Why most Karate Manuals Suck…

As someone with a degree in education and additional certifications in teaching on top of it, I have to say, most karate manuals suck. I have had the pleasure of owning a wide variety of manuals over the years and have reviewed hundreds that I’ve simply chosen where not worth purchasing. On my personal FB account I have been demonstrating what I think makes a good manual vs a meh manual.

So why do most of them suck?

Simple! They’re usually written by people who have no clue how to teach. “But Matt,” you say, “surely all these authors are/ were martial arts instructors!” True! But that still doesn’t mean they have a functional knowledge of how to teach. Most martial arts instructors fail to study pedagogy, motivational theory, diverse learners, educational psychology, adolescent psychology, child development, conflict resolution, classroom management, etc.

They teach, but they don’t really know how to teach. They simply go, “Well, that’s how my sensei did things! It worked for them! It worked for me! It will work for my students!” That is the most egocentric approach to education ever devised! It is why most martial arts instructors lose student after student, have to use educational crutches for motivation, such as belts, and often can’t keep high ranking students.

If you are going to do martial arts, study the martial arts. If you are going to teach, study how to teach. If you are going to write books, study writing. If you are going to write manual, study manuals. It seems simple, but most people are blinded by their own reputation and neglect to improve their craft. Want to write a book…? HIT THE BOOKS, SLACKER!

“But Matt,” you say, “you are just critiquing and aren’t being constructive at all! Maybe you’re the egotistical fart face?”

Maybe I’m not done writing yet!

Before starting the process of writing a manual it is very important to consider your audience and your goals. Are you writing this book for instructors? Are you writing this book as a basic reference? Are you writing this book for beginners? Are you writing this book for your personal students? Are you writing this book for those outside your current sphere of influence? All of the above?

Once that is establish take a refreshment course on Types of Learners. Perhaps review the 4 Main Learning Types: Visual, Audio, Reading/ Writing (Analytic Learners), and Kinesthetic. Also known as VERN. Perhaps brush up on Garner’s Multiple Intelligences. Maybe review the 7 Types of Learners: which is essentially VERN plus Logical Learners, Social Learners, and Solitary Learners.

Now here is the important part… ready?


“It’s elementary, my dear Watson.”

A book with descriptions but no photos, at best only hits 1/4 of your target audience! A book with pictures but no description, at best only hits 1/4 of your target audience! A book with diagrams but no descriptions nor photos, at best only hits 1/4 of your target audience! And if there is no audio CD or online sound files, you are again missing out on upward of 1/4 your target audience!

In short, most karate manuals sucks!

So what can you do to improve it?

Firstly, your manual should include photographs, descriptions, diagrams, AND audio files about EVERYTHING. This is the one of the best ways to hit on the 4 Main Types of Learners (VERN). Continuing on this, it would behoove any future author to include study tips that hit on solitary and social practice, as well as additional tips, homework, and review.

Such as making up a song to remember the order of Kihon Waza, or the order of techniques in a kata. Taking notes on what you have learned in class. Comparing your understanding of a technique with a training partner of the same level. Doing fun drills to stay active and involved. Maybe throw in a crossword puzzle with the name of kata, kihon, and kumite techniques. Make your manual engaging!

Secondly, it should be written in such a manner that a beginner, with no previous training, can pick it up and understand what the book is describing. That is, unless your book is purely written for advanced students and instructors.

Following that, you should remember that it is completely asinine to try and sum up an entire style, with any depth, in a single book! Think of how long it takes to read the book… two hours? Would you try to teach, or even review, an entire style in a two hour session? Of course not! So why try to do so in book format? Sounds awfully silly when you think about it!

As such don’t think about writing a single book to sum up your style. Write a series of books that are leveled. Perhaps start with a book on just the Kihon Waza/ Basic Techniques. Follow that up with a book that teaches/ reviews the first two or three kata. Maybe include applications for those kata in said book, or in a third book. And continue on from there.

And here’s the real kick in the jewels: THIS IS NOT A NEW CONCEPT!

Shotokan put out the “Best of…” series decades ago! Richard Chun and Kim Pyung Soo put out their series in the 1970s! Judo instructors put out the Judo Masterclass Technique series! Shorin Ryu instructors, Okinawan Karate Instructors, Goju Ryu Instructors, etc. you are doing your students and your karate a huge disservice by not catching up to the times and refusing to IMPROVE YOUR CRAFT!

Your students have been begging for better resources! They want to learn! They want access to historical, cultural, and technical knowledge. Some are just bibliophiles (like yours truly) who want something they can put onto a shelf. Some want to share with their friends, and improve the general knowledge of those around them. Unfortunately, when people treat knowledge as sacred treasures to be hoarded and hidden, your karate will die.


Now, what do I think should be avoided? Political references, such as belt systems, “the order my sensei teaches things,” associational nuance, etc. Especially, if your focus is on a style and not a system. There is a difference! But that is not the topic of today.

Hope this has given you some food for thought. Ta-tata-tata-tata-tah!

Published by mattskaratecorner

A martial arts student and instructor. A school teacher and researcher. A curmudgeon with a lot on his mind.

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