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“Open Source” Karate Training Guide

Develop athletic ability and striking power for free!

Originally created and copylefted by Owen Johnston in 2019. No rights reserved.

"Karate cannot be adequately learned in a short space of time. Like a torpid bull,
regardless of how slowly it moves, it will eventually cover a thousand miles. So too, for
one who resolves to study Karate diligently two or three hours every day. After three or
four years of unremitting effort one’s body will undergo a great transformation revealing
the very essence of Karate." – Anko Itosu, the grandfather of modern Karate

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About this Guide

“Open Source” Karate Training Guide

Martial Arts and Fitness Instruction
Copylefted 2019 Owen Johnston.

No rights reserved. Every part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed,

or transmitted in any form or by any means imaginable, without the prior written
permission of anyone. You may modify the guide and redistribute it in any format.

This work is licensed under:

CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)
Public Domain Dedication

The primary goal of this guide is help karateka build up athletic ability,
coordination, and striking power on a shoestring or non-existent budget. Putting
together your own karate training equipment requires little to no financial investment.
You just need some creativity and repurposed materials! Philosophy, exercise
progressions, free downloads, and more are also provided. You are welcome and
encouraged to share this document, our free downloads, and all links to them. You may
also upload any of the files to other sites. Help me change the world one life at a time :)
"But to change the world in a way that means anything that takes more time than
most people have. It never happens all at once. It’s slow. It’s methodical. It’s exhausting.
We don't all have the stomach for it." - Mr. Robot

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About the author

I have over 10 years of teaching experience, including martial arts, strength
coaching, gymnastics, and personal training. I also hold black belt rank in Heiwado
Karate, which I obtained in 2004. I have worked with many types of athletes and fitness
enthusiasts over the years, with varying levels of experience. More about Heiwado -

You’re welcome and encouraged to e-mail me any questions that you may have. I
will answer as soon as my schedule allows.

For links to recommended Youtube channels and a playlist based on this guide:
Disclaimer and legal waiver

This document is intended for people of good health and physical condition. The
training methods and advice in this document may not be for everyone. Always consult
your physician or other qualified healthcare professional before starting a new diet or
exercise program. Nothing in this document should be taken as medical advice, or a
substitute for medical advice from your personal physician. Also, this document is not a
replacement for formal instruction. Seek out a competent, qualified instructor who may
carefully observe your progress and provide feedback. This document is intended
primarily to be a supplement to, not a replacement for, formal training.

By reading this document, you agree the author cannot be held legally liable for
your own actions. If you engage in any physical exercise or activity, you do so at your
own risk and assume the risk of any and all injury and/or damage you may suffer,
whether while engaging in physical exercise or not. This includes injury or damage
sustained while and/or resulting from using any premises or facility, or using any
equipment, including injuries or damages arising out of the negligence of your trainer,
whether active or passive, or any of your trainer’s affiliates, employees, agents,
representatives, successors, and assigns. You assume the risk of your participation in
any activity, class, program, instruction, or event.

You agree that you voluntarily participate in physical activity and assume all risk
of injury, illness, damage, or loss to you or your property that might result, including,
without limitation, any loss or theft of any personal property, whether arising out of the
negligence of your trainer or otherwise. You agree that this waiver is intended to be as
broad and inclusive as permitted by the law in the state or country in which you reside
and that if any portion thereof is held invalid, it is agreed that the balance shall,
notwithstanding, continue in full legal force and effect. You acknowledge that you have
carefully read this waiver and fully understand that it is a release of liability, and express
assumption of risk.

Karate Approach to Calisthenics
Karate Approach to Calisthenics, part 2
Concise Exercise Tutorials
Advanced goals beyond the progressions
Training Roundhouse Kick
Outline of a well rounded system
Hojo Undo: Supplementary training exercises for karate
Hojo Undo Project: Wall mounted car tire makiwara board
Hojo Undo Project: Car tire kicking setups
Makiwara training for Karate
Mental and spiritual training
Karate precepts
Walking the path
Martial Musings
Additional Recommended Exercises for Karate Training
Setting up training programs
Martial Arts and Fitness Resources
Recommended Martial Arts Videos and Channels

The primary goal of this guide is help karateka build up athletic ability,
coordination, and striking power on a shoestring or non-existent budget. Putting
together your own karate training equipment requires little to no financial investment.
You just need some creativity and repurposed materials! Philosophy, exercise
progressions, free downloads, and more are also provided.

For links to recommended Youtube channels and a playlist based on this guide:
Karate Approach to Calisthenics

Like many of my generation, I grew up watching movies like The Karate Kid,
Kickboxer, Enter the Dragon, Drunken Master, and Rocky. The larger-than-life
characters from these films wowed us with their fighting skills and never-give-up
attitudes. A common theme they all share is that the main character is an underdog who
must train hard to become a better fighter and overcome his seemingly invincible
opponents. The training methods employed often include some tough calisthenics skills.
I’m sure we all remember seeing Rocky do uneven pull-ups in the second film, and
dragon flags in the fourth.

The perseverance of our heroes, the amazing skills they learned, and the rigorous
training methods they endured inspired many of us to take up martial arts and training
ourselves. Bruce Lee popularized the dragon flag as well as other difficult bodyweight
feats, like his two finger push-ups. He espoused improving your athletic performance in
order to improve your martial performance, as well as to help fully express the human
body. Certainly, the martial-calisthenics connection is as old as man, yet Bruce was a
great catalyst in the popularization of martial arts in America, inspiring many to train
hard like he did. He said, "Life is never stagnation. It is constant movement…as well as
constant change. Things live by moving and gain strength as they go."

I didn’t fully understand the implications of these words until I got into
Progressive Calisthenics. There are certainly comparisons to be made between learning
progressive calisthenics and martial arts. Coach Wade made some of these comparisons
in "The Tao of PCC". He brought up some important similarities to martial arts. "…
nobody can remember a hundred techniques in a fight. What matters are the principles
you absorb." "You learn the form, you absorb the form, you discard the form."

Our training shouldn’t keep us stuck in a rigid form, but instead be directed to the
fullest expression of ourselves with utmost efficiency and simplicity. In Jackie Chan’s
older films, many of his characters often went through a transformation from a
struggling student to a graceful, efficient and powerful athlete. The training was
generally harsh, but once he absorbed the principles of his master’s art, he was ready to
face the next challenge! Like the progressive calisthenics approach, traditional power
training and body conditioning methods in Okinawan karate focus on bulletproofing the
joints, improving flexibility, and building holistic strength.

There are a number of progressive bodyweight movements taught in Okinawan

karate, including knuckle push-ups, fingertip push-ups and ultimately, wrist push-up
variations. The exercises have very direct benefits for "bunkai" or application of kata. Of
course, these exercises shouldn’t replace previous progressions, but supplement them.
Also, don’t overdo it with directly training the joints. Be sure to allow plenty of time for
your connective tissues to adapt.
Karate Approach to Calisthenics, page 2

To regress any of these variations, you can practice them using an incline (wall,
chair etc) or you can simply create less demanding leverage by kneeling instead of
performing them from your toes. You could also adapt the Convict Conditioning push-
up progression to these variations. (Coach Wade has already covered this for fingertip
pushups in Convict Conditioning 2.)

Warm up your hands and forearms properly before working knuckle, fingertip or
wrist push-ups. Afterwards, shake your hands out, and stretch your fingers and wrists.
Like most push-up variations, knuckle push-ups strengthen most of the muscles used in
straight punches. Knuckle push-ups also strengthen the wrists and knuckles, and help
toughen up the skin. A course of fingertip push-ups, grip work, pull-ups, and proper use
of a heavy bag will help you punch as hard as Rocky Balboa!

Fingertip push-ups strengthen the finger extensor muscles. Naturally, they

provide direct benefits to strikes using extended fingers. Fingertip push-ups can be
progressed by doing push-ups on fewer fingers.

Wrist push-ups strengthen the wrists for various strikes, and have very specific
benefits for "ox jaw" and "crane" techniques. This push-up variation is done on the
backs of the hands. You can also regress this exercise (make it easier) by having one
palm on the training surface instead of having both on the backs of the hands. Practice
this way on both sides to maintain symmetry in training.

A stretch commonly done in gymnastics will be useful in preparing for a wrist

push-up progression. Sit in a kneeling position, look straight down at your knees, lean
forward slightly and place the back of your hands on the ground, directly in front of your
knees. Naturally, leaning forward will put some of your weight onto the backs of your
hands, with the fingers turned inward. Cautiously lean into your hands until you feel
mild discomfort. Hold this stretch for 10-30 seconds, then come up and shake your
hands out. Repeat 1-3 times.

