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Is Karate a war art ???


In the preamble of the article on Taïkyoku NidanI had suggested that Karate was a war art. However, following this article, I had a lot of reactions because some people think it's wrong.
To be clear (and even loud and clear ), I asked the following question on various forums: "Is karate an art of war? ".

Although the question is very simple, the multitude of diverse and varied answers that I received made me want to write this article. Because contrary to what some thought, the subject deserved to be deepened.

So I will try to summarize the answers on the forums to find out whether or not Karate is a war art.

Is Karate an art of war?


Karate is from To-From de Okinawa Island in the Ryukyu archipelago in southwest Japan. At that time, these islands were not part of Japan.

From 1429under the Chinese occupation, when a decree prohibited the possession of weapons on the island to avoid revolts, the peasants developed techniques based on Chinese martial techniques. defense with bare hand : it was the beginning of To-From.
The inhabitants added the martial use of agrarian tools, or of daily life (Bô (long stick), the Sai (metal tridents), the Tunkuwa (or Tonfa), the Nunchaku (plague with 2 wooden branches), etc.). It was the beginning of Kobudo.

We do not know if these techniques were used to make wars strictly speaking, but it seems very likely that the inhabitants used them against the invaders in arms, and that in any case, the first goal seems to be to defend against warriors.

Later in history, the Ryukyu kingdom was independent and rich thanks to the maritime traffic and especially to the trade with the Chinese Emperors. But this wealth was covetous: the Shimazu family who reigned over Satsuma province waged war in Okinawa in the fifteenth century. It seems once again that the To-De was used to fight the attackers. They had to surrender in 1609. But this Japanese invasion favored the orientation of the To-De towards a warlike practice.

I have voluntarily summarized and used the conditional because it is not easy for a non-historian like me to verify all this with certainty.Darth Vader on

But if we believe history as it is told, Karate, originally from Okinawa-Te, itself native of To-De has a vocation of warrior origin, even if it was not taught to armies to make war, but to civilians to defend against warriors.

So, if History does not lie to us we can think that

"Karate was originally a war art. "


As I just said, history does not always tell the truth, and some even think that all that I have just written, would only be a legend
(This is my vein! -D).

Indeed, it would seem rather that the To-De was not taught to the peasants, but to Peichin (name given to Okinawa samurai) assigned to the protection of boats against pirates.

In this case, Karate would no longer have a warrior origin, but rather from policewhich is still different.
The techniques would no longer serve to defend against warriors and their armor but would serve to police or security guards (here Peichin) to do rule the order.
Karate would then only a civil fighting art.

A small question then comes to mind, for reasons they have developed techniques of fighting with bare hands or using agricultural tools if the goal is to teach samurai

I do not really have an answer and I think I will probably never have so much history of the origin of Karate is fuzzy.

Moreover, when one reads Master Funakoshi's books on karate, he never speaks of them as an art of war, but as an art of physical activity, self-defense and spiritual discipline.

As Master Funakoshi is considered by many to be the father of modern Karate, one might conclude that

"Karate is not an art of war. "


Not being able to decide with certainty between these two theses, I will give you my feelings : in my opinion, karate, like most budo whether with or without weapons, is not just a physical activity, self-defense but has been well developed as a war (civil or military) to allow the inhabitants to defend themselves.
There is, then, a warlike aspect at the beginning, but it is not an art of war either, in the sense that it is not made for armies of soldiers, but rather for individuals.

There is no military strategy in our disciplines, but rather individual combat strategy.
Subsequently, Karate has been used and improved over the centuries, either to defend itself in time of war, or to defend against looters ...

Master Funakoshi does not present karate as a war art, but rather as a school of life :
Certainly, but let's not forget that his goal was to develop karate within schools. The martial side of karate did not go with the " schooling Karate.
Moreover, in 1922, during the first demonstration of Master Funakoshi in Japan, Karate was probably no longer used as a war art for a long time, but its origin goes back well before.

