5 Reasons Karate is Dumb
Before anyone freaks out…again…about this article, know that I only hurt the ones I love. I never regret taking karate, but I also have no fun poking fun at it. Please accept this in the spirit that was intended. Thank you.
Some time ago I wrote the article 5 Reasons Karate is Useless and since then the Jedi Academy’s of the world have united in one monolithic front to denounce me as a heretic. I then wrote the follow up article, 5 Reasons Karate is NOT Useless, but my adversaries were not to be satiated. Like a Eye of Sauron, I had gained the wrong kind of attention and forgiveness was not in the cards.
So after countless e-mails, letters and bags of flaming dog crap put on my doorstep, I think perhaps it is time to take off the gloves and explain that while yes, although karate is indeed useless and even not useless, it can actually be kind of dumb too.
Just for the record, this is not the rant of a bitter moron who went to a single McDojo. I was really good at karate for the fifteen years I was heavily involved. I went to at least a half dozen high profile Shotokan dojos across Canada including some cross training from different styles such as Goju-Ryu, Uechi-Ryu and even a stretch in TaeKwondo ( ok…that was a McDojo. So I’m guilty there ). My brother is a former Pan-Am Karate Champion and two of my sisters are also black belts so you might say martial arts are strong in my family like the Force is with the Skywalkers. That’s why I feel qualified as someone who has been in the trenches and seen a lot of things from many diverse angles. Truth be told I still love karate but it’s not a blind young love. It’s more of a mature relationship where we acknowledge each others faults such as…
#5. Apostasy awaits you.
When they say “karate is for life” you should know that there are many, many people ( all under the age of 17 ) who take that as Gospel. As an adult most would understand that all things have an end and that life has its seasons. It seems common that once you arrive at brown belt levels that karate becomes a suicide death pact where you leave only when you personally hand in your death certificate with your dead zombie hand because damn it, that’s the way Funakoshi did it.
Believe it or not my young karate-ka, but the day comes to us all when eventually when we hang up the belt and walk out the dojo for the last time. At that point you might notice that your one-time dojo associates look upon you somewhat differently. That’s because you are now a Karate-Apostate©.
The logic is strange: Nobody ever leaves a good dojo. Ever. Did you know that? Well now you do and that means if you are discontent with your dojo or simply move on for any reason then it was obviously a McDojo. Your Sensei sucked, and you are lost in the world as a man without honor.
Leaving karate for many is a personal attack on the dojo. How $#@! DARE you leave! You are now an example of someone who can live without karate just perfectly fine and that simply cannot be. No, you are instead a failure and a quitter because you have to be. If this all sounds familiar you’d be correct. It is the same methods used by cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses for ex-communication albeit on a thankfully smaller scale.
This encounter happened to me more than a few times from a few Senseis. I’d be shopping at Home Depot for proper lumber to build a trebuchet in the backyard and I’d meet the old boss. I’d say “hello”, and they would grunt. Eventually I’d force the question out of them…“you left suddenly”.
“Yeah, you know kids. Job. Sex with the Mrs. instead of going to the club. You know how it is. Actually I review workouts at the insanely successful website, DysfunctionalParrot.com and martial arts were holding me back. Now I feed off the raw hatred of a million dojos.”
I then hand him my card and he looks at it like it is covered in anthrax. Man, some people can be so tense.
#4. Mr. X in MMA took karate! It MUST be good.
Oh, you poor deluded dopes. To think that success is by association is a sad, sad way to justify your time spent in white pajamas. If I had a nickel for every time a karate-ka name-dropped an MMA fighter who chewed gum in a dojo I’d find better ways to use my time.
Truth is that Mr. X left his dojo and took up a different art because to remain in karate and enter UFC fights is the epitome of dumb. Did GSP take karate? That’s nice. Is he still attending his local YMCA dojo? No? Then stop being so dumb.
