Gichin Funakoshi‘s 18th precept of karate says that “Perform kata exactly; actual combat is another matter” (一、形は正しく実戦は別物 Hitotsu, kata wa tadashiku, jissen wa betsumono).

Let’s have a look at the first part of this precept which is “perform kata exactly“.

The meaning of this part is clear enough: Funakoshi wants karate students to perform kata exactly as they are taught. However, this is rather interesting given the fact that Funakoshi himself had changed many kata that he was taught.

For example, traditional Okinawan karate kata were never designed so that they start and finish on the same spot (although some do). Funakoshi, however, changed the kata that he taught so that all Shotokan kata start and finish on the same spot. I guess that this was probably done to reflect his philosophical view that, in karate as in life, you come full circle, you end up where you begin and that both karate and life are journeys, not destinations.

Funakoshi also made changes to stances and, as a result, Shotokan stances are longer and deeper compared to their traditional Okinawan counterparts, which are higher and narrower. I’m not sure what Funakoshi’s intention was, but some say that longer and deeper stances help with building lower body strength and stability. However, this does come at the expense of practicality.

Nevertheless, I do think Funakoshi does have a point here. If you are learning a kata, you should definitely perform exactly as you are taught. If you don’t understand something, ask your instructors and do your research. Don’t be tempted to change a kata when you are only learning it. If you’ve spent your lifetime to study karate like Funakoshi and really know a kata, then you may become sufficiently qualified to contemplate any modifications.

The second part of the precept – “actual combat is another matter” – is intriguing but factual.

Kata is a collection of combat techniques that martial art masters have put together to teach, preserve, and pass down martial knowledge to future generations. Your goal in practicing kata is to turn these combat techniques into your own fighting repertoire. By performing kata over and over again while visualizing fighting an actual opponent, you will develop unconscious reflexes and be able to use them in real fights naturally and effectively. Therefore, kata can be seen as the bridge between kihon and kumite or the conduit linking fundamental techniques and actual combat scenarios.

While it is indeed true that nobody fights the same way as during kata practice, I do believe that practicing kata can help us become better fighters. To me, each kata is like a a treasury of combat techniques, it is up to us to extract what’s useful to us personally and apply those techniques in actual fighting scenarios.

In summary, in stating “Perform kata exactly; actual combat is another matter,” Funakoshi intends for karate students to precisely execute kata as instructed. Despite the marked differences between kata performance and actual combat, the practice of kata holds the potential to enhance one’s fighting skills, provided sufficient time is dedicated to truly learning and understanding the essence of each kata, rather than merely possessing superficial knowledge of them.

In spite of a street encounter never being the same, the principles of the kata never vary, however. Thus, one must learn how they are applied and how to bend with the winds of adversity.

Motobu Choki

All Posts in the Series:

Precept 1: Do Not Forget that Karate-do Begins and Ends with Rei

Precept 2: There Is No First Strike in Karate

Precept 3: Karate Stands on the Side of Justice

Precept 4: First Know Yourself Then Know Others

Precept 5: Mentality Over Technique

Precept 6: The Mind Must Be Set Free

Precept 7: Calamity Springs from Carelessness

Precept 8: Karate Goes Beyond the Dojo

Precept 9: Karate Is a Lifelong Pursuit

Precept 10: Apply the Way of Karate to All Things, Therein Lies Its Beauty

Precept 11: Karate Is Like Boiling Water: Without Heat, It Returns to Its Tepid State

Precept 12: Do Not Think of Winning, Think, Rather, of Not Losing

Precept 13: Make Adjustments According to Your Opponent

Precept 14: The Outcome of a Battle Depends on How One Controls Truth and Fiction

Precept 15: Think of the Opponent’s Hands and Feet as Swords

Precept 16: When You Step Beyond Your Own Gate, You Face a Million Enemies

Precept 17: Kamae Is For Beginners; Later, One Stands In Shizentai

Precept 18 – Perform Kata Exactly; Actual Combat Is Another Matter

Precept 19: Do Not Forget the Employment or Withdrawal of Power, the Extension or Contraction of the Body, the Swift or Leisurely Application of Technique

Precept 20: Be Constantly Mindful, Diligent, and Resourceful in Your Pursuit of the Way


Gichin Funakoshi (1938) The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate

My Art and Skill of Karate by Motobu Choki

Sayings of Motobu Choki Sensei on