Quite often this question comes in conversations, with potential students, with former students of other arts and even instructors/students at other dojo. Since I have been in the martial arts for over 40 years now I often am surprised that people don’t really understand, or even truly know, what Okinawan Karate training entails but I am always happy to answer them. The hard part is that there is rarely enough time to “educate” them so answers are often short. This situation gave me cause to sit down and write a bit about what we actually train in my dojo…and why.
- Kihon Waza. These are the foundation basics of Karate. They include hand strikes, kicks, knees, elbows, grabs and stances. When it comes to studying a martial art one must have a strong foundation and that is the purpose of Kihon Waza. Beginners go about learning the techniques and practicing them for memorization. Intermediate students begin to study how they work, when they work and how to make them powerful, quick, precise and effective. Advanced students learn the entire gambit of making the techniques, yes all of them, effective in a real life self defense situation as well as what areas they are most effective one. We don’t just teach a student a punch or kick, we teach them where to hit with them, how to develop devastating power and why the technique works…at black belt levels the student learns the finer details so they can assist teaching the other students along with pressure testing against live opponents. (We do this with lower ranks but not to the extent the black belts train it).
- Kata. Kata is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented things in the martial arts today. Most people see it as just a means to get a belt rank and, sadly, many schools teach them that way too. In our dojo the student will learn the Kata, be drilled on the Kata and then learn the Bunkai (see below). Kata training builds powerful ability, a focus you don’t get with just sparring and will make you very strong, agile and fast. Beginners memorize and perform the Kata. Intermediate students learn some of the Bunkai and work the Kata to make it automatic in performance. Advanced students learn the why and how of each Kata and then apply the techniques in both Bunkai as well as against resisting opponents. Black Belts learn the Bunkai and every little detail that makes Kata one of the most effective ways to build true ability in the art you study. One great thing about our art is that we don’t need to make up Kata…our Kata have been perfected over many years so we have detail in teaching them that many others simply are not privileged to.
- Kumite. This is not fighting. It is an exchange between two students done in different formats to build application skills. Beginners work Yakusoku Kumite drills to learn how to exchange techniques and receive techniques without getting injured. Intermediate students learn Yakusoku as well, but they are more advanced. Intermediate also does several formats of Jiyu Kumite against a resisting opponent. Advanced students do everything from Yakusoku Kumite to no gear Kumite with very little rules. Black Belts are permitted, if they choose, to train Bogu Kumite which is full contact but it is not necessary for anyone nor mandatory in my dojo. Brown and Black Belt students also learn a form of “street” kumite where we train in plain clothes and work various self defense situations based on my studies of criminal attacks. One thing we do not permit is ego in our Kumite training. Two people training together, working together both will learn…one beating on another does nothing for either party.
- Bunkai. Bunkai is much more than what one is simply doing within a Kata. The study of Bunkai is very in depth and combines what one is doing in solo training with what one will do in a real self defense situation. Beginners learn some basics of Bunkai. Intermediate students learn more in depth Bunkai and also have to come up with their own. Advanced students learn indepth Bunaki as well as Bunkai against resisting opponents in a self defense situation. Black Belts learn everything from the fine details within the Kata all the way to very destructive Bunkai that can seriously injure an attacker in a real self defense situation. Okinawan Karate is very lucky because we don’t “make up Bunkai” that looks cool or, quite simply, doesn’t work. We train every detail of the Kata to be able to transfer it into real life self defense application.
- Self Defense. In my dojo this is much more than just learning some techniques against someone working with you. We cover all aspects of self defense that I have gained from my years working as a bouncer, correctional officer, bodyguard and my training in the martial arts. We cover ranges of defense from stand up striking to ground defense. We also cover awareness, reading people, determining if a person is a threat and then how to deal with that threat and more. We are very in depth in our self defense training. We start with teaching the beginners how to learn self defense as well as how to be a good training partner (no ego, work with each other, what you dish out you will get back). Intermediate students begin to learn why self defense techniques taught work, how to set up an attacker, what to do when one plan fails and more. By the time they are a black belt in my dojo they have a deep understanding what works, have tested many of the techniques they have learned and know what to hit, when to hit it and with what. Okinawan Karate is all about self defense…it is a primary goal of our studies every day in the dojo.
- Kobudo. This is the Okinawan methods of studying weapons in concert with your Karate training. In Okinawan Karate the Kobudo training aspects are entwined, meaning you learn one with the other at the appropriate time. While we do teach the primary Kobudo weapons such as Bo, Kai (Eku), Sai, Nunchaku, Tonfa and Kama I have been blessed to learn other weapons as well which I do teach to my more advanced students. Other weapons we study include the Katana in Iaido (Samurai sword), Jo (short staff) and throwing knives / stars. We don’t make up weapons forms or just swing them around because we actually train Kobudo directly from Okinawan in the dojo. Sadly many schools just make up things with the weapons whereas we, in my dojo, learn every detail about how they actually can be used as well as the true history of them.
- Last but not least, and this is the one that most don’t really understand, we teach character development in terms of Budo. Budo is the warrior way and most people simply don’t understand that a warrior is NOT just some moron who can fight. True warriors are very capable in conflict situations but they also have the ability to know right from wrong and when it is appropriate to harm another or simply to just walk away. In Okinawan Karate we have training ethics and moral codes that define both how we are to behave as well as what is expected of us from day one of entering the dojo. Earning a black belt in a good martial art school also means you are a good person. It is truly sad that most people don’t realize that because we often hear of “black belts” threatening others, getting drunk and picking fights and worse. Sadly they probably either weren’t truly a black belt or they trained in a school where everyone gets one just for showing up and paying their fees. In my dojo words like Honor, Duty, Courage, Sacrifice, Integrity and Respect are much more than just marketing tools to fill the mat space. It is true that I have let more than a few students go because they weren’t becoming good people or refused to change their bad ways (ie. being a bully, breaking the law, etc). True Karate training builds strong minds, bodies and spirits…it doesn’t build cowards, bullies or immoral people.
There is much more that is taught in my dojo but these are the items relating to Okinawan Karate. One thing to note is that we don’t “make up anything” in my dojo. When you come here to learn you are taught real, authentic Okinawan Karate. Yes I hold black belts in other systems such as Judo, Tae Kwon Do and Jujutsu to name a few but they simply made my understanding of our Karate better, stronger and I gladly share that with my students. True Okinawan Karate covers every aspect of self defense. It is often confused with many of the sport versions being passed off as actual Karate today but it is not the same thing. The best thing you can do is stop in, sign up and learn with us to truly learn the difference. As always keep training and enjoy.
Steven Franz, Rokudan
Shorin Ryu Shorinkan