Whether in life or in Karate, wisdom comes with time, from experience. Today, with more than 35 years of Karate experience, I see the practice, and life, differently than when I started. Let me present you with a list of 25 Karate tips that I wish I learned sooner. I hope this will help you in your Karate journey.
For too long, I was focussing solely on the body, but when I started to work on my mind as well, my Karate improved drastically. Training the body (muscles, strength, agility, speed, and coordination) is crucial to master Karate, but in the end, it's your mind that decides the outcome of a confrontation, whether in the dojo or in a self-defense situation on the streets. Therefore, it's equally crucial to learn to control your mind and your emotions through the practice of mindfulness and meditation.
If you really want to get your Karate to the next level, it's imperative that you start training at home EVERY DAY. Karate training at home is excellent because: 1) it's not always possible to go to the dojo every day and 2) when you exercise at home, it allows you to train differently than you do at the dojo. At home, you can work for as long as you want on a specific punch or kick, improve your body conditioning - you can basically work on anything that you feel you need to improve. You wanna get better at Karate? Train every day, train at home.
When I was a beginner, I wanted to change and modify Karate because there were things that didn't make sense or that were not logical for me. With time and experience, my understanding of Karate got richer, and I don't feel the need to change anything, because I now understand that everything in Karate makes perfect sense just the way it is.
When we're a beginner in Karate, all you want to learn is some acrobatic, ninja-style moves. I know I was. We are so influenced by Hollywood and Chinese Kung-Fu movies that our perception of martial arts is distorted. With experience, in my case, it was around shodan, I realized that the most important is really the basics. Advanced Karate is nothing more than mastery of the basics.
Technically, Karate training requires very little equipment. Once you have a uniform and a belt, you're fine, right? That might be the case for a class, but that's another thing when it comes to Karate conditioning. Ancient Okinawan Masters used to condition their body with various training tools. By improving your body conditioning, you directly improve your Karate technique. Tools like punching bags, kicking shields, kettlebells, and tetsutaba will truly help improve your Karate. Check out this article about my favorite Karate training equipment.
If you truly want to improve the power of your strikes, you absolutely have to hit on a resisting target like a makiwara, a kicking shield, or a standing punching bag. Hitting against a resisting target (that creates "opposition" to your strikes) activates deep muscles that cannot be activated otherwise, whether during kihon, kata or when working with a partner striking in the air. The only way to work on those deep muscles is to hit (push, resist) against a physical target. Don't take my word for it, buy some equipment and see for yourself. You can thank me later.
As a beginner, the opponent's strikes come at you very fast, and you can barely see them coming. That can be pretty overwhelming, to say the least. Don't be discouraged, with experience, you will notice that time seems to slow down, and the strikes that you'll receive will seems to come at you at a slower speed, giving you enough time to react (or act!) in full control.
When you are a beginner/intermediate Karate practitioner, you do self-defense techniques and sparring at long range. Why? Because you are not yet comfortable with receiving attack and your reaction time is relatively slow. With experience, you will naturally move to close range. Close range is actually a place where you are surprisingly safe and where your opponent is generally not comfortable and ineffective. It might be interesting to note that close range hand-to-hand fighting systems are used by the American Army and Special Forces around the world. There might be a reason for that, don't you think?
When you have limited experience in Karate, you seem to think that the more often you hit, the better it is. So in kumite you move non stop, unleashing attack from all angles. With experience, your perception of Karate changes, and you start to use less and less movements to be effective. You are slowly aiming towards "Ikken Hissatsu", to annihilate the opponent with one blow.
When you are punching, kicking, or blocking, don't use your arm or leg only, use your hips as well, this way you will drastically improve your striking power. Every movement comes from your hips, its the center of your Karate. Power should come from the ground up, through the legs, next through the hips and then explode into a punch or a kick. Master the hips, and you'll have massive, insane striking power.
Many Westerners think that the black belt is the end of the journey and that once you reach it, you have accomplished yourself. Nothing can be further from the truth. The black belt is actually the beginning of serious Karate business. This is where the real path is starting, before that, you were just on the trail.
Karate is more than learning self-defense and kata, it's a lifestyle. It teaches you how to understand and manage your body in a healthy way through stretching, breathing, and nutrition. It also teaches you about understanding your mind and emotions and be mindful of the present moment. Karate's lifestyle prepares you for daily life, beyond the dojo.
