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To Keiko Gi or Not to Keiko Gi?

The picture shows Karateka in Keiko Gi.

A Keiko Gi is “a symbol of your preparation for life” writes our columnist TD McKinnon in his latest article for Karate Essences. Like many traditional elements the Keiko Gi has also become challenged in recent years. However, there are many good reason why we should stick to the classic plain white Karate Gi for training.

The Origin of the Keiko Gi in Judo

Keiko Gi (稽古着) is the Japanese name for the karate training uniform. The origin of the uniform or training kimono starts over 100 years ago in Japan.  Its introduction as a martial arts uniform is generally attributed to Kano Jigoro, who developed judo from jujitsu, in the early years of the 20th century.  Kano Jigoro, the founder of Judo, decided that he needed to create a uniform for his students.  He wanted something that would show uniformity; also something able to take a beating from the constant throwing, pinning and choking techniques of the art.

The story goes that Kano based his uniform on ancient jujitsu training attire, which was made of unbleached linen and cotton, a kind of coffee colour fabric.  Apparently, due to the effect of sweating, intense rubbing of the training practices, plus repetitive washing, they would eventually turn white.  So Kano decided to start with a bleached white Gi; and, using a thick, reinforced weave – a style of weaving that was mainly used for farmers’ or firefighters’ garments – and  the modern long-sleeved Judo Gi was born in 1906.  

The Introduction of the Keiko Gi to Karate

Kano Jigoro and Funakoshi Gichin were good friends.  In 1922 Kano invited Funakoshi to mainland Japan, from Okinawa, to demonstrate Karate to some assembled dignitaries at Kano’s Honbu dojo.  Funakoshi was persuaded to wear a Judo Gi, to present a more professional demonstration.  Thereafter, Funakoshi adopted the Judo Gi as training apparel. Generically known as a Keiko Gi, it was soon universally adopted as the official training uniform of most Japanese martial arts.

Sharing a common origin, the Karate Gi is somewhat similar to a Judo Gi; however, the material and cut of the uniform is much lighter, with a looser fit.  The heaviest Karate Gi being 16 ounces compared to the 35 ounce Judo Gi. Because of the nature of Karate training compared to Judo, emphasising striking and kicking over throws and grappling, the Karate Gi has evolved in a different direction.

Is the Traditional Karate Keiko Gi Still an Essential Item?

Since its early inception, the Karate Gi has morphed many times in cut and style as well as in weight and functionality.  Now, in certain sporting organisations, there is a Gi for Kumite and a different Gi for Kata.

Kata Gi

The competition Kata Gi is more like the old style, traditional heavyweight Gi; made from a heavy cotton, light canvas style cloth. The main reason for this, it appears, is to utilise the swishing and snapping sounds (for effect) during the stylised, competition kata performance.

Kumite Gi

The competition Kumite Gi is very different: made from an acrylic fabric, it is a super lightweight Gi, and with (because of the manmade fibre) lots of venting devises. The reason for this design is aimed at less resistance and more ease of movement, supposedly endorsing more speed for competing.  Personally, I think this style of Kumite Gi makes a mockery of the traditional Gi; however this adaptation is not surprising.  Training for competition Kumite has taken some seriously different directions too.

Keiko Gi or Tracksuits?

I am cognisant that, over time, scientific study is bound to change the preparation, apparel and equipment of any given ‘sport’. This merely outlines a point that I constantly make: the sport and the Budo are two entirely different animals.  Some forms of sport Karate, the World Karate Federation (WKF) for instance, are certainly developing a very different system of Karate, where in fact the sport is the entirety of the art. Their training is not the conventional, traditional Karate training of technique and form, and is largely done in tracksuits, T-shirts and shorts.  The Karate Gi is an absentee:

The Importance of Your Keiko Gi

There are various Dojos, some styles of karate, and some organisations that do not lend themselves exclusively to the traditional white Gi.  The International Sport Karate Association, for instance, do not insist on the use of the traditional white Keiko Gi. There are many debates fuelling arguments for and against the traditional white Gi.  

During my own martial odyssey, following whichever martial system I was studying: for instance, I have worn the black cotton Keiko Gi and Hakama of Iaido, and the hand wraps and loose satin shorts of Muay Thai. However, for me, when practicing traditional Karate, nothing is more appropriate than the white Keiko Gi.  Washed and ironed, fresh and clean, it mirrors the fresh and unencumbered frame of mind (Shoshin) that assists the Karateka to derive the optimum from their Karate-Do.

