The Classical Budoka talks Dojo Variations

Wayne Muramoto Sensei talks about Dojo Variations:

And I think, too, of what my jujutsu sensei said once; that before dojo structures, martial artists used to train outdoors, out in nature, so they were in tune with the greater natural world, the “daishizen,” much more than we were. Handling a sword, maneuvering for a throw, handling a weapon, were part and parcel of their total world experience, as much a natural part of their lives as cutting firewood, knowing when it would rain or snow, intuitively sensing the lay of the land or knowing the changing of the seasons. In that sense, even the most “traditional” dojo is still a controlled environment at least one step removed from the roots of ancient martial arts, which came out of being embedded in nature’s own environment and rhythms

I’ve long been of the opinion that the dojo functions best as a home base, but that you need to get outside and train also – gasshuku (training camps) are one opportunity, but so too are everyday opportunities to train in the park.

In the karate tradition, few master had dojo, as such, before World War 2. Most trained in backyards, and even at the family tomb.

The dojo is a laboratory, but outside is where the real learning takes place.

From: The Classic Budoka | Dojo Variations

Mike Clarke Kyoshi Talks About Online Bullying in the Karate Community

Mike Clarke, Kyoshi on online bullying within the karate community:

Karate forums seem to be on the way out now, having been surpassed by the much faster Facebook and Twitter technology. Now, it’s possible to identify a target, and within moments have fellow pack members (friends) from all around the world, join in with the ridicule, sarcasm, and bile.

Tut….tut…karateka, if you want to be taken seriously, grow up!

Karate is meant to be about self-protection, and protecting those who need help. This sometimes mean standing up to bullies, and under no circumstances is it acceptable to participate in bullying. As a karateka. As a human!

Online tool such as Twitter (and even Facebook) can be a good way to communicate, share ideas and learn. Look any tool, it can be an aweful thing if used to hurt or bully others.

Hydration for Karateka

Refreshing glass of water by Bergius. CC: BY-NC-SA

Photo by Bergius. CC: BY-NC-SA

Karateka and author Chris Denwood, Sensei has penned a nice article on The Importance of Water for people in training – a topic I’ve written about before. Although there isn’t a universal recognition of this issue, some scientists believe that chronic dehydration is linked to a range of diseases.

75% of people around the world are chronically dehydrated.

This is amazing on the surface, when you consider that people are drinking so much – coffee, softdrinks, alcohol, energy drinks, etc. But how much is enough? Well some experts state that you should drink a litre of water per day per 25kg of body weight. I don’t know many people that would actually do that!

alcohol and many soft drinks actually steal water from the body and other beverages such as coffee require water from the body to be digested.

It seems like good, old fashion, natural water is the best thing. The 25 litres/kilogram guideline applies to water only. Other drinks are at best neutral, but most require you to add more water in order to be correctly hydrated. One rule of thumb is that every cup of coffee, softdrink, alcohol means you should add the equivalent quantity of water back into your system.

Of course, this is a base level – when we train hard we need to replenish the water lost through perspiration.

A recent piece in The Conversation pointed out that softdrinks in particular are a growing problem in modern society, and that the levels at which they are being consumed present a growing public health issue.

I’ve come to the opinion that it’s not just the sugars in softdrinks (which are bad in and of themselves), but the chemicals in diet softdrinks are also a factor in the obesity epidemic, and serve to reduce people’s satiety levels.

This is a double-whammy. As Chris said in his post:

In over a third of all people, the thirst mechanism is so weak that it is often mistaken for hunger.

So people have reduced satiety levels from drinking too much diet softdrink, and they are also dehydrated, leading to more hunger! Not a healthy mix.

In the old days, karateka were often not allowed to drink water during class. We were told that sweating was good for us. In the Kengokan Dojo, I allow regular “water breaks”hydration pauses”, and insist people have some, especially during hard sessions or when the weather is particularly hot! I believe every instructor should take the same approach.

So for all reading this:

  1. Make sure your base level of water consumption is appropriate
  2. Eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, the amount of softdrink you’re consuming
  3. Take regular hydration pauses during your training

Oh, and one more thing – if you’ve not subsribed to Chris Denwood’s blog, do yourself a favour and do so now. Or follow @chrisdenwood on Twitter.

Where are The Applied Karate Podcast episodes?

The Podcast Network, the host of The Applied Karate Show’s podcasts has "gone dark", and thus the show links on the Podcasts page (and the links in the posts for the individual episodes) are currently inactive.

I am exploring some other options for hosting the past episodes so they can be accessible by all, as the purpose of the show has always been to bring the stories of a range of practitioners to all those interested.

On behalf of the listeners of The Applied Karate Show and myself, I wish to thank Cameron Reilly of TPN for having hosted the show for so long.

Please check back for the historical shows soon.

As for new episodes, The Applied Karate Podcast is on hiatus for now, but I do have plans to produce another season as time and opportunity permits.


Scot Mertz wrote a very interesting post about the use and misuse of ranks and titles in Japanese martial arts, particularly karate. I tend to agree with most of his comments, which highlight the tendency we have in the West to sometimes draw more meaning into something that was originally intended. As a rule of thumb, titles in particular are overused in the West, in my experience.

During my time in Japan, my former teacher was the head of the dojo, and the hereditary head master of the school of karate in which I trained. His formal title was So Shihan, meaning something like general chief instructor, and he held the title of Hanshi, with the rank of 9th Dan. In the dojo, he was always referred to as “SenseiI”, and it was only the foreigners who called him by the title of Hanshi. Yet in the West, we commonly use Hanshi, Kyoshi, Renshi, etc to address people. While this is not necessarily wrong, its not reflective of the way those titles would be used in Japan.

