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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.


  1. Unschuld, Paul 2003: Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen: Nature, Knowledge, Imagery in an Ancient Chinese Medical Text, University of California Press.
  2. Park JE., Ryu YH., Liu Y., Jung HJ., Kim AR., Jung SY., Choi SM. 2013: A literature review of de qi in clinical studies. In: Acupuncture Medicine 31(2), 132-42.
  3. Chuckrow Robert, Ph.D. 2019: A Biological Interpretation of Ch’i (Qi): 2019
  4. Ohnishi ST, Ohnishi T, Nishino K, Tsurusaki Y, Yamaguchi M. 2005: Growth inhibition of cultured human carcinoma cells by Ki-energy (life energy): scientific study of Ki-effect on cancer cells. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2: 387–93.
  5. S. Tsuyoshi Ohnishi, Tomoko Ohnishi and Kozo Nishino 2006: Ki-Energy (Life-Energy) Protects Isolated Rat Liver Mitochondria from Oxidative Injury: eCAM 3 (4)475–482
  6. Rosch, Paul J. 2009: Bioelectromagnetic and Subtle Energy Medicine. The Interface between Mind and Matter. In: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
  7. Kuchera et. al. 2003: Mitochondrial Therapy: Some questions of autonomic regulation mechanisms with use of HRV: Stress Research Institute, Meissen, State research Institute Moscow, Institute for New medical. T., Riazan.
  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.
  9. Aisenpreis, Punito M. 2013: The improvement of the parasympathetic response through a personalized 9 weeks HRV biofeedback training: University of Halle sports science.

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”

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How can Sport Karate Become Respected Again?

The picture shows children fighting is sport karate gloves. Thus, we ask the question:Is Shotokan effective?

Sport Karate has lost the respect of the global budo karate and combat fighter community. The reasons for this has been the sanitizing of karate to make it more attractive for the Olympic Games. But this project has failed. Now it is time to consider reforms of Sport Karate, to make it respected again. A proposal of reforms in the column Shotokan Essence by T.D. McKinnon

A Proposal of Reforms

Olympic Karate has been talked about, at least, since my heyday as a fighter in Scotland in the 1970s. The tournament organizers have been sanitizing competition Karate ever since, to present a more visually attractive event to the Olympic committee.

But has the whole sanitizing exercise been worth it?

With France leaving Karate off the agenda for the 2024 Paris Olympics, in favor of breakdancing, it appears that the Olympic dream might begin and end at the 2020/21 Tokyo Olympics.

Therefore, the answer must be: No, it has not been worth it.

With the sensitization, sport karate has also lost a lot of respect within the Budo Karate and combat fighter communities. Yahara Mikio Sensei, when asked for his opinion of today’s sport Karate, is reported to have said, “No… no, this is not sport Karate… this maybe ‘sport fighting’, but this is not Karate.” I myself call modern sport karate ‘martial ping pong’ rather than a Martial Art.

Therefore, since the Olympic dream is over, let us start to envision how sport karate could regain its credibility. To do so, I will review a few elements in the WKF rule system and consider how they could be changed for the better. With a focus on Kumite, I will finish with a proposal of how future sport karate could and should look.

Sport Karate and World Karate Federation Rules

Within WKF point scoring competition, a score is awarded when a technique is performed according to the following criteria:

  • Good form,
  • sporting attitude,
  • vigorous application,
  • awareness,
  • good timing and
  • correct distancing.

Once these criteria have been met it depends on the technique how many points a fighter receives. I give you a brief overview here:

Ippon (3 points) is awarded for:

  • Jodan kicks
  • Any scoring technique delivered on a thrown or fallen opponent.

Waza-ari (2 points) is awarded for:

  • Chudan kicks.

Yuko (1 point) is awarded for:

  • Chudan or Jodan Tsuki
  • Jodan or Chudan Uchi.

