I accept that the art gets more involved the higher your grade, but my point is this - If a relative beginner can apply karate effectively in "real life", doesn't that suggest that karate teaches them little they didn't already know.
Forget specific techniques, I'm talking about the important things in a fight: avoiding the attack, keeping proper distance, body movement, appropriate responses, correct mindset, awareness of your opponent and so on. these don't change as you go up the grades, you just collect more, and more complex, techniques. If you are to apply your art you need to know all things first. In aikido it takes a long time to get them, because they are difficult. But the value of that is that you are learning new skills, not simply using those you already have. The impression I'm getting from you all of karate is that it is very simplistic in its approach to fighting.
Learning to punch should be only a small part of learning to fight. It would seem that learning to punch is a major part of fighting in karate. Now, I know that isn't so, but I'm obviously missing something very fundamental. Just how can begginners apply karate effectively, if karate is anything other than a simplistic style of fighting?