Shotokan Karate is bad for a number of reasons: it’s non-contact which actually damages your fighting ability, techniques aren’t tested and are not realistic, there are no dirty fighting techniques, and there is limited physical conditioning.
Shotokan karate is a non-contact sport. The idea is that the practitioner has such control and mastery over their strikes that they can attack with full power but ‘pull’ all their techniques so that they stop just short of impact, a principle called “Sundome”.
I regularly used to spar in Karate and would throw kicks and punches which would stop just shy of making contact. In many ways it was like pretend fighting. It was great in terms of being able to go to work the next day without bruises or black eyes.
However, there’s a principle called muscle memory. Your muscles respond to the way they’ve been trained. If you train to not make contact when you fight, then if you’re attacked in real life, you will pull your techniques. Your strikes won’t make contact and your opponent will remain unharmed.
Hitting and striking a solid object is a very different feeling if you’re not used to it. It can cause you to lose your balance. If you train in Shotokan and have never struck a solid object, then how do you know if your technique would work in reality? How would you know if you were able to deliver a one strike knockout blow?
This “one hit, one kill” philosophy is a core component of Shotokan Karate and is flawed. Unless you’re lucky you’re unlikely to knock out your opponent with one punch in a street fight; it’s more suited to tournament, point scoring fighting which does not translate well to the real world.
Unprepared for combat
If you’ve never been struck in the training ring or dojo then you’ll panic the moment you’re struck in an actual confrontation. It will be such a shock that your body will experience a dump of adrenaline and will enter ‘fight or flight’ mode at which point you’ll have little chance of using the techniques you’ve learned in the dojo.
Unrealistic compliant opponents
One of the other drawbacks of Shotokan karate is that many of the techniques are learned and practiced with a compliant opponent.
When I trained, we’d be paired off and would work with a partner. We’d then run through prescribed set techniques that you’d have to learn and perform at your next grading. It was almost like learning the steps in a dance.
It was all very ordered and your “opponent” would behave and react in a predictable and pre-orchestrated way.
However, in an actual street fight, it’s chaos. People respond and attack in unpredictable ways and above all are not compliant – they’ll resist as much as they can and will do their utmost to cause you harm.
Training in a dojo with a compliant opponent gives you a false sense of confidence.
The only real way to see if your techniques are effective is to use them on a non-compliant opponent who also trying to attack you. This is very much what you do in BJJ – each fighter is trying to choke and submit the other. Attacks are met with counter attacks and those moves are countered in turn. You soon find out which techniques work and those that don’t.
Shotokan karate has a number of pre-orchestrated attack and defense drills you have to perform with a partner. These had to be memorized and recited at each grading.
These pre-planned moves are always carried out with your opponent attacking in a straight line, with you responding by moving backwards, blocking as you move and finally throwing a counter attack.
This is an over simplistic form of fighting and in reality, fighters will pivot rather than move in straight lines. Instead of blocking every technique, fighters will bob and weave to avoid being hit. In addition, trained fighters will often feign attacks to try and gain an advantage. These more advanced fighting techniques are absent from Shotokan karate.
In Shotokan Karate there is a strong focus on stance work – the cat stance, the horse stance, front stance etc. These are typically deep, rooted stances which are wholly unsuited to a street fight where you need to be on the balls of your feet, like a boxer.
Poor Takedown Techniques
Karate has very limited throwing techniques meaning it’s not a complete martial art. Whilst you don’t really want to be grappling on the floor in a street fight, having a few well honed throwing techniques in your arsonal would be a distinct advantage.
Lack of dirty-fighting
In a street fight, your opponent is going to fight dirty. Shotokan Karate has few dirty fighting techniques which leaves you at a distinct disadvantage.
Limited Physical Conditioning
Whilst Shotokan Karate does improve your general fitness levels, there’s not the same focus on conditioning as in other styles such as boxing or Muay Thai. This potentially leaves you unable to withstand the physical punishment that you may be subjected to in a street fight.
If you’re looking for a traditional martial art, then Shotokan Karate might be the martial art for you. However, don’t expect it to be a realistic fighting style; if anything it could actually be a liability.