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Karate Science: A Critical Commentary about this Subculture

The picture shows a karateka and several equations. It represents Karate Science.

Karate science has become very popular in recent years. However, Jonas Correia criticizes that too many karateka focus to much on theorizing instead on training. The consequence is a constant decrease of fighting power of the Shotokan karate community.

Some weeks ago, I came across a post where someone argued the difference between kime and force when applying a certain technique to break a board. The argument in question was illustrated with the image of the profile of a board, with imaginary lines simulating the direction from which the force would come and where it would end. Beside that the picture also showed a variant of the equation that represented the antithesis.

Along with all this, the picture comprised numbers and letters , which if you were not a good student of physics classes in high school, you will never decipher. After I saw the post I had to read the comments and saw that there were some supporters of this analysis. The showed that they had also been good physics students in high school, they counter-argued that theory.  Those, who came to debate the final result based on calculations and equations, I call “Scientists of Karate”. They belong to the subculture of “Karate Science”.

Karate Science and its Origin

Every self-respecting Shotokan karateka has studied Nakayama’s books. They show scientific explanations about the human body by applying human bio-mechanics. The books analyze the relationships between bio-mechanics and karate. They are the foundation of Karate Science. This approach should guarantee the technical excellence of an art that is constantly evolving.

However, not everyone is a scientist or interested in evaluating complex calculations to reach a conclusion with no direct practical value. Some of these theories are interesting. But they do not have the power to change the training routine of a Karate community.

What causes the existence of Karate Science?

In harsher words, I regret to inform you that our habit in claiming theories around our art, has created a generation of “karate scientists” and this is even regrettable. The reason for this is due to the fact that we are always in constant competition with those who have become more learned, who read the most books. But this competition is a false hunt for more efficiency and effectiveness. It tries to legitimize fighting power of Shotokan karate in regard to other martial arts. Or karateka seek to show that their way of doing Oi-zuki this or that way is better. And some only want to show off.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a book writer and I constantly research. But I leave the study of these theories with the head instructors of the organization I belong to. My role is limited only to train, train and train.

The Negative Effects of Karate Science

However, we do not need to make Shotokan better at its boundaries. We do not need better theory. The theory is already highly developed. For the most karateka the complexity of the theories is already to high. They need handy concepts instead.

Most of the Karate Science proponents I have seen, have had a weak training routine compared to those who care little. I believe that this is the biggest reason that the Karate community may have weakened in numbers and in technical quality.

The picture shows Karate-Gis by SaikoSports, Taisei, and Momoko in the The Dojo Shop.
  • The picture shows Jonas Correia training in the JKA HQ. Jonas criticizes Karate Science subculture.
  • The picture shows Jonas Correia at a tournament. Jonas criticizes Karate Science subculture.
  • The picture shows Jonas Correia at a tournament. Jonas criticizes Karate Science subculture.

A good part of the practitioners theorize too much and practice less. Some have gained fame and prestige within the Karate community (mostly online), for the simple fact of knowing how to argue in an expert tone. Many of these have never even stepped on a koto in their life, or had any experience with a real fight. But they claim to have the knowledge of the most efficient way to land a punch. His followers are quick to call him a sage, a master, Shihan, or worst, Hanshi!

The Path of Pragmatism

A football player trains enough to dribble opponents and kick the ball into the post. Ready! This is enough. The player does not waste his time studying the weight of the ball in relation to the direction and strength of the wind influencing where the ball will land. Coaches and sports scientist might do that. The player, however, sees the ball and kicks it forward. Isn’t that his goal? The soccer player trains extensively, so that any influence of the wind or weight of the ball becomes an insignificant factor.

This same analysis can be used in Karate or other combat sports. You cannot theoretically prepare for keiko. Nor can you substitute vigorous and rigorous training with reading books to become able to defend yourself against one or more opponents. Of course, some theories might be better on scratch. However, one has to execute them. Therefore, serious Shotokan follows a simple rule: Pragmatism first, theory second! The truth is that no one will give you a PhD in Karate theory, so don’t break your head to long – go train!

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed by external authors are solely their current opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Shotokan Times and their respective editorial staff and management. The external authors opinions are based upon information they consider reliable, but neither The Shotokan Times nor its affiliates warrant its completeness or accuracy, and it should not be relied upon as such.

3 thoughts on “Karate Science: A Critical Commentary about this Subculture

  1. while i agree about the growth of the sub culture in karate.
    it has not been confined to over emphasis of science.
    there are other sub cultures with the following interests.

    (SCIENCE NERDS) over emphasis of scientific principles at the cost of neglecting the practicing of the technique itself

    (Nihon Jin clones) westerners who pass themselves of as born again Nihon Jin clones, complete with the quasi Japanese accents on certain words.

    (Hans Christian Andersen groupies) those who believe that the quality of their Karate is automatically improved if they wear branded and styled equipment with a japanese organisation logo on it. (The Kings New Clothes)

    (NAKED MOLE RATS) those who believe that the quality of the Karate of a person is automatically improved if they claim a link to a Japanese Instructor no matter how tenuous that link maybe

    (HITSUJI) those who have a herd mentality and believe that only Japanese organisations can teach karate effectively

    (Arithmomaniacs) those who jump from organisation to organisation collecting grades that have larger numbers. Also those heads of organisations who grade up to be as attractive in the market place to new members.

    and the list goes on.

    there will always be sub cultures in something that is a sub culture itself

    so i agree with you.

    However, a distinction needs to be made between

    those who obsess about the science at the cost of neglecting the practice of the technique


    those who recognises the importance of the science and teaches the science as an important part of the curriculum but only as a part of the students education for the reason that they believe if a practitioner understands the science and are taught the correct form in a step by step formula then the student is encouraged to put it into practice and repeat the training cycle with numerous repetitions.


  2. I never see references to Tsutomu Ohshima in your newsletter. He was the captain of the Waseda Karate Club in 1948 training with Master Funakoshi, whose book Karate-Do Kyohan he translated while I was training with him in the ’60s and ’70s. Check out Shotokan Karate of America.

  3. It looks like someone may have limited training experience and is envious of those who have experienced good quality karate instruction in Japan or elsewhere… There’s *no place on Earth* like Tokyo to experience high quality Japanese karate instruction. The number of highly experienced, dedicated instructors there is unique worldwide. Period. Even secondary quality dojo in Japan will give you a superior training experience than some of the most well-known instructors in the US or Europe. You may find some good quality instruction in US, but those instructors and dojo are very, very, very rare. Those who understand biomechanics are even rarer.

    Agree with most points of the original post. The snarky “scientific-minded” instructor who demeans “mindless repetition” is often creating an excuse for not training hard or for covering his own lack of imagination in teaching. This often leads to much emphasis on bogus bunkai, discussion, and too little actual training. Your body will move better and you will understand karate better if you train harder. That’s the whole point of “mindless repetition”. Most kata and kihon training were not devised for a specific functions in fight but rather to build fitness, flexibility and “muscle memory”. Overanalyzing every technique can be an excuse not to train. Perfecting each technique to perfection is more important. And I am a professional scientist who really appreciates the value of scientific thinking. Posting for a friend. JM

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