There are "hidden steps" between this stretch and a wrist hold in the top position
of a kneeling push-up. First, gradually build strength and flexibility in the wrists with
the stretch until you can put moderate pressure onto the backs of your hands with little
to no discomfort. The next part of the progression is to move your hands a few inches
forward from the starting position and unfold your hips slightly as you start putting
pressure on the backs of your hands. Imagine that you are trying to move a little closer
to perfect form for push-ups (hips locked out, weight carried through arms and hands).
Find the most difficult position that you can hold for 10-15 seconds when you put mild
to moderate pressure on your hands. Gradually work towards the full kneeling push-up
wrist hold.
Karate Approach to Calisthenics, page 3

Wrist pushup progression

Exercise Start with Build up to
Seated wrist hold 10 seconds 2 sets of 30 seconds
Incline wrist push-up hold 10 seconds 2 sets of 15 seconds
Wall wrist push-ups 1 set of 10 2 sets of 20
Incline wrist push-ups 1 set of 5 2 sets of 12
Kneeling wrist push-up hold 1 set of 10 seconds 2 sets of 10 seconds
Kneeling wrist push-ups 1 set of 5 2 sets of 7
Wrist push-up hold 5 seconds 2 sets of 10 seconds
Half wrist push-ups 1 set of 5 2 sets of 10
Full wrist push-ups 1 set of 5 2 sets of 7

You can regress any of the exercises by performing them on the palm of one hand
and the back of the other hand. You can progress any of these exercises by balling your
hands up into fists as you ascend to lockout. Press through the backs of the hands as you
do this as you straighten your wrists out, squeeze your fingers, and make fists. Pattern
this movement from a seated wrist stretch on the backs of the hands (as done in
gymnastics), to get used to it.

Programming and volume for wrist pushups are straightforward. Since the joints
don’t adapt as quickly as the muscles, and the wrists can tend to be injury prone, be
conservative about volume. Practicing wrist push-ups for low sets of low reps is a good
rule. Also, only practice them once a week at first if necessary.

A few options for programming wrist training:

1) Adding it to an existing joint specialization session; see Convict Conditioning 2
for a template
2) Doing some wrist stretches, holds and/or pushups as part of your warm-ups
for practice (whether karate or a sport that needs strong hands/wrists)
3) Doing some light stretches and other exercises as part of rehabilitating your
wrists (of course, this will depend on what exercises your physician recommends)
4) Training wrist holds after a session of pushups
5) There are many other possibilities depending on your own needs, goals,
experience, etc.

Martial arts and calisthenics can work hand-in-hand to develop all of the qualities
needed for the development of strength and technique. I hope that you, dear reader, find
my examples of this to be clear and useful. The Okinawan martial arts and the methods
that Coach Wade wrote about are ancient, but are still around because they work, and
can work well together!
A Karate Approach to Calisthenics, part 2

Getting to a high level in martial arts requires balance, power, flexibility, and
strength. In striking oriented arts such as karate, one’s joints and connective tissues
must also be directly trained. Lastly, the body must be trained holistically in order to
develop the needed coordination and power in techniques.

In the previous article, I discussed karate style training for the upper body. Now, I
would like to go into detail about specific calisthenics exercises that strengthen the lower
body and midsection. These exercises also help with balance, tension-flexibility, and
coordination. This helps to prepare the student for more advanced training methods,
including power training, which I will detail later.

Lastly, the exercises I detail will start with general strengthening exercises such
as squats, and gradually become more and more specific to karate techniques and
stances. This helps develop focus in one’s strikes as well as "rooting" and smooth
transitions in stances and footwork. Of course, it also helps develop coordinated, full
body strength against resistance, which sets the stage for training a makiwara board or
heavy bag, and for power training.

Lower body exercises - quads, glutes, calves

Squats train not only the legs, but also the back to some degree when performed
with proper alignment. The importance of posture cannot be overstated for exercise, as
well as for combat. When training squats, look forward, keep your elbows in tight to the
torso, and visualize protecting your centerline from your opponent. Breathe deeply on
the way down, brace your abdomen, and slowly exhale on the way up. When breathing
out, make sure to keep your abdomen braced and engage it as fully as possible in
exhalation. Imagine that you are collecting energy on the way down and filling up your
abdomen with it. Lastly, try pulling both hands back into a karate "hikite" position (fists
chambered at hips) as you lower and inhale. As you stand and exhale, open your hands
and slowly extend your arms in front of you while rotating your fingers so that they
point straight up. This is like performing a slow and controlled palm strike with both
Coach Wade’s amazing progressions for squats and bridges in Convict
Conditioning, as well as the calf raise progression in Convict Conditioning 2, can give
your lower body all the strength it needs. Work up to the progression standard for
squats (step 5), while performing them "karate style" as detailed above. Also work up to
the progression standard for short bridges (step 1 of the bridge progression) and for
standing calf raises (also step 1). These will prepare you for the exercises to come. Of
course, if you want a massive calves and a back made of steel, aim for the master steps of
calf raises and bridges! For now, let’s move on to specialized karate-style calisthenics
training for the lower body.
A Karate Approach to Calisthenics, part 2, page 2

Glute and hamstring training

The glutes act as the antagonist to the hip flexor muscle group, called the
Iliopsoas. It’s important to train both to maintain muscular balance and prevent injury.
Both muscle groups are incredibly important in stances and kicking. This goes back to
the idea of training for holistic strength. Below is a short progression of exercises to help
develop the glutes and hamstrings. All of these can be performed without a partner or
any special equipment.

Hip thrust progression

Exercise Start with Build up to
Short bridge 1 set of 10 3 sets of 50
One leg short bridges 1 set of 10 each side 3 sets of 30 each side
Foot elevated short bridges 1 set of 10 3 sets of 30
Foot elev. one leg short bridges 1 set of 10 each side 3 sets of 20 each side
Hip thrusts 1 set of 7 2 sets of 12
One leg hip thrusts 1 set of 5 each side 2 sets of 12 each side
Foot elevated hip thrusts 1 set of 5 2 sets of 10
Foot elev. one leg hip thrusts 1 set of 5 each side 2 sets of 10 each side

Alternative names for exercises:

Short bridge – glute bridge
One leg short bridge – candlestick bridge
Hip thrusts – shoulder elevated glute bridge

Stance training
Now we’re ready to apply your strength to stances! These methods will drastically
improve your rooting, balance, and coordination. Also, the deeper you go with each of
these stances, the harder they become, and the more of a deep, isometric stretch you get.
This helps develop tension-flexibility, which is an integral part of the striking oriented
arts, especially kicks!
Even if you are strong at squats, don’t be afraid to work on wall sit along with
squats to start getting ready for the isometric work to come. After a tough lower body
session, just put your back to a wall and slide down while bending your knees until your
hamstrings are at a 90 degree angle to your feet. Aim to hold this for 20-60 seconds,
then take a short rest, and perform the exercise once more. Build up to at least 2
minutes total time in wall sit.
This exercise is also useful as a remedial exercise if you’re coming off an injury
and your physician has cleared you for training. Just remember to ease into it slowly
and practice safely. Don’t let your knees go past your toes during wall sit, or go below a
90 degree bend at the knees. Take deep breaths, brace your abdomen during the
exercise, keep your heels planted, and your back straight. If any pain develops,
immediately stop the exercise.
A Karate Approach to Calisthenics, part 2, page 3

Stance Training Progression

Exercise Start with Build up to
Wall sit 10 second hold 2 minute hold
Horse stance 10 second hold 10 minute hold
Lunge hold (deep front stance) 10 second hold per leg 2 sets of 1 minute
per leg
Back stance 1 set of 5 seconds per leg 2 sets of 30 seconds
per leg
Standing figure four 1 set of 5 seconds per leg 2 sets of 30 seconds
per leg
Power in techniques
Once you have built up the requisite foundation of strength in stances and
movement, it is time to work on power. To throw powerful strikes and kicks, one must
be able to utilize strength quickly and in a coordinated way. The bodyweight exercises
given previously helped to not only build strength, but coordination. What we need now
is to work on acceleration!
Below is a progression of techniques that may be used to build power in kicks. It
can be modified to include roundhouse kicks instead of front kicks. Keep the sets high,
but the repetitions low to moderate. An exception can be made for bunny hops, if you
would like to build endurance. When practicing, remember to "block". Blocking involves
quickly pushing off the floor in order to transfer your momentum upwards. Keep your
knees pointed forward when you’re in the air, and keep them bent when landing, so that
they don’t absorb too much of the shock.
You will be ready to move up to the next exercise in the progression when you are
able to consistently perform a skill with improved power, and little to no technical flaws.
You can gauge power with the height of each jump or hop, or use the Sargent Jump Test,
which can be found online. For the kicking exercises, technical progress involves the
improvement of chambering, snap, balance, and returning to a stable position after each
kick. Power is measured by how quickly you are able to perform the exercise and
complete a front kick. Every instructor teaches front kicks differently, but generally, you
want to have a tight "chamber" and "re-chamber", as well as no "wobble" as you perform
the kick.