Shortcomings of Sport Karate: WKF Rules and 4 Areas for Reform

So, where are the shortcomings of the WKF rule system? Following I discuss 4 areas of reform which are fundamental to karate. However, willfully or not, the WKF has neglected them.

1) The Lack of Kime

The first area stands at the center of karate: the concept of Kime. In the WKF rules, Kime is mentioned in the ‘Kata points to be considered’. However, it is yet not mentioned in the ‘Kumite points to be considered’. Why is that? There seems to be a lack of understanding of exactly what Kime is. And although Zanshin is not mentioned in the criteria it is mentioned in the latest rule changes (page 13 article VI) as a criterion often missing in a scoring technique. However, while I agree in regard to Zanshin, in my observation, Kime is the element most often missing from WKF competition scoring techniques.

Because Lack of Kime = lack of intent, that the controlled technique would indeed do the damage it represents. A technique can be ‘delivered vigorously’ (WKF criteria) and have no ‘Kime’. More acceptable, from a Budo standpoint, would be ‘delivered vigorously with Kime!’

2) The Role of Referees in WKF Competitions

In WKF competition, the referee conducts the competition but doesn’t seem to make any decisions concerning the actual scoring. Unless a corner judge shows a flag the referee cannot award a score. At the latest Australian Karate Federation (Australian national level of WKF) Championships, I observed missed flag calls on several occasions. No wonder. It is difficult enough to control a bout, let alone, simultaneously, watch for flag calls. Conversely, I did see referees, having recognized a scoring technique, stopping the bout; however, with no flag support, the referee was forced to restart the bout without awarding a point.

The picture shows that the Olympic Dream of the WKF is over. That is the reason why reforms of sport karate should be considered.
The Olympic Dream of the WKF is over!

3) Yuko is Unnecessary

In my competition days (and still in Shobu Ippon and Shobu Sanbon), an Ippon was a decisive strike leaving the opponent with no chance of defending against it. It had to be delivered with Kime, while balanced and in a state of Zanshin. A slightly less decisive technique would score a Waza-ari; two Waza-ari equaled one Ippon. Cleanly delivered kicks to the head and strikes to a downed opponent generally scored Ippon. However, any technique, regardless of its nature, delivered with all the scoring criteria in place could score an Ippon, if it was considered a decisive technique.

Many years ago, I watched (the legendary tournament fighter) Frank Brennan Sensei, subtly, encourage his opponent to attack with mawashi geri. Mid-kick, Frank executed a gyaku tsuki that knock him to the floor. Frank scored an Ippon, and his opponent received a Mubobi (unprotected while attacking recklessly). The epitome of timing!

With WKF criteria in today’s competition rules, a Yuko might be awarded for the gyaku tsuki; if indeed a warning isn’t given for excessive contact.

As mentioned in the WKF Rule Book – affective from 1.01.2019 – page 13 article X:

‘A worthless technique is a worthless technique – regardless of where and how it is delivered. A bad technique, which is badly deficient in good form, or lacking power, will score nothing.’

Quite right, it should score nothing. From a Budo standpoint: a technique that has not managed to touch enough bases to score a Waza-ari and has no potential to cause damage should score nothing. So where is the point of a Yuko?

And yet, technically, one Yuko can win a match. Indeed, one Yuko could win an Olympic Gold Medal. From a Budo standpoint, that is just wrong. Only a karateka, who really prevails, should win a fight.

4) Senshu Rule and Hikiwaki

Senshu rule: in the event of a draw, the fighter to have scored the first point in the match wins. This rule is questionable. In my competition days, I liked to claim a psychological edge by getting the first score. However, from a fighter’s viewpoint, the Senshu rule is nonsense. This rule creates the incentive to get the first point, which is usually a yuko, under any circumstances.

Even worse is the Hantei rule, whereupon a drawn match cannot be decided by Senshu, i.e. no score given. An arbitrary vote is taken. Hantei is another rule that, from a fighter’s perspective is nonsense. What if a fighter focuses on a counter-strategy? Hantei fosters hyper-active fighters instead of fighters with Zanshin.

