Jissen Karate

The History and Original Idea
The Deterioration
Real Way of Empty Hand
Real Experience
Kata in Real Fights
True Karate

Mas Oyama
Tadashi Nakamura
Hideyuki Ashihara

Welcome to the Jissen Karate homepage. Content within this site explains the historical background of modern karate, and for a bit of judgemental value (this is my space, after all), I've included some conclusions that can only be described as personal opinions.

The History and Original Idea
The karate schools established by mainstream karate was considered 'modern' during the 1920s-1940s. Before that period, there was not a single united or organized school in Shotokan or Shito-ryu. What the Japanese knew of karate was called Tote-jitsu or Chinese-hand. In those days it was regarded as a mysterious combat skill, even in mainland Japan. In 1921, the karate master Gichin Funakoshi was invited by the Ministry of Education to introduce the art of karate to Tokyo. The demonstration turned out to be a great success. From that point onwards, karate was practiced throughout Japan, and later spread to the rest of the world.

Two Chinese schools of boxing were formerly associated with separate Okinawan schools, Shorin-ryu and Shorei-ryu. Shorei-ryu's kata (form) and techniques were deemed to be best suited for larger sized people, whereas Shorin-ryu suited the smaller sized. Modern karate masters organized and combined different katas and arranged them in sequence for different levels of practitioners, effectively introducing a new way of teaching karate.

Karate is known to some as the skill of fighting. To others, it is a practice that could kill in one blow. In fact, the practice of karate was banned during Meiji era. Because of that, the teaching of karate has always emphasized on spiritual and mental training. As Karate master Gichin Funakoshi puts it:

"True karate, that is, Karate-do, strives internally to train the mind to develop a clear conscience enabling one to face the world truthfully, while externally developing strength until one may overcome even ferocious wild animals. Mind and technique are to become one in true karate."
Under Gichin Funakoshi, Sport Karate as we know it today was non-existent. Karate practiced only kihon (basic), kata and bunkai (application of kata). The spirit of ikken hitsatsu (kill with one blow) was considered vital and emphasized under control.

I believe that the karateka (karate practitioner) at that time had the ability. Take Gichin Funakoshi as an example: his daily training included punching the makiwara (a thick post covered with rice straw) over and over, practicing kata 50 to 60 times. Gichin Funakoshi believed in perfecting one's skill through the practice of kata and bunkai.

The Deterioration
Yet Sport kumite (sparring) has been the main event and purpose from the moment it was introduced. Sadly, the introduction of Sport Karate reduced the quality of the art as karatekas tend to think that kumite in a tournament is similar to a real street fight. The original idea of kumite was to apply techniques from kata as in real fight, conversely the rules of Sport kumite prohibit many techniques taught in kata such as furi-uchi (hook), hiji-uchi (elbow strike), hiza-geri (knee kick). Body contact is disallowed and both fighters must stop when either side scores a point. Only straight punches is allowed in hand techniques.

This illusion gives the fighters no choice but to concentrate on easy score techniques. If a punch swings near the opponent's body the judge will halt the fight and bestow a point. We are made to assume that one punch could 'kill' the opponent upon contact and that the opponent did not have a chance to react. But the true fact is, no such thing was proven.

And because of this false sense, Japanese karate faced the biggest shame in losing against Thailand in 1950s. Japanese karatekas were badly beaten by the Thai boxers. The same happened in 1970s when traditional karatekas was vanquished shamefully.

Real Way of Empty hand
The lost bouts do not mean karate is vulnerable or weaker than any other martial arts. It is the failure brought on by Sport kumite, which traditional karate still blindly believe until today. I am strongly of the opinion that karatekas who train like Funakoshi would not have lost.
nakamura picture

In 1962 when Thailand's martial art challenged all Japanese karate schools to determine which nation was more superior, only one karate school accepted. A man, Tadashi Nakamura (founder of today's Seido karate) sent by Kyokushinkai-kan, knocked out the Thai boxing champion and won the match. He followed the true and older way of practicing karate.