Front Kick Power Progression

Straight jump
Bunny hop
Tuck jump
Front kick from squat
Front kick from lunge
Jumping front kick
Lunge to jumping front kick
A Karate Approach to Calisthenics, part 2, page 4

Abdominal training and tension-flexibility

Karate also requires a strong core and the ability to contract your muscles
throughout a range of motion. Midsection holds and leg raises are incredibly helpful in
developing contractile tension in the muscles needed for kicking.
The side kick progression trains the sides of the abdomen (obliques) and develops
tension-flexibility in the legs. Before beginning the progression, build up your legs with
squats and your abdominals with midsection holds and/or leg raises. This will give you
the holistic strength needed.

Side Kick Progression

Exercise Start with Build up to
Side plank 10 seconds each side 2 minute hold on each side
Side elbow plank 10 seconds each side 2 minute hold on each side
Side plank hip raises 1 set of 10 each side 2 sets of 20 on each side
Side lying leg raises 1 set of 10 each side 2 sets of 20 on each side
Standing side leg raises 1 set of 5 each side 2 sets of 10 on each side
Standing side leg hold 10 seconds each side 30 second holds on each leg
Side kick 10 per side 50 per side
Concise Exercise Tutorials - Karate Approach to Calisthenics

Knuckle pushups – also known as fist pushups

If you are already proficient at pushups, you can start with knuckle pushups on
the ground or floor. It is recommended to perform knuckle pushups on some form of
cushioning, until your hands and wrists become accustomed to the exercise. A carpeted
area, a folded up towel, or a mat are a few ideas. Sand and grass are also suitable. You
should be decently strong at pushups on your palms before performing them on your
fists. Knuckle pushups allow for a slightly greater range of motion, and also work your
wrists a bit more. As such, most trainees will find these harder than pushups on the
palms. This results in doing less reps at first, but as your muscles and joints adapt, you
will be able to build up volume.
Regressions - work through the pushup progression on your knuckles until you
are able to perform knuckle pushups on the floor. Another way to make knuckle
pushups easier is to perform them on the palm of one hand and on knuckles of the other
Progressions - one way to progress knuckle pushups is to perform twisting
knuckle pushups. Perform these on sand (such as at a playground), carpeted area, a
folded up towel on the floor, or similar. Start at the top of a pushup on your fists, with
your backs of your hands facing forward. As you bend your elbows, rotate your hands
such that your palms are facing each other. Push back up as you rotate your wrists and
return to the starting position. The motion resembles twisting your wrists for punches. I
recommend performing these at least once per week to further condition the joints.
Another way to progress knuckle pushups is to perform second knuckle pushups.
This variant is useful for developing these knuckles for strikes. Begin working with
second knuckle pushups on a carpet, folded up towel or mat, sand, grass, or similar. You
can regress this variant by performing it with the palm of one hand and the second
knuckles of the other on the contact surface. You can progress second knuckle pushups
by performing them without any form of cushioning, or by performing one knuckle
Wrist pushup progression
Regressions – you can regress wrist pushups by performing them on the palm of
one hand and the back of the other hand.
Progressions – you can progress any of the exercises by balling your hands up
into fists in the top position. It is also possible, with hard work, to build up to
performing one arm wrist pushups.
Incline wrist pushups – gradually use lower objects until you are performing
these on the floor.
Wrist pushups – perform these on a cushioned floor, carpet, folded up towel,
grass, or sand at first. A high level goal is to build up to performing Jackie Chan
Uneven wrist pushups – while this exercise is not listed as part of the wrist
pushup progression, it is a great way to start working toward one arm wrist pushups,
which are a high level feat.
Concise tutorials, page 2

Finger pushups

You should be decently strong at pushups on your palms before performing them
on your fingers. Due to the added strain on the grip and joints, these are harder than
pushups on the palms. This results in doing less reps at first, but as your muscles and
joints adapt, you will be able to build up volume.
I recommend working through the pushup progression on your fingers. However,
if you are already quite proficient at pushups, you can start with finger pushups on the
floor or other training surface. You can regress this exercise (make it easier) by having
one palm on the training surface. Practice this way on both sides to maintain symmetry
in training. useful for developing the fingers for spearhand strikes and similar
techniques. You can progress this exercise by performing it on less fingers, and/or by
working towards one arm finger pushups. A highly elite goal is Bruce Lee pushups.
These are performed on one arm using only the thumb and index finger.
Advanced goals beyond the progressions
High level calisthenics skills and feats of strength
ROM = Range of motion; HSPU = Handstand pushups; Full HSPU = full ROM HSPU

“Go beyond” the progressions by working towards one or more of these difficult
bodyweight exercises. You do not have to work with an entire progression before
training for a high level skill or feat of strength. Each goal will still have, of course, a
requisite level of strength and technical proficiency.

Pushups – Ultimate one arm pushups, decline one arm pushups, elbow lever
Pullups – pinch grip pullups from rafters and other feats; see the “Minimalist
Grip Work” article for more information and goals
Leg raises – progressions for Dragon flag, Front lever, and Human flag
Dragon Flag – Shoulder flag, Front lever progression, Human flag progression
Squatting – Jumbo shrimp squats (standing on a chair or other sturdy raised
surface for greater range of motion), Dragon squats
Bridging – Bridge kickover, back walkover, more difficult back tumbling skills
(such as back handspring)
Dipping – Korean dips, Impossible dips, muscleups
Clutch flag and human flag - clutch lever, human flag pullups and typewriters
Karate Approach to Calisthenics progressions – Bruce Lee Pushups (one arm
fingertip pushups on just the thumb and index finger), one arm wrist pushups, one arm
knuckle pushups, Jackie Chan pushups, advanced bridging exercises, advanced
squatting exercises, additional explosive calisthenics progressions, higher level kicking
skills and drills
Handstand pushups – Pure strength development without the high requirements
for balance, with the goal of a wall-supported one arm HSPU

Potential one arm handstand pushup progression after Full HSPU:

Uneven pike pushups
Uneven jackknife pushups
Uneven HSPU
Lever pike pushups
Lever jackknife pushups
Lever HSPU
Archer pike pushups
Archer jackknife pushups
Archer HSPU
One arm pike pushups
Partner assisted one arm HSPU
One arm HSPU (theoretically impossible)

You may also explore hand balancing and tumbling skills rather than strength.
This includes, but is not limited to, goals such as: planche, press to handstand, hand
walking up stairs, frog press to handstand, one arm handstand, and one arm elbow lever
A third option is a combination of the handstand pushup progression and a hand
balancing progression, up to free standing HSPU or other high level goal
Advanced goals, page 2

View video tutorials of many of these skills on the Google Sites version of this article -

Free resource – skill guidelines (PDF download link included) -
Training Roundhouse Kick

From my experience in training, studying, and teaching, an optimal mawashi geri

(roundhouse kick) fully utilizes hip torque by springing the full kinetic chain involved
into motion, therefore generating momentum along the axis of rotation. (In this case,
the body's vertical centerline.) This torque whips all the way through to the instep, shin,
or ball of the foot, which is unloaded from the kicking leg at the optimal time. The
tension provides potential energy in a way similar to that of the windup for a baseball

Recommended page -

The hip flexors are heavily used in kicking, and create a great degree of torque.
The hip twist itself in mawashi geri is the key component, with the rest of the kinetic
chain involved in the kick having to synergize with this motion, and the involved
muscles of the leg (quadriceps complex, anterior tibialis etc).

Recommended article - Kicking biomechanics

A common trouble with developing a powerful hip activation for mawashi geri
using the lead leg is the tendency to lean backwards too far, too easily. This is because
the front leg often carries a lot of weight. Most karate stylists carry a bit of a forward
fighting stance (60 to 70% of body weight on the front leg). For kicking, I usually
recommend a kickboxing stance.