The ultimate irony? Most would have accused GSP or a similar fighter of being a quitter when he left his karate dojo just like my previous point. Now that he’s famous everyone wants to claim credit.
#3. The great, awkward, cultural divide.
I’m willing to bet that most Americanized “oriental wisdom” is taken from reruns of Kung Fu and is about as good as the guidance of Yoda. It’s generally not harmful. Just kind of vague and has the substance of a popcorn fart.
Every dojo knows at least one guy who is the resident Samurai. By all medical standards he/she should be a normally functioning human being but be damed if I can place what makes them loose sight of the fact that the nearest they ever got to Japan was buying a sushi lunch pack at the grocery store. Perhaps one day medical science will have answers for why white suburbanites act like Oriental warrior stereotypes, but until then rest assured you can find them hanging out at the local karate dojo.
Things really get weird when the entire club spends an inordinate amount of time speaking in Japanese. Hey, I understand the need to call a triple punch a sanbon-zuki or a horse stance a kiba-dachi. That’s just common etiquette and I think the tradition is cool. No…it’s when members start greeting each other in Japanese, yelling the club rules in Japanese and utterly butchering the language that things enter the dumb zone.
I long suspected this when our club rep, the respected Yaguchi Sensei would come up to the Great White North for testing and always seemed to be forcing back a smile whenever the Dojo Kun ( 5 club mottos ) was yelled out in his native tongue. Being a curious fellow, I spoke with a friend who speaks fluent Japanese and confirmed my suspicions: We were all guilty of yelling unintelligible gibberish.
#2. It’s a punch, not a religion stupid.
As my cross-Canada dojo life drew to a close I couldn’t escape the feeling something was kind of wrong with these people. And now that I have written my thoughts about it on this site and have seen the comments section, I have documented proof: many in karate are flat out obsessed crazy people.
It might seem I’m repeating Point #5 but I’m actually extending on it. Rather than leaving and facing apostasy, the real trial can be co-existing with certifiable nut cases who feel they are the reincarnated spirit of Bruce Lee. This can be evident by seeing samurai swords on the wall, oriental decor in a non oriental household, and in extreme cases a makiwara in the backyard ( Scott, you need serious help ). These delusional souls should be avoided at all costs.
#1. Leaving Karate can actually make you better at Karate.
A lot of karate members feel that being involved in the martial arts is like being a member of Raz al Goul’s League of Assassins. Might I suggest a more mentally stable approach to life?
Many practiti…screw that. ALL karate practitioners will say this mantra to you when you get your black belt: “Black belt is the beginning. Now you are ready to learn.” And they are 100% right. They just left out a few details.
Now those of you who have made it this far without punching your screen should understand that I don’t hate karate. I actually still practice it and freaking love it. But at a certain point in your training it is very possibly beneficial to kiss the dojo goodbye and like a little birdie, try flapping your own wings for a change. That is when my karate exploded and I never went back to a dojo and all the politics that come with it. Parrot-Ryu was born.
Now I can learn any kata I want from any style. Is my form perfect? Try finding any consensus between dojos when it comes to form anyway. I actually got flack from a sensei because out of the blue he didn’t like my foot form which I totally copied from Tanaka who I assumed was not a complete nube. So you know what…the heck with that guy! Maybe I’ll even make up some kata! Why not? That’s all the founders did and last I checked they were human too ( a shock to many I’m sure ). As for sparing, having four kids constantly ambushing me throughout the day with sneak attacks keeps me on top with the reflexes of a ninja.
Why stop there? Maybe instead of a Japanese bow I’ll close with an end-zone prayer to JC. Seriously folks, break out of your routine and mix it up. That’s my final advice. Do you really like karate? Then take it to the next level the way only you know how to do. Maybe then it will not only be less dumb, but actually become rather magnificent.
