best karate books

13 books about karate!
The best karate books from beginner to advanced. Shotokan, Goju-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, and more. Practical martial arts, kata bibles, and karate history

As a martial art lover, I’ve always been fascinated by karate books. Displaying the best books about karate in my own library gives me a daily private pleasure.

In the era of YouTube videos, grabbing a book and diving in, gaining new knowledge from the words of masters like Funakoshi, Matobo Choki, Sensei Nakayama is a totally different experience that should not be overlooked by any serious karate practicioner.

In this article, I’ll introduce for you my favourite books about karate. It was not an easy task to select the best karate books among the hundreds of titles available on the market, but these are my picks.

These 13 karate books represent a variety of styles (Shotokan, Goju-Ryu, Shito-Ryu, Kyokushin…) and approaches.

You’ll find kata bibles, strength and stretch training books, and practical manuals to learn karate that are suited for beginners. But also important historical books, biographies of legendary masters, and philosophical analysis of the karate founders’ thought.

So let’s dive into my personal list of best karate books!

Check also: Books about Kung Fu – The best texts on Chinese martial arts

Disclosure: Some of our articles contain affiliate links (as an Amazon affiliate I earn from qualifying purchases).

books about karate

7 practical manuals to learn and improve your Karate

1. Shotokan Karate: 10th Kyu to 6th Kyu/5th Kyu to Black Belt

by  Keinosuke Enoeda and Jim Lewis

Sensei Enoeda’s books are univerally accalaimed in the world of Shotokan Karate,unfortunately not all of them are easy to source, but these two, Published by A&C Black in 1996, are easy to acquire at a low price even today. 

The first book is titled “Shotokan Karate: 10th Kyu to 6th Kyu”, and the second “Shotokan Karate: 5th Kyu to Black belt”.

They both focus mainly on the required knowledge for advancement from the rank of 10th Kyu to 1st Dan, covering Kihon, Kata and Gohon-Sanbon-Ippon Kumite for each rank, showing both side and front views and adding explanations to assist the practitioner.

Applications of the moves are also showed with the aid of large and explanatory pictures, thus helping the reader understand the essence of the moves rather than executing them like a sort of dance.

Given their low price and wide availability, both books should be in every karateka’s library.

2. 25 Shoto-Kan Kata

by Shojiro Sugiyama

If you’re looking for the best book about Karate katas, this is the text you should get.

Often referred to as “The Bible of Kata”, 25 Shoto-Kan Kata by Sensei Sugiyama features detailed illustrations of all the katas, with a 3-dimansional perspective and thorough explanations of each move’s rhythm and timing.

Probably the top Kata’s reference book ever published, and a must have in every karate practitioner library.

3. Best Karate Series

by Masatoshi Nakayama

Ok, here we have not just a book about karate, but a whole series! The Best Karate series, by Sensei Nakayama covers all aspects of the discipline in these 11 nutritious books.

They include quotes of masters aimed to guide the student not only to the perfection of the form, but also towards spiritual awareness and mental maturity.

The physical and physiological principles of karate are also explained: stances, form, source and concentration of power; stability and technique.

The author overcomes Funakoshi’s denial of Karate as a sport competitions, by putting kumite in a new perspective and relating it to training as a whole.

Comprehensive and easy to understand, the Best Karate series is great for every practitioner, from newbie to advanced.

Sensei Nakayama is one of the most prolific Karate writers of all time, well worth considering are also Dynamic Karate and the Practical Karate series, that focus on self defense techniques.

4. Dynamic Stretching and Kicking

by Bill Wallace

Let’s get to something different with one of the best books about stretching for martial arts ever published.

Bill “Superfoot” Wallace was a legend in full contact Karate in the mid to late 70s and his Dynamic Stretching and Kicking is a is meticulous stretching manual:

starting from the anatomy, physiology, and kinesiology of flexibility, the book goes through practical exercises involving all muscle groups, but with a special attention for the hips, since the aim is to improve kicking techniques.

The information is detailed with great precision and insight, accompanied by perfectly explicatory pictures. A book that can really make your kicks stronger, faster, and more controlled.

5. Goju Ryu Karate Kyohan

by Gogen Yamaguchi

The four earliest karate styles, Shotokan, Wado-ryu, Shito-ryu, and Goju-ryu, were all developed in Okinawa, all of the later styles are derived from these four.

While the first three come from the Shorin-Ryu school in Shuri, Goju-ryu finds its origins in Naha, a different location for a pretty different style.

This book by Sensei Yamaguchi is a foundational work, explaining all of the basic Goju Ryu moves, including its notorious breathing techniques.

Whichever style of Karate you practice, Goju Ryu Karate Kyohan by Sensei Yamaguchi makes a great addition to your collection of books about Karate.

6. Saito-Ha Shito-Ryu, Karate-Do For the Modern Warrior

by Del Shigeo Saito

Let’s now get to what is probably the best book about Shito Ryu karate style, this Saito-Ha Shito-Ryu Karate-Do For the Modern Warrior by Del Shigeo Saito.

