Does karate work on the street?

Karate self defense

Shotokan karate as self defense

The origin of Shotokan Karate and the techniques it teaches suggest that one learns to defend oneself effectively. But the use of a karate technique under training conditions or in competition differs significantly from the conditions of a self-defense situation. It is therefore necessary to trim the perspective on the techniques and movements learned for effectiveness and pragmatic use.

If you don't practice, you have no practice

Self-defense with karate techniques has to be learned. It is not necessary to try out a rich fund of techniques or a flexible handling of potential situations, rather the safe use of a few techniques, a good sense of distance and a pronounced goal orientation are important. In the dojo you can re-enact situations in the course of the bunkai or Randori / Kumite by modifying the exercises.

Be courageous

There is nothing to gloss over: If you want to defend yourself, you have to grab hold of it, reach into it, kick it. If you hesitate or feel insecure, regardless of your level of knowledge and the color of your belt, you cannot defend yourself effectively.


Attack is not the best defense

"There is no first attack in karate"
Gichin Funkaoshi

Taking the Dojokun and Shoto-Niju-Kun to heart, one has a good basis for the correct handling of situations in which the protection of oneself is important. You don't lose face if you avoid a physical argument and can defend yourself does not mean looking for arguments.

The limits of what is feasible

Fighting an armed attacker carries a high risk and who is more than one The attacker does not only have to show courage. Not every argument can be avoided, but a considered course of action may prevent you from getting into critical situations.

Think outside the box

If you are looking for suggestions as to which techniques from karate are particularly suitable, you should look for an insight into the systems of Krav Maga, or even take a course. Simple techniques are taught that can also be found in karate. Tactics, the right course of action in stressful situations and practicing the right reaction are in the foreground. Cross-Budo courses or sparring with a Budo athlete from a different style also convey a better understanding of the practical application of learned techniques.

What you need for self-defense

  • good self-esteem
  • good self-confidence
  • confident demeanor
  • prudent action (win without fighting)
  • sophisticated technology
  • Understanding of technology

Shotokan and Self Defense

Shotokan Karate can help you be better prepared for an emergency situation, but it is not a guarantee of staying safe. It is also conceivable that due to physical conditions Shotokan Karate is completely unsuitable and one is better advised with another martial art, another martial art.

The advantages of Shotokan Karate

The Shotokan Karate training system teaches more than just self-defense. This is an advantage at the same time, but also has a disadvantage: It takes more time to defend yourself effectively than with other “systems”. But if you stay on the ball, you will benefit from the following training effects in an emergency situation:

Technology becomes a natural movement

  • Internalize the technique through constant repetition
  • React and apply without thinking
  • the technique as a reflex not as a conscious act

Improved physique

  • Strengthening arm and hand strength
  • Strengthening the core and legs
  • physical strength and endurance
  • Increase responsiveness
  • good sense of balance

Mental strength

  • inner peace and harmony
  • Self-control
  • good body awareness
  • understand your own body and its mechanics
  • get to know each other, train with others without weight or height limits
  • Sense of distance and optimal timing

Karate as an effective defense

Choki Motobu (1870 - 1944), who is cited as karateka with a more pragmatic / combative approach than the one on which Shotokan karate is based, formulated basic sentences for karate and speaking for self-defense.

  • Kicks aren't particularly effective in a fight.
  • When repelling a kick, it is as (hard) as if trying to break the opponent's shin.
  • You have to try to fend off the technique at the root / source. So you don't block the attacking hand, but the arm.
  • You have to learn to evade attacks, to distract them, even if they come from behind.
  • In a real argument, try to hit the opponent in the face, it is most effective.
  • When you hit the face, it's like punching through the head.

That is not genteleman-like and fits so little into the “non-violent” image of Shotokan Karate, but it makes it all the more clear what is going on Self defense can be reduced: Targeted aggression. This reaction to an attack is substantiated, destructive against the attacker, but only in this way protects one's own integrity. To be able to fight like that, you have to train like that.

Important techniques

Important techniques:

  • Evade
  • Deflect and redirect
  • Keep opponents at a distance
  • Foot sweep
  • Wiping techniques
  • Double arm techniques (defense / attack in one)
  • Lever and strangle handles
  • Attack on vital points
  • Destabilize (unbalance) opponents

Important playing surfaces:

  • elbow
  • knee
  • Knuckles (ippon ken)

Common misunderstandings

In forums, blogs and social media one reads again and again that karate is in principle not suitable for self-defense. In particular, the way of training and the execution of the techniques is classified as unsuitable. And that's even true - what is taught and learned in Kata, Kihon and regulated Kumite cannot be used directly for self-defense.

Boxing is jumping rope and jumping rope is not self-defense

However, these elements are not exercises for a self-defense situation at all. It even goes so far that in schools, styles and organizations the use of karate in a physical confrontation is rejected, precisely the conscious renunciation of violence - this is often associated with Karate Do and Budo.

The training focus is crucial

In contrast, there are karate styles that focus specifically on full contact and practice the realistic use of technology. The training focus is decisive. Kihon can be seen simply as a basic training - technique, coordination, endurance, strength, speed, flexibility are the focus here.

In my opinion, Kata serves to sharpen consciousness, mental flexibility, the development of an understanding of complex movement patterns, the mentally deepened examination of karate techniques and for me it is meditation in movement.

Kumite in its regulated form promotes discipline, a feeling of distance, movement skills and control - over oneself and one's technique. Technically, you initially do not consciously learn how to counter a ruthless attack. Over time, a better physical condition, an upright, secure posture and a vigilant, alert consciousness develop. And certainly you can parry one or the other blow, or deliver it if you have to. However, you have to consciously develop the willingness to defend yourself - physically and mentally.

So if you want to learn to defend yourself with and about karate, you should make sure that a focus is placed on it in the dojo of your choice. All techniques and skills taught in Kihon, Kata and Kumite can be used in a targeted manner if you practice them accordingly.

Last but not least

Avoiding an argument, not letting it get that far, is one of the safest alternatives!