One area that I disagree with Scot Mertz’s piece is in his discussion about the title “sempai” (sometimes spelt “senpai“). He makes the comment:

In a dojo there is a Sensei, and ONLY ONE Senpai. The Senpai is the MOST SENIOR STUDENT of that Sensei

This is not reflective of my understanding of the term sempai. The term comes from the Sempai-Kohai System, which is ubiquitous throughout all aspects of Japanese society. Sempai basically means “senior”, and kohai means junior, and the terms sempai and kohai describe a relationship between two people. The system is common throughout the Japanese university system, workforce and sporting activities, as well as budo.

As it describes a relationship between 2 people, one person can be a sempai to some people, and a kohai to others. In rare instances, they might be dohai to people who are their equal in age, rank, time of training, etc. These terms are not rank dependent, so even as a relatively senior instructor, I have several sempai, and some kohai.

They are terms, not titles, and in my experience in Japanese, it would be highly unusual to refer to someone as “Sempai John”, and you would NEVER hear the term kohai used as a title.

As sempai-kohai are terms of relationship, the terms bring obligation. As someone’s kohai, it is my responsibility to work hard, take on board their comments and suggestions, and try to anticipate their requirements when training together. As someone’s sempai, it is my obligation to be a role-model and mentor, to guide the person, and to help them correct any mistakes. A kohai is not the lackey or slave of the sempai.

Some organisations, mostly in the West, do tend to arbitrarily use the term sempai as a title for black belts, particularly those that aren’t instructors of roughly shodan and nidan levels (this can of course vary). It would of course be appropriate for mudansha (non-black belt holders) to address junior yudansha (black belt holders) in this way, but it seems in many organisations this has morphed into a formal title for these ranks.

So I can’t really agree with Mr Mertz’s opinion on the term sempai. I do agree with his perspective that the term is overused, and generally misused, and I for one would prefer to see its use minimised, and used to express relationship rather than title.

Oh, one more thing, in Japan it would be unusual for a senior person to address a junior with any title. They would simply use the person’s name with the suffix -san (or sometimes -kun). This doesn’t reflect any negativity. A senior instructor of, for example, 8th Dan level would rarely call someone “John Sensei”, even if John was a 7th Dan! But this would not be an invitation for lower ranks to address John by his name.

I guess the problem is that terms, relationships and titles are well understood in Japanese culture. But in the West, we have perhaps superimposed the Japanese titles and terms with the ranking system found in modern militaries.

Latest Iain Abernethy Podcast: Funakoshi’s 20 Precepts

Iain Abernethy Sensei has posted his latest podcast, a discussion on the 20 Precepts of Gichin Funakoshi, the pioneer of karate in Japan.

Iain does a great job of discussing each of the 20 precepts, and providing his own insight into them.

I always find that Iain’s works are thoughtful and insightful, and well worth the read/listen. Enjoy!

Redoing Sai Handle Grips

One of the Okinawan weapons we use at the Kengokan Dojo in our buki-ho (aka kobudo, kobujutsu or bukijutsu) practice is the sai (iron truncheon). Whilst traditional sai came were wrapped with rope or occasionally leather, or simply had a bare handle, most modern sai are wrapped with the same material often used on cheaper tennis racquets.

Image 1

For a long time, I’ve wanted to get a pair of sai with a rope grip, but these are (to my knowledge) only available from Shureido in Okinawa, and a quite expensive to import to Australia. Plan B was to re-wrap my existing pairs of sai, and as the old grips got worse and worse, the time finally came to do just that.

Not being a handy-man sort of guy, I stumbled across a wonderful Youtube video on re-wrapping sai by Ernie of Ernie’s Budo Lab. So I set aside a weekend afternoon, and got on with the job of stripping the remaining tennis grip handle off 2 pairs of sai, and replacing with a rope grip handle.

Image 3

It was pretty straight forward. I got some rope, superglue and some of that non-slip stuff you put at the bottom of kitchen draws and tool boxes. After a couple of hours, I had two pairs of sai that have wonderful new wraps. Apart from feeling more “authentic”, these rope handles are great to work with. They feel better in the hands, and are a much firmer grip.

Until I can next get to Okinawa to buy some Shureido sai, any new sai I get will immediately have the grip removed and replaced by rope. Its better all round.

Hard to Find Books Direct from Okinawa

The Kenshikan Dojo of Hokama Tetsuhiro, Sensei (Hanshi, 10th Dan) has long been a great source of information for foreign visitors to Okinawa. Apart from having an incredible museum of karate and kobudo, there are a number of hard-to-get books (and other media) by Hokama Sensei and others available in English and Japanese.

Hokama Sensei has long wanted to make it easier for overseas karateka to obtain these books simply, so he has asked one of his students, Chika Azama san, to setup a way to do this.

Chika-san has commenced a project called Lequio Project. A selection of books (and later other media) will be progressively added.

Lequio Project was established on December 13, 2011 to support HOKAMA, Tetsuhiro Sensei (Okinawa Gojuryu Karate-Do Kobudo Kenshi-Kai) and his dojo. This internet shop is anuthorized by Kenshi-Kai and help Kenshikai with sharing the knowledge on Okinawan traditional karate-do/kbudo and the culture with karatekas abroad through DVDs, books, etc.

Project Lequio will initially be managed through the Lequio Project Facebook page, and later a standalone website. Payment is completed through PayPal, and prompt shipping is done through EMS.

I was the first (test) customer for this, having purchased the new book in English about Kyan Chotoku (review coming soon). The process was very smooth, and the books arrived 2 days after shipment from Japan to my address in Sydney, Australia.

Project Lequio is a good way to obtain some hard to get material direct from Okinawa, and in so doing, support Hokama Sensei in his efforts to allow all people to learn more about Okinawan karate and kobudo.