In the event of Hikiwaki (a draw) we had Enchousen, a one-minute extension rule. If, at the end of that time, it was still a tie the ‘sudden death’ rule was applied (first score wins). Those rules worked well. They were quick, simple and easy for competitors, officials and audiences to understand.

Reforms of the WKF rules are necessary

Sport is generally considered good for an individual, especially the young: teaching many of life’s lessons. But sport is not for everyone. Not everyone benefits from the kind of stress that accompanies competition with others. Nevertheless, even for those who don’t wish to compete, seeing your art performed, realistically, at an elite level is enlivening.

However, flash and showmanship have replaced Budo and practicality in sport Karate. Not only has this trend lost the respect of the martial arts world, traditionalists and the martial combat fighters alike, but also the wider community. To reform the four mentioned areas would be at least a first step to a more acceptable approach of sport karate.

True Karate-Do Spirit is missing

I have felt for some time that the true spirit of Karate-Do is missing from sport Karate, particularly the WKF. It’s a shame, because competition on such a wide, varied, multi styled level could be a positive, developmental element in Karate-Do. It was for me. However, the tendency for the sport to take precedence, as in many purely sport orientated organizations, diminishes the understanding of the larger picture: Karate-Do.

Karate-Do is far more than sport, more than Budo even. Karate-Do is a way of life, a competition with one’s self: ‘to be better today than you were yesterday.’ Rather than

merely honing and perfecting a few athletic techniques, the goal is being better in an expansive, holistic way.

Shobu Sanbon as Alternative

As for the sport: for what it’s worth, to close the ever-widening gap between the sport and the art; I, a life-long karateka, would recommend to the WKF: If the Shobu Ippon format is too restricting, the Shobu Sanbon format could be implemented. It forces the karateka to focus on a few decisive and vigorous techniques but still offers enough time and space for spectacular action. Of course, if the WKF did that they would need to teach competitors and referees alike the difference between ‘Delivering Vigorously’ and ‘Delivering with Kime’!

This legendary fight between Toshihito Kokubun and Johan Johan LaGrange in Tokyo at the Shoto World Cup 2000 shows how intense and exciting Shobu Sanbon fights can be.
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Loyalty to Your Dojo during Covid-19

The picture shows the loyalty of students to their Dojo.

Loyalty to your dojo is highly required during the global Corona crises. Many dojos already face financial challenges due to the lockdown. But loyalty should also given to you teacher (sensei), your fellow karateka, and to the ones, who are loyal to you. True karate spirit means: Keep on fighting, and keep being loyal to each other – especially during Covid-19. By Michael Ehrenreich

It sounds like a tale from long ago. None of us has experienced anything like this. We live in times marked by uncertainty, people risking their lives for us and our loved ones, restrictions on personal freedoms, and loss of community. Nobody imagined such a situation just a few months ago. Now, social distancing, lock-down, stay-in-place-order, closure of businesses, and the ban of sport activities are normal. Different parts of the world have different laws in place. But, we all experience fundamental restrictions. Everything feels like a bad dream. We hope to wake up soon. But it is not going to be over any time soon. We will have to deal with this situation and its aftermath for a while.

We Miss the Dojo

These are not easy days for any of us. We miss our freedom, our friends, our family, and our normal life. We miss our daily practice in the dojo. We are all suffering to a certain degree. We all need to make sacrifices, and most of us are willing to do so. This is a time to practice self-discipline. Rather than seeking our own interests, we now need to consider the best for our community first. This is a time of self-reflection. And, this is a time to show loyalty.

Running a martial arts school is not an easy thing to do. Most dojo owners that I know chose this way for their love of the martial arts. These days, being the owner of a dojo feels like facing the abyss. Saying that, we witness dojo owners trying everything to stay in contact with their students. They send out training programs, send live stream online classes, offer online advice, send out regular emails, cancel the summer break to make up for lost practice time, freeze contracts, and much more. And they are hoping for this nightmare to be over soon.

