept behind the boot camps is to bring instructors and students together. So, every camp will host a few instructors. Hence, Karate@Home will branch out into the field of offline seminars in real life.

Will Karate@Home stay Non-Profit?

Today, Karate@Home is not a non-profit. It is simply for free. Martin and Nadja do not charge money. Thus, they question must be: Will it become a non-profit? The difference between a non- and a for-profit organization is the following: A non-profit charges only as much money as it needs to maintain its structure and operations. A for-profit organization also charges that amount of money and everything else it can get.

Considering the time and money Karate@Home has spent for the global Shotokan community so far, it seems legit and necessary that it becomes a non-profit in order to to grow and to maintain the professional standards it has established.

Will the Big Associations tolerate Karate@Home?

The market for real life Karate seminars was already saturated before COV-19. Japanese and non-Japanese instructors offered regularly seminars. The amount of seminars was so high that in some cases even overlaps took place where one Japanese instructor taught in the same country or state on the same weekend as another Japanese instructor. Conflicts about the best dates took place and angry instructors and organizers blamed each other to behave unfair by not informing each other upfront.

The market for online classes has only recently emerged and Karate@Home used its first mover advantage and established itself as a serious player. However, one can doubt that the incumbent instructors and associations will give away shares of the tight seminar market to a new challenger voluntarily. We can only hope that Karate@Home does not enter unintentionally a realm it actually wanted to stay away from: politics.

What are Future Chances for Karate@Home?

Despite the challenges Karate@Home has even more chances and opportunities. What are those?

Opening up to other Styles!

At first, Karate@Home could include other Karate styles. This would consequential because its name is not Shotokan@Home. While many Karateka might hesitate to visit a Dojo or seminar of a different style they might be willing to take part in an online seminar. The barriers of entry are much lower online than offline. Karate@Home could, therefore, become an integrative Karate seminar platform that offers the full range of styles and brings the global Karate community closer together.

Special Seminars

Second, Karate@Home could offer special seminars for special purposes and aims like Kumite, Kihon, Kata as well as test and competition preparation. The specialization offers a good way to serve the needs of Karateka. And it also makes the seminars more predictable for students. They know upfront what to expect and can prepare themselves for the class.

Karate@Home Foundation!

Last but not least, Karate@Home could become a non-profit organization with a structure and operations. This would give Nadja and Martin the leverage to develop a professional system with a division of labor and volunteers who seek to engage. To keep it free of politics the organization could adapt the form of a foundation with a clear aim and structure. Then it could also collect member fees, apply for public funding, and would have a legal representation. It would also release Nadja and Martin from the burden of managing and organizing everything because many more shoulders could carry the foundation.

On the other hand, it would guarantee the future of Karate@Home. Because social movements have the the advantage of being fast. But there are to sides of the same coin. They appear very fast and they disappear fast. A selfsustaining organization would, therefore, be a next step worth to consider.

However, we wish that Karate@Home has come to stay and we say thank you to Nadja and Martin for they service to the Karate community!

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Violence Prevention: More Fight in the Dojo, less Fight in the Street

The picture shows Thomas Prediger who says that Sport Karate is a "perverted system". He also sees a great potential for kumite in violence prevention.

Violence prevention is a major part of Karate. The one who trains in Karate becomes less prone to be violent. The reason for this is that Karate comprises of two aspects other sports usually do not offer: The experience of controlled violence as an attacker and defender as well as the regulated setting for learning how to deal with violence. A good Karate education with regular Kumite makes children, adolescents, and adults less violent. Therefore, more fights in the Dojo means less fight in the streets. By Thomas Prediger

The Violence Prevention Paradox of Kumite

From a violence prevention standpoint this may sound odd: more fights in the Dojo leads to less fights in the street. But every experienced Karate teacher will make the same observation. Let’s say, for example, that an aggressive and violent adolescent joins a dojo. The young person has difficulties controlling his anger and gets into fights on a regular basis. But after some months or years the adolescent calms down, gets more control over himself, and starts reacting less emotionally and more rationally in stressful situations.

One school teacher reported to me recently: “We can clearly see which students attend the Karate group in our school, and which do not. The ones who train Karate twice a week have become calmer, even when they are provoked or bullied. Even when another student hits them they maintain their cool and do not let the situation slip out of their hands. One year ago, they would go ballistic.”

No child, teenager, or adult from an unstable and challenging background with many years of experiencing violence will become Gandhi over night. But Kumite helps them to understand themselves and violence in all its facets. Eventually, they learn life-skills “that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life” (WHO 2012: 29) and which aggressive and violent people lack most of the time.

Kumite: Violence in a Structured Environment

What is the concept of violence in Karate and Kumite? At first, one experiences violence through physical pressure and contact. When two Karateka face each other even in the simplest form of Kumite like Gohan Kumite, the Uke (defender) has to defend his or her position. Tori, the attacker, has to put pressure on Uke by attacking with speed and power. The more advanced the Karateka become, the higher the likelihood that an unblocked attack will cause pain and injuries.

However, Kumite takes place in a very structured environment, unlike a street fight. Adherence to rules prevent the Kumite from becoming a brawl. They are structured in a way to evoke certain actions.

Kumite as Role Play

Gohon, Sanbon, Kihon Ippon, and Jiyu Ippon Kumite are all settings for role play. One plays the role of Uke, while another plays the role of Tori. Both roles are equally important. One has to execute violence in order to understand what happens when one does it. Especially in Kihon and Jiyu Ippon Kumite one also has the role to take and to cope with violence inflicted on oneself. In such a situation one cannot act based on raw instincts. First, Uke has to analyze and understand the situation. Second, Uke has to react within a prescribed set of techniques.

This role play offers an interesting insight: The Karateka cannot avoid the situation. Thus, he or she has to deal with it. Through this pattern, Karateka learn to deal and experience both roles: Being an attacker and being a defender.

The outcome is twofold: They see what happens when they apply violence, and they experience what happens inside them when they become a recipient of violence.

Introspection and Self-reflection

To master this inner state of uncertainty, any Karateka will need Kihon training. During Kihon, which requires introspection and self-reflection, they become aware of their own physical and mental processes.

But the prerequisite for the deeper understanding of violence is physical contact. Tori must step into the physical comfort zone of Uke. One must learn to deal with the intruder, and not become stressed by the opponents behavior. Especially at the beginning, Gohon Kumite requires courage. One must stand and wait until Tori attacks. Uke is not allowed to retreat or flee. So, Tori sets the pace. Thus, Uke must control his or her impulses and reactions. Maybe the intuitive reaction would be to run away or to attack. Both are prohibited.

The highest form of the role play is Randori like Jiyu Kumite. It increases the complexity and degrees of freedom for both Karateka. It is a double-role setting where both Karateka are Uke and Tori at the same time. Depending on the rules, dangerous punches and kicks are allowed. Hence, Randori requires experience and skill to manage one’s emotions and impulses to be successful. It is not a brawl. The winner will be the Karateka who manages the unpredictability of the fight, not the most aggressive one. Literally translated, Randori means “chaos taking.”

During training the Karateka will become acquainted with different violence situations. The exposure to violence in a controlled setting trains their understanding of violence.

The Role of the Instructor in Kumite Training for Violence Prevention

What is the role of the insctructor during the process? Karate is rule-based, but not self-structured. Thus, the instructor has at least two functions:

  • First, the instructor must be trustworthy and a role model. Students will follow when they believe that the instructor has experienced what he or she teaches.
  • Second, the instructor must recognize when situations become too intense. Then, the instructor has to intervene immediately. That does not mean that the instructor stops the exercise. Rather, it means to redirect the rising tension. The instructor has to create situations that push the students out of their comfort zone so that they experience some stress. That requires some experience and education on the part of the instructor.

A good Karate instructor is, therefore, somebody who knows situations of high emotional and cognitive uncertainty for Karate students. That counts even more for students with a history of violence as an aggressor and/or victim.

Kumite teaches Life-Skills, which lead to Violence Prevention

What actually happens to a Karateka during Karate and Kumite training that leads to violence prevention? They learn, improve, and strengthen their life skills. In its briefing about Violence Prevention from 2012 the World Health Organization ranks life skills as one of seven major factors for the reduction of violence. But what does the phrase “life skills” mean? According to the WHO they mean:

“abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.” (p. 29)

The list of life skills that prevent violence:

  • Self-Awareness: self-esteem and confidence building, self-monitoring, self-evaluation, goal setting, etc;
  • Self-Management: anger and stress management, time management, coping skills, controlling impulses, relaxation, etc;
  • Social Awareness: empathy, active listening, recognizing and appreciating individual and group differences, etc;
  • Relationships: negotiation, conflict management, resisting peer pressure, networking, motivation, etc; and
  • Responsible Decision-Making: Information gathering, critical thinking, and evaluating consequences of actions

Karate is one piece of a larger puzzle. All these life skills become habits during Karate and especially Kumite training. But it further depends on the social environment where a student is embedded, relationships to parents and caregivers, etc. But through Karate’s focus on etiquette and ethics, as stipulated in the Dojo kun and Niju kun, regular training can have a specific effect on violence prevention. Karate has the potential to create a value system for students in how to behave and abstain in violent situations.

