Not a lot of people know the truth about karate but it is actually a grappling martial art. If you study the beginning blocks you will realise this and you can see it on karate by jessies website. They aren't taught so much because some dojo have become mcdojos and watered karate which is bad. Now I'm wondering how you would initiate these grading techniques.

  • I hope you can find some good sources. The grappling moves are often one of the first things lost in a lot of striking arts, however it usually "hides" in forms or as different moves. You might have some better options looking at some grappling arts and looking for crossover movements - like a classic standing armbar/break is identical to what is often shown as an inside block with the forearm.
    – Bankuei
    Commented Jul 25, 2015 at 18:23

5 Answers 5


but it is actually a grappling martial art

This is not the case at all. Karate was always a complete martial art. Most martial arts began this way, the modern striking/grappling dichotomy is a false one related to sporting rule sets.

i.e. It makes use of all techniques, striking, grappling and everything else that works, including methods that would be considered very much "unsporting".

Yes the katas are chock full of grappling methods; arm locks, wrist locks, chokes, throws, takedowns, even leg locks, eye gouging and pretty much anything else you can think of.

Consider how fluid and fast a punch is. It takes about 1/6 of a second to perform a punch and retract the punching arm. It's faster than normal human reaction times. Now consider how static kata are. Kata don't lend themselves to very fast fluid movement. They don't represent it well at all, and modern striking combat sports like kickboxing or boxing don't make use of kata for that reason. At most they run a couple of combinations together. The methods are simple and don't really need to be recorded in this way.

Now look at grappling techniques. They are far slower, more complex and it's important that the configuration between the attacker and defender; relative position of body, arms, legs etc is recorded in order to execute the techniques correctly. This lends itself to kata or forms rather well though with solo forms only half of the needed information is there.

Striking methods are the most common, they are the easiest to learn, but they are only the beginning. Schools which stop at this point are teaching only maybe about 1/3 of what karate is in toto.

How kata are structured:


Some tools for analysing the real meaning of kata sequences:


What Kenwa Mabuni said about the meaning of angles within kata:


Misc other info:


And an example of the meaning of the first movements of Pinan Shodan / Heian Nidan:


i.e. The opening movements of the kata are often described as a double block followed by two strikes. An explanation that makes little sense.

The double block is a figure 4 type arm lock, and the two "strikes" are you dislocating the shoulder of the opponent, using his elbow as a lever. The double strikes are really a push/pull.

How to make use of the grappling methods is dependent on the situation, that's what you need to train, and practise for. That is what kumite is for. In terms of kata, it differs for each kata and often for each sequence. Itosu's kata the Pinan/Heian katas very commonly uses a wrist or forearm grab as the entrance technique for the sequences. He obviously thought it was a reasonable way to begin each drill. And when you look at real violence, you find that untrained attackers very often grab before their main attack. Grab and hit, grab and stab.

e.g. grabbing the shirt with the left hand before punching with the right hand...

Shuto uke was designed for exactly this situation. The upstroke of shuto, catches the elbow of the grabbing arm, the down/out stroke rotates uke away from you and puts him in an arm lock. The other hand traps uke's grabbing hand. The result is that the attacker's strike is blocked, though not as is commonly taught.


I studied shotokan for 10 years, I got my 1st Dan under Sensei Enoeda. So defo not under a 'mcdojo' And yes, there is a lot of stuff 'hidden' in kata (pressure points, locks Etc.).

It doesn't really matter though, as you don't directly train in grappling in karate, a beginner in judo will easily take apart a 1st Dan under judo rules.

Saying that, there are plenty of other styles of karate that may focus on grappling. But in reality, you want to learn how to grapple, karate is not the art.

  • 2
    The grappling found in karate is mostly optimized for enabling other attacks, such as strikes to the bones and joints (to break or dislocate them), trapping and joint locks to control your opponent while still hitting him yourself, etc. If "karate is a grappling art", it is one that specializes in the trapping aspect of grappling as an enabling mechanism, but only superficially covers throws or ground fighting. Of course it's gonna lose in a judo competition against opponents that specialize in that sort of combat!
    – Dungarth
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 6:49
  • 1
    +1 exactly, my point is that if someone wants to learn to grapple, karate won't cut it for you.
    – Matt
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 15:12
  • But karate was originally a grappling art, or maybe a better description would be an art that teaches arm locks etc Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 22:50
  • 1
    However it was originally designed, the grappling that karate teaches simply does not appear effective in mixed martial competition. Judo/BJJ have evolved quite a bit in the last century, and are much better suited to teach those techniques.
    – GHP
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 20:21
  • Given that all the kihon technqiues come from kata, and within the katas most of the techniques are grappling related. Doesn't it behoof all karateka to practice the techniques? Otherwise what's the point? More to the point Funakoshi and all the other old masters included the grappling methods as well as striking. Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 11:24

The trick is that the initiating move doesn't actually have to be a formal "move" - a simple swipe or parry on an incoming punch is all you need to start execution of the grappling bunkai in a technique.

