Karate Styles Are Political, 4 Reasons Why.

Karate has originated from four Japanese styles Shotokan, Wado-Ryu, ShitoRyu, and Goju-Ryu. Today, those are practised alongside hundreds of new others. Likewise, teaching methods, learners and dojo’s have transformed. This diversity has created a range of karate politics heavily debated across the globe.

This is down to four main reasons.

1) Egotistic attitudes

Since its creation, attitudes towards martial arts have changed.

Nowadays, several teachers and students are often adopting biased mindsets towards their own karate style. Adding egotistic layers to their personality believing that their style is superior. That they can beat any fighter or non-fighter out there.

When reality is:

It’s all hypothetical the defender cannot predict the attacker’s motives. Only so much practice can be done prior to a fight such as developing reaction times, efficiency and power of techniques.

This is not applicable to all karate students (karate-ka) however there is a good majority who adopt this mentality. Just because a student is loyal to one club and practices one form does not give them the right to disrespect others.


Karate is such a diverse sport across the world.  Some styles, have techniques which people admire their effectiveness. Whereas, some may not make sense to those who don’t practice. The point is, those which are unfamiliar should not judge or trash talk. Regrettably, this the majority of the case today.

It’s About Respect and Celebration.

Instead, disciplines should be respected and celebrated. An example could be applied to other cultures. Sometimes, a person from one culture may not understand one different from their own. Yet they respect it. More to the point, an individual may learn a new culture and discover that certain ways are better than their own. The beauty of it is, there is no specific culture which overrides others.

The diversity of cultures that exist make the world unique. The same can be applied to the martial arts field, no style is the right way. After all, some of these ancient styles are hundreds of thousands of years old!

Even, if the masters were alive today, they may not agree with those who are teaching their legacies. As methods have been passed down the generations and techniques altered to benefit a club.

Do you remember the game Chinese whispers?

The objective of the game was to whisper a phrase, whisper it to the next person and then the next until the person at the end has to say the original phrase. Usually, in the end, it did not sound anything like the original version.

Arguably, karate has been passed down through the generations providing an end outcome like Chinese whispers. That it’s very different from what it was when it first started.

Making those who trash talk other styles, hypocrites, themselves.

2) Belt and Grading System

Another problem is the belt system. Allegedly, according to spiritmadesteel it was only in the last 100 years or so belts were introduced, beginning in Europe.

A few people take their rank so seriously they like to think they are above other karate-ka. Those individuals need to be reminded of why they practice karate. Which is, to learn self-defence and better themselves (not comparing to others).

Ranks are only a money-making aspect of a club that people take too seriously.

In some karate clubs, as soon as a person becomes a sensei (instructor) or sempai (sensei’s assistant) they are provided with a black belt with a white stripe down the middle. Often, the more authority provided to a person they less humble they become.

Philip Zimbardo ran the famous Stanford prison experiment. Setting up a mock prison giving people the opportunity to become inmates of prison guards. He found that the guards took control and became hostile.

Although some criticism is essential to improve karate, those with newfound authority can become over critical becoming bullies. This is not applicable to all. Though a few take their role too seriously and develop an obnoxious attitude.

This is a particularly unhealthy behaviour for someone with a role of such responsibility. If students look up to instructors like these trying to copy their ways, this may breed a bad mindset. In the long term, interbreeding, an uninviting club or class.

Moreover, some clubs advocate a black belt school. Clearly, using the black belt incentive to recruit and make money. Similarly, once someone has gained their blackbelt they can let their earning of their belt go to their head. Making them instantly think they are superior to any other grade.

Yes, they earnt that however, it’s a reflection of what they’ve learned. It does not represent their training or mindset at present. Individuals, spend a large quantity of time trying to focus on the earning of new belts they forget their true love for karate.

Training for status instead of love for the art.

3) Language

Karate is mainly taught in the Japanese language. Some students migrate from one club to another learning different techniques. Therefore, techniques have different names and are often pronounced differently as instructors aren’t often native speakers of Japanese. This can make it hard for a student’s transition into a club as their Japanese may be corrected.

The instructor, student or both may not be speaking Japanese properly. Therefore, students should not be penalized. It also brings back to the point of trash talk, some karate-ka trash talk to others. As in their eyes they are not speaking the Japanese language correctly in comparison to themselves.

4)    Humiliation

This is at the core of karate teaching. Sensei’s enjoy using students for demonstrations. Especially those who are not practising the technique correctly. They like to highlight those who are making mistakes and parade them in front of the whole class. This can decrease a person’s confidence and performance ability in future karate sessions. Also turning the instructor into a bully.

Karate is a phenomenal sport with a remarkable amount of talented Karate-Ka. Unfortunately, there is a small minority who incorporate egotistic attitudes which others are blinded by.

This can make the subject of karate a controversial and heavily debated subject for those who follow it. Sadly, this is only dividing more karate-ka apart instead of uniting. All forms of karate should be celebrated and respected.

This can only be achieved by eliminating the politics stated above.


  1. Brilliant article , Alex, a true Karate ka holds his or hers knowledge in there heart, it’s been passed down through generations, and it’s only from a understanding of the past masters can the future generation of Karate ka be passed on with respect.and understanding, Karate is in the soul, and from this the meaning of Karate can be learnt and passed on.

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