Children and Adults Learn to Cope with Violence

Karate training has a high education value for children. They are a tabula rasa and must learn to judge their own feelings. The concept of violence is abstract for them. They know that violence in any form is uncomfortable.

But it also holds a high value for adults and violence. For Adults, who have had already experienced violence as a victor or aggressor, can also gain a more productive relationship to it. Most of the time they are blocked to talk and reflect about it because societal rules declare violence to be a taboo. This attitude leads to a counterproductive effect: It creates enormous inner tension that can lead to more physical violence. However, this tension has to leave the body and mind. Karate offers a relief and teaches the life skills to cope with it. Hence it has a huge effect on violence prevention.

Conclusion: Kumite and Violence Prevention

Violence stems from, among other factors, a lack of life skills. Karate teaches these life skills, and does so in a structured and controlled violent setting. Karateka learn through their education to deal with violence, to feel empathy, to understand the consequences, to control their fears and aggression, and to resist pressure.

In Kumite they develop these skills in actual violent situations in order to control and tame the violence. They training of Kumite mitigates violence instead of increasing it. Therefore, Karate has a huge potential for violence prevention and is a active means to help individuals to “deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life.” Hence, the paradox of more fights in the Dojo leads to less fights in the street dissolves. Violence prevention does not mean eradicating it, but rather, civilizing and developing an educated relationship to it.

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Relaxation: Kime and Ki Revisited

The picture shows Hirokazu Kanazawa. His Seiken and Ki were tremendous. In this picture he does a Choku-zuki. But today, relaxation must become the focal point of Shotokan.

Relaxation has long been underestimated in Shotokan Karate. Kime, understood as muscle tension, was the major aim. However, recent developments call to revisit Kime and Ki in the light of relaxation. Relaxation before and after a technique should be the focal point of Shotokan Karate. By Dr. Wolf Herbert

When you have learnt Shotokan Karate at its beginnings in Europe, the 1960´s up to the 1980´s , the word you most likely have heard most often in the Dojo was: “kime”. It was mainly understood as a contraction of the whole body’s musculature at the end of a technique. It was (and is?) the hallmark of the powerful and dynamic way Karate was/is practiced and spread by the JKA (Japan Karate Association). However, Funakoshi Gichin mentioned “kime” nowhere in his books. So where does the notion come from?

John Cheetham explored this question amidst an ongoing discussion in some insightful articles in his “Shotokan Karate Magazine” (Cheetham 2019 a/b).

Early Definitions of Kime

Nakayama Masatoshi

He claims that Nakayama Masatoshi never used the term “kime” in his first book. I leafed through the Japanese original (Nakayama 1965) and found that he does not in fact use “kime” as a noun anywhere, however as a verb (kimeru) it appears on p. 116. It corresponds to the following passage in his book Dynamic Karate (Nakayama 1966: 102). My literal translation from the Japanese original would be:

“Generally ‘waza (technique) o kimeru’ means to let a well-controlled power explode instantaneously on a chosen target.”

In the English version (where there is no mention of kime or kimeru) the translation reads: “Remember that an effective technique in karate is produced by a concentrated blast of power at the moment of impact.”

Nakayama repeatedly writes about “kimewaza” in the sense of “decisive technique”, however not of “kime” as an isolated notion. It almost seems that kime as a word/noun and concept has been taken out of its context and reduced to its physical/muscular aspect.

Nishiyama Hidetaka

The word “kime”, however, is explicitly used by Nishiyama Hidetaka in his book Karate. The art of empty hand fighting and he calls it “focus”:

“Briefly, ‘focus’ in karate refers to the concentration of all the energy of the body in an instant on a specific target.” (Nishiyama & Brown 1960: 21).

This definition notably resembles the one we have seen in Nakayamas use of it as a verb. Nakayama and Nishiyama obviously shared the same idea about kime and its application. John Cheetham quotes further from Nishiyamas book (Cheetham 2019a: 10; 2019b: 30):

“As the fist nears the target its speed is increased to its maximum point, and at the moment of impact the muscles of the entire body are tensed. … This, in essence, is what ‘focus’ in karate means.”

Now, if you read on, you find the following:

“It should not be forgotten that this maximum exertion of energy is instantaneous and in the next instant is withdrawn in preparation for the next movement, i.e., the muscles are relaxed, the breath inhaled, and a position appropriate for the next technique assumed.” (Nishiyama & Brown 1960:21)


I would argue that exactly this (“relax”) was forgotten by many practitioners (and teachers!) back in the early days of Shotokan in the West. “More kime, more kime!” was the battle cry or mantra of the day and lead to hypertensed, stiff, and awkward Karate-moves.

We all know the term waza no kankyu as being one of the principles that should be observed when executing a Kata. It relates to the slowness and quickness of technique. The term kankyu (緩急) is written with two characters, of which the first means: “to loosen, relax” and the second: “swift, rapid”.

Nakayama Takatsugu, a karateka and physiotherapist, gives this an interesting interpretation in regard to “kime”. He describes “kime” as a flow from “loose” (kan) to “rapid” (kyu) to “loose” (kan). The body goes from very loose to strong for an instant, only to loosen up again (Nakayama 2013: 92). It is a snapping move like the one of a spring, which is compressed, then releases its power and immediately returns to its original state. The bigger the amplitude is between relaxation and tension, the bigger the power unleashed. It can also be likened to a wave hitting the shore and pulling back.

Muchimi and the Loosening of the Hip


This reminds me of muchimi, one of the Okinawan principles, which defines a powerful technique. Kime is not emphasized in Okinawan styles. It really seems to be an invention by Nakayama and Nishiyama based on the assumption that tension as such produces power, a (mis)conception imported from Western sports science. John Cheetham (2019a: 11) actually asked Kanazawa Hirokazu after a course in 2004:

“’Where did this ‘physical kime’ concept originate and who developed it?’

He replied without hesitation:

‘It was Nakayama sensei’s idea.’”

Muchimi is interpreted in two ways: Mi (身) can either stand for “body” or differently written (味) for “taste” (metaphorically: “feeling, quality”). “Muchi” is the Okinawan pronunciation of the Japanese “mochi”. This is a sticky, glutinous cake made of pounded steamed rice. In this sense muchimi describes a tough, but supple body and also technically to stick flexibly to your opponent in an altercation. One more meaning derives from the Japanese word “muchi” (鞭 whip), thus implying one should use ones body like a whip. A whip lashed out causes as much damage by its initial impact as it does by the laceration due to the pullback movement.

Whip-lash Hip

Now, the whip hip or double hip, which has been revived in Shotokan by Naka Tatsuya Sensei, is applied mostly and widely in short range techniques in Okinawan Karate. Kagi zuki (鉤突, hook punch) in Tekki Shodan can serve as a good example. Executed in “whip hip style” means, that a slight pulling back of the hips before the punch, initiates relaxation, and is followed by the speed of the thrust and throwing in of the hips in the direction of the tsuki. On impact the hip snaps back and again a full body relaxation is achieved. This is the perfect cycle between relaxation – momentary tension – relaxation.

Naka Tatsuya using the “whip hip” during Tekki Shodan. This is the foundation for relaxed motions in Shotokan.

This corresponds to John Cheethams bow and arrow analogy. The orthodox understanding of kime looks at the end of the technique, whereas it is equally important how the action starts.

“If you forget about the completion, and focus on the start, the drive from the legs followed by the rotation of the hips and trunk in conjunction with the breath – as long as you have a good, strong fist position, (which is vital) the arm should just fly out like a missile with unimpeded speed which ends with the fist doing the damage at whatever point or distance it lands. … It’s the speed and release of the rotation of the body which fires the punch (arm and fist). The Archer will focus on the target with calmness, relaxation, before releasing the arrow. We should apply that same principle to our karate!” (Cheetham 2019b: 30-1).

It is again the cycle of “loose-taut-loose”. You cannot deliver a fast punch, when you are tightened up at the inception of the thrust.

Dr. Wolf Herbert showing how the whip hip and kagi zuki work. Relaxation is the key.

Relaxation and the Flow of Ki

Therefore the interesting points are the start (relaxation), the target/impact/”end” and to me even more so: what happens after the “end”: the implosion or total relaxation. This is known in Taijiquan as “opening/releasing” and “closing/receiving”. “Opening” means that the ki (“internal/vital energy”) is sent out into the extremities of the body and beyond while executing a technique (an attack). When “closing” one lets the ki flow back and accumulate again in the lower abdomen. This is harmonized with breathing, exhalation when “opening” and inhalation during “closing”.

