Karate@Home has filled a void. Online classes have long been a taboo in Karate – especially in traditional Karate. Serious instructors did not teach online. That was the common sense until recently. Karate would need physical contact and online classes would lead to the McDojoization of Karate. The result was a wide field of dubious online Karate providers in the internet but no serious and professional supply of seminars and classes. Some McDojo´s even advertised their seminars with absurd promises like “Black Belt in 100 Days!” For the wast majority of Karateka online classes were, therefore, off-limits.
However, the global COV-19 outbreak and the official measures to deal with the pandemic like social distancing and prohibition of contact sports made it impossible to train together in a Dojo. Within a few weeks and sometimes days Dojos had to shut down their operations and cities and whole countries went into lock down. Joint training sessions and classes became unthinkable for month. And nobody knew when the Dojos would reopen again.
How has Karate@Home emerged?
Instead of waiting until the end of the pandemic, some proactive instructors and Karateka took the opportunity and moved their classes online. They wanted to offer their students and members at least a bit of training and relief from the uncertain and stressful situation.
So did Martin Buchstaller, 5th Dan from the Cologne, Germany, former member of the German national team and former president of the German JKA branch DJKB. He streamed his first online class on Facebook on March 19, 2020. It came as a surprise for him that besides his students many of his Karate friends from around the world joint the training while they were locked in their homes.
Among them was a friend of Martin, Nadja Koerner, 3th Dan, also former German national team member and currently based with her husband in the USA. Due to the positive feedback Martin received both teamed up and decided to create an online Dojo on Facebook. The name Karate@Home suggested itself because most parts of the world had to stay at home. Therefore, the living room, the home office, or the bed room turned into a Dojo for the desperate Karateka.
Martin and Nadja described their motivation for the creation of Karate@Home as follows: “We’re trying to help in his challenging time of the virus. People have to stay at home and they are afraid of loosing family members and friends.” Their online classes, therefore, offered a relief and kept Karateka training despite the hardship of the pandemic.
How does Karate@Home work?
Today, Karate@Home offers a Facebook page, a Youtube channel, and Instagram account. Interested Karateka can watch previous training sessions and discuss their most favorite hobby: Karate. The center of gravitation, however, is the Karate@Home Facebook group with more than 15,600 members from over 110 countries. Here Karateka can find a calendar for the daily online Karate classes, further information, and the watch parties in which the training sessions take place. Everyday, one 1-hour session is offered. The instructors, who lead the seminars, come also from all over the world. Talented but less prominent instructor teach classes as well as prominent instructors like Shinji Akita, Yoshinobu Ohta, Don Sharp, and Shane Dorfman.
After deciding to start the Karate@Home project Nadja and Martin reached out to their vast network. “We rallied our network and had soon a full schedule of top instructors (former world champion from Canada, chief instructor JKA England, Sweden, Norway, etc) till the end of the May.” Since May, the network has grown. Talented but less prominent instructor teach classes as well as prominent instructors like Shinji Akita, Yoshinobu Ohta, Don Sharp, and Shane Dorfman. They even managed to organize an online class with Lyoto and one with Chinzo Machida.
The Costs of Karate@Home
Nadja and Martin conceive Karate@Home as a Shotokan-only, non-political, non-profit, and despite the JKA logo in their official brand logo “Karate@Home” non-association based community. That means that both handle the whole work and project just by themselves without external money or manpower. And yet: all classes can be taken for free.
Therefore, Nadja and Martin shoulder the costs like tremendous work hours and expenses of Karate@Home by themselves. Martin commented, for instance: “I only slept 3 hours per night during the first 4 weeks. After I arrived home from the office, I had to announce the instructors online, took part in the sessions, said thank you to the instructor and went back to the computer to organize the next day class.” The amount of passion, determination, and the readiness to make sacrifices to start and run Karate@Home has been enormous.
And Nadja and Martin still show there gratitude. Every instructor, who has taught a Karate@Home classes, receives a certificate in a classical Japanese look.
Faster than the Big Associations
But their determination and willingness to go the extra mile during a global health crises has paid-off. On the one hand, Karate@Home gave many Karate practitioners hope, relief, a community, and a sense of doing something during the difficult times at home.
On the other hand, it has proven that a serious online Karate concept can work. While, of course, it cannot replace real life interactions in a Dojo, it makes it possible to train with instructors from all over the global without the burden of flying and high expenses for airfare, accommodation, seminar fees, and food. By utilizing the means of digital media. All it requires is a strict sense of quality or, as Nadja and Martin say: “certain standards”.
