Does Karate work for self defense?

Recently, someone on the Google+ Shotokan Karate Community asked “How effective is Shotokan in real street defense?”. I felt that it would be better to answer that question here so that I could share it my readers on this blog and also share it with my fellow Karate students on Google+.

What I have found, is working at perfecting a few simple movements is the key to self defense. A powerful, well placed punch or kick can end a real fight fast.

All of the other moves that we learn in the dojo are fun and good to learn but I have spent most of my time working on a few simple techniques. These techniques need to be automatic and if you have to think about what you are going to do to defend yourself, chances are you are going to loose.

I put a lot of value in one-step sparring because it focuses on basic blocks and counter attacks that I can apply in many face to face situations. I also spend a lot of time working my draw hand for attacks that come from behind because broken ribs or taking the breath away from someone gives you an advantage.

To me, getting out of the way and countering with one stopping attack is what I have strived to learn. The concept of ikken hissatsu, which I modified the meaning of to, one strike to stop them instead of one strike one kill, is something that I took to heart when I started training and it is still my primary focus.

Now, if you add weapons to the equation, my simple advice to you is run and run fast while screaming. We learn Karate (empty hand) because someone took our weapon, we broke it or we lost it and all we have left are our hands. This idea of not having a weapon because of the above reasons is something that Sensei Cieplik shared with me many years ago and he even told us that he didn’t pass one of his exams because he didn’t use a chair to stop one of his attackers at this exam.

Another thing that many Karate students forget in a real life situation is it is ok to pick up a pipe, stick, garbage can lid, a rock or anything else that you can use as a weapon if you are face to face with someone who is trying to hurt or kill you. There is no honor in someone at your funeral saying that so and so Karate master got in a couple good punches before he was beaten to death by someone stealing his wallet. Many of the katas that we train in Shotokan can also be done while holding weapons such as a stick, pipe or even an umbrella so grab a stick and give your katas or basic movements a try while holding something in your hands.

I know that quoting the Karate Kid movies might upset some but we learn and train Karate so that we don’t have to fight. We should train Karate with the idea of never having to use our skills but if we do, we use the minimum amount of force to get us out of the situation with as little harm to us as possible.

Fast, efficient, simple movements should be the goal for self defense whenever possible and that is that way I train.

Please let me know your thoughts and if you train in a similar way or have other advise that you want to share with us.

9 Responses to Does Karate work for self defense?

  1. I trained for 6 years and a Weapon was required testing to obtain 1st Dan(Bassadi Purple/Brown, Tekki Sho Brown, Weapon, Bow (normally) I prefer Tonfa’s. Jion for 1st Dan or we actually received Sho Dan Taigu and this was a probationary Black Black (not a Junior Black Black) and it took 6 – 8 months (unless we went to our sensei’s original Dojo in Japan then it was only 1 month). A weapon is considered a extension of the hand.
    My Instructor was a Marine, NYPD Sargent, and Shotokan 8th Dan (7th when I started and was received his 8th Dan a couple of years before his death in 1994 as he died Suddenly of Cancer) and the Stress was always on real life situations. Karate was developed for life or death not sport (see next post)In fact he would always joke I never leave home without my 357 (as above he was a Police Office). In 1985 he developed a technique to take a gun at close range (this was developed if a Police Officer had his gun taken at Close Range) and this development or Improvement was one of the things he did to receive his 8th Dan. I am confident I could take a gun from someone at close range with the technique (the 1st part is to twist then hit the wrist away (in case the gun fires it misses you) and then bend the wrist back to make the gun drop (grap the Gun as soon as it drops, ready to elbow the other persons face) there is a step involved if the attacker is bigger) …

  2. Basically we were taught everything that is in the book Karate-Do KYOHAN.
    We were also given a FBI chart personal weapon and leaned how to use all
    Personal Weapons (Elbow, Forearm, Fingers (One Finger Ippon to Eye if its Life or Death …. )
    Learned Vital Points (Page 238 of Book) and how to target and strike.

    We leaned the History as:
    “Empty handed fighting was brought to Canton, China by Buddhist Monk Daruma Taishi, from India who originated the Mediative sect of Zen. (525 AD).
    335 Years Ago the form of empty handed fighting called Okinawa-te underwent development in Okinawa when the Satsuma clan of Kyushu banded all weapons in Okinawa.

    Farm weapons were adopted or defense. That’s how the Bow (Shepherds Staff) , Tonfa’s (Farmers tool for Grinding Rice etc )….

  3. Okinawa-Te then underwent development by Gichin Funakoshi that became “Modern Day Karate” (Karate Jutsu (Fighting/// Karate Do – The Way of Karate , Spiritual). Funakoshi never called his style Shotokan, he just called it Karate (Karate-Do).
    It was others who named it Shotokan – (The name of the training hall/dojo was Shoto Kan or House of Shoto – as we know Funakoshi’s pen name – Pine Tree by the Waves/ Pine Waves)

  4. I love how Yosizho Machida adapted Shotokan to use Foot work 1st, Blocks (2nd) to evade and counter. Lyoto has mastered this, (you are in danger of missing a block or blocking one technique and being hit with the other)…

  5. “Another thing that many Karate students forget in a real life situation is it is ok to pick up …anything else that you can use as a weapon if you are face to face with someone who is trying to hurt or kill you.”

    A thousand times, yes!!! Back in my high school days, I was attacked from behind by three guys looking for lols. After the initial hit, it didn’t occur to me that I was carrying a weapon that I could use to defend myself — a skateboard — until one of the other guys knocked it out of my hand and took a swing at me with it. I stepped forward into the swing with a rough approximation of an inside-outside block (this was long before I started studying Shotokan), catching the edge of the skateboard on my forearm, and knocking it out of my attacker’s hand. Newly aware of the skateboard’s potential as an impromptu weapon, I picked it up by the trucks, and prepared to take the fight back to my attackers. Fortunately, the cops showed up about this time, since I wasn’t the only guy they had decided to mix it up with, and the battle ended before anything else happened.

    The point was, after being attacked, I hadn’t considered what potential weapons were available nearby to defend myself. *ANYTHING* can be used as a weapon in a pinch: a pen, a belt, a towel, a purse or handbag…whatever is nearby that can increase your reach and your leverage. Ultimately, your mind is the best weapon available, and anything near you is a tool you can employ, if you use a little imagination.

  6. Hi. I’ve read your articles on kata, breathing, practicing and 1 kata a day…

    this is all brilliant!

    I note that your last post was 2014, i hope you keep this up and running again…

    i like your clear, succint, and inputs that is understandable to all karateka who are (or at least) attempting to follow the path/way.

    OSU!!! Are you still doing Karate now?

    Oh yes, possible new topic for upcoming 2009: An Application of Karate to Spirituality?

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