Keiko Gi: A Symbol of Your Preparation for Life

Any competing event, or indeed any training or learning event begins with the mental and spiritual preparation. Part of that mental and spiritual process is preparing the attire that will be worn for that event. This concept is not exclusive to karate or even the martial arts in general; it applies to life.

Prepare your own Keiko Gi

When I began the traditional Karate chapter of my martial odyssey I intuitively understood this concept.  As a member of my high school gymnastic team, as a boxer, and as a British Parachute Regiment soldier it had already become an intrinsic part of me. Most people can relate to the kind of mental preparation that the physical preparation prompts.

Every Karateka should, themselves, prepare their Karate Gi. Even the very young Karateka should be shown how, with the view to eventually conducting their own preparations. It helps to cultivate humility as a human being, while developing pride in the art; encouraging a healthy, lifelong habit. For instance, by the time my sons were 7-8 years of age they were ironing their own Keiko Gi in preparation for training, competition and grading. I believe that preparation discipline was part of what later assisted their achievements of becoming World Champions in their chosen combat sport of Muay Thai Kickboxing.

Keiko Gi Preperation as an Exercis in Mindfulness

For more than fifty years now I have prepared my Gi: for training, for competing, for receiving instruction and knowledge from those more knowledgeable than myself, and for teaching others.  At the start of any Karate event, my Gi is spotlessly clean, scrupulously ironed and prepared for the event, even as my mind, body and spirit is prepared.  Preparing the Gi is a symbolic representation of the ongoing process of mindfulness: a constant preparation for life.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

One can never be complacent about preparation. Complacency, in life, can mean the difference between smooth success and painful failure.

You can get away with being unprepared for a time; here, I am referring to being generally unprepared for life. I could cite many instances, especially from the early part of my life, as an example of unpreparedness…  However, preparation is an ongoing thing, like readying your Keiko Gi for each occasion.

So, I will cite an event that took place at a time I should have known better; a time I should have been entirely prepared:

I had been working as a bouncer for years; and this was just another night at work.

Earlier in the evening there had been an altercation: a powerfully built, six feet plus guy in his twenties, after yelling at and hitting his girlfriend, had knocked out a security operative who tried to restrain him. I put a sleeper hold on him, and evicted him.

Later that evening, while I was controlling the front door, ‘girlfriend-hitter’ tried to enter the premises again and I stopped him.

“I’ve already been in…” he said, irately, “My girlfriend is in there!”

“Yes, I know,” I said, “I evicted you for hitting her and assaulting one of the security personnel.”

He immediately attacked with a head-butt, but I tucked my chin and he broke his nose on the top of my head instead.  He was tenacious, and obviously had some boxing training. As he took an involuntary step back he threw a fairly useful right cross… but, simultaneously, slipping inside his punch, I dropped him with mae-empi (Sen no sen). 

“Come on, young fella, I think it’s time you went home before you get yourself really hurt…” and I reached down to help him up…  That’s when he grabbed my privates in a vicious, steely grip.

During my time as a working bouncer, most of the time I had worn a groin guard, but there was the odd occasion that I forgot to wear the said piece of personal protection equipment (PPE). On those occasions I had assured myself that it was fine because I’d never had an occasion to be thankful I’d worn it; wearing it was just a precaution… tonight I had forgotten to wear it.

A gedan barai broke his grip and then I broke his jaw, but I was in severe pain.  I spent the night in a hospital bed, sedated on pethidine, with an ice pack between my legs, feeling very sorry for myself.

It all Begins with your Keiko Gi

I never forgot to wear that particular protection device, or any other PPE, again. More importantly, I was never again negligent with any preparations. Over the following years, my obsession with preparation saved me from injury many times. In fact I have no doubt that it saved my life. It all begins with the mindfulness of preparing your Keiko Gi.  

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Souji: Why you should clean your Dojo regularly!

The picture shows students at the Kansai Seido Karate school at Souji practice, that means: cleaning the floor.

Cleaning: A Japanese Habit and Ritual

Souji (掃除, also Soji, Sōji) literally means “cleaning”. Everybody, who dives a little bit into the Japanese culture, realizes that cleaning, cleanness, and tidiness are of utmost importance. This also applies to Karate and Budo. Cleaning shall teach virtues like respect, humbleness, mindfulness, diligence, and a sense to be part of a collective. In addition, the practice of cleaning shall also lead to spiritual purity and enlightenment. How this works and why you should clean your Dojo regulary explains Dr. Christian Tribowski.