Also, what I have found to help is to train 5 separate things:

1. Kinetic chain training. Stand in mawashi geri chamber beside a mounted

makiwara at a height which you can kick. Slowly “uncork” the kick, tag it with the instep
(not too hard, though, that is not the point right now) and slowly reload it. Do not put
your leg down! Keep the leg up, in chamber, very slowly kick, tag, very slowly
rechamber, repeat, until you’re cramping up, then do the same for the other leg. Even
more important is paying attention to every little part of each kick, even where your
hands are and how your body is instinctively stabilizing.
2. Mobility work
3. Training the abdominals: leg raise progression and midsection hold
4. Multi level kicks with the lead leg, using different setups, to striking pads, once
you have drilled the kinetic chain deeply a few times.
5. Lunges – look into how wrestlers, American style football players, and
sprinters train these.
Outline of a well rounded system

Karate - specialized training progressions, body shifting, Hojo Undo (includes

lifting tools, impact tools, and toughening), Kihon, Kata, Bunkai
Kihon – stances, punches, strikes, kicks defenses, body shifting, footwork
Drills - pad work, sparring progression
Grappling / ground work – minimum of basic positions and defenses
Footwork – shuffling, spinning, wedging under

Sparring progression - shadow boxing, grappling / ground work basics, and

pad work should be included in every phase of a student's development. Bag work when
appropriate and available. Make sure students have conditioned the hands, arms and
wrists before starting bag work and know proper technique. Even advanced students
who are engaging in heavy contact sparring will still get benefits from drills and
exercises, which can be adapted for their own levels of skills and conditioning.

1. Early drills - footwork, combinations and defenses with footwork, grappling /

ground work basics
2. Hojo Undo drills, exercises and equipment
3. One step sparring drills based on kata, light contact prearranged sparring
(partners agree to techniques)
4. Three step sparring drills, limited sparring (one to a few attack techniques
allowed, and light contact), light grappling and ground work
5. More advanced drilling of bunkai (introduce more grappling and redirection,
etc), medium contact sparring and sparring drills; gradually increase complexity of
intensity of sparring, but occasionally scaling back or not sparring to give students a
break. Grappling and ground work should be added to sparring at least occasionally.
Students should also still be learning more about grappling and ground work.

Strength - Calisthenics and lifting tools

Conditioning - high reps, circuit training, intervals, bag work
Calisthenics training modes - joints, strength, endurance, skill, hypertrophy, rehab,
flexibility, power
Agility skills and drills – plyometrics, basic gymnastics and or parkour
Mental toolkit - visualization, meditation, mindfulness, feedback (video, correction)
Hojo Undo: Supplementary training exercises for karate

"Hojo Undo", or "supplementary exercises", is a Japanese term that refers to

training methods commonly used in traditional Okinawan karate. The exercises were
designed to be very specific to karate training and helped develop breathing, posture,
coordination, strength, and conditioning. Traditionally, the tools are simple, and
improvised from materials that are affordable or readily found for free - mostly wood,
rope, straw, and stone.

Use Caution
Err on the side of caution when performing specialized pushups (on the knuckles,
for example) and working with impact tools (such as makiwara). Skin and joints tend to
take longer to adapt than muscles. If you break the skin performing knuckle pushups,
makiwara work, or any other exercise, clean it as soon as possible or immediately after
training. Use a first aid antiseptic for cleaning, then apply antibacterial ointment.
Bandage as needed. Of course, none of this is meant to be taken as medical advice. Refer
to your physician if you have any health questions.
Makiwara work is intended to help you develop focus in your techniques, become
acclimated to performing techniques against resistance, and develop the joints of the
hands. Development of calluses is a side benefit, but not the primary goal. Be careful to
not overtrain with makiwara! Give the hands time to recover between sessions. It is fine
to skip makiwara work for a few sessions to allow for recovery.
If you are repurposing found materials for training, check them for safety issues
first. Also, be sure to thoroughly clean all materials. This may require the use of an
antiseptic. After each use, store training equipment in a safe area.

Body Conditioning
Hojo Undo options include: a tapping stick, a bamboo bundle, and partner
conditioning drills. I recommend using or making your own "shinai" (practice bamboo
sword), as it has some give. A broomstick or dowel rod can also be used, but start slow.
For additional body conditioning, exchange strikes and kicks with a partner to the
abdomen, ribcage, and shins. Start light and go slowly when you first start any form of
body conditioning. Do not use enough force to develop bruising or contusions. If
bruising does occur, use an ice pack and allow that body part to recover. Keep in mind
that toughening the body isn’t the primary purpose of partner drills. The priority is to
develop whole body power as well as technique.
Starting on the next page, I will go into some detail about tools you can use or
create for Hojo Undo training. Materials can be found cheaply or for free.
For a more comprehensive list of "hojo undo" tools -

The Google Sites version of this page includes video tutorials and more pictures:
Hojo Undo, page 2

Impact Tools
These tools are used to develop "kime" (focus), condition the body, and build
power. Do not begin striking impact tools until you have sufficiently strengthened your
muscles, bones, and connective tissues. Karate variations of pushups are recommended.
I describe these in the Karate Approach to Calisthenics article.
The goal of using impact tools is not to make your hands bleed or develop
calluses, but to develop power in your strikes and strengthen the joints.

"Sunabukuro" – Heavy bag. You could fill a G.I. duffle bag with sand. Do not pack
it too tightly. The bag can be loaded on a safe and sturdy object instead of a heavy bag
setup. Sandbags may be purchased cheaply at hardware stores, and duffle bags can often
be found at army surplus stores. There are also some online stores that sell military
surplus items, and some retailers that sell new military-style bags.
An alternative is taping old car tires may be taped together (gorilla tape is
recommended). My father and I constructed two of these at our studio and later moved
them home. Auto repair shops usually give car tires away for free if you ask nicely, since
they otherwise have to pay for the tires be hauled off. Check each tire to make sure there
are no wires exposed.

Tapping stick – used to get mentally accustomed to impact, as well as lightly

condition the shins and forearms. I recommend starting with a shinai (bamboo practice
sword), as it has some give. Other ideas include using a wooden dowel rod, or a

"Tou" or "Taketaba" - bamboo bundle; used to help condition your forearms,

shins, and fingers for strikes. If you know where to find bamboo, make sure you obtain
permission from property owners before removing any. Always check bamboo for
infections (viral, fungal, or parasitic). Cut the chosen stalk(s) to the desired length and
bundle at least 5 or 6 together using rope, duct tape, or handle. Replace taketaba as
needed, depending on wear and weather damage. Keep in mind that nerve damage is
not the goal of body conditioning – train safely!

"Jari Bako" - A bowl or bucket filled with sand, smooth stones, gravel, rice or
even beans. It is used by striking your fingers into it, which will condition them. Rice
and beans, when bought in bulk, are very cheap. Work with sand, rice, or beans first.

"Makiwara" - Padded striking post. Traditionally, rope is used to bind a pad of

rice straw to the top to create a striking surface. Other traditional makiwara include age-
makiwara (hanging), ude-makiwara (round on all sides), tou-makiwara (bamboo stalks
or cane). The smaller and more commonly seen makiwara are usually made of a pad that
is covered with canvas and fixed to a board, then mounted to a wall. There are some
variations, such as clapper and portable makiwara. Wall mounted car tire makiwara
boards can also be constructed. Foam and rubber are alternatives for padding.
Hojo Undo, page 3

Alternatives to makiwara and heavy bag

You can ask a training partner to hold a car tire, football shield, or a "slammer".
Switch roles every 10 kicks, punches, or strikes, so that your partner can also practice.
The person holding the tire, shield or slammer should be in a deep stance. Wear work
gloves, MMA gloves, or similar when punching or striking a tire. You could alternatively
wrap enough rope around the tire to provide sufficient cushion for the hands. In either
case, start light and use proper technique at all times. Further ideas include putting
together a car tire kicking setup, and affixing a car tire to a post or tree using chain and/
or thick tape. Use enough chain to be able to tie a knot with it.

Lifting Tools
There are a number of lifting tools that have traditionally been a part of
Okinawan Karate. I’ll give a few ideas for construction and for alternatives. Materials
can be found cheaply or free. Beginners should work with bodyweight-only exercises for
at least a few months before adding the use of Hojo Undo lifting tools. Start light.

"Chi ishi" - "strength stones"; basically weighted levers. Traditionally used to

strengthen the muscles and joints of the arms, especially the forearms and wrists. A
grindstone can be used as the weight and a pool stick or axe handle can be used as the
lever. If using a cue stick, cut it to the desired length and polish the skinnier end. A
hammer can be used to "nail" the "axe end" of an axe handle or the skinny end of a cue
stick into a grindstone, and hot glue can be used to fill in the cracks.
A sledgehammer can be used as an alternative to chi ishi, or to hit tires. Usually,
car tires can be obtained for free from auto repair shops if you ask nicely, or found lying
around. Tractor tires can be purchased used, but you might be able to find one free.