February 21, 2020 at
I came full-circle; sort of – Started in traditional Shotokan a long long time ago, was ALL IN, lots of tournaments, etc. Went on to wrestle in high school and college, but stayed engaged. Went on to boxing and had over 25 amateur fights with a lot of success. Went back to Shotokan and fought at the legitimate nationals level. Loved it. Life started happening. Kids, career, etc. No time for hanging out in a dojo. Continued with an occasional tournament with no training and did well, but no one cares; which sort of takes the pressure off. Trying to remain engaged, but there’s something lost. Not sure what it is. Maybe it’s me, but there’s really no one new coming up. I remain engaged, but not committed and I feel like I’m being looked down for it. So now when I go to my occasional tournament I feel like there’s no enthusiasm so maybe it’s completely over. Not sure, but you do add some clarity. Thanks.
February 19, 2016 at
it is on the person, not the karate club and tradition. what most karate club teach are the defense techniques, it is up to you to use it and make your own combinations.
Cam Van Aken
November 11, 2015 at
And there I was, thinking I am an apostate and a heretic for despising the pseudo Feudal claptrap they want us to conform to. This article is a vindication of everything I found jarring in the Dojo, more so after I got the brown belt. Thank you for making me smile and breathe. Training on your own is liberating!
March 30, 2015 at
This is a great post. In regards to the kyokushin practitioner, I have also trained in this style for two years and agree that it can be the most “practical karate” with its hard conditioning and kumite. However at the end of the day it is just geared towards tournament sports where no head punches are allow and they bash each other endlessly in the gut or do a cartwheel kick and land on the ground. Of course those who train would argue kyokushin indeed practice head punches (punching air at head level 10 million times).
Just as what parrot said, I think it is sad to romanticized karate (because of course, the sensei is never in it for the money) and believing it to be something it isn’t. It’s not self defense (at least not where I trained), it’s not realistic (no head punch, elbow, no leg grabbing, no clinching, no grappling).
I later trained in Muay thai (please don’t start, its not style vs style). Which I found to be a more complete striking art and they never once said its self defense or you can kick a random drunks ass, it is a ring sport. I feel it is dangerous to give someone a false sense of security (taking on random drunks with bottles and knifes)
In the end, the endless air kicking, unrealistic kumite, and the ridiculous carrot on a stick belt grading system ($$$), idolizing the sensei, hierarchy drove me away. Sometimes you just gotta step back and realize paying someone $100 (grading + belt) every quarter and shouting nonsense japanese in white pajamas does not really make you a better fighter.
March 22, 2015 at
I Freaking love your posts! I read them a while back while I was in the karate cult and I was disgusted! Now I totally agree! You see, I love the combative side of martial arts. But Now that I’m a medic in Texas, I’m married and I have bills to pay. I don’t have time to master jump spinning side kicks. (Just bar-b-q’d another sacred cow.) I keep In shape with weightlifting and sprinting. If I feel like I want to practice fighting, I use raw combatives with only 4-8 different striking techniques. It’s a great replacement when running gets boring. Anyway, keep posting and keep shovelin the bullshido my friend!
December 17, 2014 at
Just read your various articles regarding the shortcomings of Karate, and had a good laugh. Much of it rings true – I was a senior student with a Japanese instructor for many years, and when I finally had to leave (for a work opportunity I just couldn’t pass up) it was a major issue. Personally, I never really minded the weapons and Kata that went with the high grade – all part of the art in martial art. I wasn’t in it only for combat skills after all. I contributed a lot to the dojo, and got a lot out of it, too – including several trips to japan to fight in major tournaments.
Regarding your assertion that karate it essentially useless in a self defense situation – if that is your experience, what you are doing ain’t what I would call karate, and I suspect that reflects the commercial imperative of coddling students/customers . I would suggest a very simple test for anyone who wants to gauge the veracity of a striking art like karate from watching a training session – if there isn’t a solid component of full contact sparring with a minimum of protective equipment (shin-guards, maybe), then walk away. Forget non-contact sparring – all the touch football in the world is not going to help you in a real game where the other guy is aiming to break you in half. Likewise competition – to hell with the points scoring – the winner is the guy left standing. It hurts,(even when you win), but it leaves you with no illusions about where you stand. Kyukushinkai is a good example.