But these are unprecedented times. There is no proven solution for all of our problems. These are new challenges for all of us. So, we have to try everything out ourselves. All that a dojo owner can do now is staying in contact with his or her students. Give them advice for an active life-style under a lockdown. Give students purpose in these difficult times. Most dojo owners understand their responsibility and prove great loyalty towards their students. They make a tremendous effort by showing amazing creativity in dealing with this new reality.

Loyalty to your Dojo

But responsibility and loyalty are not a one-way street. In this article I am speaking about dojos, not about clubs or schools. That does not mean that I hold little regard for those institutions. Far from it. But a dojo is a different place, a different idea. A dojo is not merely a space for our practice or a place to socialize with each other.

As karateka, we believe that a dojo is much more than this. Granted, it is a place of skill and expertise acquisition. It is a place for us to get stronger and acquire real-life fighting skills. But it is also a space to develop self-fulfillment, self-confidence, self-esteem, and a deep knowledge about ourselves. Being part of a dojo goes far beyond any contract. It is a way of life. In a dojo we learn about the important things in life, beyond gyaku-zuki, Heian Shodan, and ippon. A dojo teaches us about ourselves, it shows us who we are.

Loyalty to your Teacher (Sensei)

Of course, we develop our skills and our personality by our very own effort and discipline. But it is the instructor or teacher (the Japanese call him or her, “Sensei”) that guides us through this whole process. First, the Sensei helps us to discover who we are. It is the teacher we need to thank for our accomplishments. And because of that, this is not the time to leave our dojo for good.

This is not the time to leave our teacher behind just to save a few cents. As we all know, it is in difficult times that one reveals his or her true character. We all, teacher and students, are foremost karateka. And as such we show our true character by our willingness to fight this fight together. We will watch each other’s back, and we will be there for each other. This is what karateka do.

Loyalty to your Fellow Karateka

We have been witnessing an amazing sense of community in the last few weeks within our karate world. There is, for instance, an online group called Karate@home, started by Martin Buchstaller and Nadja Körner. I do not know Nadja, but I have known Martin for many years. He is not a professional karateka. He has a daytime job, as I think Nadja does as well.

Still, he works many hours every day to help karateka from all over the world to join in a daily online karate class taught by changing instructors. Actually, they hold two classes a day. Thousands of karateka from over one hundred countries benefit from this service, all for free. Martin and Nadja do not make money from it. They do this out of their love of karate. These examples of loyalty towards our fellow karateka give us hope for the future.

Loyalty Paid with Loyalty

Of course, I know that there are bad apples within any group of dojo owners. There is always this so-called sensei who is just trying to exploit difficult times for his or her own benefit. Or the other “sensei” who is just sitting out this situation, not putting in any effort in trying to help his or her students. But we need not concern ourselves with some bad seeds in our community. It is not worth our time. As always, as karateka, we focus on those that inspire us, those we can learn from. It is those who prove to be loyal to us that we pay back with our loyalty.

Focus on the Once Who Show Loyalty

By the way, I do not own a dojo. I was the owner of a martial arts school in Athens, GA in the United States for over ten years though. That is why I feel the pain many dojo owners are experiencing right now. I witnessed first hand, as a dojo owner, the financial crisis of 2008. And, like many other school owners I lost students during that time. More often than not, students left our dojo who were not impacted directly by the financial downturn.

The picture shows Michael Ehrenreich teaching a student makiwara training. Michal is the author of Loyalty to your Dojo during Covid-19.
Michael Ehrenreich teaches how to train with a makiwara.

And yes, I asked myself if the idea of Bushido had somehow escaped those people, especially if they were advanced students. But again, it is not worth bothering ourselves with those people. We remember the words of Alexander of Hales when he observed that it is the shadows that highlight the light even more. In other words, we need to focus on those who do show the true spirit of karate and stay with the dojo. It is those true warriors we can count on.

