Less is More

“Less is More” is a popular saying in the Brisbane Goju Karate dojo, one that is repeated by both James Duggan Shihan and Kain Johnson Sensei as often as Ichi, Ni, San. Usually in the context of movement, but with an unspoken relevance to intent and purpose. This post aims to explore this “less is more” concept and gain a better understanding of how it can improve our performance as a karateka.

I will start by exploring two other quotes that I have come across more recently when trying to understand “Less is More”.

The first quote

“I just carve away anything that doesn’t look like a lion, and I’m left with a lion” – Michelangelo

When we headed down the road to becoming a black belt in karate every action was to learn a new technique, increase our fitness or find a new height of mental strength. This is the journey to black belt, learning these basic techniques in order to give ourselves the best platform to mastery. If we are honest with ourselves, have trained hard with skill and an open mind then our instructors may reward our efforts with the black belt, the symbol that we have achieved the basics. In order to achieve mastery we now begin the journey of extraction.

Now for the second quote

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This sounds simple, right? Or is it possibly the most difficult task and a journey that a black belt karateka and any martial artist alike spend their entire lives trying to achieve. Removing inefficient movement requires the highest level of understanding of body mechanics, energy flow and process of thought. This decision can be simple but difficult to achieve or it can be difficult to even conceive and once identified by our instructors very simple to remove.

So what is the reward? “Less is More”.

In simple terms, by removing inefficiency of movement we can complete techniques faster or reduce the time spent on redundant movement. This translates into more time and less energy expenditure. Giving us increased performance.

And to finish up, a quote from me…

“Everything in life that we wish to attain is already within us. We just need to remove what we do not need and find happiness in what is left.”

For the karateka’s feel free to comment on a part of your karate that you have been working on improving and what you aim to get out of it.

For everyone else… what in your life have you removed and have ultimately been given more. You can’t pick bad stuff either like drinking or smoking, it has too be something that you have been doing because you thought it was good.

About Jay Killeen

I began training in 2004 under the guidance of James Duggan Shihan. I have since achieved my Nidan in Goju Ryu Karate do Seiwakai. My favourite kata is Sanchin and I enjoy the challenge of kumite against great opponents.


  1. Excellent post!

    I see (and marvel at) this all the time in our dojo. Our black belts just seem to get there quicker, react faster, have more grace, style power and devastation…because they have removed / refined so much.

    I flail around with the grace of a drunk clown on a unicycle. But I am trying hard. At the moment I am concentrating on quality of movement and removing speed…the best thing is, I am getting quicker as a result!

    Onwards and upwards!

    • Thanks Charlie. You are dead right that the key is to concentrate on technique before going for movement and speed. Like everything it is always good to have a balance between focussing on technique and focussing on raw energy.

      From time to time we have performed Kata with Sanchin tension and other times going for all explosion and speed. The latter usually results in limbs flailing off in all directions but allows your mind to take control of the movement instead of having to think so much about it.

  2. Awsome reading Jay much food for thought you are right on.

  3. My first time here. Nice blog and super post. Well done.

  4. Great post! I for one am always trying to replace brute force with speed and accuracy and deft touch! I am learning so much at my dojo each lesson that I am ALWAYS coming away with the feeling of …. “hmmm..must remember that for next time ….oh and that…and that..and that!” lol

    Excellent work as always 🙂

    Many thanks


    • Hi Greg!

      Thanks for your feedback. What rank are you by the way? Or should I say, how long have you been training and how often?

      Early on in my training brute force was great to have! I remember coming through as a green belt and Shihan James Duggan training us to be extremely tough and be able to take a good kumite beating. Progressively we learnt to control our movement and flow of energy (usually around the brown belt rank) and began to understand when brute force works effectively and when it impedes our performance.

      I always strive to find elastic speed throughout the path of the technique and tension at the end point. Always with good form in case the end point is shortened like when an opponent rushes forward at you during a strike. Elbows in and forward from the hip, lats/shoulders down and hands up.

  5. Excellent post, Sempai Jay. I restarted training karate as to complement my internal search. As we practise techniques in class, and make our movements more efficient, sharper and graceful, through descipline and hard work. Those same principles relate back my efforts to make my thoughts sharper, more efficient and without the clutter. This takes the same descipline and hard work that is taught so well in classes. Less is definately more – thanks!

    • Hi Vishant

      Cheers mate. Sorry about the late response to your comment. Pretty sure we have shared a beers since then.

      Glad you got something out of the post. Gives me the motivation to keep pounding away at my thoughts and getting new blog posts out. As you may imagine by now, the amount of information that Jamie Shihan passes on in class is immense and trying to interpret it all can put you through a lot of twists and turns when thinking of how we can apply it in our training.

      Thanks again for being apart of this, will be interesting to see how it evolves throughout the year.

      See you at training.


      Jay Sempai

  6. When are you going to post again? You really inform a lot of people!


  1. […] Shihan. The first one is get your basics right, and minimise unnecessary movement. Remember Less is More. When an opponent is trying to attack you and you are completely still yet ready to strike it can […]

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