Taking Karate to the next level: a talk with Jesse Enkamp

During the second weekend of August I was in Frankfurt (Germany) to attend THE best seminar in the history of karate.

What? Haven’t you figured out what I’m talking about?

It’s KNX15! The Karate Nerd Experience 2015!

I would probably spend five or more pages to talk about KNX15 (maybe I’ll do it in the future), Jesse Enkamp and Matthias Golinski organization, awesome teachers (from Hokama Tetsuhiro to Master Ken!) and so on… Fortunately John Titchen-sensei (that I had the pleasure to meet at KNX15) was quicker than me and realized a “KarateNerd style” review.


I have a different present for you.

It was nearly midnight. The wind was blowing (sound quite thrilling, does it?) across the trees in the KNX15 location. My recorder was turned on and in front of me there was a smiling and muscular guy from Sweden. His name is Jesse Enkamp. Maybe you know him as the founder of KaratebyJesse blog or Seishin International co-founder. Or you’ve just see one of his spectacular bunkai (practical application of a kata) on his YouTube channel. Maybe all of them, maybe other stuffs.

Have you understood the present? I made an interview with him!

Even if I was very excited (like having gooseflesh), I manage to maintain a calm mind to give you the best interview I could have done.

Sound interesting? Let’s start!

Tashi – You started as a blog on MA some years ago and now you are worldwide famous, with international courses and bestseller books. How have this adventure started with KaratebyJESSE and how is it evolving? 

Jesse – I started for the same reason that I start most of the project and the things that I do: because I see something in the world that I think can be improved or changed for the better. I like to read, so I was searching for a blogs or information online, but I couldn’t find anything that I liked, so I decided to started something on my own, using my own experience, researches, travels and knowledge, and then sharing what I learned via the internet. That’s how I started the whole thing, purely because I wanted to share what I learnt, and since I believe learning is a key for happiness and it never stops, it has just evolved since then bigger and better, year by year.


T. – Who, among all the sensei you have met, gave you the most?

J. – This is a very easy question for me: it’s my mother, because she is also my first sensei and she’s still the head-sensei in my dojo. I believe no person gives you more than your mother, so that’s a very easy question for me and that’s my answer.

T. – Why did you want to write “The Karate Code”? How this idea was born?

J. – I wrote “The Karate Code” because I wanted to know what the masters from the birthplace of karate (Okinawa) thought was the correct or the real reason for practicing karate. Today people practice karate for a lot of reasons (health, fitness, sport, weight loss, self-defense, moving meditation…), but what I was interested in is why do the old masters in Okinawa still practice karate and what can they share about their experience easily with the rest of the world.

T. – A lot of people still argue about the dichotomy modern/sport-based and traditional karate. If a person compete in kata, but also practice Tegumi and other Okinawan exercises, they are accused to “have two feet in one shoe”. What do you think about that?

J. – This is very interesting. I think if you are only thinking about one thing you are narrow-minded because there’s always something to learn from the other side. Even though you may like one side more, if you look beyond the surface there’s always something to learn from the other side. For example, even if you only practice the so called “traditional side” of karate, there is much to learn for the sport science in the “sport karate side”. If you can learn and use this knowledge you will improve your traditional karate also. On the other hand, the same applies to somebody who practices the so called “sport karate”. If they look to the traditional value and the ethics of traditional karate, they can learn something that will also improve their daily life as a sport karate person. That’s why I think if you are open-minded enough to combine them both you’ll become the best karateka you can be.

T. – How it was to live in Okinawa for 6 month? What have you done here?

J. – I have been to Okinawa over a dozen times and my longest stay was six months when I studied at Okinawa University, also called Okinawa Daigaku in Japanese. I went there because I wanted to learn more about karate and I wanted to practice every day (which I still do, but not in Okinawa anymore). I learned a lot, but I also learned that time stand still in Okinawa. This is both good and bad, because every time I go back I notice that I have changed, but Okinawa has not changed.


Depending on your goal with karate, this could be both good and bad. I usually still go back to Okinawa, but not as much: just maybe every second year or every third year, to visit old friends and meet new masters, but also to relive a lot of good memories I have from there. I’m not fixed with Okinawa, I’m still trying to see other parts of the world because I know there’re many great masters in other places that have a lot of knowledge.

T. – What is, according to you, the future of karate? Where are we going to?

J. – I don’t know. I cannot answer that question because I cannot look into the future. All I can say is that if you do your best right now, right here, with what you know, then karate has a good future. But I know a lot of people who don’t take karate seriously, they just practice it like they practicing soccer or tennis or something else. If that’s the case, than I think karate will not evolve. I think you must not only train, but also think: than train and think. Training and thinking is a continuous circle and in that way, depending on your thinking and your training, karate can either evolve in something good or something bad. Future will tell. I don’t know.