Karate is a Budo (武 道), the Kanji Bu means the war. However, this kanji is broken down into two parts meaning " spear "And" Stop And we could translate the Budo by "The way to stop the spear", so rather an art of defense.

Karate will remain in my opinion full of this ambiguity between the art of war and the art of defense.
In fact Karate is made of a lot of ambiguity and complementary dualities such as learning to give punches to not receive, to be strong and flexible, hard and soft, fast and patient ... In short, the Chinese philosophy of Yin / Yang that we had addressed in the article on Taïkyoku Sandan is ubiquitous in the karate.

I really think that karate, even if it was watered down a bit during his schooling by Master Funakoshi (and others ...) has warrior origins and that karateka, often have more than a sportsman soul. Besides, our code of honor is a little different from the sportsman's code.

Karate is a sport, an art of defense, a method of body development, a great school of life ... certainly, but it's not just that.

In conclusion, I will give the floor to my friend Marc, who have been since the origin of this blog and who said in his last comment a thing that summarizes all that I just wrote wonderfully:

"Karate is a war art in the service of peace"

Here, finally, once is not custom, I do not invite you to watch a video, but rather to revive debate and to give your own opinion in a comment below.

See you soon,

PS: I thank all the speakers on the following forums:, Infokarate Forum,, Forum site,, WebMartial, YamaMusha who thanks to their reasoned answers allowed me to write this article, and thanks to Marc for the conclusion.

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  1. Interesting article. Having read the book of our founding master, having inquired about the origins of karate, For me, at the outset, it made it possible to defend oneself in time of war, then it evolved under the American occupation and there it has become a way of preserving cultural identity while allowing you to defend yourself without weapons! Then he moved on to sport. I agree with Lauriane's comment, it also has an educational role, it is an art of living.

  2. Hello Sensei,
    There is no worse deaf than one who does not want to hear, as there is no worse blind than one who does not want to see. The ambiguity that you identify becomes clear if we want to admit that Life and War are one. Karate is a way of life, in the sense that to live is to prepare for - and to face - the War that is inevitable, and which comes in many forms. From the point of view of the logic of Domination and Predation that activates human relationships, War takes different forms depending on the theater that houses it. There is no single war that the military, even if the latter is the most spectacular expression par excellence of the war; but there is a social war, a professional war, a sports war, an economic war, a scientific war, etc., each one more fierce than the other, and the effects of which, to be less visible or more limited, cause not less in depth and in duration, as much damage and calamity as the military war ... For the one who does not limit it to see the existence on one plane, but who knows that life and a tangle of plans that are interchangeable with each other, war is everywhere, and each war situation must be confronted as if it were a matter of one and the same matrix principle. The Way of the Samurai is from this point of view comparable to the Carpenter's Way ... The majority of people still think that existence is a fair, a "Country of Cocktail" dispenser of all ecstasies, and thus engage almost of themselves to the despicable lusts of the predators who are carpeted, ambushed in the shadows; whereas we must rather consider life, by the multiple degrees of consciousness that animate it, as a Jungle of all dangers, where our survival will consist in us taking the maximum of laws of its operation and to respect them ... (see References).
    Karate is unquestionably - and by definition - an Art of War or War, even though many of its proponents have been forced, in certain extreme circumstances, to disown their apparent conviction, to conceal it under the mask of sociality. . The main nuance that should be brought here is that it is not the art of carrying war, but it is the art of countering it. It is not the instrument of animosity, warmongering, feudalization, imperialism, in a word, of Preaching, but it is the tool that serves to counter it. Therefore, it must be admitted that it is not only the definition of war that must be widened and made more complex, but it is the definition of karate itself. It's not just a discipline based on physical and psychic combat techniques, but it's a total philosophy of life. Karate is the art of living, serenely, harmoniously, righteously, in the midst of the World War. In this sense, I agree with the motto of our friend Marc. Karate is a War Art in the service of peace.