"Nigiri Game" - gripping jars; alternatives include old meal replacement powder
jars, milk jugs, or similar. The container(s) may be filled with gravel, dirt, or sand. Wash
out old jugs and/or jars before using. If using jars, put the lids back on after filling, and
tightly duct tape the lids shut.
Another option is to put sand into Ziploc bags and tightly wrap them in a few
layers of duct tape. Bricks can also be used, and can often be obtained for free. Of
course, be sure to do so legally and safely. Bricks may also be purchased cheaply at
hardware stores. Pinch lifts can also be performed with weight plates, rocks, and

"Tan" – it is similar to a barbell, and traditionally made from wood and concrete.
Alternatives include a PVC pipe filled with sand and capped at the ends; metal rod;
barbell; metal pipe with cement filled paint cans or cement filled buckets (one on each
Hojo Undo, page 4

"Makiage kigu" - Wrist roller. This is used to strengthen the grip and wrists.
Makiage kigu are traditionally made from a length of rope tied to a wooden rod at one
end and a weight at the other end. Stand with your feet at shoulder width, or stand in
horse stance, when using a wrist roller.
Wrist rollers are fairly simple and cheap to make: 1) Handle – ideas include
wooden dowel rod, broom stick, and PVC pipe. The handle should be about an inch
thick. 2) Strong rope or cord. 3) A weight plate or other safe, sturdy object to lift. We
have created some for free, using materials found through dumpster diving, and cords
from vacuum cleaners we found on the side of the road.
Ideas for objects include a grindstone, bricks, or other objects with a hole. A rock
can also be used if a hole is drilled through the middle, or if you have enough length of
rope or cord to tie around it. A jug or bucket with dirt, sand, gravel, or rocks is another
option. Wash out the jug or bucket before use. Start with a light load.
Drill a hole through the handle that is wide enough for the rope or cord. Push the
rope or cord through the whole. Tie a knot on each side of the hole, and hot glue each
knot if desired. An alternative to drilling is to simply tie a knot around the handle and
secure it with a few layers of duct tape. The other end of your rope or cord will be
secured or tied to the weight / object to be lifted. A strong clip or heavy duty carabiner
can be used, which makes it easy to add weight plates or other objects. There are also
some excellent tutorials online that explain other ways to put together a wrist roller.
Wrist roller "tougheners" include: 1) A thicker handle will make the exercise
harder on the forearms. Ideas include 2" thick PVC pipe. 2) A square board could be
used instead of a round handle, which makes the exercise harder on the fingers. 3)
Stand on a platform, plyo box, or other safe raised surface. This allows for a greater
range of motion (and therefore more time under tension. I have personally stood on my
back porch and used a wrist roller to lift a grindstone from the ground.

How to search for free materials and hardware – a few ideas

Sign up at Freecycle and ask around in local groups –
Facebook – check for free stuff groups
Ask politely at local farms, auto repair shops, tire shops, etc
Contact the job site manager of a demolition/construction site (again, be polite!)
Check local groups on Craigslist
Ask people you know if they are throwing anything away / cleaning house, and
kindly offer to help in return for usable materials
Hojo Undo, page 5

Legal Disclaimer
Always take proper safety precautions before training, or constructing training
tools. Consult a physician or other qualified healthcare professional before starting a
new diet or exercise program. I am not a physician, and as such, nothing I say should be
taken as a substitute for medical advice.
I recommend against looking for materials at abandoned or renovated properties
because of legal and safety issues. Trespassing and theft are crimes. You could be fined,
jailed, or both. If you are going to visit any property, get permission from the property
owners first and take safety precautions.
I also recommend against dumpster diving for the same reasons. If you are going
to do it, however, check local dumpster diving laws, get permission from property
owners, and take safety precautions. Of course, obey "no trespassing" signs. More tips:
A safe, legal alternative is to shop at thrift stores, yard sales, garage sales, and flea
markets for materials and hardware.

Calisthenics as an alternative
Lifting tools aren’t required to build strength, as your own bodyweight can
provide sufficient resistance. Bodyweight training is also a safe alternative to weights.
While coordination is benefited by the use of tools, this is also true of calisthenics.
Lastly, calisthenics can be performed for free. Little to no equipment is needed! At most,
you will need something to hang from or hold on to, such as hand rails at public parks or
even door knobs.
Bodyweight grip work may be performed in place of wrist rolling. Shoulder
exercises and hanging from a thick bar can be performed in place of nigiri game. These
are just a few ideas. For a full article on bodyweight grip work, visit this page -
Hojo Undo, page 6

Shinai (bamboo practice sword I use for forearm / shin conditioning)

Sandbags with a few layers of duct tape for "nigiri game" style exercises
"Chi ishi" (one is an axe handle and grindstone; the other is a poolstick and grindstone)
Wrist roller (using a carabiner and grindstone)
Sledgehammer for "chi ishi" exercises
Broom for broom and brick lift exercise - "Molding a Mighty Grip" by George F. Jowett
has a tutorial. Start with just the broom if needed. Download the book for free:
Hojo Undo, page 7

Bamboo may be used for some "Hojo Undo" impact tools. If you know where to find
bamboo, obtain permission from property owners before removing any. It is also a good
idea to treat bamboo. Visit this website for information on bamboo preservation.
Hojo Undo, page 8

Wrist Roller

For this wrist roller, we used a dowel, a twisted dock line, duct tape, and a
grindstone. The line was tied in a knot around the dowel and duct taped. The loop end
was slipped through the grind stone, then the rod was slipped through the loop. You can
add a clip or large carabiner, if you want to make it easier to add or remove weights /
The above grindstone is fairly heavy (20+ pounds). It is recommended to start
light. Gradually build up rounds of wrist rolling, then add a weight plate or other small
object. Alternatively, you could use a heavier object.
Instead of duct taping rope to a dowel, you can drill a hole in the middle and slip
it through. Push enough rope through that you can tie a knot, to prevent it from slipping
out when training.
Hojo Undo, page 9

Car tire for striking

We had two posts that weren’t being used, and chained a car tire to each one,
then added a few layers of duct tape. I later wrapped a twisted dock line around one of
the tires, to add cushioning for punches. We later drilled a hole in the bottom of each
tire to allow them to drain of water left after rain.
Hojo Undo, page 10

Wrist roller with bricks

I cleaned up some old bricks that we had lying around and bought a clip from the
sporting goods section of a department store. I later added a third brick. Since bricks are
fairly light, they are easy to start with or use for a "light day".
Hojo Undo, page 11

Online Tutorials

Eli Elfassy has uploaded some video tutorials on constructing your own martial
arts training equipment, including Hojo Undo tools. Visit his playlist page and click or
tap on "How to Build Martial Arts Useful Equipment with Eli".

"Monkey Fist" Youtube Channel with Hojo Undo tutorials -

GKCgoju has video tutorials in their strength and conditioning playlist:

Excellent wrist roller tutorial with a training program:

Homemade Equipment and Training Links (includes martial arts equipment):
Guides for cost effective DIY equipment:

"Molding a Mighty Grip" - download options:

Home made grip devices PDF:

The above document includes a thick wrist roller project that is fairly cheap to
make. Some of the other devices and the stone exercises can be used as alternatives to
Nigiri Game (gripping jars). Grip training in general is quite beneficial for karate
practitioners, so feel free to try any of the ideas listed. Send / download the PDF to a
mobile device for quick reference, or print out at least the projects you want to work on.
Materials for DIY projects can found cheaply at hardware stores and sporting goods
stores. Stones can often be found for free.

"In the old days we trained Karate as a martial art, but now they train Karate as a
gymnastic sport. I think we must avoid treating Karate as a sport – it must be a martial
art at all times! Your fingers and the tips of your toes must be like arrows, your arms
must be like iron. You have to think that if you kick, you try to kick the enemy dead. If
you punch, you must thrust to kill. If you strike, then you strike to kill the enemy. This is
the spirit you need in order to progress in your training." – Choshin Chibana (founder of
Kobayashi Shorin-ryu Karate)
Hojo Undo Project: Wall mounted car tire makiwara board

This project is fairly simple and straightforward. It was inspired by the tutorial
that Eli Elfassy posted on his YouTube channel. The design is sturdy and resistant to
water damage, as well as very cost effective, as the materials can often be found at thrift
shops and home improvement stores. The tire provides a bit of "give", allowing the user
to deliver powerful blows without risk of injury to joints (as long as proper technique
and caution are used). Auto repair shops will usually give you old car tires for free if you
ask nicely, since they will often be throwing out old tires on a regular basis.