T. – And your karate? Have you got any ideas for your future?

J. – Yes, to improve every aspect of my understanding about karate, about the world, about myself and about the people that are interested in what I do.

T. – Some people say that karate and marketing do not have anything in common, so they criticize McCarthy’s work, your work, Iain Abernethy’s work, and so on. What can you say about this?

J. – First of all, those people are losers. Because people who 11873773_1058792020800490_8763366686241996840_ncriticize are losers. Secondly, to me marketing has nothing to do with karate, that’s true, but also a big part of marketing is communication. If you want to be a good karate teacher or instructor, you have to master communication, otherwise there’s no way you can share karate with people. It would be selfish of me to keep what I’ve learnt for myself, since I have a good talent for communication. So I use this talent to communicate my knowledge of karate even though it might not be the best knowledge or the biggest: I still communicate this. Perhaps, the people who criticize this are those who have a greater knowledge that me, but are not able to communicate it as effectively. That’s why they’re angry and, in my opinion, losers.

T. – Sometimes we see kata completely changed in order to achieve a higher valuation. In what way, considering this, can kata competitions help or ruin the world of karate?

13913_986122968067396_7993934505108173981_nJ. – First of all I have to say that I change my kata for competition because I don’t go there to show my traditional karate. I go there to win. That’s the reason competitions exist: because you want to win them, otherwise there would be no competition. We would just train together and have fun. Some people want to compete, so we establish rules for the competition and certain criteria for winning. If you want to compete, you want to win, and then you should want to maximize your opportunities for winning. According to the rules, perhaps then you will need to change your kata to maximize and optimize your chances of winning. Otherwise what’s the point of competing? So if you can change, for example, a jump to a jumpin’ kick and it’s OK by the rules, then do it. But don’t misunderstanding me: I still practice “traditional karate” in the dojo. So, I have the traditional kata which I keep for tradition. That’s of course is the purpose of tradition: to preserve and develop new ways of understanding the old. But I also have my competition and tournament side where I do things a little bit differently because the outcome, or the goal, is different.

T. – How is the relationship between you and your brother Oliver in martial arts?

11136746_10153162022001140_6286121437303361970_nJ. – Me and my younger brother Oliver started training karate when we were young together. He’s a little bit younger so he started training with his friend and I trained with my friends, but we still train together a lot. We also competed together, we traveled a lot to seminars, demonstrations, tournaments and so on… But then, it comes a point when sometimes to see your own mountain better you have to climb to one next to yours. We chose a little bit different paths, based on our own personal preferences, characteristics and personalities. Although we practice different things today (he practices full contact modern MMA, I practice karate), we still communicate and learn from each other and teach each other what we discover. Even though on the surface different martial arts look different, below the surface it’s just about human anatomy and how you use your body in the best way to achieve certain outcomes. It’s all about the principles and those are the same for both.

T. – Here at KNX15 you taught Niseishi (Ryuei-ryu) bunkai. It’s not like most of the bunkai we can see on the internet, with “never-on-Earth” controls and static blocks. How can you manage to understand in that way the kata and visualize your idea (in my opinion “awesome”) of a bunkai?

J. – There is only one rule for bunkai and it’s spelled realism. The problem with many people’s bunkai today is that they base it on their understanding of karate: many times it is very limited, linear and narrow. So, first of all to have good bunkai and to understand the concept of realism, you must experience a lot: you must try jujutsu, aikido, kung fu or taekwondo… try to see different martial arts, see how their techniques work and gradually you build a library in your head of different techniques. Easily you will quickly see the bunkai of a kata and visualize it, even though for someone else it will look difficult. That’s my best advice. Also, try to look at all of the techniques in a kata: not just the “punching hand”, also look at the hikite or how the weight is distributed in a stance. There’s always a reason for every detail in a kata if it’s an original kata. Of course some new kata have been created for other purpose and they will have bullshit bunkai probably: they were not created for bunkai. Seek out more old style kata, because their bunkai is much easier to see, they have more interesting techniques that can me more easily applied.

That’s all… maybe!

To sum up this post, the only advice I can give you is to train with Jesse-san.

If you want to know something you have to experience it.

The same goes with Jesse’s Karate and trust me: you want to know it!


7 thoughts on “Taking Karate to the next level: a talk with Jesse Enkamp

  1. Sir Jesse,
    I read your 10 things to do in Okinawa. I do practice karate but im no spring chicken anymore but am interested in visiting Okinawa for Karate historic value plus a most needed vacation is the goal. I would like to visit a dojo or two and maybe practice kata on the beach and perhaps study more of the language. Could you suggest any cheaper places of stay? I will never be a master im just a guy stepping back on the path who wants to see at least a portion of my dream lived out! If you have any suggestions it would be appreciated and awesome at the same time. Sincerely J.Westlake(The chubby monk).


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