Benefits of Martial Arts Instructor Resources Musings

Grinding in Karate, or Why Karate is Like a Video Game

Karate is like a video game. Karate is better than video games. (Sorry, gamers). In order to bust a move in karate, you will need to engage in the act of “grinding.”

The students in the picture below are grinding. They don’t realize it, but front stance straight punch is the very definition of grinding for karateka. Isn’t it beautiful?

Stanwood Karate
NWSMA youth class in action!

What does “grinding” mean anyway?

In video/computer gaming culture, “grinding” refers to engaging in repetitive tasks for a purpose, either to attain an item, badge, or to unlock access to certain features. The repetitive tasks are rarely entertaining.

Tl;dr “grinding” means to do the same thing. Again and again, a lot. And it’s not terribly exciting or fun.

Hmmm….this is starting to sound like karate! Click the “more” link to hear about why grinding is important, not just in games!

Purpose of Grinding (in Karate*)

Why do we do things repetitively in martial arts?

(Speaking of repetitive, I’ve already blogged about this topic. But it’s okay. Teaching is also repeating).

Anyway, tl;dr: repetition builds instinct. Instinct lets you easily & effectively use your karate if you are ever attacked. AKA, saving your life.

*Karate is life. Therefore, grinding in life is important too. It’s those extra hours you put in at work to get a promotion. Hours of studying you put in to pass a test. The act of writing a novel, ~100,000 words entirely from nothing. Applying to jobs. Etc.

black belt
Just a black belt with her broken board!

The important point being: grinding gets results.

How to Grind Effectively (in Karate)

I was visiting a friend’s dojo just the other night, and he referred to grinding as a traditional way of learning karate. But it was a brutal method:

“They [the old masters] would just make you do it again and again, until you were so tired you lost your bad habits. When your shoulders ache, it’s a lot easier to punch without lifting the shoulder, using the hip for power instead.”

Sensei went on to say that the problem with this method is that by the time you started to do it correctly, you had several thousand bad repetitions under your belt.

So then you would have to continue grinding. To get rid of the bad habits.

Sensei pointed out that this was not an efficient way to learn. So, people have changed how they teach martial arts.


Having a more efficient teaching method doesn’t mean that we can or should get away from repetition, though.


It’s not very fun or flashy, but repetition is the key to grinding. You’ve got to get the repetitions in somehow. Anyhow. Some strategies for effective karate grinding:

  • Spend a small amount of time on basics. Every. Single Day. Do 5 mins of seated blocks at your work station. During commercials, take up a stance or practice moving in stances.
  • Use basics for loosening up. Before your class starts, go through a kihon kata, or do some basics back and forth on the floor. (P.S. You will impress your sensei with your dedication).
  • Don’t go full power, full speed until you’ve (mostly) mastered a technique. Get the steps down first. Then add fluidity. Correct. Add more fluidity. Then add the power and kime (snap). Continue correcting, then increasing speed & power.
  • Adjust your attitude & expectations. If you are approaching basics with the attitude of “BO-ring,” you’re doing it wrong. If you’re expecting to become a master in a few years, well… Slow down. Relax. Learn to appreciate the value in simple things. Know that the payoff will come much later, and it will be worth it.

Treat repetition like brushing your teeth: You gotta do it. It’s not exciting or glamorous. It’s sweaty. But it makes you better and it’s definitely worth it!

SBN Doris receiving her 4th degree black belt!
SBN Doris receiving her 4th degree black belt!

Grinding: A Cultural Perspective

If you’re into larger aspects of the gaming industry, you’ll know that Japanese gamers are much more willing to grind than other audiences.

Companies actually adjust their games for the American market (because, you know, sales figures & stuff). Americans refuse to grind; they want a low effort/high achievement ratio.

I’ve written about this before, but there’s a lot of value in learning to attack the same task, over and over, relentlessly, without losing enthusiasm. It’s otherwise known as resilience: the ability to come back from failure.

We may laugh at Don Quixote for tilting at windmills. If he tied a white belt on and tilted at the windmill of karate, we’d all applaud him when got his black belt, after years of effort.


It’s hard to defeat someone who never gives up.


It’s the tortoise, not the hare, who finds success.


Karate is life.

So, go ahead. Get your grind on.

Karate style.


Let me know in the comments how YOU like to get your grind on!

(And while you’re at it, you can read this blog entry, one of my favorite stories ever.)

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