If you want karate to work, three easy steps
1. Train to kick and punch really hard on something solid
2. Spar by kicking and punching really hard against like-minded individuals who block and hit back the same way
3. Enter competitions where you are allowed to kick and punch really hard, and the winner is determined by who is on their feet at the end of it all
In the event of a self defense situation, apply what you have learned through steps 1 to 3. You might not be the ultimate human weapon, but you will be in a good position to dish out a nasty surprise to the drunk in the car park.
December 17, 2014 at
You lost me at Kyokushin-Ryu ( certified ego-nutcases ). And sorry, having competitions where “the guy standing wins” is a terrible idea and demonstrates the ridiculousness of many martial arts practitioners.
Life is too short to spend having pissing matches in a ring and suffering from concussions the rest of your life. If grown adults want to do that for money in the octagon…let them become punch drunk and develop premature arthritis. Asking regular Joe’s or Mom’s and Dad’s to do that? I wouldn’t waste my time with an art like that and neither would anyone else who has an ounce of common sense.
True training ( ie. MILITARY ) has nothing to do with that method. And to be honest, a vast majority of karate-ka would fail your list of requirements when put up against trained military personnel.
And please remember…the article is 5 reasons karate is useless. There is a follow up on 5 reason is it NOT useless. It’s not an all or nothing statement.
July 25, 2020 at
oh no, “ego”! Because wanting to be good at something is wrong? Why not just do no martial arts at all then? Then you’ll be happy that you have nothing to feel any “ego” over.
November 5, 2014 at
enlightenment in Karate-do came to me not sitting in ZEN meditation but in 1993 watching Royce Gracie in the UFC. As a child I grew up watching Bruce Lee and others on the big screen and at 12 years old I began my karate journey Shotokan, Shorin Ryu, Goju Ryu and last but not least American Kempo. I can’t count how many times I got my butt kicked in schoolyard fights but each time I blamed my technique and not my method of fighting. Thank you Royce Gracie for showing us the way.
July 25, 2020 at
it’s true, at high levels style matters a lot. At low level the individual matters more because they don’t know what they’re doing anyway, so the strongest and most determined will win. High level practitioners, e.g. a Gracie vs some random large kickboxer, will see and exploit the opponent’s style’s HUGE weaknesses
October 10, 2014 at
Heavy bag.. Heavy bag.. Heavy bag training is what turns shotokan into approaching useful ( just my opinion).. Hey it’s about striking.. So strike something other than air.
I do wonder at long term adverse health outcomes .. One guys done some research pointing out av 15 yr decreased longevity in senior karate instructers.. Another karate myth busted ..this time of the yoda figure (aged yet youthful practitioner).
October 11, 2014 at
I agree. One of the best things I did to perfect my technique was to hang a bag in the basement.
And yes…despite the myths out there about 150 year old karate masters, the truth is you will live longer eating right and doing good exercise than you ever will doing one hour of cardio three times a week in a dojo. Karate won’t make you live any longer or have any more an enlightened existence than racquetball.
October 10, 2014 at
P.s trained some taekwondo in the early 90’s.. Damn “best of the best ”
Like someone took shotokan and made a bad Korean copy. like an early Kia / Hyundai compared to a Toyota.
A martial art with zero effective hand techniques…really!
scary if people think this stuff will save you ( and it’s expensive)..
Though sadly most jka shotokans not that far behind in terms of realistic s.d
October 10, 2014 at
Fantastic stuff. I also grew up in the 80’s and started shotokan at the age of 8.. 30 yrs later I still train.. Though mostly solo.. In my garage.. And train my son. As a medical doctor and family man .. I can’t even find the time twice a week to train in a dojo. Still love it though.. But not the weirdo egotistical head instructors out there.. Or the ultra orthodox organisations that favour form over function/ tag tournaments.
