Sensible Karate Training in The Proper Dojo

By Peter J. McRae

There is little doubt today that karate instruction is a good thing. We now have significant scientific evidence pointing to physical improvements in those students who train for even a relatively short period of time.

To benefit from karate training one must begin with a qualified instructor. The qualifications for instructors vary widely from one style or school to another. The lower end of qualification may be in the form of self-promotion or a mail-order diploma. More formal and demanding teaching associations require a reasonable time in a grade, a teaching apprenticeship and a continuation of training. One can assess a potential karate teacher’s qualifications by simply asking who his teacher is. Higher ranked teachers have often trained with their respective masters either here or abroad. In the Okinawa Karate Do Association all black belt ranks above sixth degree are tested only by the Okinawan masters.

Karate schools or dojos as they are called in Okinawa are often simple porch-like structures. The physical facility is not nearly as important as the level of instruction although the dojo should be neat and safe.

Parents are correct in asking about karate safety. Students accept a certain risk in any physical activity. However, accidents in karate should be seldom since when they do occur, they can be dramatic. The most important issue in responsible training is control. Next, is close supervision. In proper dojo training, injuries are rare. The reason for this is respect. The old karate rule of beginning and ending with respect in the form of a bow serves as a reminder to train while using control.

Competitive karate obviously has a higher percentage of injuries. Although padded equipment helps, there are many who argue that the equipment encourages excessive contact resulting in even more injuries. Moreover, many karate competitions result in poor match-ups and lopsided victories. In short, it should not be necessary for a child or adult to compete with anyone other than himself. Karate should be enjoyable. The competitive aspect may come later, if at all.

Karate is a traditional art. It is important to respect where it came from. The importance of bowing should be explained in terms of our culture. The bowing is an appreciation of the foreign nature of our art. The bow and block are symbolic of the old karate axiom that “there is no first attack.” This saying reminds us of the dire consequences of overly aggressive behavior.

Many schools claim that they are traditional. A traditional art by definition must be able to trace its roots. A continuous chain back to the originating country whether it is Japan, Okinawa, Korea or China will help support authenticity. True martial arts’ knowledge is passed from senior to junior in the hope that each generation will preserve and develop deep roots in its respective art.

Tradition also requires an adherence to basics. An adherence to the fundamentals and basic details are the hallmark of any good martial artist. To study karate in the classic style one must be prepared to engage in a process of endless repetition. This repetition by simple effort instills discipline. The good habit of daily practice also teaches students the value of perseverance, trust, friendship, responsibility and physical courage. In the words of Ken Nakamatsu “the serious student of karate needs only concerns himself with today’s workout.”

The Okinawan people belong to a unique island culture. While having been visited many times by invading armies, the Okinawans have never waged war on another culture. By nature, they are neither violent nor militant. It is a stated goal of all Okinawan masters that world peace should be fostered by a more widespread practice of the unarmed self-defense. Karate simply translated means “empty hands.”

Through deep respect and appreciation of our God-given talents, we develop an uncanny understanding of human strength and frailty. Quite simply, our love and respect of life are derivatives of daily practice. In karate we develop mind, body and spirit. Our technique develops continually while we train hard together in a spirit of cooperation. One can have great intensity without meanness. It continues to amaze me how many people, young and old, are able to grasp many of these concepts. They positively demonstrate these virtues both inside and outside the dojo.