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Karate Do, or Jitsu?

Within the art of Karate there is definitive separation between the Do, or way and the Jitsu or method. To understand this and which one you study you must first understand the original name of the art and why it was modified to the modern term Karate Do.

Legacy of Karate Do
In the beginning the arts of Karate were practiced only in secret and their secrets handed down to a select few. This was not by choice but rather by necessity in order to avoid prosecution from training in fighting methods. According to the book "Pressure Point Karate Made Easy" by George Dillman the original form of Karate was actually called "Ryukyu Kempo Karate-Jitsu" which meant Okinawa Boxing Chinese Hand Fighting Art. Thus in its original form Karate was meant merely as a fighting art with their training methods designed to win a confrontation. This is evident to most true Karateka once they reach the more advanced stages of their training beyond earning a black belt.

It wasn't until 1902 when Itosu, one of the founders of modern Karate, that the art was taught in public. Itosu modified the way of teaching Karate in order to help children learn discipline and strength. He began teach school age children at this time. One of his students was Funakoshi Gichin, the founder of Shotokan Karate. Funakoshi Sensei has been cited as the Father of Modern Karate since he was perhaps the most important person in popularizing this art to the rest of the world. In 1922 Funakoshi Sensei was invited to Japan to demonstrate the art of Karate to the Prince. The Japanese people, impressed with Karate, were very eager to learn. Funakoshi Sensei then moved to Japan and began teaching there thus staying in Japan. It was while he was here that the term Karate Do first was modified to its modern format. The Kanji was changed to reflect Empty Hand from Chinese Hand and the Do replaced the term Jitsu. Since the way of teaching Karate had now developed beyond mere fighting ability and into a way of developing the person our art form now was entitled "The Way of Empty Hand" instead of a fighting method.

The Defining Difference Between Do and Jitsu
In the terms one is a way of study and the other is a fighting method but which best describes a Karateka's training routine? If you join a dojo and they focus little on actual application of the techniques that you are learning it is likely that you have joined a school that is part of the Karate Do. If the dojo you have joined focuses heavily on Kumite and application against opponents then it is likely that you have began training in the Karate Jitsu methods. Please keep in mind that many modern Karate schools are teaching both of these methods together but until the student has earned black belt they do not have the majority of their focus on the Jitsu but rather perfection of the Do.

A Look at Karate Jitsu Training
Many Karateka today have never had the great experience of learning the true purpose of the art they are learning. Within many of the Dojo that I have trained at, visited or watched the Karate-Jitsu was reserved for the trusted, or "inner circle" students who have deemed themselves worthy of these teachings thus they are typically Nidan rank or above. You may be wondering the difference in the teachings. The primary difference is that the main purpose of the Jitsu method is to learn how to defeat your opponent quickly and soundly. In fighting the more time you waste winning the confrontation the more likely you can be defeated. It is true that most Karate dojo do claim to teach this, regardless of the student's rank but when a practitioner trained in Karate-Jitsu watches their classes it is evident that they are teaching only the method and not the true way.

Karate-Jistu students spend many hours applying techniques against an opponent. The practice of Kumite is done very often and even is full contact, called Bogu Kumite, at times. The system of Bunkai is trained heavily which is to understand the techniques of Kata applied against an opponent. With in the study of Jitsu methods the student will often learn Kyusho-Jitsu or pressure point / vital target fighting.

A Look at Karate Do Training
Most dojo in the world today teach more Karate Do than the other. Their training involves a lot of technical skill perfection with a focus on understanding and following many moral codes of conduct set forth as both rules and traditions of the dojo. The main emphasis is on perfection of the self through the discipline of training routines. Unfortunately some of these schools have lost sight that Karate Do still included perfection of skill and have replaced that with more of a "life skills" training where students, especially children, are taught how to properly behave thus creating the McDojo type of atmosphere.

It is important to note that Karate Do is the more popular of these two ways of training...and for good reason. Not many people enjoy the aspect of possibly getting injured and prefer to learn the Karate Do since it is relatively safer.

Which method should be considered better?
In reality neither is better than the other, but the definition of which you prefer takes on precedence. Training Karate Do or Jitsu is up to the individual. If you prefer to master the Art form of Karate then a Karate Do dojo is your best choice. If your primary concern is to gain self defense ability then a Karate-Jitsu type dojo is the best choice. However there still exist many dojo that teach both methods and those are the ones that you should seek out in order to gain the entire experience of learning Karate.

There is nothing wrong in training either one just in not remembering to honor the people who have sacrificed to bring them to the popularity they enjoy today. One a side note it is important to remember that even a Karate-Jitsu practitioner trains never to have to fight but rather to be prepared to fight. When a student replaces the need to train with the need to win fights is where you have failed to gain the truest understanding in your Karate. As always best wishes in your studies.