By doing so Karate@Home has even shown the big Shotokan associations what is possible. Especially the JKA has set up its online program only recently. Without a doubt Karate@Home started quick-and-dirty (a common phrase in the world of digital startups). It had the advantage that it did not have to consider established structures like associations have to. It could start from scratch. But to utilize this advantage and to make things like an online Dojo possible it takes courage, ingenuity, pragmatism, and team work – and very little sleep.
What are Future Challenges for Karate@Home?
But will the success story go on? Karate@Home has established itself as a serious player in the online Karate field. Like every organization or social movement it also faces some challenges which it has to overcome or, at least, has to manage. What are these challenges? We think there are at least three.
Will the Interest in Online Karate be the same after COV-19?
Time will tell. But Karate@Home did not require large investments. So even when the curve of interest flattens the losses will be small. A small poll among their members in their Facebook group suggests that their will be Karateka interested in online Seminars even after COV-19. How big this group will be is uncertain and has to be tested.
However, Nadja and Martin have already plans for the post-COV-19 era. One is to visit every instructor, who taught a Karate@Home class. Considering the roughly 100 instructors they hosted so far, this will be a challenges in itself – but a rather nice one. Beside that they plan 3-day Karate weekend boot camps. One boot camp took already place. The concept behind the boot camps is to bring instructors and students together. So, every camp will host a few instructors. Hence, Karate@Home will branch out into the field of offline seminars in real life.
Will Karate@Home stay Non-Profit?
Today, Karate@Home is not a non-profit. It is simply for free. Martin and Nadja do not charge money. Thus, they question must be: Will it become a non-profit? The difference between a non- and a for-profit organization is the following: A non-profit charges only as much money as it needs to maintain its structure and operations. A for-profit organization also charges that amount of money and everything else it can get.
Considering the time and money Karate@Home has spent for the global Shotokan community so far, it seems legit and necessary that it becomes a non-profit in order to to grow and to maintain the professional standards it has established.
Will the Big Associations tolerate Karate@Home?
The market for real life Karate seminars was already saturated before COV-19. Japanese and non-Japanese instructors offered regularly seminars. The amount of seminars was so high that in some cases even overlaps took place where one Japanese instructor taught in the same country or state on the same weekend as another Japanese instructor. Conflicts about the best dates took place and angry instructors and organizers blamed each other to behave unfair by not informing each other upfront.
The market for online classes has only recently emerged and Karate@Home used its first mover advantage and established itself as a serious player. However, one can doubt that the incumbent instructors and associations will give away shares of the tight seminar market to a new challenger voluntarily. We can only hope that Karate@Home does not enter unintentionally a realm it actually wanted to stay away from: politics.
What are Future Chances for Karate@Home?
Despite the challenges Karate@Home has even more chances and opportunities. What are those?
Opening up to other Styles!
At first, Karate@Home could include other Karate styles. This would consequential because its name is not Shotokan@Home. While many Karateka might hesitate to visit a Dojo or seminar of a different style they might be willing to take part in an online seminar. The barriers of entry are much lower online than offline. Karate@Home could, therefore, become an integrative Karate seminar platform that offers the full range of styles and brings the global Karate community closer together.
Second, Karate@Home could offer special seminars for special purposes and aims like Kumite, Kihon, Kata as well as test and competition preparation. The specialization offers a good way to serve the needs of Karateka. And it also makes the seminars more predictable for students. They know upfront what to expect and can prepare themselves for the class.
Last but not least, Karate@Home could become a non-profit organization with a structure and operations. This would give Nadja and Martin the leverage to develop a professional system with a division of labor and volunteers who seek to engage. To keep it free of politics the organization could adapt the form of a foundation with a clear aim and structure. Then it could also collect member fees, apply for public funding, and would have a legal representation. It would also release Nadja and Martin from the burden of managing and organizing everything because many more shoulders could carry the foundation.
On the other hand, it would guarantee the future of Karate@Home. Because social movements have the the advantage of being fast. But there are to sides of the same coin. They appear very fast and they disappear fast. A selfsustaining organization would, therefore, be a next step worth to consider.
However, we wish that Karate@Home has come to stay and we say thank you to Nadja and Martin for they service to the Karate community!