A Shotokan-Karateka in Osaka displaying an exemplary whip hip (muchimi 鞭身) and nimble alternation between tension and relaxation:

While the ki-flow is mentally guided in Taijiquan and the movements are soft and of uniform tempo (andante) in an uninterrupted flow, in Karate they are swift, forceful, abruptly stopped and explosive. The velocity with which the ki is transported is different, but the effect is the same in the end. From a health-exercise view the flow of the ki is harmonized, and blockages are removed. Ki is virtually sent through the whole body from head to toe, thus one feels refreshed after a good Karate training session, even if one is physically exhausted.

Kime and Ki

Kanazawa Hirokazu makes a connection between Kime and Ki in his autobiography Karate – My life (2003: 266):

“There are three kinds of ki, which manifest in the tanden, or lower abdomen, which serves as the central powerhouse of our bodies. Tai-ki is the energy drawn from the atmosphere, chi-ki from the ground, and nai-ki resides within the body. This flows through our spine and explodes out of our fists, and this instant is termed kime, or focus.” 

It may be noted that kime (or “kimeru” as a verb) can actually be written with two different characters. The one denoting “to decide, determine” (kimeru 決める) is often used and well known. The other character (kime 極め) means: “to go to the end, to go to extremes, the apex”. In the Japanese original Kanazawa prefers the latter for “climax” rather than the former in the sense of “decisive point”. Written with 極 kime has a strong psychological connotation with the nuances of “sharp, one-pointed concentration” or “maximal single-mindedness”.

One more linguistic remark: the ki in kime (it is just the first syllable) has nothing to do with the ki in the Chinese meaning of “universal energy”, which is a word in itself and written with a completely different character (氣 simplified 気). The term “ki” has an esoteric tang in the West, but it can be understood quite rationally. Allow me to give a brief explanation. I shall concentrate on the aspect called nai-ki by Kanazawa and pick up an attempt to describe it from a former article on the fore fist (seiken).

What can Qi/ki mean? An approximation

Qi (Chn.)/ki (Jpn.) is a psychosomatic holistic concept. In Western anatomy one tends to dissect and separate everything according to function, whereas in eastern thinking the interconnection and homeostasis of the whole body/mind/spirit is central. A mind/matter or soul/body-dualism is not dominant.

Thus, ki has material and immaterial aspects. It is and flows in the bones, the marrow, the muscles, the blood and circulatory system, the lymphatic and the nervous system, the organs, glands, spine and brain and the meridians which connect everything. Ki pervades the totality of physical functions and the mind, which is the conductor in this orchestra. Ki is the regulator or monitor of a fluid balance and the harmonious interplay of all the above mentioned elements.

It has to be stated that Qi/ki has historically never been defined consistently. The concept changed over the centuries from a cosmological/metaphysical one to a more “anthropological” and recently, even a materialistic one. There is a lot of research conducted in the West and in China (under the influence of Western science) to pinpoint what ki might be, or even to find methods to measure it.

Research into bioelectromagnetic fields has shown some correlation with the nervous system and mental states. Others concentrate on mitochondrial function and heart rate variability. But these attempts can only highlight and pick out aspects of ki rather than “measure” it in its totality. No single instrument might ever be able to gauge it, not least because of its immaterial aspects.

Because ki acts as a psychosomatic regulatory feedback system it is so encompassing, its definition is pliable and can easily be recalibrated or adapted to beliefs or research interests. We can nevertheless operate with ki as a phenomenon, a sensation or hypothesis, empirically corroborated by a legion of practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine and martial arts throughout the ages.

The Regulation of Ki and Health

Health in the Chinese understanding means that ki can flow freely and without blockages or occlusions. Latter occurrences lead to sickness and indisposition. Acupuncture, moxibustion, massages, gymnastics and meditation (visualization) were developed from time immemorial to guarantee an unimpeded ki-flow. The martial arts were practiced in this context.

Good martial art practice is said to open the energy channels, eliminate blockages and harmonize the flow of ki. Ki can be mobilized, directed and circulated by conscious mental activity. The standard formulas are: “Where the thinking/mind (意 Jpn. i, Chn. yi) is, there is ki.” “Guiding the ki with the thinking/mind”.

Another term widely used in internal martial arts (e.g. Taijiquan, Qigong) is inen (意念) (Matsuda 2013: 176). As so often, the characters in this term have various meanings and can hardly be translated by just one word: 意  “I” means “mind, heart, thought, idea, intention, care”; 念 “nen” means “idea, feeling, concern, attention, caution”. In a Buddhist context nen is used as the translation of the Sanskrit term smriti (Pali: sati), which means “mindfulness”.

Nowadays, this defines a whole method of meditation. Inen thus signifies “consciousness, intention, attentiveness”. “Inen guides the ki” implies, that every mindful physical exercise leads the ki to flow into the parts of the body, on which one concentrates. “If you do not use strength but will, wherever your will directs chi will arrive.” (Wong 2002:37; chi = ki 気) Thus if one concentrates on the fist, when one focusses (kime) a punch, this will stimulate a surge of ki.

John Cheetham (2019a:11) wrote:

“Some people say that kime is like putting the brakes on, which makes the energy stay ‘inside the body’ and not transfer to the target.”

If you understand kime in the context of ki, the exact opposite is the case!

Kanazawa Hirokazu was able to split the very board that was indicated to him in a stack of four or five without breaking the rest. His explanation was that he could consciously control and direct his ki. He describes it in his autobiography, which I have translated into German. During the translation process, I spoke to him directly about this, because it has always intrigued me. He told me that everything is connected on a molecular level in the sense that everything is vibrating energy in the end. He described it as visualizing the indicated board vividly and projecting his consciousness into it, becoming one with it, and thus being able to pulverize it.

He added with a laugh:

“People usually wanted me to break the second or third board, hardly the last one and never the first one. But to stop the ki at the first board and not break the others would have been the hardest task to fulfill.”

Kanazawa also used to say that a punch does not end at the fist, but goes way beyond, because the ki shoots out far on and yonder. It is quite clear that ki in this context is connected to an intense mental focus rather than a mere somatic one. Thus, kime is coupled with the mobilization of ki. In good combination with relaxation it makes the technique strong on more than a physical level and leads to a balanced, hence healthy ki-flux.

Ki as a Psychosomatic Concept. Again: relaxation!

When we look at other Southeast Asian martial arts, namely many soft Kung Fu styles, Pentjak Silat or Kalaripayattu, they are very fluid and do not apply kime. Even in Shotokan, its first offspring, the Shotokai, headed by Egami Shigeru (1912-1981), who deemed himself to be totally loyal to Funakoshi Gichin and his Karate, suppleness and relaxation are emphasized. Kata in Shotokai are performed in a continuous flow, almost tensionless. The fixation on kime in the sense of a physical tightening up of the body seems to be the exception rather than the rule in the wide world of bare hand fighting arts. Therefore it is worth revisiting.  

John Cheetham (2019a: 12) states:

“30/40 years ago, kime to me was a totally muscular concept, now it’s changed: now a ‘decisive’ blow is a combination of power generated from relaxation, speed, breath, intention and mental focus!”

This is a wonderful, comprehensive definition! As we have seen, intention and mental focus are exactly the elements, which mobilize ki. I say this with tongue in cheek: but when the Japanese instructors back in the days exhorted us to put more kime into our techniques, they might just have meant that we concentrate more, focus our mind, and put our heart and soul into every single movement.

To do something with total commitment and dedication is deemed a great virtue in Japan. This pertains to minor tasks like sweeping a garden or cleaning the floor of the dojo – you ought to give it your full attention. So the Japanese instructors might have meant the mental aspect of “kime”, while we Westerners misunderstood it in the way that we should display physical power and strength.

From the Chinese perspective, ki can flow best, when one is totally relaxed. Actually too much or extended tension impedes the ki-circulation. As a Karateka of a certain age, what happens after the technical kime is much more interesting and important for the physique than what happens during tension. The alternation between tension and relaxation characterizes the physical discipline of Karate. Now when we put the focus (kime) more on the latter, it might be good for our health and well-being – and our performance of Karate too!


Cheetham, John: “Kime-Focus: the concept revisited”, Shotokan Karate Magazine, Iss. 141/Sept. 19 (2019a), 10-12

Cheetham, John: “The Bow & Arrow Analogy”, Shotokan Karate Magazine, Iss. 142/Dec. 19 (2019b), 30-31

Kanazawa, Hirokazu: Karate – My life. Transl. by Alex Bennett, 2012.

