5 Best Karate Books

best karate books

Karate has gone from a martial art practiced in secrecy by a select few, to a martial art practiced by over 100 million people worldwide. There’re even movies made about it.

We’ve also become weakened by technology and social media. We lack discipline, culture, and hand-to-hand combat skills that were once essential to our survival.

Karate books teach discipline and culture while showing you how to defend yourself so you can become the best version of yourself. And here are the 5 best karate books to read. Let’s dive in!

What are the main benefits of reading karate books?

The biggest benefit of learning karate is that it builds concrete discipline. It takes years of regular training to master the art of karate and if you can build the discipline to read karate books regularly, then you’re miles ahead of most people.

The discipline built from reading karate books and practicing it as an art can translate into other areas of your life. Areas like…

  • Your career
  • Your health
  • And things that are important to you.

Another benefit of reading karate books is that it shows you how life was like hundreds of years ago. Many karate books were written a long time ago and reading these books gives you a different perspective on life.

Karate masters of the past had to walk miles to get firewood to cook with or fetch water to drink. Today we can switch on a stove and cook food or drink water from a tap.

Another obvious benefit of reading karate books is that it teaches you how to defend yourself and the people around you. It provides us with proven techniques used by karate masters of the past to resist attacks from gangs of criminals.

Karate is not only a martial art but a way of life. It teaches a stoic-type philosophy of ownership for your actions and not complaining or making excuses. You will learn to take full control of your life and not blame others for your mistakes.

A good karate book will teach you how to…

  • Live life to the fullest by building confidence and self-trust
  • Respect yourself and the people around you
  • Become humble
  • And be more grateful.

It also tells iconic stories of the past and teaches us valuable lessons and philosophies that we can implement in our daily lives.

If you’re a history buff like me then some of these books will excite you since it contains rare, historical images.

Lessons I’ve Learned From Reading Karate Books

Before I started practicing karate I wasn’t confident in myself or my hand-to-hand combat skills. Subconsciously I knew that if I was put in a situation where I needed to defend myself, I’d rely on the mercy of my opponent. But now I feel more confident because I believe in my skill sets. I know that I’ll be able to defend myself from someone who might not know the meaning of mercy.

The second lesson I learned was courage. Courage is doing something even though you’re scared to do it. When I started reading karate books, I quickly realized that being scared isn’t a valid excuse to not do something. Cus D’ Amato famously said, “Fear can be your best friend and help you become the person you want to be, or it can paralyze you.”

Mike Tyson also said that he is always scared before fights but he uses fear to help him win. 

Even if you’re terrified of doing something, it isn’t a valid reason not to do it.

The third lesson I learned was to respect everyone. This goes hand-in-hand with being humble. Karate is a martial art built around respect. When you enter the dojo you’re taught to respect your teachers, your peers, and most importantly yourself.

This philosophy also goes far beyond the dojo as a student of karate will respect people both above and below him in status.

Lastly, when reading karate books, you will understand how essential your health and physical fitness levels are for reaching your goals. Like with any other martial arts, karate keeps you fit and healthy. It consists of strength workouts, cardio, stretching, and yoga. This can result in higher energy levels throughout the day, better mood, and increased general health.

Now that you understand the benefits of reading karate books and how to choose the right one for you, let’s go through the top 5 karate books of 2021.

1. Karate-Do: My Way of Life

Written by the legendary Gichin Funakoshi, this isn’t your typical autobiography. This is more of a memoir where he shares his training philosophies, beliefs, opinions, and theories on life.

This book is filled with valuable life lessons. For example, Gichin Funakoshi says, the aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character.” Instead of trying to get a black belt, aim to master your art and develop your character. 

This can also translate into other areas of our lives. If you want a promotion at your job, instead of aiming for the promotion, aim for mastery, and your promotion will come.

I love this book simply because Funakoshi shares all the lessons he learned during his lifetime. By reading this book, you’re learning from his mistakes and successes.

Another valuable lesson I learned by reading this book is to think of karate as a way of life. When you’re working, work like you’re practicing karate. Use that same discipline, courage, and determination.

The pros of this book are…

  • It teaches valuable life lessons
  • It puts you in the shoes of someone else, you feel what he feels.
  • Anyone can learn by reading this book.

The cons are…

  • It doesn’t teach self-defense techniques
  • It doesn’t dive into the history of karate
  • And some might find it boring since there is lots of philosophical advice.