Shito-ryu uses more upright stances compared to Shotokan, and stresses speed rather than power in its long and middle range techniques.

Full of detailed informations on katas, stances, applied self defence and more. This is a great book both for Shito Ryu practitioners, and for karatekas following a different style but who want to expand their karate knowledge.

7. The Art of Hojo Undo: Power Training for Traditional Karate

by Michael Clarke

The Art of Hojo Undo is a very special book, one that makes both a valuable and eccentric addition to a karateka’s library.

The term Hojo Undo literally means ‘supplementary training’, and this book will give you all the instructions needed to train exactly like a real early 20th century Okinawan karateka.

The karate founders used a plethora of homemade tools for their supplementary strenght and speed training, and this incredible book details how to construct them yourself!

With a thorough historical contextualization, accurate technical drawings, and a comprehensive training methods, The Art of Hojo Undo: Power Training for Traditional Karate captures the secret of traditional karate power.

Michael Clark‘s book is not for beginners who are still undergoing basic training, but it constitutes an incredible resource for more advanced karate practitioners.

4 books for a historcal perspective on Karate

best books about karate

8. Karate Uchina-Di: Okinawan Karate: An Exploration of its Origins and Evolution

by Itzik Itzhak Cohen

For a more historical perspective Karate Uchina-Di is the way to go. This work by I.I.Cohen is probably the most accurate book about karate history.

As the title states, it investigates the roots and evolution of modern Karate in the Okinawan archipelago, where it originated prior to the 20th century.

Sensei Cohen is able to give the reader a political, methodological, philosophical, and cultural context to the legacy of Karate throughout its evolution.

The best book about karate history

9. Anko Itosu. The man. The master. The myth: Biography of a Legend

by Thomas Feldmann

Among the legendary founders of Karate, Ankō Itosu is one of the most overlook although definitely one of the most important figures in the development of both the martial art it’s sportive version.

Born in Okinawa in 1831, not only he laid the foundation of modern Karate training but also introduced the teaching of Karate in Okinawan schools, specifically creating the five Pinan (Heian) for educational purposes.

The book tells the story of his life, coming from a low-ranked family, and fated to became a legendary figure of the Ryūkyūan history through a series of event that changed Japan forever.

Check also: 11 Great Books About Zen Buddhism

10. Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings

by Kenji Tokitsu

Although not strictly a karate book, this fantastic biography of the legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi is an incredibly inspiring read for any martial artist.

Miyamoto Musashi was a fundamental historical figure in fifteenth century’s Japan, military commander, strategists, philosopher. He has become a martial arts icon, known not just as an undefeated dueler, but also as a master of battlefield strategy.

okitsu provides a view of Musashi’s life and ideas that is accessible and relevant to today’s readers and martial arts students.

 a detailed study into the fascinating life, art, fighting method, and unique philosophy of this eccentric genius and in the process, walk away with a decent quality understanding of the history making events that occurred around the battle of Sekigahara and the siege of Osaka castle.

11. The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate: The Spiritual Legacy of the Master

by Gichin Funakoshi

No meaningful list of karate books is complete without at least one of Sensei Funakoshi’s classics.

Among the vast bibliography authored by the Shotokan founder I choose to feature The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate: The Spiritual Legacy of the Master because of his great spiritual value.

The book is not just a collection of techniques, but is instead filled with philosophical principles, fascinating historical episodes, and wise advice for improving one’s own self.

The connection of mind, spirit and body is the focal point of this Gichin Funakoshi’s masterpiece, a real must for all those who want to follow the way of karate, karate-do.

2 bonus books about karate

There are many more great books about the art of karate available online, the list could be endless. Here we just want to mention two more fascinationg works and leave an open space for future additions, hoping to fill it soon with suggestions from your comments.

  • My Art and Skill of Karate – by Choki Motobu
    first hand information that was unavailable for decades
  • Moving Zen – by C.W. Nicol
    A crude account of Japanese traditional dojo life in the 60s

Can I learn Karate from books?

No, you can’t. At least for the basics you’ll need a real sensei or a expert senpai to guide you. Karate books are great to deepen your understanding of techniques and principles of this martial art.

What are the best books about Karate?

1. Shotokan Karate: 10th Kyu to 6th Kyu/5th Kyu to Black Belt by  K. Enoeda & J. Lewis
2. 25 Shoto-Kan Kata by S. Sugiyama
3. Best Karate Series by M. Nakayama
4. Dynamic Stretching and Kicking by B. Wallace
5. Goju Ryu Karate Kyohan by G. Yamaguchi
6. Saito-Ha Shito-Ryu, Karate-Do For the Modern Warrior by D. S. Saito
7. The Art of Hojo Undo: Power Training for Traditional Karate by M. Clarke
8. Karate Uchina-Di: Okinawan Karate: An Exploration of its Origins and Evolution by I. Cohen
9. Anko Itosu. The man. The master. The myth by T. Feldmann
10. Miyamoto Musashi: His Life and Writings by K. Tokitsu
11. The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate by G. Funakoshi

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