Matsuda, Ryûchi: Shôrin Kenjutsu. Rakanken. Kihon kara sentô gijutsu made. Shinsôban. Tsuchiya shoten 2013

Nakayama, Masatoshi: Karate-dô. Shin Kyôtei. Tokyo: Tsuru shobô 1965

Nakayama, Masatoshi: Dynamic Karate. Tokyo: Kodansha 1966

Nakayama, Takatsugu: Dakara, Karate wa tsuyoi! Himeta pawâ o dasu, dentô no shintai gihô. BAB Japan 2013

Nishiyama, Hidetaka und Richard C. Brown: Karate. The Art of “Empty Hand” Fighting. Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo: Tuttle 1960

Wong, Kiew Kit: The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan. A Comprehensive Guide to the Principles and Practice. Tokyo, Rutland, Vermont, Singapore: Tuttle 2002

About the Author

Dr. Wolfgang Herbert, Professor of Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Tokushima, 5th Dan Shôtôkan Karate, practices Yang-style Taijiquan. He can be contacted via his Dôjô-homepage:

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Knife Defence: Is Karate Training Useful?

The picture shows a knife and this article we are going to shows you whether karate works in knife defence.

Knife Defence is a very controversial topic and Karateka seldom train it. However, it is important to know what it means and how Karate can be utilised to defend against a knife, if one has no other chance to remove oneself from a situation. By T.D. McKinnon in his column Karate Essence

This is a topic that is always controversial. Everyone has an opinion on the subject, some through the mirror of their own experiences.  However, many seem to have an inflexible opinion on the subject, with little or no real experience and with a very rudimentary education on the topic.

I think that one point should be made here before we go any further. If you are confronted by anyone with a stabbing or bladed weapon, if at all possible, you should remove yourself from the situation immediately.  Do not make it an ego thing! Even if you master knife defence; having to disarming someone with a blade, regardless of the antagonist’s skill, or lack thereof, is extremely dangerous. However, if you are unable to remove yourself – you may be cornered or protecting someone – you owe it to yourself to be as prepared as you possibly can be.

My own Experience with Knife Defence

Growing up in the coal-mining communities of Scotland and England, in the 1950s and 60s, blades were an ongoing reality.  I escaped most confrontations by running away, very fast. However on one occasion, when I was 14 years old, I was cornered by two 17 year- old youths who wanted my leather jacket. I had been delivering papers, morning and night, for an entire year to pay for it; they would have to take it from my dead body. One of them produced a flick-knife to cut it from my body if necessary. I was terrified. Pure luck got me out of that situation, when the sudden appearance of a bunch of motorcyclists caused my assailants to run away.  

A couple of years later, while serving in the British Parachute Regiment, a soldier in the neighboring bed had a psychotic episode one day. I found myself (whilst lying flat on my back on my bed) with the point of his bayonet pressed firmly against my jugular vein. 

I had trained in close quarter combat but I was not prepared for that. If you have never been in that situation – when you feel you might die at any moment and there’s nothing you can do about it – it is a chilling experience!

I somehow managed to reason with him; remaining calm (at least I made a fair approximation of sounding calm) I talked him out of a bloodletting. As he stood up, the tension left his body, and the hand holding the bayonet went limp. Springing off the bed, I slapped it out of his hand. Adrenaline pumping, I slammed him against a metal locker; one hand around his throat, I was ready to smash my fist into his face. Long story short, I didn’t hit him; the poor guy was mentally very ill.

When I left the Paras I started working the nightclub scene in the Glasgow area (once reputed to be the knife attack capital of the world) where I encountered several situations where a knife or an open-blade razor was presented threateningly. We were of course prepared for these predictable displays. Funny how the site of a baseball bat changes the mind of a knife wielding lunatic. Suffice to say that the sight of someone wielding a knife is not strange to me.

Kase Taiji and Knife Defence

I attended a Kase Taiji Sensei seminar in the 1970s. Sometime during the course, while we were doing a lot of basic blocking techniques, he was trying to stress the importance of good, strong basics. Some of us were obviously not getting it to his satisfaction. 

Kase Sensei began to tell us about a time when he first went to Paris and he was confronted by a knife wielding thug, who demanded that he hand over his wallet.

Kase Sensei did not have good English; he had been living in France for many years and I don’t know how good his French was but he had a strange way of speaking, a heavy mixture of Japanese/French accented Pidgin English. However, with the aid of mimicry and simulation he certainly got the story over.

It happened one evening as he was going for a stroll, taking in the Paris sites. For those who don’t know, I would describe him as a 4X4 (very short, he was as wide as he was tall) and I can imagine that a would-be mugger might not see the potential danger in him. Kase Sensei wasn’t sure what his assailant was saying but he understood the drift of the situation and decided not to hand over his wallet.

When he made no reply and no move to comply with his attacker’s demands; frustrated, the man tried to stab him in his ample belly. With a classic soto uke, Kase Sensei smashed the mugger’s arm at the elbow and then, while delivering a devastating yoko empi to the jaw, he wrenched the smashed arm across his ample chest.

“Cut…” he said, showing us a scar on his forearm, and shaking his head as if it was nothing. “I break ‘is arm…” he continued, indicating with gestures that told us he had snapped the elbow in the opposite direction. “And ‘is…” and grabbing his own jaw, shaking it, he added, “Shatter!”

Knife Defence requires Strong Basics

Twenty years later, while working at a night club in Sydney’s Kings Cross, I stepped between a patron and a woman he was in the process of beating-up. I actually suspected that she was one of his working girls. Without the slightest compunction, he pulled out a knife and stabbed me in the stomach. Well, he tried.

I smashed his elbow the wrong way and shattered his jaw into a dozen pieces. The circumstances were completely different to Kase Sensei’s incident, but the knife attack and the results were exactly the same. And I too sport a scar from the incident on my right wrist.  I agree wholeheartedly with Kase Sensei: strong basics are indeed essential.

As well as being a martial artist for the past 57 years; learning to defend against weapons, knifes in particular, has been a lifelong objective.   However, It wasn’t until I worked in close protection (real bodyguard work, not there just for show), protecting someone who was afraid for their life, that I had real close encounters with knife wielding individuals intent on doing me serious bodily harm. 

I have defended myself against four serious knife attacks, I was cut in three of them, minor injuries, only one of which needed fairly immediate attention. However, after all four attacks, I was back on the job straight away, while all of the attackers spent considerable time (1-6 weeks) in hospital; before doing serious jail time.

Teaching Knife Defence is a Serious Affair

Teaching knife defence to Close Personal Protection (CPP) operatives who just might find themselves up against someone with a knife is a serious affair. It needs to be practical, and they need to believe that it will work; because doubt is the back stabber (pardon the pun).

I think we should differentiate between the categories of knife or bladed threats. There are some dramatic differences in threat levels; consequently, there is a difference in the defence strategies used.  There are three main threat levels but with a myriad of intensities:

1. The knife presented to intimidate or as an overt threatening device.

Generally, in this case, the intention is not to kill or do serious damage. However, there can be many and varied mitigating factors and this kind of threat can still progress to a real and sometimes life threatening danger. If you are presented with a knife threat situation, remember that an action is quicker than a reaction: initiate the action (Deai).  Examples: 

Thomas D. McKinnon teaching knife defence.
Thomas D. McKinnon teaching knife defence.

2. The knife used in an aggravated assault. Perhaps to intimidate during an attempted robbery/mugging/rape et cetera, where injury is not the main intention, but where it all too often escalates to the next level.

I am not talking about the legal definitions here; what I am talking about is the intentions of the knife wielding assailant. This, by degree only, is a more serious situation for the victim of threat level 1. 

Thomas D. McKinnon teaching knife defence.
Thomas D. McKinnon teaching knife defence.

3. The knife deliberately used in an attempt to murder or seriously injure.

Again, I am not talking about the legal definitions; I am talking about the intent of the assailant. There can be a hairs breadth between attempting to seriously injure someone and killing them.


In answer to number 1 and 2, your responses need to be instinctive and immediate.  There will be a variance in the degree of danger and the method of intimidation; however, providing you train your responses until they are instinctive (Mushin), you will minimise injury to yourself by remembering these rules:

  • An action is always quicker than a reaction: implement the action.
  • Act without doubt and without hesitation and don’t stop until your assailant is disarmed and nullified.

In answer to number 3, if you get the opportunity to initiate the action the same rules apply.  However, considering the nature of number 3, you may not get the chance to initiate the action.  There are far too many variables to generalise; however, when I was putting together my knife defence seminars, apart from utilising my own personal experience, I studied hours of CCTV footage of brutal knife attacks, from all around the world.  The situations were many and varied but the outcomes were all pretty grim; mostly ending in a fatality. 

How defend against a Knife Attacker intent on Murder?