Souji, cleaning, is serious business in Japan. For instance, Japanese families organize a O-souji (大掃除), a big cleaning before the end of the year in order to welcome the New Year God, Toshigami-sama, in a nice and tidy house.

No wonder that the global queen of cleaning is from Japan. Marie Kondo aka KonMari is a 35 year old organizing consultant from Tokyo who has turned tidying into a million dollar business. According to Celebrity Net Worth her TV shows and books about how to get rid of clutter and how to make your apartment tidy and keep it this way have gained her $8 million so far.

But even at most unexpected places the Japanese show an incredible desire and urge to clean. For instance, after sports events. While this has long been reported to be the case in Japanese baseball stadiums, where fans and even the teams go through the rows and clean behind them after the game. Japanese football fans have brought this habit to a global stage. They also cleaned up their block in the stadium at the last world championships in Russia in 2018. Footage of cleaning Japanese fans first appeared on social media after the game against Colombia and the world was weirded out.

But the biggest surprise happened when the Japanese lost 3-2 against Belgium and had to leave the tournament. Right after the game and before they left the stadium, the Japanese national football team cleaned their locker room. According to The Independent, it was spotless and contained a thank you note.

Souji in the Dojo

The Dojo is also a place of constant Souji in Japan. After or before the training, students come together and clean the floor and also other parts of the Dojo. The traditional approach of Souji works the following way:

  • Little children, adults, and elderly all do the cleaning together.
  • The students line up with dry mops in their hands and go on the floor.
  • Then, they push the mop firmly with their hands on the ground and shove it through the Dojo.
  • Once they have reached the opposite side of the Dojo, they turn around and shove it again to the other side.
  • The floor has, thus, been mopped two times.

Modern Souji can also be done with a mop on a stick and in fun ways. While the most cultures perceive cleaning as cumbersome, Japanese Dojos show us how entertaining it can be. In the video below the Dojo turns Souji into a small competition.

Shinto and Zen: The Roots of Souji

But what are the roots of Souji? One hypothesis says: The school system in Japan teaches students right from the start of their education to take care of their classrooms and the school in general. Every student must take part in collective cleaning sessions. Therefore, cleaning is taught in schools as a important virtue.

While this hypothesis is not wrong empirically, it is only a sufficient explanation. Because cleaning has been of paramount importance for the Japanese for several hundred years and even before the school system was established. For instance, when the first European Jesuit missionaries came to Japan in the 16th century they were not used to bath regularly. The Japanese, on the other hand, washed themselves everyday. Thus, a much deep and older factor must lead to the Japanese desire and urge for Souji.

Shinto and Purification

One answer can be found in the ritual practices of the Shinto religion in Japan. Shinto is a natural and animistic religion where the practitioners believe in so called Kami. These are gods and spirits that inhabit all material things. Shinto is unique to Japan and understands human beings as pure and clean.

However, through wrong behavior, the violation of rules and taboos, amoral natural forces, contact with death or childbirth as well as diseases, humans could become polluted, impure, and guilty. These process are called Tsumi (罪, “transgression, offense, vice, crime, “sin”, penalty, guilt) and Kegare (汚れ, “uncleanness”).

To become pure again the worshiper must go trough so called Harai (祓い): rituals of purification. Most of these rituals involve symbolic washing of the hands and mouth (Temizu, 手水). Some also require the Shinto practitioner to take a bath in a in a stream, a river, a lake or the ocean in a purification ceremony (禊 Misogi).

Shinto put, therefore, a tremendous weight on cleanness and purity. It also associates uncleanness and impurity with guilt, sin etc. That is why Japanese tend to avoid unclean situations where ever possible. As a consequence the Shinto and its notion of purity have a strong influence on Souji.

Zen and Cultivation

Another source responsible for the Japanese urge for cleaning lies in Zen Buddhism. Originally from China Zen flourished in Japan and has been one of the central cultural paradigms of the country. Especially the arts, craftsmanship, and the aesthetic of Japan have been shaped by Zen. But also Budo was highly influenced by the religion.

