Which is the best karate style? 最強の空手流派とは？
Which is the best karate style? This is a subject many people spend much time discussing or arguing about. They spend a lot of energy explaining and trying to “prove” why their style is the best.
If you have been practicing, say, Shotokan for 20 or 30 years, you would believe it is the best style. This belief is probably the same if you are a Shito ryu, Goju ryu or Shorin ryu practitioner. Now these are all traditional styles that are also called non-contact styles. Some people believe that contact karate is closer to the “real” karate. So, if you happen to be a full contact karate student such as Kyokushinkai practitioner, you may believe you are practicing the best karate style.
I am not here to compare the merits or advantages of the different styles. This is because I do not believe there is a best karate style, whether it is a non-contact or a contact style. Frankly, the comparison or the argument of the styles is nonsense and a waste of time. Let’s look at another example. Rugby, soccer and American football are all considered as football. You may have a preference as to which to watch or to play. Do you not agree that it is nonsense to argue which is the best football?
On the other hand, we must ask and study why we have so many different styles listed under hand to hand combat methods. I think this is a good question. There may be more than a dozen styles under non-contact styles and perhaps a half dozen different contact styles. In addition, there are some full armored styles. They are only the Japanese/Okinawan styles. If you include the fighting styles from Korea, China, Russia, Philippines, India, etc. then the number will increase to well over one hundred. Nobody knows the exact figure but Chinese king fu alone boasts (?) more than 400 substyles (ThoughtCo. “Kung Fu History and Style Guide, https://www.thoughtco.com/history-and-style-guide-kung-fu-2308273).
The different styles appeared due to the different situations, environment, cultural and social conditions and requirements. In addition, we have so many different physical characters, despite we, as humans, have the same body parts. Some people are muscular but many are not. Some people are short and some others are tall. If those people start a karate style, I am sure their styles will be different. In fact, in the northern China where it is very mountainous the kung fu styles of many jumps and kicks with high stances were invented. While in the southern China where the land is rather flat, the styles of low stances with less jumping and kicking were formulated.
Ok, we understand that there are many different karate styles. And I claimed earlier that there was no best style. Then, I guess you will ask, “How should I pick a style that is best suited for me?” This is also an excellent question, but at the same time it can be a very difficult question.
If you are a person who wishes to start karate training, most likely you have no idea that there are many different karate styles. A certain style is best suited for a muscular person, while another style bodes well with a smaller and lighter person as a style that emphasizes speed. There may be another kind of problem for a person who wants to find an excellent style. Even if he knew or selected a style, what happens if there is no dojo that teaches that style? Even if he finds a dojo that teaches that style, what happens if the instructor is not qualified or very poor?
Here is my answer to the question. My answer is very simple and straight forward. I believe whichever the style he chose is the best style for him. I am not saying this from an irresponsible attitude. I sincerely believe my statement. Let me explain why I stand on this belief.
First of all, let me share how I got into my karate life. I will not go into any details but it is necessary to show you how I came across Shotokan and it was destined to be my style. When I was 12 I started my martial art journey with judo. Through training in judo I found out about karate and wanted to switch to karate. I looked for a dojo and by chance I discovered a Shotokan dojo in my home town of Kobe. It was purely an accident to see the advertisement of this dojo at a train station one day. I was 15 years old and I have been practicing the same art for the last 56 years as of 2019.
During my karate journey, I have practiced Goju ryu and Kyokushinkai for one year in each style to expand my karate experience. I learned their fighting methods and what I learned was and still is beneficial to understanding budo karate. Even though I found their methods to be very effective and in some cases, more so than Shotokan, I still loved my style and stayed with it.
I even lived in Tokyo for nearly three years (1997 to 2000) to attend the famous Nishino Ki dojo in Shibuya, to learn the non-touch control of the opponents with Ki. The exercises were very interesting and helped my flexibility but the “great” master could not show me or teach me the techniques that I wanted so much to learn. I have written about my experience at Nishino dojo in detail in one of my books so I will not bore you with the story. Regardless, I continued to search for the best karate for me.
Luckily in 2001, I discovered Asai karate which is based on standard Shotokan. It is a combination of the long distance fighting method of Shotokan and short distance fighting method of White Crane kung fu. Those two styles complement each other almost seamlessly. In fact, it became a new style called Asai ryu. I have been training with this style for the last 18 years or so and I cannot be happier with what I practice. I personally consider it the best style, at least, for me.
So, if I had not found a Shotokan dojo when I was a junior high school student, I would not have discovered my best style in the end. Was it an accident that I came across that advertisement at the station? Maybe it was. But, maybe it was not. In Japan, we have a god of martial arts. We believe if one searches seriously for a martial art or an instructor, this god would arrange it. So whether you believe this folklore or not, I believe it was meant for me to find Shotokan.
Now, I want to make sure to emphasize that this essay is not to promote Shotokan or Asai ryu karate. I just wanted to share an example to tell you that whatever style you may choose it is the right one. There are two conditions to my statement. One is that you must be looking for a budo, martial art. Second is that you have to love it and will continue your martial art journey for the rest of your life. It will require, certainly, more than fifty years (for some talented people it may be somewhat fewer years). If you are impatient it will not happen for sure. If you prove to be consistent and dedicated, on the other hand, the god of martial arts will crown you with the best karate style.
Despite that there is no best karate style for everyone, the best karate style for you is the very style you are practicing. After many years of training your body will be molded to fit the style and it will become the best karate style for your body. Therefore, my recommendation to those who are searching for “the best karate style”, find the best one you can find now and start practicing.
If the style, the dojo or the instructor you picked first does not work out for whatever reason, do not give up. Continue to search for a new opportunity. It may take a little time but you will find the ultimate home eventually. You may be lucky to find the home from the very beginning but for most people the journey will have some bumps and even dead ends. Ninety nine percent of people who start karate training will drop out or give up before they find the best karate style. The difference between those who gave up and those that remained is not talent or the style. The only difference is that they did not give up and continued training. After forty or fifty years of training you will find the best karate style for you. Once you find it, how can you give it up?