If you love reading memoirs and autobiographies while learning valuable life lessons, then this book is for you.

2. The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate

Also written by Gichin Funakoshi, this book consists of 20 principles that anyone practicing karate can benefit from. Unlike Karate-Do: My Way of Life, this book isn’t an autobiography, rather solely focusing on principle and philosophy.

If you are someone who loves philosophy and life lessons, then this is a fantastic book for you. It speaks about not striking first as that isn’t the purpose of karate and other principles that will help us on our journey. I could’ve easily been titled, “The Twenty Guiding Principles of Life.”


  • Lots of valuable principles for karate and life in general
  • Helps you understand the spiritual side of karate
  • Answers deeper questions about karate, questions that cannot be answered in a dojo.


  • There isn’t much taught on how to defend yourself on the streets.

Anyone who is into martial arts or improving themselves must read this book. 

3. The Essence of Okinawan Karate-Do

Shoshin Nagamine is a lifetime karateka, 10th-degree belt black, police superintendent, and author of The Essence of Okinawan Karate.

Nagamine was born a sickly child but soon discovered karate through his neighbor Chojin Kuba. His health began to improve after practising karate and going on a self-imposed diet and in 1953, he started his own dojo.

This book has been used for generations as a practical guide to karate. It contains over 1000 images of the master himself demonstrating eighteen karate Katas and seven different Kumite techniques.

In part one of the book, Nagamine speaks about the art of karate, how karate has been popularized in recent years and the resurgence of karate after World War 2.

He also tells us the story of his life with karate, his sickly childhood, how he discovered karate, and shares his opinions on different karate-related topics.

My favorite chapter is, “A Prescription For Health.” He talks about how he overcame his stomach disease and became even stronger than the other kids. Truly inspirational!


  • Shares inspiration stories of how he beat adversity
  • He teaches and demonstrates eighteen different Katas and seven Kumite
  • Informative and entertaining


  • It doesn’t cover much history of karate

This book is a great choice for anyone who’s practicing karate. Beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Everyone can learn from reading this book.

4. The Essential Karate Book

Being just under A4 in size, The Essential Karate Book has one of the best layouts I’ve ever seen. It has bright pictures and great drawings that illustrate techniques. This book is full of fantastic hand striking techniques, exercises, terminology, and stretches.

It also does a great job of diving deep into the history of Karate and its founders, mainly Tode Sakugawa and Sokon Matsumura. I find the lineage from Sakugawa to Matsumura to Itosu to be fascinating. Also how they modified karate as an art generation after generation.

The Essential Karate Book isn’t only for beginners, but for students who have been practicing the art for some time.

Beginners will find the chapter on dojo etiquette and Japanese terminology to be informing and entertaining.

Lastly, it includes an awesome companion video you’re sure to enjoy.


  • It goes deep into the history of karate
  • It’s great for both beginners and intermediates
  • Includes a companion video
  • And teaches how to prepare for competition and dojo etiquette.


5. Introduction to Karate-Do

Introduction to Karate-Do is written by Michael Mantz and Tom Muzila.

Micheal Mantz is a professor at Texas University who teaches college credit courses in karate. Mantz trained karate for over 35 years which earned him a  fourth-degree black belt in Shotokan karate

Tom Muzila practiced and taught karate and physical fitness conditioning for over 45 years. He is also a fifth-degree black belt in Shotokan karate.

His book is for students who just started training in Shotokan karate. It covers topics like…

  • How to get the right attitude towards training
  • Karate’s foundational structure
  • And the basic history of Shotokan karate.

It also teaches the proper forms of hand striking, kicking, and blocking.

Forms of Kata and Kumite are also taught in this book which is great because it’s everything a beginner will need to start his or her karate journey.

The pros…

  • It’s great for beginners
  • It’s easy to understand
  • And it teaches the basic history of Shotokan karate.

The cons…

  • If you have been doing karate for a while now, this book isn’t for you.


Reading karate books can teach you more than just how to defend yourself. It teaches you about life. Now I’d like to hear from you, what is your favorite karate book?

Let me know in the comments below.

Share this post

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest
Share on email
Span Chen

Span Chen

I have been practicing karate for more than 6 years, and now at the sixth level (green belt) of the Okinawa Goju-Ryu Karatedo Kugekai. Though I haven’t earned my Black Belt yet, I am deeply passionate about my training.