There are various types of makiwara that have historically been used in various
karate styles. Makiwara are Okinawan in origin and traditionally consisted of a wooden
board or pole padded with rice straw tied on with rope. Foam is an excellent alternative
form of padding. Duct tape, leather, and canvas work quite well as coverings, and are
quite durable. The makiwara can be free standing (via a pole placed in the ground or
attached to something heavy) or mounted to a wall. The primary purposes of the
makiwara are to condition one's striking tools and "kime", which in the context of
karate, means focus of technique. If you use canvas, make sure you have enough to fold
around the foam and around to the back of the board a few inches so that it can be
stapled on.

You could also mount a makiwara directly onto the wall, or on a post or tree.

Check out Sensei Eli’s videos -

Our materials and tools:

3 feet of plyboard cut into two pieces with power saw
Pieces of foam from old flotation devices, trimmed down to fit the board (to
provide cushion)
Elmer's Glue ™ and Shoe Goo ™ to keep the foam in place and protect the board
from water damage. Shoe Goo ™ is sturdy enough to take a lot of beating.
Heavy weights to help flatten out the foam
Painting canvas wrapped around the wood and attached via staples to provide a
striking surface
Old car tire to mount the finished board on via screws
Wall to mount the tire on, using old wiring and screws

Pictures of the project start on the next page

We later nailed the board up to the sycamore tree behind our house. The bags were used
for weather protection. I now have the board nailed up to a wall inside the house.
Hojo Undo Project: Car tire kicking setups

My father and I constructed two of these at our studio and later moved them
home. To construct your own, you will need at least three old car tires and duct tape or
gorilla tape. Clean out the tires if needed, and stack three or four up. The tape is used to
hold the tires together. Wrap 3 or 4 layers of tape between each tire. Also make 3 or 4
layers vertically, going around the tires, on at least three different places. For weather
protection, you can use tarp secured with bungee cords or rubber tarp straps with S
hooks. You can add broomsticks, wooden dowel rods, or even bamboo to a setup if you
want to practice bunkai and arm toughening. Bunkai is application of kata. Insert one
end of a stick near a vertical layer of tape and secure the stick to it with a few layers of
more tape.

Auto repair shops usually give car tires away for free if you ask nicely, since they
otherwise have to pay for the tires be hauled off. Check each tire to make sure there are
no wires exposed.
Makiwara Board Training for Karate

A makiwara board, a padded striking post traditionally used in some karate

styles, is one of my most recommended types of training equipment for karate
practitioners. It is the most recognizable of the "kigu undo" (training implements), used
in the Okinawan fighting methods now known as karate. There are a few different type
of makiwara, which share the purpose of helping develop correct technique, power
generation, and conditioning of the hands, arms, and feet.
Makiwara can either be purchased very affordably, or you can construct your own
if you have access to the needed materials. A makiwara can be attached to a wall,
suspended, or freestanding. The Tachi-makiwara (or, freestanding makiwara) is made
up of a several foot long post buried in the ground, such that the striking pad will reach
about shoulder height.
Traditionally, rope is used to bind a pad of rice straw to the top to create a
striking surface. (Maki = roll; Wara = straw.) Other materials such as duct tape are
suitable, however. Other traditional types of makiwara include age-makiwara (hanging),
ude-makiwara (round on all sides), tou-makiwara (bamboo stalks or cane). The smaller
and more commonly seen makiwara boards are usually made of a pad that is covered
with canvas and fixed to a board, then mounted to a wall. There are some variations,
such as clapper and portable makiwara. Having your own custom makiwara may be
preferable to purchasing a makiwara board if you need something that has more “give”
or allows for more variety of techniques and footwork to be used (such as an ude-
makiwara). For more details on all these types and ideas for construction, please view:

The resistance provided by the makiwara when it is struck gets the body used to
hard contact and encourages proper form. A poorly formed technique will often bounce
off the makiwara because the body was not in correct alignment to transfer power
through the technique. When training on the makiwara, you will want to carefully,
slowly strike it in such a way that you will develop strength in the wrists and develop
power in the rest of your "kinetic chain". This includes the legs, hips, and shoulders. In
this way, you train them to coordinate and move in such a way that you can get the most
stability and power out of your techniques. These include your open and closed hand
strikes, kicks, elbows, and so forth – makiwara training allows for a large variety in
technique. With enough practice on the board your striking areas will adapt and
strengthen the bones, and connective tissues used for the strikes.
While callouses commonly form over the knuckles with enough practice on the
makiwara, this is not the goal – it should merely be a side effect. You must take great
care in makiwara training, and always use proper technique. While you do want to learn
how to strike the makiwara with at least a moderate degree of force, you also want to
make sure you learn correct ways to strike it, then take it slowly when doing so. As you
progress with makiwara training, you can gradually increase the speed and force of your
strikes. Gently and slowly stretch the hands and wrists after training with makiwara.
Makiwara, page 2

Before you begin any training with makiwara or other impact tools, be sure to
find a qualified instructor so that he or she can supervise your makiwara training. This
will help you to learn control and proper technique in your striking, which will prevent
injuries and also make sure you know how to get the most out of your makiwara
training. Young children should avoid striking makiwara, although padwork is still
advisable. Begin striking the makiwara with a low number of light strikes, and always
err on the side of caution. Injury prevention is very important to keep in mind as you
engage in any kind of physical activity, especially when using makiwara! As such, never
engage in makiwara training, or any other kind of training, to the point of over-training
or injury.
If any skin is broken, or you begin bleeding, clean the affected area. Use an
antiseptic such as isopropyl alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. Apply antibacterial ointment
or cream, and bandage if needed. Do not practice impact training until the skin has
healed. If bruising or swelling occur, ice the affected area immediately. Do not use that
area for impact training for at least 48 hours.
If you would like to use other types of resistance for your striking techniques,
keep the following point in mind. When conditioning your striking tools, you should not
use any surface for training that has no "give" or cushion of any kind, or is harder than
your own body. This includes trees, bricks, and walls. If you would like to add
cushioning, try wrapping heavy duty rope or old thick carpet around a tree. There are
also various types of wall punch pads that can be attached to a wall.
Makiwara training is only one of many methods used in "hojo undo",
conditioning exercises developed as part of the Okinawan fighting methods now known
as karate. The exercises used in hojo undo are highly functional, and closely relate to the
types of movement that you use in kata. The book contains information and diagrams
for not only various exercises, but describes related techniques, and how to construct
equipment. The author also draws similarities between various techniques used in
different styles, how the exercises benefit techniques, and even devotes a chapter to
warmup exercises, which is important in injury prevention.
These traditional training methods were used by teachers to help their students
toughen their bodies, strengthen their minds, and develop spiritual discipline. This
helped them become complete warriors. Not only that, the training methods are of great
benefit to almost any martial arts style, even various types of wrestling and other
grappling arts, because of the benefit to grip strength and explosiveness.

Primary sources for this article -
Mental and spiritual training

The mental and spiritual aspects of karate practice fall outside of the scope of this
document, but are the most important parts of your training. Karate, much like other
Budo, is heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism. Zen may be practiced as a life philosophy,
a religion, or a toolkit that assists martial arts. However, practicing Zen is not necessary
to become adept at karate or martial arts in general. With respect to individual beliefs, I
cannot dictate how one should go about delving into the spiritual component of training.
Karate can also be purely a physical pursuit if so desired.

Still, it must be said that the Zen concepts of mushin (no-mind), shoshin
(beginner’s mind), zanshin (remaining mind), and fudoshin (immovable mind) are
invaluable to becoming high level in karate and even in martial arts in general. Zen
practices such as mindfulness and shikantaza (simply sitting) are also quite beneficial
for not just martial arts, but everyday life. Paying attention to one’s breath and simply
being present in the moment are excellent practices in many situations we find
ourselves in.

The mental aspects of training must also not be neglected. Look into
visualization, research various styles of karate and other martial arts, attend seminars,
and basically learn as much as you can. Of course, each karate organization has its own
rules as to when students are encouraged to cross train in other styles. Be sure to ask
your instructors about materials they would suggest, seminars, and when you can visit
other schools.

Check out Jesse Enkamp’s excellent article about the four mindsets of karate.

Another recommended article:

No matter one’s approach to karate training, development of character is of

utmost importance. Like other forms of budo, karate focuses on discipline, compassion,
and personal growth. Self defense is a last resort!