Kyokushinkai-kan was set up by the controversial karate master Masutatsu Oyama in 1952. Oyama won the first Japan National Karate Championship but was later criticized for not believing in Sport kumite. Most karate experts did not possess the real ability of jissen (real combat) due to the sports tendency of karate.

oyama picture Oyama believed karate to be the practice of bushido. It should give one the ability of jissen kumite as well as the spirit of karate. Karate is useless if it is merely beauty outside, yet devoid within.

Today, Kyokushinkai-kan has become one of the largest karate schools in the world. Several disciples of Mas Oyama founded their own schools and developed really well around the world. They are: Real Experience
In the western world, many martial artists admit that if a sport karate practitioner fights with a street bully, very likely the former would end up lying flat on the ground. The bully has lots of aggressive street experience. In a street fight, one does not just use straight punches and kicks. An experienced street fighter knows how to use grappling, choking, and locking. As a result, anyone ignorant of this would most probably lose out. A fight does not stop by 'scoring a point'.

I trained under this fighting simulated system. And then it happened! I got involved in a real thug fight. The violence was there, and I couldn't make myself go further than one punch at a time. Even though I struck them, the action was based on form more than knock out. Which was totally wrong. I could have ended the fight cleanly, if I didn't fight as if in a Sport kumite ring. This is a drawback that occurs in many things that karatekas do.

Kata in Real Fights
In traditional kata, there are many techniques that can be applied on the street. But because of the illusion from Sport kumite most karatekas do not believe in kata. However, in the United Kingdom, Vince Morris, a karate expert and coach of the police force is famous for his application of kata. He applies every movement in kata into street situations. He is living proof of how karate kata can be put to good use.

However, several new karate schools think that the old traditional katas have no use in real life. For example, the late Hideyuki Ashihara (whose early passing is a tremendous loss to the world of Martial Art) re-modeled traditional kata to real-fight kata.

In Ashihara's kata he abandoned the rigidity of traditional kata - every movement is like shadow boxing, there is continuity between punches and kicks (unlike the traditional ones). Ashihara's kata is modified to execute a flow of movements; no low kiba-dachi (horse stance>, no fancy movements of inhaling and exhaling between punches, no high-jumps in the air or twisting the body to the other side. Kata was invented to simulate fights, so Ashihara modified kata to simulate fights in a more realistic way; avoid crashing (block a heavy kick with gedan barai (low hand block), utilise minimum movement to deliver maximum force, full mobility of defend and attack without excessive movements and etc. Asihara karate is a karate for combat, it is fighting karate and not "karate exercise".

True Karate
When we look at new karate styles like Ashihara's or Oyama, they are so different from all the traditional style. New schools emphasize on what works in real life, and take whatever that works from other styles like boxing, muay thai, and jujitsu. New karate changes with time, being modified or improved - knowing that the 20s style of fighting is less practical. The key point is not closing off from the rest of the world because karate must develop and keep developing.

Critics say that the new jissen karate isn't pure because it emphasizes too much on fighting and it lacks traditional value. What I can say is that these people are real old-thinkers, of parity with the Ching government of China one and a half centuries ago. Then, people resisted new ideas, thinking traditionals were always the best, and when they couldn't win a fight they would bring up excuses to avoid change.

A style of martial art must first be strong before it can emphasize moral teaching. We can tell our disciples not to pick fights because we don't want to hurt people not because we'll get hurt!

The karate school Seido-kan founded by Tadashi Nakamura emphasizes heavily on love and peace. But Seido-kan is strong, so is Kyokushinkai. And to me this is real karate - practicable in Jissen to keep intact the teachings of morality, mentality and humility, and bushido spirit.

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Last updated Saturday 31st July 1999
HTML by Nina L. All content by Dan Loh.