For instance, Yagyu Munenori (柳生 宗矩, 1571 – 1646), one of the formative figures of Kenjutsu (swordsmanship), stood in a close correspondence with Takuan Sōhō (沢庵 宗彭, 1573 – 1645) a central figure of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism and advisor to the Shogun. The most prominent result of the intellectual exchange between the swordsman and the monk has been the book The Unfettered Mind (不動智神妙録, fudōchi shinmyōroku) written by Takuan for Yagyu Munenori. In his book he applies Zen concepts and terminology to analyse Budo. Since then, a close relationship between the religion and the fighting arts has grown closer and closer.

But what does Zen teach about Souji? One of the most practical and contemporary accounts of this relation is the small book A Monk´s Guide to a Clean House and Mind by Shoukai Matsumoto first published in 2011. In his book he gives a very concise explanation about the relationship of Zen and Souji.

Cleaning isn´t considered burdensome, or something you don´t really want to do and wish to get over with as soon as possible. They say that one of Buddha´s disciples achieved enlightenment doing nothing but sweeping while chanting, “Clean of dust. Remove grime.” Cleaning is carried out not because there is dirt, but because it´s an ascetic practice to cultivate the mind.”

Shoukai Matsumoto, A Monk´s Guide to a Clean House and Mind, 2018, p. 3

Shoukai Matsumoto shows: cleaning is a sacred act of self-cultivation in Zen. This becomes clear when he writes: “The people and things in your life are what makes you who you are … People who don´t respect objects don´t respect people.” (p. 4) The treatment of the outer world, therefore, directly influences yourself and your soul. To clean your surroundings means to clean your inner self and to cultivate yourself.

Shinto and Zen

If both approaches of Souji – Shinto and Zen – become combined they offer a plausible explanation why Japanese take cleaning so seriously. Because the practice of cleaning means, on the one hand, to get rid of trouble and bad karma (Tsumi and Kegare) through purifcation. On the other hand, it also promises self-cultivation and enlightenment. That means that everybody who cleans avoids bad and receives good within the same action at the same time – a strong tandem. The Zen notion of the interconnection between the world of the objects and the world of the subjects (spirits) links this approach to tangible places like shrines, temples, a house, a company, and also Dojos.

Why is Souji good for your Dojo and your Karate?

The Dojo is the place for the practice of the Do, the Karate way. Cleaning in the ritual Shinto and Zen sense comprises features that foster the ethical and spiritual development of Karatekas. Because rituals create and change perception, when they are constantly practiced. So, what can Souji teach us?

  1. Respect: To clean something, like Shoukai Matsumoto writes, means to learn to respect it. When you regularly clean the Dojo it will change its meaning to you. You start to take care of it. It turns from an anonymous and functional place like a public gym into a place you connect with. Your perception of its change and condition becomes sharper. And you learn to not take it for granted. From here Karatekas can develop a sense of respect for others. Because the cleanness of a Dojo depends on everybody. Only when you work as a team the Dojo stays clean. So, when everybody must clean on a regular basis a sense of respect for the efforts of others emerges.
  2. Purification: We are the world we live in. Therefore, we are also the Karateka of the Dojo we train in. A purified Dojo lays the foundation to become a purified Karateka. Dirt, shabby walls, filthy locker rooms etc. reflect on the soul. They increase the chance that somebody lets himself go mentally and spiritually. Thus, an unclean Dojo undermines its actual purpose: to serve as the place for the practice of Do.
  3. Humility: To understand the efforts of others like cleaning also means to understand how dependent we all are. Joint cleaning turns peasants and lords into equals. We cannot live without others and nobody is an island. Therefore, we have to be humble and take a step back from our claims and our sense of entitlement. Instead, we should just clean the floor.
  4. Evanescence: To clean means to connect and to deal with the evanescence of the world. After a hard Keiko, the floor is dirty. It is the natural process of deterioration and pollution. Souji requires to acknowledge this evanescence and to work against it. Instead of giving up against an unbeatable enemy, the evanescence, the cleaner chooses life and resistance in order to recreate the former pure status.
  5. Joint experience: Like in every joint ritual the aspect of a collective experience is important. To Souji together means to bond, to share, and to show solidarity. A Dojo is a place of people. While everybody must go the Karate Do by himself, we all need fellows, who accompany us, help us, criticize us, pick us up when we are down, on who we can rely on, who push us, give us feedback, and have a drink together with us every now and then. Celebrating together creates a strong foundation for a group. But to get on the knees together to take care of the Dojo and working for its purification is practiced Karate Do in a collective action. That will lead to a real bond and a Karate family within a Dojo.