"There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden

shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as
passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the
beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This
understanding extends to everything."
― Tsunetomo Yamamoto, The Hagakure: A code to the way of samurai
Karate Principles and Philosophy

The underlying principles of karate-do (Way of the Empty Hand) include not only
self-defense, but a system of learning that provides one with a tool for self-
improvement. Its accessibility is shown by its ability to be practiced hard or soft, by
nearly anyone, and nearly anywhere, even in one's own mind. Its precepts and discipline
can lead us on in the difficult times of our lives. This is the connection of body, mind,
and soul.
Karate-do is a way of life that teaches one to be the best he or she can be, in spite
of and because of the worst situations that one faces. Karate is a code of conduct that
avoids conflict; its level of force is only stepped up if absolutely necessary. In this way,
karate may be used to defend oneself and others without striking a single blow.
Way of the Empty Hand
Karate is not simply a method of self defense, but also a way of peace. Keep your
mind open to the situation, and to the truth. Do not miss the forest for the trees. Cut
through all the hype and find understanding. Your hand, the human hand, is the most
versatile physical tool on the planet. Your mind is an even more versatile tool. It is the
tool of your human soul, human instincts. In that way, your mind is a hand, reaching
out for truth, greater things. Therefore, Karate is the way of uniting body, mind, and
soul, that one may be a sharpened tool. Once one has learned Karate, its textbook of
technique, philosophy, kata, one should digest it and make it part of one's nature.
Continue to sharpen yourself, refining what you have learned, using it to your advantage
and the good of others.
Wa no Michi - The Way of Peace
We should seek unity, harmony, and peace within ourselves and the world
around us.
Zanshin - "Remaining mind" / Awareness
Shoshin - "Beginner's mind"
Fudoshin - "Immovable mind"
Mushin - "Mind-without-thinking" / "No mind"
Bushin - "Warrior's mind"
Haragei - "Belly art"
Kiai - "Life force harmony"
Tai Sabaki
Body management/body shifting/"optimum utilization". These movements are
performed with economy of motion.
Karate Principles and Philosophy, page 2
"Connection". This deals with finding the opponent's center of gravity. Focusing
on skill in application rather than force guarantees proper use of principle, and that the
opponent will be less likely to be able to use their own strength against you. Relax and
develop sensitivity! Once you find this, you will find the same principles in all waza.
Remember to push with the hands and pull with the feet.
This deals with the state of mind and spirit of the combatants, and the distance
between them. Keep enough space to attack and defend. At a high level, you control the
spirit and energy of a conflict. Draw a reaction from the opponent that will give you a
tactical advantage. Practice the above principles to understand maai, and practice maai
to apply the following. Never stop studying tactics so you may better see from this broad
Ki Ken Tai no Ichi
"Mind and Body as One". Coordination of mind and body in movement. Thought
and action must become one; there is no time to concentrate on thought in battle.
Hei Jo Shin
"Calm mind and body". When the opponent feints or draws a weapon, you should
not flinch, but be prepared. Harness the adrenal state so that you do not panic, but fight
The 3 body shifting methods - San mi Ittai
Ten-i - Move away from the attack.
Ten-tai - Turn and realign the body to dodge the attack or reduce the area on your
body that is vulnerable to attack.
Ten-gi - Perform techniques while the attack passes through.
Timings for counter attack
Consider uses for the body shifting methods.
Go no Sen - Counter once the attack is completed, but before the opponent is able
to attack again.
Sen - Simultaneously attack with the attacker. You will complete your counter
first, and/or displace the attacker's movement.
Sensen no Sen - Preempt the attack with your own, by perceiving your opponent's
intent. This will catch him/her off guard.
Defensive movements
These movements are used to control the opponent's energy. These movements
apply maai and body shifting. Consider uses of the timings for counter attack.
Karate Principles and Philosophy, page 3
Nagasu - Flow. Move evasively off the line of attack but closely enough that the
attacker's force can be used to add to your own. Often combined with penetrating into
an opponent's side (irimi).
Irimi - Move to enter the opponent's attack.
Inasu - Move under, inside, or around the attack.
Noru - Control the opponent's movement.
More about the philosophy of karate and other martial arts:
Karate principles:
Karate Precepts

These are the Karate Precepts that I personally teach.

Perfect one's character:
Do not harbor hatred and bitterness. Negativity breeds negativity. Love one
another. Enough cannot be said on this.

Dedicate oneself to others:

And not just to oneself. Selfishness leads to hate, which leads to anger. Anger
consumes all in its path and is never quenched, except by effort, which rebuilds. This
may be one's own effort, or the effort of another, changing your nature and your life
from the inside out. This will influence those around you.

Uphold honor, bravery, and justice:

In these you will find right paths. Selfishness corrupts. Patience instructs.

Never stop learning:

Always consider following right paths. Think not on the way of life or death. Life's
sorrows in disguise will always surprise you. Do not settle for less than truth, or you will
be deceived. Letting go of life too quickly is not always honorable. Let go of concern for
your life or death; seek only honor and truth. Focus only on these, then pain and
deception turn into lessons, or blessings. You must always seek greater understanding,
so you may seek greater truth. 'Obstacles are what you see when you lose sight of your
goal.' - Anonymous

Obtain victory without conflict:

May we try to understand one another and work together. “Supreme excellence
consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of
War. This may be applied not just to combat, but also to life.

Purpose of karate training – to fight for peace, harmony and truth

Walking the path

"From one thing, know ten thousand things." - Musashi, Go Rin no Sho (Book of
Five Rings)

It is hard to describe the true experience of kata ("set forms" / "formal

movements" in various Japanese arts) with words, in the way it is hard to describe a
symphony with sheet music alone. Similarly, it is difficult to understand the true way of
karate after having practiced kata only a few times. Life is in the living - swimming is in
the water - karate is in the empty hand. Karate is not in the clenched fist, but in the open
mind and tempered spirit. This is the true path of budo.
Much practice and study of technique are required for its digestion and
understanding. In this way we slowly come to view the true path. While we may begin
with "a way", a style of technique, this gives us the foundation to find "the way". What
we call our style is simply a symbol for what we practice and absorb, and should not be
confused with the true way. However, practicing a well-taught style may teach us many
things. In diligent, proper training, we find the flexibility and focus of not just our
bodies, but also our minds. A tempered spirit is a tool that solves according to internal
principle, and guides technique. In light of this, listed below are a few general factors
that we should train in ourselves, for others, along the martial path.
Power and endurance: Explosive strength is a must in the performance of athletic
skill. Ways to develop power include (but are not necessarily limited to) plyometrics,
bodyweight exercises (with or without partners), cardiovascular training, and stance
training. One must also have mental fortitude to press on past the comfort zone.
Spiritual development occurs as a natural result. Every day provides fresh lessons.
Rhythm, timing, distance: Fighting and music have often been compared to one
another. If you understand rhythm, you will know how to break your own - and find
your opponent's. Timing, then, is a necessary consideration in employing the use of
rhythm and broken rhythm. To develop rhythm, we may start with kata, then
understand bunkai (application of kata), and then learn how to adapt naturally. In this
way, one may control the distance between oneself and one's opponent - both physically
and mentally. Many different sparring drills may be employed. The serious study of
rhythm and timing may provide many lessons on understanding the ebb and tide of
life's many seasons.
Awareness and adaptability: While we by nature depend highly on vision, we may
train ourselves to more fully use our senses.
Knowledge is nothing without being mentally aware of its application, or the
spiritual flexibility to adapt to change in a positive fashion. Let us train diligently so that
we may do our best, and be prepared for the worst.
In this way, we can see that disciplining our bodies develops our mental clarity.
In cutting away the inessential, we develop our mental focus and begin to see the true
path. Thus, we make progress in our spiritual perception. In this way, we will take a
positive direction spiritually and morally, as we have already done mentally and
physically. Thus, we will make a positive effect on the world around us.
Martial Musings
Each of the older traditional kata (forms) could be called its own method of
fighting. It isn't unheard of for some teachers to drill one kata and its bunkai for a year
or more. Learn kata and learn it thoroughly. Practice sparring drills to understand kata.
Move on to light sparring to learn to apply your techniques naturally.
The traditional forms should be held in high regard. Yet once we have
internalized the forms we must then interpret them as needed. We must always consider
the importance of traditions and the influence of culture on martial arts. On the other
side, we must also remember to apply the lessons learned from traditions so that we
may make continued progress. We must learn from those masters who came before us,
but also not be a product of a style - we must seek the true way, just as the old masters
There is no best martial arts style - no art is complete, and each art has something
to offer. I advocate learning a martial art as your core art and later supplementing it
with training, principles, and techniques from other styles. We must thoroughly study
the underlying principles of our respective arts and how the techniques evolve from
those. Let us remember that the journey to mastery is a lifelong one. The journey itself is
the goal and its difficulties teach us a lot about becoming better people.
For success in martial arts, we must remember 3 things - basics, conditioning,
and discipline. These 3 are equally important and go hand in hand. If we lack basics, we
lack a foundation to build upon - and everything else falls apart. Learning the
fundamentals thoroughly gives us a solid base to work from, and also helps with both
conditioning the body as well as disciplining the mind. If we lack conditioning, then we
may lack the stamina to perform basics properly in a drawn out match. If we lack
discipline, then we will not be able to focus in a long, hard match, much less be able to
thoroughly drill either basics or conditioning. Keep all this in mind as you train - and
remember that tomorrow's battle is won during today's training. This is true in both
martial arts and life.
Training in martial arts is good life experience. It teaches hard work and goal
setting as well as sportsmanship and character. Remember to keep yin and yang in your
martial arts practice. There must be gentleness in strength, and power in looseness.
Also, when training, challenge yourself, but don't overdo it. Remember that recovery is
also part of training.
Martial Musings, page 2
Also, it is important to train not only your body, but also your mind. Pushing past
the point of wanting to give up strengthens both mind and body. Do not neglect the need
for developing your inner warrior. To do this one must become acquainted with
discomfort and push through life's obstacles, with one's goals constantly in mind. Life
itself is the battlefield in which we must fight for our dreams. In martial arts, as in life,
it's about getting up after falling down. Trying again. Learning from the life journey is
the victory. The spiritual growth found in the fight. Life is tough, but it's a beautiful
challenge. Do not forget, however, that it is important to develop contentedness with our
situation, and to love life in general. Nonetheless, we must still work hard towards our
dreams and have hope for tomorrow without forgetting to enjoy the moment. Dare to
take a stand and claim your dreams. Inspire others. The thrill of victory is often worth
striving for, but it is not the most important thing. The spiritual growth found within the
fight itself is the most important.
Additional Recommended Exercises for Karate Training

