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Becoming a Beginner

New students should know that they are always welcome in any genuine traditional Karate dojo. Although the dojo, the formalities, as well as the traditions thereof may be unfamiliar to the new student, he/she need not worry. And this applies to learning techniques as well.

When entering the dojo, one bows. This is simply a sign of respect for the formal atmosphere of the dojo, as well as the seriousness of what is taught and learnt in it, as well as the veneration for the art itself and its founder. This is also done when entering the training floor, as well as exiting the training floor and exiting the dojo itself. “Dojo” is literally translated as, “place for learning the Way.” Karate-Do is translated as, “the Way of Karate.” “Way” being capitalized to emphasize its importance.

“Seiza” (Japanese formal kneeling) is announced and performed at the end of class, followed by the command of “mokuso” (meditation), both given by the sempai (senior student) of the class. Once again, this emphasizes the formality of the training, as well has helping to clear one’s mind prior to the actual physical training beginning. This same ritual is carried out at the end of class to calm the mind and subconsciously absorb the entire experience of the class. One’s mind should be entirely clear during mokuso. “Yame” (stop) indicates the mokuso is over. “Shomen-ni-rei” is the command to bow to the front of the dojo and “Sensei-ni-rei” is the command to bow to the instructor of the class.

As a beginner, new techniques will be learnt in each class. With each class, more techniques will be learnt, yet techniques that have been learnt in previous classes will be reviewed. Therefore, regular attendance is very important. In addition, it cannot be emphasized enough that regular practice at home is of utmost importance. It is not necessary for these home practice sessions to be long. 5-10 minutes a day is fine! Or less, if that is all that one has. Of course, if one has more time one should practice longer. However, it is very important to not OVER practice. Quite often, a student will have long practice sessions, only to at some time or other become tired of them and/or not have the time for an entire practice session as usual. Therefore, “little and often” is better than “much and occasionally.”

Kihon (basic techniques) is the most important part of your training and what you will be training primarily as a beginner. From good Kihon, good Kata (pre-arranged forms) and good Kumite (sparring) will all follow in due course.

“TAKE YOUR TIME, LIVE IN THE MOMENT and BE PATIENT!” This cannot be said enough. In such a high-tech and instant gratification world we live in, taking one’s time, living in the moment and being patient have all become nearly extinct. Karate training, and in fact LEARNING Karate are both very challenging. Beginning Karate training is simply not the same as signing up for an exercise class and joining in. Often times, it may be easy to think to oneself that Karate is in fact something that one is not capable of, not in shape for, not “cut out for” and not “good” enough for. There is no “trying out for” and “making or not making the team” in learning Karate. All are welcome. And one should NEVER feel embarrassed for any reason and in front of anyone. And any great instructor and great senior student will never ridicule any student’s desire, effort and patience . Never feel ashamed of nor frustrated at oneself for making mistakes. EVERYONE makes mistakes and EVERYONE has “on” days and “off” days in Karate. We try to learn from our mistakes (though this often takes time and experience) and try to not repeat them. Same as in life.

After having acquired familiarity and basic proficiency in Kihon (basic techniques), the beginner will be introduced to Kata (pre-arranged forms) and Kumite (sparring). Kata are pre-arranged sets of movements based on techniques that are learnt in Kihon. These must be performed the exact same way each time and must eventually be memorized. Both of these requirements should be approached in a step-by-step manner. While they are learnt in class, they may be reviewed online, as well as studied and learnt ABOUT more deeply. Kumite is the application of the techniques learnt in Kihon. Many students may feel uncomfortable and intimidated by Kumite. One is actually engaging with another person and both are making contact while blocking and attacking. However, one of the many benefits of Shotokan Karate is that techniques must be controlled and not executed haphazardly. Contact is not allowed to the target and techniques are taught and learnt to be controlled as to not allow this to happen. In addition, Yakusoku (literally, “promise”) Kumite is learnt first. This method largely decreases the chances of injuries, increases the confidence of the student and gives the student the experience of actually applying the techniques. Engaging in Kumite with a higher ranked student than oneself can be intimidating. However, the beginner is very safe with a higher ranked student than oneself because the higher ranking student has learnt to control his/her techniques and has more experience. Kumite must not be viewed as a contest between students, but rather students must strive for harmony with each other.

Boredom and/or slumps can happen anytime during Karate training. These can be dealt with and overcome in several ways. One way is to read books and articles about Karate. Another way is to look at videos online about Karate. There are several out there. And very importantly, another way to deal with and avoid slumps during Karate training is to talk to other students (other beginners as well as more advanced students) and ask for help from senior students. They will be happy to help you. Never be afraid to ask questions. There are no silly questions. One of the wonderful aspects of Karate training is the camaraderie developed between students.

Along with the actual physical aspects of Karate training being learnt and emphasized, the philosophical and spiritual side must not be omitted. This is one of the reasons that at the end of class the Dojo-Kun (rules of the dojo) is said by the sempai of the class and then repeated by the rest of the class. As with bowing, this is in no way a religious or “cult” ritual. It is a reminder of the most important points of Karate training and a reminder to apply those points to all aspects of one’s life. They are the five principles of Karate-Do and are the rules of the dojo and the rules of the Karate-ka (practitioner of Karate-Do) outside of the dojo.


Itotsu! Jinkaku kansei ni tstumoru koto – One! Seek perfection of character

Itotsu! Makoto no michi o mamoru koto - One! Be faithful

Itotsu! Doryoku no seishin o yashinau koto - One! Endeavor

Itotsu! Reigi omonzuru koto – One! Respect others

Itotsu! Kekki no yu o imashimuru koto - One! Refrain from violent behavior

“Itotsu” (meaning “one” or “first”) is prepended to each rule to emphasize each rule’s equal importance and “koto” (meaning “thing”) is used a conjunction between rules. There are many articles online about the Dojo-Kun and a few books specifically about them.

As the world, lives with the in escapable reality existence of COVID-19, Karate training has expanded in the form of online classes. This can be challenging for both student and instructor. Both student and instructor must adapt to and make extra effort regarding and using this 21st century innovation. Methods of improving this method of teaching and learning and medium of teaching and learning are developing. As much of a challenge this has been and continues to be, it has its unique benefits. For example, one not need to travel, nor need to expose oneself to any possibility of contracting COVID-19 outside of one’s residence. Another benefit (if one has the technology) is possibly being able to record classes with permission of the instructor and in accordance with dojo policy regarding this matter and therefore being able to review what has been learnt in class.

Another aspect of Karate training is that it is continued year-round and has no season or particular time it begins and ends. Therefore, one can begin anytime. And should one stop for any length of time for any reason, students are always welcome back in the dojo. It can be suggested to others to try a class, as classes for beginners are always offered.

Next Beginner Session begins September 2. Join us for a Free Trial Week September 2-7. Click here for more info on Adult Classes.

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