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Drew Loto
Drew Loto's picture
Applied karate in Japan

When I think about karate practice in modern Japan and Okinawa, I think about the classic image of karateka demonstrating very rigid (though sharp and beautiful) bunkai in the way  that we, on this forum, often critique--where reverse punches are reverse punches and blocks are blocks and chambered hands are simply chambered hands etc.  Does "applied karate" as we might understand it here exist in Japan?  Although Japan still produces some incredible masters of karate, are there experts of that calibre from Japan who endeavor to think about karate in the way that people on this forum try to think about it--who try to interpret kata as we try?  Does the World Combat association network extend to places in Japan?  Does anyone's personal network extend so far?

This struck me as a point of interest early yesterday, when I was thinking about how wonderful it was for me, as a practioner of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, to have the opportunity to travel to Japan and attend classes from masters of Budo Taijutsu--it would be wonderful if similar opportunities were available for people devoted to the study of karate kata as applied martial art.

Any insights would be awesome.

Jason Lester
Jason Lester's picture

Hi Drew,

there is gentleman named "Gennosuke Higaki" and author of two books in which i know of called "Hidden Karate", the 1st book looks at the true Bunkai for the Pinan/Heian Katas and Naihanchi, the 2nd book looks at the True bunkai for Naihanchi Nidan/Sandan and a few other Katas in which i cannot remember.

I have the 1st book and although not cheap, i highly recommend this book.

I hope this may of be some help to one of your questions.

Kind regards,


Matt Perlingiero
Matt Perlingiero's picture

I am reminded of a quote from Taira Masaji of the Jundokan that goes like this:

"I would like to make one point in relation to bunkai practice, as you have mentioned that many instructors are “only now discovering bunkai”. I know of a number of experienced overseas instructors who have said that bunkai was not ever practised in Okinawan dojo when they were there. They should be careful how they word those statements, as this might well simply reveal the level of karate that was entrusted to them by their instructor! Bunkai has indeed been an essential practice in Okinawan karate from its inception."

Not entirely in line with your statement, but I think it points quite directly at a yes, there is currently, and always has been, applicable, effective karate taught and practiced there.  It's just not something shared with impunity, and I'm both happy and sad about that.

I would make a quick list of Taira Masaji, Morio Higaonna, Shinjo Kiyohide, the Seidokan... just a few off the top of my head that everybody may easily recognize and so I don't start to get off topic.

mike23's picture

I believe there was a discussion of his books ...possibly in the RECOMMENDED section under the title "Hidden Karate". It might offer some further thoughts.


Ben Ryder
Ben Ryder's picture

I heard that Gennosuke Higaki was in fact a western writer trying to enter the Japanese market....(anyone able to confirm or support?)

Taira Sensei is probably about the best out there for applied karate in Japan, and I think Higaonna Sensei does the some of the applications well though it is presented in such a structured way as Taira Sensei.

Applied karate is generally limited in Japan because the inquisitive mind-set that is prepared to challenged established practices goes againt the Confuscian-based structures of Japanese society (don't question your elders, promote the collectve harmony/avoid anything that threatens harmony). In many ways karate in Japan is more a reflection of what has happened around the world (a reverse influence, if you will) nd the west is probably influencing this are of study over there, though I doubt it would be admitted and when such practices are presented they would be accepted as always having been that way.

ky0han's picture

Hi Ben,

Gennosuke Higaki is not the real name of the author that is for sure (it is the name of a character out of Kurosawas  1943 movie The Judo Saga). But I think he is a Japanese native. Why should a westerner go through the trouble to publish a Japanese book for the Japanese market? If his aim is to get a reputation and make some money the international market would be the way to go due to the greater reach.

The book was first published in Japanese and later on translated into English. As far as I know the author is on all those pictures in the book. And he was so consistant with the whole name hiding thing that he was not even wearing an Obi with his name embroided on it.

Besides Taira Sensei there is some footage of Hokama Sensei doing interesting things. In my eyes the mainland has its Karate focus more on the sporting side. So when you are looking for the good stuff you are better off on Okinawa.

Regards Holger

(those captures are killing me cool)

mateldon's picture

Hi all,

Having trained with a direct student of the Shindo Jinen Ryu founder, I do think practical karate is taught in Japan, but as suggested earlier its not 'openly' taught. It also is taught in quite a different manner to 'over here' and fits more in line with the 'traditional' teaching methodology, e.g. using realistic attacks within the karate format - so Kihon Ippon Kumite done with unannounced 'street' attacks. 

I also think there's a DIY element to self defense and karate in Japan - your instructors will give you principles(moving to the outside, body weight shifting) and weapons(I.E. strikes, locks etc), but its up to the student to join the dots and make it work depending on the scenario. Hence you'll often see realistic techniques practiced in unrealistic scenarios, like joint locks from long stepping punches.

My twopeneth.


shoshinkanuk's picture

I would say, with no authority it's very similair to over here.

Whats the chances of a budding karateka walking into say Iain's dojo? Or something of a similair focus? (Ok put aside Iains internet efforts, books etc.)

My guess would be not 1 in 10, not 1 in 100, 1 in a 500 I would chance my arm at.

Perhaps due to cultural differences Japan would be even less chance of course, and does a foreign divide exsist? (Maybe that shouldn't be discussed on an open forum of course). But my guess again, would be in large part yes it would.

I know you would have no chance whatsoever training in our Ryu unless you were introduced and served your 'apprentiship'. Thats assuming you knew who to ask, where to look etc. Also unless I lived in Okinawa, or at least visited for a serious amount of time I would only ever be shown 'so' much.

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

I have many Friends who train and work in Japan, And "Questioning Sensei" seems to be a "Gaijin" or Western protocol, nobody questions Sensei in Japan and I can see this in the Bunkai that they've provided in Media like YouTube. One A Wado Ryu Yudansha trained in the Wado Honbu

I would also say that its only the likes of Ashihara and Enshin Karate where "Questioning Sensei" is accepted and acknowledged.

DaveB's picture

And Enshin karate is based in America. 

Black Tiger
Black Tiger's picture

DaveB wrote:

And Enshin karate is based in America. 

Yes I agree, but Kancho Ninomiya is Japanese, And they do have Dojo's in Japan also