Take soto uke for example ("inside block" mentioned by Bankuei). The non-blocking arm is extended at the start of the move, but this is not the catch. Wikipedia tells us:

This represents grabbing the attacker's arm

I would emphatically state that is so simplistic it is almost wrong - you cannot just grab the opponents arm and pull it into the path of the block in the fashion described, especially without changing the position of your body. If you don't believe me, try it with a non compliant training partner. Then try it on someone swinging punches at your head (rather than your midsection).

Instead, what that part of the move is telling you is what to do once you have got hold of the opponent. IOW, it doesn't teach you how to grab, it teaches you what to do once you've made the grab.

To make the grab, start with the opponent swinging a haymaker/round punch at your head with their right hand. Then:

  • parry it with your right palm from the outside and guide the punch across you
  • continue the parry by bring your left palm up and along the inside of your right forearm (which is currently facing outwards), the left palm should continue the parry once the punch crosses your center line and the right palm should then disengage
  • once the left palm has parried the punch sufficiently past your center line you should grasp the opponents lower forearm or their wrist as you continue the movement
  • you now have the grab.
  • keep the momentum going which will pull the opponent further off balance and further extend their arm
  • while you do this you should then start to pivot and bring the right forearm round as the soto uke into the back of the opponents punching arm (there are several juicy locations you can strike, don't strike the point of the elbow unless their arm is totally straight).

The double handed parry I detail above is very similar to the "wax on, wax off" move as popularized by the original Karate Kid movie (seriously, no joking), but it is done with soft hands so that you don't stop the opponents momentum. It is very similar to what is described as hiki uke at the 3:40 mark of this video (but you want to keep it closer and softer than this guy, don't try and execute the parry several feet from your body).

These blocks are all at their optimum effectiveness when executed as part of a grapple. Please don't practice this particular block in this fashion - you will get hit. Soto uke was never developed to be used in this way - you would have to have the front punch of an old man to get caught by that block (the punch is straight, the block is executed in a considerably longer and rounder way, making it a lot slower. Additionally the defender is stepping to the inside - straight into the range and path of the attackers other limbs).

This video shows some better applications, these guys are already in a grapple when they use the block. Note the starting point of the blocking hand of the karate demonstrator - it deviates considerably from what would be taught in regular line work or kata. This is because the technical form can describe or suggest many things, but when you go to use it in a real situation you are concentrating on one of the possible options. This means, for example, that the blocking hand doesn't have to start from close to the ear when you use the block on a real attack, but you should still execute it that way when practicing line work, combinations or kata.

  • I'm somewhat confused Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 22:51
  • @Silverbackgorrila About what, specifically?
    – slugster
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 23:06
  • I'm somewhat skeptical of soto-uke. The only place I can find it is in Passai - Bassai Dai. It isn't in any of the earlier katas that quite literally all of the other kihon originates from. In Passai, it's simply a component of a leg scoop and throw. So not really a block, or even a lock as such. Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 11:21
  • @css1971 Yeah, soto uke (and some other basic "blocks") are in few katas. It makes for a simple and easy to communicate/understand example though.
    – slugster
    Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 11:58

Karate acknowledges and differentiates hard and soft techniques, both requiring slightly different training, kata, style, and mindsets in general. Many grapling techniques in karate initiate from a soft state as a reception (i.e. using the force of the opponent) and then finalize with a hard technique, therefore both states complement each other. You can see the bunkai of many goju-ryu Kata (Seyunchin and Kururunfa are good examples).


It is my understanding that you'd have to search very far and wide to find a karate school that emphasizes the grappling portions of the karate lexicon. Even quality mainstream karate is kicking and punching with barely any deviation.

If you seek application of grappling moves: either find a karate school that also offers a dedicated grappling art like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or Judo, or also take grappling from another school concurrent with your karate. As Matt suggested above, learning grappling from a karate teacher is very unlikely to get you to a level you'd reach by learning grappling from a grappling teacher.

I'd recommend BJJ over Judo if you want to learn grappling. Judo schools (in my experience) over-emphasize throwing to the detriment of ground work and joint locks. BJJ tends to focus on groundwork, but includes some throwing and generally teaches a sense of your opponent through touch that strikers tend to lack.

Chin Na is more likely to get to the meat of joint attacks, in my experience. Aikido is pretty good for joint attacks, and I am sure there are other less popular arts that could also fit the bill. If you want great grappling and joint locks, just find a Chin Na teacher.

I started with karate. I had to un-learn a lot of karate as I advanced. If I were doing it all again, I would do BJJ first to gain a strong foundation in non-striking consciousness.

(It goes without saying every school/teacher might offer something outside the norm)

  • Do most karate schools just teach striking only today Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 19:40

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