However, after studying the different ways that people are attacked on that footage, I determined the best ways in which to combat each different kind of attack. There is one defence I teach for a very distinctive type of recurring attack that is used when an assailant is determined to kill his victim. This attack is a rapid stabbing motion; not unlike a rapid, repeating gyaku-zuki type motion, while controlling (pulling/pushing/grabbing) the recipient with the free hand. 

I watched CCTV footage of an attack on a police officer. The recipient of the attack was a big policeman; when he stopped a small, suspicious looking, man to questioning him. Attacking suddenly, viciously, without provocation, a knife appearing in his right hand, the small man used his free hand to clamp the policeman’s gun hand against the gun as he was frantically attempting to draw, while stabbing him repeatedly, to death right there on camera.

Here is a step by step sequence of still photographs, and a slow motion video of the defence for just such an attack.  Perhaps you can recognise the entry from Sochin Kata.

9 Steps

  1. You must meet the attacker head on; do not wait until he has got the first stab in. This is a repeated stabbing action, meant to kill you.
  2. Do not let his free hand control you.
  3. You must strike, simultaneously ramming your forearms, a/into the forearm of his knife hand, and b/ into the attacker’s face: jamming his first stab and smashing his face (Sen no sen).  This action will halt his forward momentum.
  4. You can see the first technique from three different angles.
  5. It is then important to move quickly, smoothly into the next action, taking advantage of the first shock to his system. 
  6. Vigorously, simultaneously, push his head down and lift the knife hand up in the manner shown.
  7. Keeping your back straight for best results and least chance of losing your balance, bend your knees and drop your centre of gravity, to pile-drive the attackers head into the ground.
  8. To finish, using a wrist/arm lock, wrench hard to take control and or break the arm. 
  9. It is doubtful that the knife will still be in his hand, but if it is it will have been nullified all the way through and can be taken easily at this point.

Repetition with Full speed is important

Let me be quite clear about this; I know from practical experience that this technique works, and I taught it to the high risk section of the security industry for 25 years with nothing but positive feedback.   

It is not practical (from the point of view of the damage you can cause) to practice this technique, repetitively, with a partner at full speed with power. However here is a demonstration of a method of practicing a modified version of the technique, along with 3 other possible knife defence techniques with a partner, with a little speed.  Some training tools if you will:

Thomas D. McKinnon teaching knife defence.

Ultima Ratio

At the risk of repeating myself, I must reiterate: If you are confronted by anyone with a stabbing or bladed weapon, if at all possible, you should remove yourself from the situation immediately. Do not let your ego get you seriously injured or killed! Even if you master knife defence, disarming anyone who has a blade is extremely dangerous and should be a last resort.

When there is no other option: ultima ratio; if you have no choice, do it boldly, with Mushin and Zanshin

The Unmentionables of Knife Defence

There are still a couple of areas not yet mentioned.  To talk about knife defence and not mention the most difficult types of bladed weapons to defend against would be grossly duplicitous. I could do what most people do when covering knife defence: put these weapons in the too hard basket and just ignore them!

Obviously, anything involving knives is more than a little dangerous. If you are thinking of employment in the close protection industry you should consider training in one of the knife fighting systems. You might also familiarise yourself with as many others as possible. My initial knife fighting training, in the military, consisted of a mishmash of the most useful, deadly techniques from a variety of origins. My additional knife fighting education comes care of Tantojutsu from Bushido, and the Filipino knife fighting of Kali. I also acquired some of the practicality of stick fighting from Kali; which applies very nicely to an extendable baton; and is extremely useful against a knife.


I grew up on stories of the Glasgow razor gangs. There was still the occasional incident, but on the whole the open-blade razor had gone the way of the dinosaur. Quite obviously, they were not used for stabbing but for slashing. They could be used with devastating effect: blinding, opening up or slashing pieces off face and hands et cetera. In an experienced hand they could kill quite easily but, for the most part, they were meant to menace and intimidate. Designed to cause extensive damage without the risk of accidentally killing someone; they were quite a terrifying weapon!

The box-knife is fairly commonplace in Glasgow nowadays: with a capacity to do massif amounts of damage, but without the depth of blade to accidentally kill someone in the process. Another terrifying weapon!

Defence against the two aforementioned weapons, mostly because exponents of said weapons usually train in their use, I would put firmly in the realm of ‘the knife fighting cultures. I would therefor advise that defence against them should follow the same lines as any of the knife fighting martial arts.    

Knife Fighting Martial Arts

Lastly, I’ll touch briefly on knife fighting martial arts, which are numerous.  Here are just a few of the most prominent:

Pencak Silat (Indonesian)

Silat practitioners use a curved blade called a Karambit. In trained hands, this is a deadly weapon.

Kali Escrima (Filipino)

Kali practitioners use a relatively short, single bladed, stabbing and slashing knife. This is another devastatingly dangerous weapon.

Paranza Corta (Italy)

Practitioners of this deadly art use a stiletto bladed knife; primarily, a deadly stabbing weapon.

Tantojutsu (Japan)

Using a Tanto; this is a devastating, stabbing and slashing knife fighting art.

Military Special Forces (various countries)

This is usually an amalgamation of the deadliest techniques from various classical knife fighting arts. The weapons vary, my experience was with a bayonet; however, it is adaptable to most knives.

Distance and Weapons

If you are cornered and you have no weapons, distance is your only ally; long range striking is most advisable. Utilise, as a weapon, anything that you can get your hands on. If you are protecting someone, professionally, then you should be carrying some kind of weapon, an extendable baton at the very least.

Will Karate help you in knife defence?

So, will Karate help you in knife defence?  Certainly there are tools within your Karate training that will assist you. However, you really need to train, specifically, for knife defence to stand a decent chance against someone with a knife. And the more skilled your adversary, the more skilled you need to be.

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The Shotokan Times becomes The Dojo

The picture shows the Logo of The Dojo.

The Dojo is coming soon. In the upcoming weeks, The Shotokan Times will undergo a far-reaching change from a single-style journal into an 360° karate and budo platform with a special focus on dojos. Thus, it will be renamed and rebranded into “The Dojo – Platform for Karate and Budo”. Following we explain what is behind this step and give an outlook to the new format.

The Shotokan Times – A Story of Success

The last one and a half years, during which we have built up The Shotokan Times, have been a pleasure, educative, enlightening, enriching, challenging, and a gigantic adventure. We have been stoked by the thousands of views and visitors our website collected. Within these 18 month we have been welcoming 623,935 views and 355,807 visitors on The Shotokan Times. This is an incredible success and it had proved us right that a quality online journal for Shotokan karate beyond associations has been desperately needed.

From the beginning, it was our aim to put the individual Karateka first, to give them a voice, a stage, and a place to present his or her ideas and skills. This stage was widely utilized.

Since last year, we published more then 150 articles (roughly 7 per month). We initiated the series Women of Shotokan, which became a gigantic success and gave inspiring female Karateka an own fora where they could express their way of Shotokan. A clothing and karate equipment shop became also part of our platform. And our latest achievement is the Dojo Finder for which already 200 Dojos have registered within 10 days.

However, we also gained three insights about Shotokan in particular and Karate in general.

Karate and Water

The first insight is: One cannot discuss or understand Shotokan without considering other Karate styles. Okinawa Karate has, of course, coined Shotokan historically. But even today a foundational knowledge of Okinawa styles leads to a deeper understanding of Shotokan. The same goes for Kyokushin. One might ask: Why did Masutasu Oyama develop Kyokushin Karate although he held a 4th Dan in Shotokan?

Modern Sport Karate and Karate Combat have amplified our view on Karate as well. Both focus on the physical dimension of Karate and by doing so giving us deeper insights about limits, opportunities, and ramifications of Karate.

The major idea behind this insight is: A fish does not know what water is. Water is so natural to the fish that it only understands its characteristics and structure when it leaves it. Therefore, we only can understand our Karate and our way by comparing it with other styles. Only then we can distinguish what is water, what is air, and what is land.

The Dojo as the Nucleus of Karate

The second insight we gained: The Dojo and not the individual karateka nor the association is the nucleus of Karate. Especially the current global COVID-19 pandemic has made this obvious: One cannot walk successfully on the Karate way alone. We need a social structure, in which we are embedded, to learn karate properly. This social structure is not the association though.

It is first and foremost the Dojo in which we gather several times a week. The Dojo is the place where Karate knowledge is transmitted, where we are challenged, encouraged, criticized, accepted with our flaws, and go beyond our limits. Here we grow under tutelage into Karateka and find the community with the same values that carries us through the bumpy and difficult passages of the way.

However, the Dojo does not get much attention. It seems to be a blind spot of Karate. And somehow it appears to be taken for granted like an autonomous self-organizing structure. This conclusion is false. Like any other social group with a division of labor and division of roles it holds the potential to fail or to flourish.