  3. We know that karate is a method of fighting. But in my opinion, we can not give ourselves to this definition alone to say that karate is an art of war or method of defense. If there is war, one can use karate methods to be saved. Sele me karate is an art of defense, protection and security.

  4. Karate is an art of war for those who practice it with the spirit of To-De.
    Karate is not an art of war for those who practice it with the spirit of Funakoshi.

    The spirit of Funakoshi is a spirit of non-violence. Violence is the privilege of the weak.
    Karate is the art of virtuous men for those who practice it with the spirit of non-violence, the spirit of Funakoshi.
    Everyone is free to practice it in his own way.

  5. I think that karate is above all a sport and a great way to defend oneself;
    But there is also the side "lifestyle" that should not neglect either!
    being attracted to me by Buddhist philosophy as well as Taoist I affirm that this goes hand in hand with the practice of karate-do !!!
    Meditation helps a lot to pacify the mind and stabilize it when we train regularly !!!
    these are my conclusions that I can bring for your blog dear Bruno !!!

    See you soon ...

    Sincerely, David S '

  6. Hello everybody,

    for me, karate, like other martial arts, is a tool for physical and personal development.
    It serves neither peace nor war, it takes the form and will of its user.

  7. Mohamed Lamine COULIBALY at

    Karate is more than an act of war because it aims to sympathize with the adversary, and give the message that non-violence always triumphs over violence.

  8. For me, karate is a fighting art. There is any kind of fight, against an attacker, competition but also against our own inner bibitte, disease ect ...... For me the practice of karate is discipline that can help us in all other fights.

  9. Hello dear friend Bruno,
    According to my knowledge, Karate is an art of war during the Chinese empire, when it dominated Japan. At the time the soldiers of the Chinese empire forbade weapons to the Japanese, at the same time the soldiers of the empire were overtaking the Japanese population.
    It is in this case that the Japanese payers developed Karate which is an art of defense with bare hands to defend against the Chinese enemies.
    Then over time: The great master Jichin Funakochi him to change the meaning and he makes it, in sports discipline with rules to study well to make it in mastering art of being, well-being, flexibility, endurance and peace by competing to build a sporting family and to foment friendship and brotherhood at the global level, thanks to the work of the great master.

  10. Hello,

    It is by the research * of its previous state of mind and is only a means to appropriate it.

    From the purely technical point of view, too many gaps do not allow an adaptive work in the perspective of "self defense".

    Hence the need for * and to look at the definition of the words art and warrior to develop a practice coded on this original notion.

    Remote and basic perception of the lightness of the "ki" understanding: practitioners scream to express it. Stupid and absurd.
    Simple emotional escape.

    The internal energy is manifested by the externalization of a channel of this energetic fluid.


  11. Hello,

    In my humble opinion, karate is a formidable fighting method that is used to kill. therefore it is indisputably a Marian art, therefore, an art of war. It takes a lot of time to decode this art. The kata testify to this truth, there are only to see certain movements that I would call lethal. Moreover during the training the disciple is careful not to touch his partner, obvious no! Kihon, sambon kumite ... attest to the martial thesis.

  12. Quite quickly, I would say that karate is not a war art. War requires means that are not in this discipline: weapons, espionage, heavy means, strategies in groups, sabotage, destabilization of the forces .... and many more. It would have been better to ask the question on specialized forums like "martial and survival sciences" rather than forums where the martial art is often only a hobby and not an everyday practice of necessity ... Let's say that karate can in a certain context be a tiny part of an art of war .... however a budo is not a bujutsu. Practice in a club does not have the same perspective as fighting in a hostile environment 🙂 The discipline does not go back to the sengoku-jidai periods either. I agree with the positions above which argue the definition of the art of war.