Do you regularly clean your Dojo? If not, the Souji Do might we worth trying.

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TAISEI: Most famous Karate Gi in Japan in The Dojo Shop

The picture shows Tadashi Ishikawa wearing a Taisei Karate Gi.

TAISEI belongs to the most popular Karate Gi brands in Japan. However, the premium Karate Gi manufacturer is almost unknown in the West despite famous brand ambassadors like Tadashi Ishikawa (8th Dan) from JKS. The Dojo is going to change this now. “Together with our distribution partner SaikoSports are we going to offer three of TAISEI´s premium Karate Gis in our The Dojo Shop: KAZE, MIZU, and HI“, says Dr. Christian Tribowski, managing director of The Dojo. Read here the full story about TAISEI and what makes their Karate Gis so special.

TAISEI: The Story

In Japanese Dojos we see TAISEI’s karate suits everywhere … serious and disciplined Karateka in perfectly fitting Keikogis. We could feel the tension in the air. And the aesthetics of their movements is still persistent in our mind.

Dr. Philipp Lang, Managing Director, SaikoSports

TAISEI means “peaceful life,” said Kenzo Takasu, smiling but firmly. Mr. Takasu is the owner and master tailor of TAISEI. He started karate over 40 years ago and still trains himself. But right from the start of his Karate life, Mr. Takasu was confronted with a major problem for Karatekas: bad fitting Keikogis. Luckily Mr. Takasu is a master tailor by training. So, he decided to utilize his skills to solve this problem.

The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
Mr. Kenzo Takasu in his workshop

For several years, he improved his own Karate Gis by changing their shapes and sizes in order to make them more comfortable and visually appealing. During that time, he gained a lot of experience about the optimal cut and the perfect material for a Keikogi. He learned what it takes to create a Dogi that fits well, has an elegant and traditional design but is yet robust and long-lasting.

His improvements and redesigns of his Karate Gis even caused the interest of his Senseis. Therefore, he started to alter their Karate Gis, too. Not long after that, he also took care of the Keikogis for his fellow Karateka in his Dojo.

The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
Mr. Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
The picture shows the TAISEI workshop.
The TAISEI workshop in Aichi prefecture in central Japan.

The demand for his alterations grew significantly. Due to this success and and because of his wish, to design own Dogis, he opened his own workshop in his home prefecture, Aichi, in central Japan. Here a very traditional Japanese building he designs and sews all Dogis by himself. For Mr. Takasu traditional designs and most comfortable but elegant cuts are of paramount importance.

His Karate Gis even caused the attention of Karatekas far beyond Aichi. Today, TAISEI officially supplies one of the biggest Karate associations in Japan. Renowned grand master Tadashi Ishikawa (8th Dan) of the JKS is one of the most prominent ambassadors of the TAISEI Karate Gis.

The picture shows Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.
Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa wears the TAISEI Karate Gi.
The picture shows Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.
The picture shows shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.

Mr. Takasu is very happy about the endorsement of by Karate grand masters like Shihan Ishikawa. He says that his craft, like karate, is one of the few constants in our fast paced life’s. The master himself, however, is at rest. He sings songs during his work and still using his JUKI sewing machine. Seeking always perfection and premium quality in his work he puts the values ​​of Karate-Do into every handmade Dogi. The new owner should feel the spirit in every part of the Keikogi.

The picture shows Kenzo Takasu, owner of TAISEI, in his workshop.
Mr. Kenzo Takasu and his JUKI sewing machine

What makes TAISEI different!

The key to optimal Karate training lies, on the one hand, in the execution of techniques. On the other hand, the fabric and cut of the Karate Gi is also very important. It must perfectly fit, give enough freedom to move, and must look good. It also must be manufactured under humane and ecological sustainable conditions. Then, a Karateka can fully concentrate on karate training. “

Dr. Philipp Lang, Managing Director, SaikoSports

Three major features make TAISEI Dogis special and different:

  1. Triangle Cut: It makes the Karate techniques faster and more precise without resistance.
  2. Japanese Blue-White Effect: The Karate Gi stays longer white.
  3. 180° Movement of Legs: Guarantees absolute freedom for the legs in Karate training.