Therefore, the Dojo needs more of our attention. Because the African saying is right: When you want to go fast, then go alone. But if you want to go a long distance, go with others. The karate way is a life long journey. Hence, the group that supports us on this way should not be taken for granted. And even Musashi had companions.

The picture shows Musashi and his adopted son Iori.
The picture shows a statue of Musashi and his adopted son Iori.

Karate and Budo

Karate Do is Budo. This becomes obvious in the moment one considers the etiquette and ethics that accompany Karate. These values are strongly connected to the Dojo, the space, which is separated from the profane daily life by distinct rules and expectations represented in the Dojo kun. However, this distinction between the outside non-Budo world and the inside Budo world is not unique to Karate. The Dojo is the place where all Budo´s – Kendo, Judo, Iaido, Kyudo, Aikido, Sumo etc. – intersect.

The Dojo is the place of cultivation of budo. Or as Prof. Dr. Wolf Herbert shows in his entry for the Encyclopedia of Shotokan:

“The manda (= dojo) is therefore the place, where the “essence” of enlightenment is present.”

To bring Karate closer to Budo – like many practitioners claim – might lead through a stronger consideration of the Dojo as a space for the cultivation of Budo. In other words: When have you got down to the ground and cleaned the Dojo the last time?

What will The Dojo be about?

The Dojo will cover all sorts and styles of Karate, for instance:

  • Shotokan
  • Shotokai
  • Goju-ryu
  • Shito-ryu
  • Shorin-ryu
  • Wado-ryu
  • Kyokushin and its offsprings
  • Sport karate
  • Karate Combat

Our special focus will thereby on the Dojo and the teaching of Karate:

  • General approaches and strategies behind styles,
  • Techniques and tactics,
  • Training methods and curricula,
  • Ethics and values,
  • History and present developments.

Beside that we will also cover more general topics related to Dojos, for instance:

  • What is a Dojo and what is it not?
  • How to run and organize a Dojo?
  • Social structure in the Dojo
  • How to build and develop a Dojo?
  • The Dojo and its environment
  • How to educate and teach Karate to different target groups?
  • Conflicts in and outside the Dojo
  • How to create an atmosphere of spirit?

In addition, we will relate karate and the Dojo to other Budo´s.

  • What can we learn from Iaido and Kyudo about mental strength?
  • Does the highly competitive Kendo offer us a new perspective on Sport Karate and Karate Combat?
  • Which role did and does Judo play in making Japanese martial arts popular?
  • How has Judo coined Karate?
  • Where does the Budo terminology come from and how do we have to interpret them in a Karate context?
  • Is it a good thing to die for the honor of ones Daimyo?
  • What are the limitations of Budo and where else do we have to look for further answers?

We seek to offer our readers helpful, educative, demonstrative, and inspirational content about Karate and Budo from a Dojo perspective. It is our utmost wish to support you on your Karate way and to make your Dojo flourish so that it becomes the community you want it to be.

The Dojo will also accept articles from external authors! Please consider our Guidelines for Submission. They will stay the same.

What happens next?

  • The Dojo will be reachable through its future main url:
  • The completion of the transition of the website will take between one and two months. You can visit our website and read our articles during the whole time.
  • The Shotokan Times products will stay available in our shops – even after the transition.
  • The Dojo Finder stays the Dojo Finder.
  • Our social media channels will change accordingly.
  • The Encyclopedia of Shotokan will become the Encyclopedia of Karate and Budo.
  • For all the fans of The Shotokan Times, who want to discuss with us solely about Shotokan, feel free to join the The Shotokan Times Facebook group.
  • Please, send feedback and questions to:

We hope you are excited as we are and that we can also welcome you on soon. Oss!

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Karate Do: The Path to oneself?!

The picture shows a practitioner of Karate Do at the beach during sunset.

“Karate Do is a path to oneself” argues TD McKinnon in his latest column Shotokan Essence. However, most of the people who start this path do not seek to arrive at themselves. Other motives are more relevant for them. That is explains a high number of dropouts. The ones who stay on the path are the ones who are encouraged to follow the Dojo Kun. Thus, karateka should focus on developing and cultivating the Dojo Kun.

Karate Do is a way of training, thinking, conducting oneself; a way of believing in oneself, for life. In other words, Karate Do is a life-long journey of self. The motivating factors for beginning this journey can be many and varied: self-defence, fitness, confidence building, and sporting competition, to name but a few. However, goals change. Your martial path, should you chose to take it, will have many twists and turns along the way, some of them 180°.

One person in 10,000 

After a lifetime of teaching, I do know that if you were to ask every wide-eyed beginner on their first day of training, “Why are you beginning karate training?” their motivations would be many and varied.

However, of 10,000 beginner only 50 percent will still train after the first six months. After one year, only 1,000 will be left. Maybe 100 will reach the third year. Maybe less that than 0.1 percent will earn their shodan. But an even smaller amount will go on to receive their Nidan.

What are the Reasons for the high number of Dropouts?

From all those individuals who begin training, there are those who will find out quickly that it is not what they imagined, and not for them. Some won’t make it past the second week. 

Some will learn a few techniques, maybe even take a couple of gradings, and then life will get in the way. And they will drift away. They may even promise themselves that they will be back. Very few return. 

There will be the achievers: those who will persevere until they achieve that coveted black belt, before moving on to their next achievement. 

There will be the sports people, who excel in the sporting arena. They may even have a relatively long career in sport karate. After their own competition days have run the course they might continue as judges, referees and sporting competition coaches. They are the perpetual sports people. To them, the sport is Karate. 

Then there are the shining few, who may indeed pass through some or all of the aforementioned phases, but who will then don the mantle and tread the cloistered path of Karate Do

How Long does the Path of Karate Do take? 

  • If you are seeking only physical benefits the chances are that, after your physical body peaks, you will lose interest. 
  • If it is a status symbol, the time it takes to get to black belt will probably be your maximum. 
  • If it is about self-defence or confidence building and it doesn’t go beyond that, it may be a short term or a long term thing, depending on your situation and life style choices. But eventually it will wane. 
  • If it is mainly the sport aspect that attracts and holds you, then after peaking in the sport, it will fare much the same as any sport. The young will enjoy the competition, and as they mature they may continue in an official role: sporting coach/referee/judge et cetera. However, not unlike any sporting involvement, it diminishes and eventually disappears. 
  • If you find Karate Do to have an honorable code of ethics, worth aspiring to, and Karate Do weaves itself into your very fabric, you may find that Karate-Do is your path, for life. 

Karate Do Encourages an Ancient Instinct: Honour

Honour, as a noun, meaning respectability and virtue, or a code of conduct valuing those concepts, is an ancient human instinct. Karate Do seeks to encourage and develop that instinct. The Dojo Kun, a set of philosophical rules for the smooth running and necessary control of the dojo environment, is a guiding light to illuminate the way. 

Remember, whatever their underlying motives: this is a group of people who are there to learn how to inflict physical violence on an adversary. When you think about it, that environment could run quite quickly out of control: becoming unruly, aggressive, and possibly quite violent. In my time I have actually witnessed fight training centers, a karate dojo or two, even one Shotokan dojo, where, to one degree or another, this was in evidence. 

The Dojo Kun: Its Origins and Implications 

The Dojo Kun is set in place to modify behavior, both inside and outside of the Dojo. Most traditional Dojos recite a Dojo Kun, or a modified version of that Kun, at least once every training session. Stating the moral code of the Kun before beginning a class can be said to ready the mind and spirit for learning and practicing implied violence, non-violently. Whereas reciting the Kun on completion of one’s training is like the final, centering thought as you finish a meditation. Resetting the mind before re-joining ‘normal’ society. Some Dojos, emphasizing and promoting humility, recite the Kun at both the beginning and the end of a class. 

Funakoshi Gichin Sensei, 1868-1957, the founder of Shotokan, is generally credited with creating of the Dojo Kun. According to Funakoshi Sensei, The Dojo Kun contains the general, guiding principles of Karate. Funakoshi Sensei also set out the Niju Kun: twenty specific and subordinate principles of Karate, encompassing morality, technique, and proper mindset. 

Gichin Funakoshi was the founder of Shotokan Karate Do. He coined the Shotokan Karate Philosophy in a pacifistic way.
Gichin Funakoshi was the founder of Shotokan Karate Do. He coined the Shotokan Karate Philosophy in a pacifistic way.

Others credit Sakukawa Kanga Sensei, 1733-1815, with creating the Dojo Kun. I would venture that Sakukawa did instigate a Dojo Kun. That being said, however, I would also suggest that wherever the martial arts have been studied, seriously, a Kun (a set of philosophical guidelines) is likely to have been set in place. 