True Karate Spirit

These are challenging times. Not all of us will get out of this crisis unhurt. But we also see some tremendous sense of community within our karate world. We see some true karate spirit, some true warriors. And it is those examples of staying-together, of showing loyalty to each other that give us hope. This will eventually all end and we will get out of it stronger than ever before. Seeing our karate community sticking it out together makes me proud to be a part of it. As a matter of fact, I have not been this proud of being part of the karate community in decades. Keep on fighting, and keep being loyal to each other.

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How the Samurai Art Bujutsu influenced Shotokan Karate

Bujutsu, the martial and military arts of the samurai, had a great influence on the evolution of Shotokan karate do. Especially Gichin Funakoshi was highly impressed by Jigen-ryu, a bujutsu style from the south prefecture Satsuma in Japan. Later, Gigo Funakoshi enriched Shotokan with elements from kendo and other types of Japanese fencing. The following historical reconstruction illuminates the relationship between the samurai art bujutsu and Shotokan karate do. Thus it offers a new foundation to reflect about the style in general and its techniques and ideals in particular. By Geoffrey Wingard

How has traditional bujutsu (武術, martial and military arts) influenced Shotokan karate do? This question has to be addressed because Shotokan karate do, the ubiquitous karate of post-war Japan, is unique. It differs in significant ways from its Okinawan roots and from karate on Okinawa today. But how could that happen? Was Gichin Funakoshi not from Okinawa and did he not learn karate from Okinawan masters? Both facts are true.

Bujutsu, Jigen-ryu, and Shotokan Karate Do?

But Funakoshi and other pioneers of Shotokan designed their karate differently than most other major karate styles in Okinawa. The reasons for this difference can be found in the strong influence by traditional bujutsu in general and the southern Japanese swordsmanship Jigen-ryu in particular on the Shotokan. For instance:

  • Shotokan places great emphasis on the perfection of basic form;
  • While traditional, tries to avoid symbolic and esoteric techniques that obscure its singular focus;
  • It requires an austerity of practice unlike that of many other systems;
  • Shotokan karate uses longer stances;
  • It emphasizes fighting at greater distances;
  • It places much more emphasis on the ideal of ikken hissatsu, one hit – certain kill. 

These elements can be found in traditional Japanese swordsmanship.

However, Shotokan karate do shares tactical and strategic characteristics with both Okinawan and Japanese martial arts. It combines various Okinawan styles of karate with post-Meiji-era budo and koryu Japanese bujutsu. 

When Started the Influence of Bujutsu and Jigen-ryu on Shotokan Karate Do?

Funakoshi Adjusted Shotokan after the he moved to Tokyo

But how could this incorporation of Japanese bujutsu elements and concepts happen? The answers to these questions are complex. Both because Gichin Funakoshi had to face certain challenges when he moved to Japan, which made him adjust his style and because Shotokan continued to evolve throughout the twentieth century. Following his expatriation from Okinawa to Japan Funakoshi consciously molded his form of budo to appeal to Japanese audiences. The changes include 

  • the introduction of ranks and uniforms similar to those devised by Funakoshi’s Japanese sponsor Kano Jigoro of Kodokan Judo, 
  • the establishment of clubs at elite universities and
  •  the introduction of an “old boy” network, a system of informal yet important client/sponsor relations that characterizes many successful Japanese enterprises (Ashkenazi, 2002). 

Bujutsu Influence on Shotokan before Funakoshi Moved to Tokyo?

However, some of the particular technical aspects of Shotokan pre-date Funakoshi’s time in Tokyo. Therefore, the influence of Shotokan by bujutsu must have begun earlier than the 1920´s.

For instance, Shotokan’s stances undeniably got longer and deeper in the 1930s and 1940s under the influence of Gigo (Yoshitaka) Funakoshi, Gichin Funakoshi’s son and heir. But they were already longer and deeper than many Okinawan styles during the elder Funakoshi’s time. The same goes for Gigo´s emphasized ikken hissatsu in his new randori–style kumite. The concept of total commitment to initial technique was already present in his father’s karate. Furthermore, the introduction of kihon kata, shiai karate and bogu kumite also existed to some degree in the karate of other teachers from Okinawa, both in the Ryukyu Islands and on the Japanese mainland.