Or injuries.. Or politics
Karate is a great pastime.. But your own .. And at your own pace… For your own reasons
( I’m a nonconformist brown belt as I honestly don’t see the point of a blackbelt grade)
thanks again, the myagi quotes cracked me up.. So true.. We all believed it at the time ( amazing pat morita didn’t even train)
August 15, 2014 at
Fantastic article. I love martial arts with a passion, but there is so much craziness. I trained and taught martial arts for almost a decade and have yet to meet a single student that lives in an environment that requires them to be able to fight in order to survive. If they were really interested in self defence they could get a Law degree in about the same amount of time as a black belt.
Please keep writing these articles. They make me smile.
July 27, 2014 at
I am a first dan in your somewhat-hated rich people unicorn itf system. All schools are different of course, but where I train we actually sometimes for fun make up our own forms. The advanced students have to say how many moves are in their form and when finished have to end up where they started. It’s challenging and fun to see the different styles people bring to the art. Anything goes, I agree that it’s very good to break tradition. I’ve done some forms so many times that theres really no point to practicing it anymore. It’s etched into my muscle memory banks. And as far as the shoes comment on your page I was told we can’t wear shoes bc if we make contact it can tear the skin. You should all practice at home with your normal clothes and shoes. It’s foolish not to. Most awkward thing is wearing steel toed boots at work and attempting any kind of kick …
June 13, 2014 at
I took karate as an adult for 4 years. I liked the kata, discipline and the exercise aspects of it, but did not like the politics and the creepy idol worship. The further along I went, the more I felt like I had joined a cult so I quit just before getting my brown belt. I do miss the camaraderie and the challenge of it, but do not regret quitting. I don’t think it would be very useful in an actual fight so I never looked at it is a form of self-defense but more as a different way to get some exercise. I’ve also never understood why karate is practiced barefoot. Chances are if you are attacked, you’ll be wearing shoes!
June 14, 2014 at
Yes! Shoes! That’s one thing about some TKD classes I like…it’s the fact they have special martial arts shoes should one choose to wear them.
The whole cult feeling does start to creep in around 2nd Kyu and hits full force at Shodan. By the time Sandan comes around it is full on politics and it takes as much time training as it does dealing with the infighting and power games.
April 18, 2015 at
I felt this way ever since becoming a 3rd kyu after 4 years into Shotokan. I liked the kata, discipline (within reason) and exercise aspects of karate. The uniform was actually helpful for putting more effort into each move. But I was never deluded into thinking I was becoming a self-defense expert. I very much disliked the political aspects when I realized my sensei couldn’t simply do just anything he liked as there was always a higher-up who would have an opinion about it, such as the regional examiner. There wasn’t too much idol worship in my organization compared to others, but in some ways there was when Yaguchi or Okazaki came to town for seminars (and also of the regional examiner…). I’m sure they might be nice people, but this veneration was extremely creepy to me. It was similar for any higher ranking black belt. Too much reverence which seemed inappropriate to me. I felt the same way about shoes. If attacked, unless I were swimming I’d be wearing them. How often is the gym floor carefully cleaned? Going barefoot is simply asking for infections, and on hard surfaces as adults, asking for injured feet…. especially in fumikomi-Shotokan. I decided to quit, with some modest regret that I didn’t make it to shodan after the years put in, even though I knew all of the katas required. I actually would have wanted to take up TKD only I didn’t want to do flying spinning kicks as a grownup. Just too painful. But I did want the shoes… and, really, why no blackbelt after 2 years like in McDojos? That’s all it took the masters to achieve one since blackbelts are a relatively new phenomenon in light of the influence from Judo. But I wouldn’t have trained every day for one.