Bodyweight exercises:
Stance training
Cat stretch (also known as "neko undo")
Neck exercises - basic neck exercises, neck bridges, front neck plank, wrestler’s bridge
Scapular pushups
Plyometrics (such as squat jump)
Hand specializations - karate pushups, wrist pushups
Grip work
Toe raises
Calf and foot exercises

With a partner:
Partner stretching
Partner leg raise throwdowns
Shoulder squats (partner on your shoulders)
Fireman’s carry with partner
Partner deadlifts

Skill work, power, and cardio:

Agility drills and skills
Skipping rope
Speed bag work
Pad work
Explosive calisthenics
Boxing drills
Sparring drills and progression

View videos of many of these on the Google Sites version of this page -

The pages below have links to workouts, videos, and playlists -
Setting up Training Programs
"Studying the martial Way is like climbing a cliff: keep going forward without
rest. Resting is not permissible because it causes recessions to old adages of
achievement. Persevering day in, day out improves techniques, but resting one day
causes lapses. This must be prevented." - Mas Oyama, founder of Kyokushin Karate
While there is no "one size fits all" program, I would still like to provide a few
workout ideas. Of course, I cannot emphasize enough the need for formal instruction
and proper technique. Ask a qualified teacher as well as an experienced strength coach
to help with learning techniques and exercises. Choices of Hojo Undo tools should be
based on your goals, budget, and the availability of materials.
For lifting tools, I personally recommend starting with a wrist roller and a light
load. Gradually build up endurance. For bodyweight exercises, start with pushups, leg
raises, squats, and pullups. Bodyweight grip work may be performed instead of wrist
roller work. Add neck work, hand specializations, and stance work as conditioning
improves. Add another lifting tool or two later on, as well. Be cautious about adding too
many exercises to a workout, to help avoid overtraining and injury.
Consult a physician or other qualified healthcare professional before starting a
new diet or exercise program. I am not a physician, and as such, nothing I say should be
taken as a substitute for medical advice.

A few workout structure ideas: full body strength training workout –

bodyweight only, lifting tools only, or a hybrid; boxing style workout – cardio, skipping
rope, strength training, bag work, etc.; karate class workout – strength training, basics,
kata, sparring drills, impact tools, etc.

Impact work: You will be ready to use a makiwara once you have sufficiently
conditioned the joints through hand specialization exercises, and learned proper
striking technique. However, pad work, bag work, and / or tire work may be practiced
early on. Start light and wear some form of hand protection as needed.

Cardiovascular training: This may be performed as a separate workout, or

before a strength and conditioning workout.

Joint training (neck, hand specializations): Gradually build up intensity.

Skip joint training when needed to allow the joints to recover.

Recommended YouTube channels

GKCgoju, tripleVVV3, LegendaryStrength, themodernmartialartist,

Recommended Pages
Workouts page with videos:
A FAQ that includes abbreviated bodyweight workouts:
Wrist roller tutorial with workout ideas:
Karate Training Programs page 2

Additional drills and exercises:

Sensitivity drills, agility (tumbling, etc), mobility, and breathing exercises can
also be added to workouts, or performed separately as individual sessions.

Scheduling around karate class:

There are two basic options for setting up a weekly schedule based on class times.
If you’re just starting out, you should perform workouts on days that you do not attend
class. As your strength and conditioning improve, you can perform workouts on class
days. Use caution and common sense when you train on class days, though – you don’t
want to overtrain! Feel free to leave out or replace certain exercises if you know you will
be doing later in class. Of course, ask your instructor for his or her expert feedback on
setting up a training schedule.

When traveling or otherwise don’t have access to equipment: You can

skip the impact work (body conditioning, makiwara, bag work, car tires). Space
allowing, still practice kata and/or drills. If you cannot afford to make any training
equipment at the moment, ask around online and offline for materials. Also, search for
local boxing gyms, as these are often free to the public.
You can perform pulling movements with doorknobs and/or a towel, if no pullup
equipment or hand rails are available. I recommend looking up tutorials for "Let me
ins". Some dipping variations can be performed using a chair or bed. If you have little
room, you can replace the front kick power progression with other explosive movements
or small space exercises.

Martial arts instructors: If you are designing a workout for a group class,
select exercises that are simple enough to teach fairly quickly to students of various skill
and conditioning levels. Also, exercises that do not require spotting will be the easiest to
have the entire group perform at once. Depending on the complexity of the exercise(s)
as well as the skill levels and ages of the students, partnering up your students to help
one another with exercises can be quite productive. Of course, use discretion and keep
safety first. Take all needed safety precautions before teaching skills that require
spotting. This includes mats, a clean training area, and proper spotting techniques.
Workouts may be tailored to young children by keeping lifts simple and very
light. Calisthenics and simple, safe partner exercises may also be utilized. Make
workouts fun to prevent boredom. Include warmups and cooldowns. Seek the advice of
instructors, coaches, and/or personal trainers who have experience in training youths.
Some students may have health concerns that contraindicate rigorous exercise.
Training may be adapted according to advice from their physician or physical therapist.

An example full body program template: 1. Skipping rope or other small

space exercises, 2. Knuckle pushups, 3. Tan or Chi Ishi exercise(s), 4. Leg raises, 5.
Squats, 6. Pullups or horizontal pullups, 7. Wrist roller, 8. Stance training progression
or partner resisted stance, 9. Neck work, 10. Shin flexes, 11. Bag work or tire work, and
12. Mobility work / cooldowns
Martial Arts and Fitness Resources
Free downloads:
Send or download documents of choice to a mobile device for quick reference.

Recommended webpages:

Styles, Philosophy, Kata, Terms, Exercises, etc.:

History of Karate:

Recommended books:
Recommended Videos and Martial Arts Channels
The page below has links to exercise playlists:
Recommended YouTube channels:
Training Notes
“Open Source” Karate Training Guide
Develop athletic ability and striking power for free!
Originally created and copylefted by Owen Johnston in 2019. No rights reserved.

Free exercise progressions and tutorials:

No rights reserved. Every part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed,

or transmitted in any form or by any means imaginable, without the prior written
permission of anyone. You may modify the guide and redistribute it in any format.

This work is licensed under:

CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)
Public Domain Dedication

The primary goal of this guide is help karateka build up athletic ability,
coordination, and striking power on a shoestring or non-existent budget. Putting
together your own karate training equipment requires little to no financial investment.
You just need some creativity and repurposed materials! Philosophy, exercise
progressions, free downloads, and more are also provided. You are welcome and
encouraged to share this document, our free downloads, and all links to them. You may
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We don't all have the stomach for it." - Mr. Robot

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About the author

I have over 10 years of teaching experience, including martial arts, strength
coaching, gymnastics, and personal training. I also hold black belt rank in Heiwado
Karate, which I obtained in 2004. I have worked with many types of athletes and fitness
enthusiasts over the years, with varying levels of experience. More about Heiwado -

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