How did Bujutsu influence Shotokan Karate Do?

So, where did the differences that characterize Shotokan originate if they didn’t suddenly emerge in 1922 from the imagination of Gichin Funakoshi, a middle-aged displaced schoolteacher? In other words: is it logical that a socially conservative, impoverished, fifty-five year old man, living alone hundreds of miles from his home would abandon a lifetime of orthodox karate practice and come up with a new, untested methodology to sell to the Japanese public on the fly? Would Funakoshi, the former kaicho (president) of the Okinawa Karate Shobu-kai, simply abandon or radically alter karate-do on a whim? This seems unlikely. 

Another hypothesis, as I am going to show, is more likely: Shotokan, already contained characteristics that made it distinct from other Okinawan styles prior to its expatriation from Okinawa.

Anko Azato and Jigen-ryu

Famed British karate historian Steve Cattle argued that the distinctive characteristics of Funakoshi karate arose from the budo of one of his primary teachers: Azato Ankoh. According to Cattle (1990), the unique qualities of Shotokan emerged due to its association with Jigen-ryu kenjutsu through Master Azato. Azato was renowned on Okinawa for his Jigen-ryu swordsmanship. And he  impressed upon young Funakoshi the importance of training one’s hands “like a sharp steel sword” (Funakoshi, 1975, p. 94).

Furthermore, the Jigen-ryu was, as Cattle observes, the official style of the former Satsuma daimyo and their retainers, the closest samurai to Okinawa (based in what is now Kagoshima prefecture). Azato’s teacher, Matsumura Sokon, had mastered this style due to his association with the Satsuma clan as a bodyguard for the Okinawan king

The picture shows samurai of the clan Shimazu, which reigned Satsuma prefecture for several centuries. The Shimazu practiced the bujutsu style of Jigen-ryu, which later influenced the development of Shotokan.
The picture shows samurai of the Shimazu clan, which reigned Satsuma prefecture for several centuries. The Shimazu practiced the bujutsu style of Jigen-ryu, which later influenced the development of Shotokan.

Characteristics of Jigen-ryu

Jigen-ryu has distinctive characteristics. Many parallel with those in Shotokan karate do. 

  • It employs long stances, direct linear strikes, lunging attacks and an almost obsessive cultivation of perfect, basic techniques. 
  • It requires constant attention to technical efficacy trained through hitting springy wooden poles (not so unlike karateka hitting the makiwara). 
  • It is concerned primarily with training for an initial, instantaneous lethal blow, similar to Shotokan’s storied emphasis on ikken hissatsu. 

Historian G. Cameron Hurst explains that, “Jigen-ryu emphasized an initial offensive attack designed to either split the opponent in two or fell him with a single blow.” (1998, p. 62). Students of modern Shotokan will recognize both philosophical and technical similarities between the Jigen-ryu and Shotokan karate do.

Lunging Strike in Jigen-ryu and Oi-tsuki of Shotokan karate do

In 2001, at the University of Missouri – St. Louis’ Budo Symposium, koryu bujutsuka Ellis Amdur demonstrated the similarities of the primary lunging strike of Jigen-ryu to the oi-tsuki of Shotokan karate do. Amdur explained and demonstrated with startling ferocity how the lunge from what Jigen-ryu calls tonbo-no-kamae or dragonfly stance to a full extension of the sword following an overhand strike is analogous to Shotokan’s full extension into zenkutsu dachi with a lunge punch. Both techniques require total commitment to attack, the full extension of the arm and body, and synchronized stepping and striking movements.

These characteristics employed in seizing the initiative will be familiar to Shotokan karateka, but they are also present in Jigen-ryu, which has been described as “a system of all-out attack.” (Amdur, 2002, p. 165).