June 12, 2014 at
First thing…excuse me for my english (it’s not my native language). I totally agree with you, I’ve practiced karate for ten years now and while I’ve enjoyed the “serious” approach of the discipline, the style cleanliness and the elegance of the training “ritual” :-), I’ve also learned the hard way (after two years) that karate is not usefull if you find yourself in a “real” fight. If and when you will find yourself in the middle of a street fight you must understand that this is the “realm of caos, violence and deception” it’s not your clean and quiet dojo, where you can wait for your turn to throw your oi zuki.
Hed On Ic
June 4, 2014 at
An effective karate training must include makiwara and self defense.
Kobudo is also important.
McDojos are not 100% effective if that stuff is absent.
June 4, 2014 at
I put makiwaras in the same class as smashing your head against a brick wall. It is a stupid training method from a bygone era. Get a punching bag and work on that reverse punch without destroying your fists for no good reason.
Plus, people who actually own makiwaras are generally martial arts nut-cases. Odds are they also have samurai swords mounted on the wall, bonsai trees, and random oriental imagery all over their house despite not being oriental. Don’t be that person.
July 25, 2020 at
Well there’s nothing wrong with liking another culture, as long as you don’t overdo it and obsess over that culture, imo. I think you should like your own culture, and maybe a few others, to be well-rounded
July 25, 2020 at
Kobudo isn’t important if you’re only interested in empty-handed fighting. It has no bearing toward that. Learning to think about how to use your hand “like a sword” does not help because your hand is not a sword. To me it’s cool and interesting, but not AS interesting, and certainly not as practical, as empty-handed fighting, so I wouldn’t spend my time on it. But I understand why a lot of people like it and choose to do it
May 5, 2014 at
“the best style is to have NO style”
I think the above is what Bruce Lee meant
May 6, 2014 at
And then he went and created his own style. Jeet Kun Do. What a guy!
May 6, 2014 at
thats ‘s true
August 23, 2014 at
Not meaning to stir any shit just thought i’d say that bruce’s idea of jeet kune do is actually a concept rather than a style. He did however leave a basic outline of techniques named Jun Fan Gung Fu though, and JKD is often incorrectly taught as a style. Nice articles btw describes my 12 years of goju-ryu perfectly
July 25, 2020 at
Styles will always exist because, at least to me, a style is just a set of commonly-used moves. Everyone has a different set of favorite moves, so if you want to learn to “fight like __”, you’ll train to use their moves, and BAM, now it’s become a style. Someday someone will want to fight like you, and “carry on” that style.
May 1, 2014 at
Hey DP, I just found your website and I think it’s pretty great and fun, nice job. Now, regarding the topic and the other articles, I started Karate again this year (I studied it back when I was 8, I have 15 years now) and I’m having a blast. But I find what you are saying pretty true in some points. There are people who become zealots of Karate thinking of it as “The ultimate amazing incredible pretty truthfull way of life”, and I find that pretty dumb. True, Karate can become a way of life but there are other things far more important (family, jobs, etc). My sensei is actually married (with my Shihan), has kids and a job aside from teaching Karate.
But in other things I disagree, Karate actually teached me how to really fight, block, use my whole body and use all my strenght, and it helped me change from being an awkward shy boy into a confident man. It helped me do exercise and meet new people. The tournamets are also tons of fun, I won 1st in Kata and 2nd in Kumite, and went training ASAP to get better for the next one, the money to enter is kind of a problem though (lessons are free still)
I guess your articles made me a little bit salty, specially when I was thinking of Kung-fu, Aikido or TKD as other martial arts I would love to learn, but I took a breath and started seeing it from a general point of view. Thanks if you took the time to read this and keep up the great work with the articles and Parrot-ryu. Greetings from Chile
ps: Also, sorry for my bad english, I’m not a native speaker and I’m still learning it
May 1, 2014 at
GSP still practices karate.
May 1, 2014 at
Yes he does. But he does not practice ONLY karate.
May 1, 2014 at
True, but the article makes it seem like doesn’t at all.
Cecil Ryu Martial Arts
May 1, 2014 at
It’s not just Karate.