Often, Karate practitioners are attached to their style and see it as being the truth. When your mind gets clearer, and your spirit matures, and you will realize that real Karate lies beyond styles. Adhering to a style only limits your expression of Karate. I now see Karate as a whole, not as fragments.
In the early stages if Karate, I thought sparring was the essence of Karate, not kata. Today, I recognized in kata every move, attack, and defense found in Karate. Kata contains tools and knowledge that needs to be applied in kihon, goshin, oyo, and kumite.
At the beginning of my practice, 35 years ago, I practiced each stretch for a few seconds. I was stretching following counts - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, finish! But now with experience, I realized that keeping a specific stretch for a period ranging from 30 seconds to 2 minutes actually gives the best results.
Many Karate practitioners falsely believe that hardness and tension is a synonym of strength, so they practice everything - from kihon to kata and kumite - with muscular tension and rigidity. With experience, I realized that softness is more powerful than hardness, it allows you to hit or block with a tremendous amount of force.
As a beginner/intermediate, I was very eager to learn new kicks. During kumite, I was throwing to all sorts of kicks, all the time: drop kicks, reverse round kicks, spinning back kicks, name it! I soon realized that Karate's three basic kicks (mae-geri, mawashi-geri, and yoko-geri) are more than enough. I'm not excluding any kick, but I focus on these three, and they served me well. It's not the number of weapons that you have that matters, it's knowing how and when to use them.
I've been saying it for years: Karate is a pretext, an excuse to induce spirituality in the body, to become a better person. Karate's fundamental purpose might be to give you the tools to defend your physical integrity if the situation arises, but it's deeper intention is to make you understand yourself, to work on that little ego of yours, to grow as a person, and become the best member of society you can be.
Most people believe that Karate is a strike-only martial art. Wrong! Karate contains a whole arsenal of grabbing and throwing techniques in addition to striking. Traditional katas are full of it, but most people don't even know it, mainly because they don't know or don't understand bunkai. Karate means "empty hand"; therefore it's not restricted to striking techniques - as long as your weapon free, you have no restrictions.
It takes a long time to build your Karate skills, but you can lose it fairly quickly. Granted, we don't lose it per se, but if we are away from training for any reason, our skills and our conditioning will diminish quickly. Karate needs constant, daily practice to stay effective. Like Gichin Funakoshi adequately said: "Karate is like boiling water: without heat, it returns to its tepid state".
Of course, acquiring Karate belts is "important" (notice the quotation marks), but it should not be our primary focus for training. Unfortunately, it's often the case with beginners, all they care about is the next belt. A great teacher should make his or her students understand that the knowledge they gain through their Karate journey is far more important than the rank they acquire.
Like anything in life, Karate takes a lot of practice to master, so be patient. It takes time and LOTS of repetition to learn new moves, kata, or to get comfortable with sparring. The purpose is not to be okay, it's to master your Karate. Maybe you don't improve as fast as you'd want to, but give yourself time. Train each technique relentlessly, mindfully, in the now, just do patiently what needs to be done now, that's the only way your Karate will improve.
For years, I used to buy cheap 50$ Karate uniform. And I've bought many! Why? Because they don't last long. Their low price reflects their inferior quality. Cheap Karate uniform gets yellow quickly, rip quite easily and, let's be honest, look like crap. Since I'm blue belt level, I've only bought high-quality Karate uniforms, and even if the price tag is obviously higher, I ended up saving money at the end. Also, high-quality Karate-gi suits you well much better than a cheap one. It actually makes you feel more confident, and, as weird as it sounds, actually helps improve your Karate. Personally, I highly recommend Shureido and Seishin brands.
People think about conditioning their muscles in terms of strength and endurance, but did you know that it's possible to condition your bones as well? By practicing some special exercises like kote-kitae and using the fantastic, yet unknown, tool known as tetsutaba, you can make your bones more resistant, less painful, and also grow them in terms of size. These are huge benefits.
Practicing in the dojo represent only about 10% of your Karate. Everyday life is Karate practice. Develop patience when you are getting irritated by your spouse or husband or kids. Develop mindfulness when you work, when you talk to someone, when you eat or shower. Show compassion instead of judgment towards the people around you. Everyday life is your battleground, every day is an opportunity to grow, to get better.
Hi, my name is Martin Jutras. I've been studying and practicing Karate, practical self-defense and Zen Buddhism for more than 35 years.
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