Kiai in Jigen-ryu and Shotokan Karate

Other, circumstantial evidence supports Shotokan’s association with Jigen-ryu swordsmanship. For example, Jigen-ryu is known for its unique kiai sometimes called a monkey’s shout (enkyo). It is a wailing, high-pitched yell performed with every downward cut of the sword. In English, the Jigen-ryu shout is most often transliterated as “Ei!” rather than kiai.

In Funakoshi’s final written work on his form of karate, Karate-do Kyohan, he uses the term kiai to describe the technique of shouting/expelling breath. But he also uses the English transliteration “Ei!” to describe the sound the karateka should make when performing kiai (1973, for example on p.75). In formal kumite training Shotokan karateka, like Jigen-ryu swordsmen, kiai to emphasize their lunging techniques.

The emphasize on a single-blow also leads to a rigorous trainings regime of Jigen-ryu.

Students of Funakoshi had Bujutsu Background

Another intriguing aspect underlines the relationship between Jigen-ryu and Shotokan. In the decades following Funakoshi´s introduction of karate to Japan he relied heavily on a few trusted senior students. Among these were Okinawans living in Japan such as Makoto Gima and Japanese natives trained in other bujutsu who became his students, notably Hironori Ohtsuka and Takeshi Shimoda. Each of these men brought their own preferences to Funakoshi’s style. But none succeeded him, meaning that the Shotokan we have inherited is more likely directly influenced by Funakoshi’s own budo than by outside contributors. 

Makoto Gima

Gima remained a follower of Funakoshi. However, he retained elements of his Okinawan teachers’ karate in his version of Shotokan. Schools of his lineage, the Kenkojuku, differ slightly from orthodox Shotokan today. A plausible reason might be the influence of Ankoh Itosu and Kentsu Yabu (n.b. Funakoshi had also studied extensively under Itosu, but not under Yabu). While the Kenkojuku is clearly a lineage of Shotokan karate, it does not necessarily reflect a pure lineage of Funakoshi’s particular style. 

Hironori Ohtsuka

Ohtsuka eventually left Funakoshi’s tutelage to train under rival teacher Motobu Choki. While Funakoshi never publicly spoke ill of him, neither did he train with him after the break. Ohtsuka founded the Wado-ryu karate style and did not inherit Shotokan.

Takeshi Shimoda

Shimoda, Funakoshi’s senior student in Japan, died unexpectedly after a brief illness at only thirty-three years old. While Shimoda’s expertise in nen-ryu kenjutsu inevitably influenced his personal interpretation of Funakoshi’s karate, his death limited his influence on the Shotokan method. That left Funakoshi’s third son, Gigo (Yoshitaka), to carry on the Shotokan tradition in Japan.

Bujutsu, Gigo Funakoshi, and the Evolution of Shotokan Karate Do

As a boy on Okinawa, Gigo had trained under both an elderly Itosu Ankoh and under his father. In Japan he was junior to Shimoda and studied directly under him and the elder Funakoshi. After Shimoda’s death, however, when the weight of inheritance fell upon him, Funakoshi Gigo began to train in earnest. At this time, he began to change the Shotokan curriculum and develop it into what many would recognize as a more modern form of Shotokan. He didn’t do this in a vacuum, however. 

The pictures shows Yoshitaka "Gigo" Funakoshi, who developed the style further of Shotokan further. Research shows that he was influenced by bujutsu and brought this influence into Shotokan karate.
Yoshitaka “Gigo” Funakoshi developed Shotokan further and implemented bujutsu elements into the style.

Gigo Funakoshi´s interest in Kendo and Gendai Budo

Kendo and other gendai budo influenced Gigo a lot (an influence in Shotokan that would grow after Gigo’s passing as most Shotokan dojo came under the direction of the Nakayama Masatoshi and the JKA), particularly concerning o-waza or long-distance techniques. Taiji Kase explained that Gigo Funakoshi developed and practiced o-waza in Shotokan for the same reason that kendoka practiced o-waza, “in order to develop and strengthen the body.” (Rincon, 2000).  But there are hints that some of Gigo’s changes to Shotokan may have, in fact, arisen from some continued association with the legacy of Jigen-ryu kenjutsu or from other lesser known Okinawan sources.