The Dojo Kun varies throughout the martial arts fraternities to suit cultural and philosophical differences. Even within Shotokan, now seeded throughout the world, the Dojo Kun has morphed. There remains however a similar, underlining message of humility and respect. 

Karate Do and the Meaning of the Dojo Kun

JKA Dojo Kun

The following is the JKA Shotokan Dojo Kun

  • 一、人格 完成に 努める こと hitotsu, jinkaku kansei ni tsutomeru koto
  • 一、誠の道を守ること hitotsu, makoto no michi wo mamoru koto
  • 一、努力の精神を養うこと hitotsu, doryoku no seishin wo yashinau koto
  • 一、礼儀を重んずること hitotsu, reigi wo omonzuru koto
  • 一、血気の勇を戒むること hitotsu, kekki no yū wo imashimuru koto 

In the West, particularly the UK, the following is a widely accepted translation of the essence of that Kun: 

  • Each person must strive for the completion and perfection of one’s character 
  • Each person must be faithful and protect the way of truth 
  • Each person must endeavor (fostering the spirit of effort) 
  • Each person must respect others and the rules of etiquette 
  • Each person must refrain from hot blooded behavior (guard against impetuous courage) 

Concise Dojo Kun

When I began my Shotokan journey in Scotland in the early 1970s, I recited a more simplified version: 

  • Seek Perfection of Character 
  • Be Sincere 
  • Put maximum effort into everything you do 
  • Respect Others 
  • Develop Self Control 

Since those early days I have heard several terser versions; the following is just one of them: 

  • Character 
  • Sincerity 
  • Effort 
  • Etiquette 
  • Self-Control 

Karate Do, Dojo Kun and the Path to one Self

The Dojo Kun appears in many styles and arts, varying according to the general precepts of the style. A book could be written on a veritable proliferation of Dojo Kun

Like the many paths ascending the mountain, striving to reach the summit; so too does any true study and practice of the martial disciplines strive to achieve enlightenment. Hence, practicing Karate Do and following the Dojo Kun means to be on a life long path to oneself.

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Dojo Finder Launched

The picture shows the Dojo Yamato which has already subscribed to the Dojo Finder.

The Dojo Finder by The Shotokan Times has officially been launched. Read in this article how the application works and how you can subscribe your Dojo for free to it.

Are you looking for a Dojo near you? Are you visiting or moving to a new city and want to know which Dojos are around you? Do you want to know the exact address, website, email address, affiliation, style, and contact person of a Dojo? Then use the Dojo Finder by The Shotokan Times to find the right Karate Dojo!

The Motivation behind the Dojo Finder

Since the start of The Shotokan Times plenty of Karateka have approach us with the same question: Do you know a Dojo in New York City, Barcelona, Bangkok or in Tokyo? Sometimes we had an answer. But unfortunately most of the times we did not. Even google was helpless and delivered the answers our readers looked for.

That was the reason why we started to develop the Dojo Finder together with the startup loloco from Cologne, Germany. The development process took almost three month, while the first designs already began in January 2020.

The development team focused to deliver two specific services. On the one had, the browser-based app offers Dojos from all karate styles and associations an opportunity to make their Dojo visible to the public, so that it can easily be found by others. On the other hand, it gives Karateka and people interested in Dojos the opportunity, to search for them on the Dojo Finder map and based on cities. Through this approach the app makes the global Dojo landscape transparent.

Dojo Finder: Handy and Free of Charge

“The system is very easy and handy!” says Malte Hendricks, co-founder and managing director of loloco. “We focused on a lean and simple user experience, while we developed the app. Dojos must easyily subscribe and unsubscribe to the Dojo Finder.”

Dr. Christian Tribowski, managing director and chief editor of The Shotokan Times, could not agree more: “loloco has done a fantastic job and the Dojo Finder will increase the offer of information to our readers, Karatekas and Dojos tremendously.”

“The Dojo Finder will be free of charge!” affirmed Dr. Tribowski. The app should serve the global Karate community. Thus, The Shotokan Times will also not sell collected information or data about the Dojos to third parties. Dr. Tribowski stressed this point: “We are based in Germany, which has very strict privacy laws. Therefore, no Dojo must worry about its data and privacy protection.”

How does the Dojo Finder work?

Dojos can easily subscribe to the Dojo Finder through the form below the map. As more Dojos subscribe as more detailed the map becomes.

Dojos only need their official Dojo email address to confirm their subscription through a double opt-in process. This step will prevent that other people intentionally add Dojos to the system, which do not want to become part of the Dojo Finder. It also prevents spam and bots to enter the Dojo Finder.

The picture shows the Dojo Yamato which has already subscribed to the Dojo Finder.
The picture shows the Dojo Yamato which has already subscribed to the Dojo Finder.

After another quality control step the map will be updated every 1 to 3 days. Everybody can then search for Dojos by tipping a city name in the query field and scroll on the map. We are working on further search queries like for Dojo names, styles, associations, countries, states, and addresses. When the these are available we will inform you.

To answer the most urgent questions upfront we have set up a detailed FQA section below the sign up form for you.

Dojo Finder only the First Step

In addition to the Dojo Finder we will launch further projects we have worked on the last few month. Beside a new website the team behind The Shotokan Times will also offer you more products in its shop. Another application is also on its way. Stay tuned! Oss

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Ki and Karate: From Science to Experience

The picture shows Aoki Osamu Shihan, the master of Ki.

Ki has always been a central concept for karate and other East Asian martial arts. However, especially in the West Ki has also been condemned as an esoteric idea. While some claims hold some water others do not. In the following article I am going to define Ki as a psychosomatic regulation capacity of the body and I will show how it can be explained and measured. I am going to make use of the vast research literature on Ki and draw from here some conclusions how it influences ones karate and how one can strengthen it during daily training. By Punito Aisenpreis

Ki, Qui or Chi: Driving Force for Any Action

Ki is generally and colloquially defined as “life force” or “vital energy” (気Chinese Qi, Jap. Ki). In the Japanese culture the expression is omnipresent: If two persons meet, they ask each other: O Genki Desu Ka? = how are you, how is your Ki? If someone leaves home, the other person says: Ki Otsu Ke Te = take care of your Ki! The Kanji character “気” means the steam, which rises from rice. In other cultures, Ki is referred to as Chi, Qi, (China), as Prana (India), or as Odem (Germanic heritage).

The picture shows the Japanese/Chinese letter (kanji) for Ki.
This is the Kanji: Ki.

Ki belongs to the central concepts of Traditional Chinese and Japanese Medicine and functions as a mediating factor between mind and body. As a psychosomatic holistic concept, it bridges the division of psyche and physic. In martial arts, Ki has a central function. The flow of Ki through meridians and the knowledge of vital points belongs to the foundation of Shotokan Karate (see Bubishi). In the terms Aikido, Kiai and Kime for example, Ki is a central element.

However, many martial artist and Shotokan Karateka deem Ki an esoteric concept that has been refused by Western medicine. Therefore, I will give a brief overview about Ki in medical research.

Ki and Western Medicine

The relationship of Ki and Western Medicine is indeed complicated. Two major reasons can be found for this: First, wrong translations and interpretations of Chinese concepts; Second, Charlatanism in the West. The major authority, when it comes to Ki research in the West, is Prof. Dr. Paul Unschuld, who holds the chair for theory, history and ethics of Chinese Lifesciences at the Humboldt University in Berlin. He examined the history of concept of Ki extensively.

His studies reveal that the meaning of Ki has changed in the course of the centuries. First, Chinese healers perceived it as some sort of vapors. Later they extended the meaning of the term to other phenomena. Therefore, Unschuld concluded in his opus magnum Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen:

“We may assume that Qi, despite its many diverse applications, always referred to a vague concept of finest matter believed to exist in all possible aggregate states, from air and steam or vapor to liquid and even solid matter.”

(Unschuld 2003) (1)

From this standpoint, the translation of Ki as “energy” in a sense of electricity must be refused. According to Unschuld, it even might be possible that the concept of Ki became mystified when it was introduced in the West in the 19th century. Here charlatanism like electronic therapy and elixirs already existed and where widely used in societies. Exotic concepts like Ki became reinterpreted and alternative medicine circles eagerly integrated them in their portfolio.

The picture shows the Ki exercise "the unbendable arm" by Tohei Koichi.
Ki exercise “the unbendable arm” by Tohei Koichi.

The power of this mystification in the West even led to a change of understanding of Ki in East-Asia, when the concept became re-imported into Chinese. As Unschuld suggested in his research that Ki described for the Chinese healers in the past a chemical-molecular energy. They described it as “vapors”. An esoteric all-mighty energy, that flows through everything and connects heaven and earth, must be rejected.

Ki: A Empirically Measurable Phenomenon

Ki refers to an empirically measurable sensation and physiological effect like as it can be experienced in de qi during acupuncture (see Park et al 2013) (2). Modern research points to the same direction. Robert Chuckrow (2019) (3) argues that Ki could be part of the cell metabolism, happening in the mitochondria of the cell.