    • You have defined the thing well and we should finish on this subject. Yes we can not compare ourselves to people who considered death and the "do" which is the death of the ego is more bearable but less "motivating". These shifts are the result of practices that have moved to social groups different from the old ones already in Japan, in my opinion.
      The Japanese masters Kano (born in 1860), son of a rich brewer, Ueshiba (born in 1883), sons of landowners and Funakoshi (born in 1868) okinawaien of a line of samurai (but he never speaks of saber training) were not involved in combat and campaign military life.
      Before the Meiji era, Samurai (warrior) means: descendant of warrior + a special education + 2 swords. Next to the sword, there are also two small decorated blades that serve a bit of everything.
      They were people basically ready to die and did not seem to have any mood to cut off rude heads. Let's not forget that warrior is killing who you are told to kill. This can be slaughter a young soldier of 20 years and it is still taught in textbooks. The author adding must be done quickly otherwise it is in full sleeve. I do not know which samurai had killed a child because he was going to become a successor of a clan and would disturb the interests of his master. The complete version of Hagakure is lugubrious. When the technique of melee against a man in armor it is reduced to break the members and not a key to say to him "you stop to annoy me! ". Among the training of a future warrior most traditions involve a training in pain. This is why the skeleton warrior of the lawyers explain that they had received many injuries in the course of the fight that was fatal.

      We are generations who have not known the war, not even the army, and can have an idealized version. Make no mistake we made with rifles what others did with sabers. In Europe we had hussars full of prestige, but the society reserved for them a spell which is well explained by the Roman de Perez Reverte, the Hussard. For me, war = martial = military, I reserve the military, besides we have deployed troops and we do not speak about the dead and wounded. We are so far away from all that. So far from the past too, when Alexander fights against the Indians (India) and on the other side, there is King Poros, who ends the battle wounded but negotiates peace. We are far from our Sunday best who unleashes hell.

  13. Hello,

    I share the thesis, karate is an art of war.
    Just as we are at war against terrorism without taking up arms ourselves, karate like other martial arts is there to defend us. It makes us stronger in our body, in our head, to protect ourselves, to protect our loved ones.
    In peacetime it is like a sport that we practice it, in the conviviality. If we were in wartime we would certainly use it in another spirit.
    Hopefully never answer this question with certainty.


  14. Sensei KASE declared before the formidable effectiveness of yoshitaka funakoshi that his father (Gishin Funakoshi) would have taught him the "Karate Warrior" !!!

  15. In my opinion, karate is originally specifically Okinawan, then other things have been added:
    I created a free pdf book with the wikipedia files which is downloadable for free on this page.
    A first observation: it is not farmers who have practiced and disseminated karate, but especially noble. However, some were bodyguards or security guards among the nobility who lived near the royal palace (SHuri). On the other hand, agrarian tools may have been used by non-samurai to defend themselves against thieves.
    When the famous battlefields I doubt very much that we do much with bare hands in front of over-trained fellows, not to mention
    The last point is that the old karate is rather gore, stings in the eyes, the throat, seizure of parts, tearing, etc ... .However it was defensive (adage: "No first attack in karate" which completely changes the competition karate.
    The fundamental problem is that several things have mixed that orient the point of view differently.

  16. KARATE an art of war according to the origin and an art of life, an education according to the modernity. for me it fits me perfectly

  17. A civil fighting art.

    Formerly karate was not used by armies at war. They were used cavalry spears, swords, bows and arrows and rifles and guns later.
    In the unarmed melee the Samurai had, before the appearance of the Okinawa karate, other fighting techniques that were part of their warrior training.

  18. indeed the question arises.
    I will not formulate my thought as well as some (much more scientific than literary). I think that the role of karate in its origins was to defend and protect either peasants, nobles or samurai and therefore a role rather "warrior". But it is now a work of internalization as much physical (self-knowledge) as psychological and therefore a school of life. And more than sports Karate brings a lifestyle, respect for others, well-being and a message of world peace that we all need!

    • Everyone decides what they want to do karate because it is a tool. It is used to destroy or build. All the answers are good.

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