Gigo Funakoshi´s Time in Okinawa

Sometime between 1934 (after Shimoda’s death) and 1937, when Japan went to war in China and travel became restricted, Funakoshi Gigo traveled back to Okinawa to study karate. Who he studied with and what he studied are still something of a mystery. Both of his father’s primary teachers had passed away, Azato Ankoh in 1906 and Itosu Ankoh in 1915. However,  both had students remaining on Okinawa. 

Itosu’s legacy is impressive and he had many branch dojo and students teaching throughout the region including many in public schools. Azato’s karate is more of a mystery. However, research has shown that Azato had at least one son, a close friend of Funakoshi Gichin. He also practiced karate and remained on Okinawa. Azato also had other descendants and family members who practiced karate, a lineage of which is rumored to be extant in Kagoshima prefecture today. One can plausibly argue that Gigo could have studied with these men or with others influenced by them.

Did Gigo Bring Bujutsu Elements from Okinawa to Tokyo?

Were any of these influences related to the Jigen-ryu or in other ways formative for Shotokan? It is intriguing to think so for a few reasons. We know, for example, that upon his return to Tokyo from Okinawa Gigo introduced new techniques and stances to Shotokan that he may have learned on Okinawa. Other styles  related to the Shotokan/Shorin-ryu lineage do not accept these. He reportedly trained harder than ever upon his return and made great advances in his personal technique.

Gigo’s students, including Kase Taiji, one of the JKA’s renown masters, recalled Gigo attacking the makiwara over and over with powerful lunge punches and thrusts putting all his spirit and will into the practice after his return from Okinawa. There is an axiom in Jigen-ryu kenjutsu that states students should strike the tategi or freestanding striking pole, “3,000 times in the morning and 8,000 times at night”. Is this what Gigo was doing? Was this indomitable dedication and his new impressive lunging technique what he had learned in Okinawa?

The picture shows Gigo Funakoshi practicing at the makiwara. His interested in makiwara training might be influenved by his exposure to Jigen-ryu and other bujutsu, which also use striking devises made from wood.
Gigo Funakoshi during makiwara training.

Bujutsu and Shotokan Karate Do: A Close Relationship

Unfortunately, we may never know. Like Shimoda before him, Gigo’s life was cut short by disease at a young age. He died of tuberculosis at age thirty-nine and the Shotokan dojo itself was destroyed in the ravages of the Second World War. The Shotokan karate that emerged after the war took time to reform and was reconstructed to meet new challenges. The post-war karateka who followed Funakoshi made changes of their own to the style for both technical and political reasons that have unintentionally obscured some key details necessary for a comprehensive analysis of early Shotokan. 

What we can say with confidence, however, is that Shotokan karate, while distinct from other lineages of Okinawan martial arts, has a tradition that is both linked to traditional karate and that is intriguingly similar to other classical bujutsu, especially Jigen-ryu.


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Ashkenazi, M. 2002: Ritual and the Ideal of Society in Karate. In: Jones, D.E. (ed.): Combat, Ritual and Performance: Anthropology of the Martial Arts. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, pp. 99-118.

Cattle, S. 1990: What is Shotokan? In: Shotokan Karate Magazine. Issue 24.

Funakoshi, G. 1973: Karate-do Kyohan: The Master Text. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Funakoshi, G. 1975: Karate-do My Way of Life. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Hurst, G.C. 1998: Armed Martial Arts of Japan: Swordsmanship and Archery. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Rincon, Martin 2000: Interviewing Sensei Taiji Kase 9º Dan Of Shotokan Ryu Karate-Do. In: Karate-Do Shotokan Ryu Kase Ha Albacete – España.