A Japanese research team around Tsuyoshi Ohnishi (2005, 2006) (4,5) examined the effects of a treatment with Ki on mitochondria function (inner breathing and energy provision) of the cell as well as on human cancer cells. According to their research the Ki transmitted from a Ki master (Nishino Kozo Sensei) to cells had a positive effect on the healing process. The Ki effect is empirical evident and well documented. Its healthy effects even convinced German health insurance, which cover acupuncture treatments since a few years.

However, a challenge poses the question what Ki is or how it can be described in theoretical terms. Paul Rusch (2009) (6) tried to theorize the concept in a paper about bioelectromagnetic and subtle energy. Here he refuses the notion of a chemical-molecular process that generates Ki.

According to his analysis Ki must be looked for an analytical level deeper. For him the most plausible concept that can explain Ki is subtle energies, which emerges in bioelectromagnetic field on the atomic level. Here the nervous system, molecular-chemical process and mental states are interrelated. But he also concludes: “Whether this energy is synonymous with some mysterious force called chi that correlates with electromagnetic fields is not clear.” (Rusch 2009: 310)

The picture shows a Mitochondrion - Cell regulation. Is it one engine for the Ki phenomenon? Source: Wikipedia 2006
Mitochondrion – Cell regulation. Is it an engine for the Ki phenomenon?

Russian and German researchers found the link between mitochondrial function and the heart rate variability (HRV), the scientific way of pulse diagnostics. (explained later in this text.) (7) The HRV rises with the body’s ability to create energy through the intake of oxygen (8). And the regulation of the autonomic nervous system, measured via HRV, can be trained and augmented through a specific HRV based breathing biofeedback training (9). To follow this chain of argumentation, HRV analysis and HRV training could detect and strengthen Ki. This might be helpful for Karateka who train frequently and hard.

Further research is needed to determine the very elements that Ki consists of. Until then it can be seen as an aggregate of a multitude of psycho-somatic processes that correlate with health and well-being – and it can be measured and strengthened – good news for Karateka!

Ki as Regulation Capacity

On an experiential level, Ki is the term used in the Japanese Martial Arts for a type of intrinsic process that is present in everyone, but in martial arts practitioners it is developed to a greater extent through the use of specific breathing and strengthening exercises as well as mental imagination techniques.

In both the Japanese and Chinese Martial Arts, Ki or Qi is said to originate in the abdomen (Hara in Japanese or Tan Tien in Chinese) and can be focused or concentrated with practice, into any part of the body. Also, on this level, Ki is more than just energy: It could be described as resilience, a force that withstands attacks and onslaughts on different levels. Ki is the capacity for self-regulation and the ability of the autonomic nervous system and the cell metabolism: Its responsive capacity for coping with adverse circumstances, preserving and supporting our health.

The picture shows a Ki exercise "the unbendable body" in the authors Ki class.
Ki exercise “the unbendable body” in the authors Ki class

Today, Budoka’ s challenges are mostly not the rogues lurking around the next corner but new threats like global warming, mobbing, intrigue, fake news, negativity and so on might be much more realistic. And more so, Ki is needed giving us the ability to cope for example with the threat of the Corona Virus on both a mental and a physical level.

Measuring and Determining Ki: The Traditional Way of Pulse Diagnostics

Pulse diagnostics is an integral part of Ayurvedic medicine, which developed in the Indus Valley around 5000 years ago. In China, diagnostics of pulse was developed under the influence of India between the 2nd and 8th century AC, but the true beginnings might well stretch back as far as up to 2700 years earlier. In Chinese medicine, it is used for the detection of disturbances of a person’s vital energy (Chi), which expresses itself as Yin (feminine) and Yang (masculine) energy.

The picture shows heartrate variability by means of ECG measure: Presentation of heartbeat regulation:  – Ki in action. Source: Author
Heartrate variability by means of ECG measure: Presentation of heartbeat regulation:  – Ki in action. Source: Author

Today the pulse diagnostics, in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and especially in acupuncture and Shiatsu (massage) of Traditional Japanese medicine, is used to detect disturbances in “energy flow”. It takes years of training to learn to detect it and daily practice in order to incorporate it in therapy. Modern physiology understands that pulse diagnostics looks at the function of the branches of our autonomic nervous system, a system that gains more importance in the last decades.

Heart Rate Variability: The Modern Successor of Pulse Diagnostics

There is a new scientific method of detecting the function of our self-running, vegetative/ autonomic nervous system: The analysis of heart-rate variability (HRV) is gaining increasing importance both in sports medicine and in the control of stress- and behavioral medicine. In particular, coaches can measure and control the condition of their athletes very precisely and thus achieve more competitive success, health and longevity. Measuring Ki in Karate training.

The picture shows 5 min. heartrate curve of a competitive athlete.
The picture shows 5 min. heartrate curve of a competitive athlete.
The picture shows a 5 min. heartrate curve after an acute burn-out.
5 min. heartrate curve after an acute burn-out.

High Ki: In a functioning autonomic nervous system at rest, the heart rate and the breathing are interconnected. (Figure 4 – left). The vagus nerve (rest and digest nerve) is stimulated and controls every heartbeat quickly, efficiently and with little effort.

Low Ki: In a stressed and unfit system (Figure 5 – see right), the heartbeat control is rigid and inflexible, controlled by the sympathetic nerve (fight – flight nerve). Any stress could lead to breakdown and damage.

Ki in Martial Arts Training

If we look at martial artists who incorporate Ki exercises in their training, we come across Koichi Tohei Sensei, Aikido and Ki teacher of the author, who promoted Shin Shi Toitsu Do (Mind-Body unification) of Tempu Nakamura (Japanese Yoga) since the 70ies of last century. The unbend-able arm (see Fig. 2.) and the unbend-able body (see Fig. 3) are central to his Ki exercises.

Another Japanese Ki master is Nishino Kozo Sensei with his Nishino Juku Ki breathing method, who also researched the effects of Ki on human cells. (see above). Both reached well over 90 yrs. of age.

In Karate, Aoki Osamu Shihan, the head of JKA Spain, has incorporated Ki principles into Shotokan teaching, the Aoki Bio Energy method. He graduated to 9th Dan in JKA Honbu Dojo Tokyo last year. He has developed five areas of connecting body and mind in this training: Youtai (stabilizing the body), Nyu sei: (physical and psychological preparation), Yurumi Taiso (exercises for relaxation), Kokyu Ho (breathing exercises), Dooki (activation and flowing of Ki).

The picture shows Aoki Osamu Shihan, the master of Ki.
The picture shows Aoki Osamu Shihan, the master of Ki. Source: JKA Spain.

If we look at the teaching of today’s prominent JKA Karate Senseis, we detect several Ki principles in their lessons: Naka Shihan for example does stability testing as well as giving mental cues during his classes, Shimizu Ryosuke Sensei is emphasizing on relaxing into gravity while punching and Ueda Daisuke Sensei teaches at JKA Honbu Dojo the effect of Oi Tsukis extending Ki while executing.

Strengthening Ki in your Daily Karate Training

Ki principles could be part of every Karate training. This would expand the muscle power driven competitive Sports-Karate to a more holistic approach unifying mind and body aspects of the art.

The following Ki principles could enhance Kihon, Kata and Kumite alike:

1. Keep one point: Focus your mind on the center of gravity in your body.

2. Feel your weight underside: Allow yourself to relax into gravity and sense the ground.

3. Extend your Ki: Let our mind extend beyond your physical limits in every technique.

4. Relax completely: Calm your mind and let go of physical tensions while executing techniques.

5. Stability testing as well as the “unbend-able arm test” and the unbend-able body test” would enrich daily training and induce relaxing and awareness elements at any point of a hard workout.


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  8. Aisenpreis, Punito M. 2017: The improvement of the parasympathetic response and the O2 intake at rest of stress-exposed patients through an HRV controlled application of intermittent Hypoxia/ Hyperoxia Therapy (IHHT): A pilot study out of therapeutic practice: University of Halle sport science.
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About Punito M. Aisenpreis

Body-mind medical practitioner and researcher in Bavaria. Martial Arts and Meditation Teacher. Shotokan Karate since 1975, currently 4. Dan JKA. Ki Training with Koichi Tohei, 3 years living in an Ashram in India. Regular Karate training in Japan with Andre Bertel and the JKA. Fascia therapy since 1981. Founding of the German Society for Myofascial Release e.V. in 1994. Bodhidharma Karate Dojo Murnau, teaches Karate, HRV and Fascia seminars.

The picture shows Punito Aisenpreis the author of the article Ki and Karate.
Punito Aisenpreis the author of the article “Ki and Karate”