Beside that, TAISEI Keikogis distinguish themselves from other brands through some more features. The traditional Japanese cut of TAISEI is the result of decades of experience by Mr. Takasu. He has compared cuts of other brands to find the best fit for Karate training. The different Karate Gis, TAISEI offers, differ mainly regarding their fabric thickness: HI (13 ounces), MIZU (11 ounces), and KAZE (9 ounces).

The picture shows Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.
The picture shows Shihan Tadashi Ishikawa, who likes to wear the TAISEI Karate Gi.

The special cut enables absolute freedom of movement for the arms thanks to the high seam under the armpits. How high the level of craftsmanship of Mr. Takasu is can be observed at the seams of the suits. They are processed from the inside out and have a barely noticeable inner web. Every Dogi comes with an integrated inlay in the upper back area.

All Karate Gis are made in Japan and from 100% pure and high quality cotton (original canvas cotton). That gives the suit an impressive and inimitable sound.

No Difference between Kata and Kumite!

Another major feature of TAISE GIs is that there is no difference between Kata or Kumite Gis. All Karate Gis come with a traditional cut.

However, heavy Karate Gis are often preferred for Kata. Light ones, on the other hand, fit better to Kumite. TAISEI offers Karate Gis between 9 and 13 ounces.

TAISEI Karate Gis

The Dojo is going to offer three TAISEI Keikogis in The Dojo Shop:

KAZE 9 oz

KAZE (風) literally means “wind” in Japanese. The lightness and elegance of the TAISEI KAZE Karate Gi gives the feeling of being surrounded by pure and fresh air.

The picture shows the Kaze Karate Gi from Taisei.
The picture shows the Kaze Karate Gi from Taisei.

MISU 11 oz

MIZU (水) literally means “water” in Japanese. The dynamic and straight elegance of the TAISEI MIZU Karate Gi gives the feeling of water in constant flow.

The picture shows the MIZU Karate Gi.
The picture shows the MIZU Karate Gi.

HI 13 oz

HI (火) literally means “fire”. The energetic and powerful elegance of the Taisei HI Karate Gi gives the untamable strength and creative power of a blaze.

The picture shows the HI Karate Gi by Taisei.
The picture shows the HI Karate Gi by Taisei.

All TAISEI Karate Gis can be individually embroidered upon request.

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How Karate@Home makes Online Karate Possible

The picture shows the logo of Karate@Home.

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.

The picture shows Nadja and Martin, the co-founders of Karate@Home.
Nadja Koerner and Martin Buchstaller have founded Karate@Home and manage it.

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.

The picture shows the official logo of Karate@Home.
The official header image of the Karate@Home Facebook page.

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.

The picture shows a Karate@Home certificate.
Every instructor receives a Karate@Home certificate after they have held their class.

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.

Special Seminars

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.

Karate@Home Foundation!

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!

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Dojo Finder Launched

The picture shows the Dojo Yamato which has already subscribed to the Dojo Finder.

The Dojo Finder by The Shotokan Times has officially been launched. Read in this article how the application works and how you can subscribe your Dojo for free to it.

Are you looking for a Dojo near you? Are you visiting or moving to a new city and want to know which Dojos are around you? Do you want to know the exact address, website, email address, affiliation, style, and contact person of a Dojo? Then use the Dojo Finder by The Shotokan Times to find the right Karate Dojo!

The Motivation behind the Dojo Finder

Since the start of The Shotokan Times plenty of Karateka have approach us with the same question: Do you know a Dojo in New York City, Barcelona, Bangkok or in Tokyo? Sometimes we had an answer. But unfortunately most of the times we did not. Even google was helpless and delivered the answers our readers looked for.

That was the reason why we started to develop the Dojo Finder together with the startup loloco from Cologne, Germany. The development process took almost three month, while the first designs already began in January 2020.

The development team focused to deliver two specific services. On the one had, the browser-based app offers Dojos from all karate styles and associations an opportunity to make their Dojo visible to the public, so that it can easily be found by others. On the other hand, it gives Karateka and people interested in Dojos the opportunity, to search for them on the Dojo Finder map and based on cities. Through this approach the app makes the global Dojo landscape transparent.

Dojo Finder: Handy and Free of Charge

“The system is very easy and handy!” says Malte Hendricks, co-founder and managing director of loloco. “We focused on a lean and simple user experience, while we developed the app. Dojos must easyily subscribe and unsubscribe to the Dojo Finder.”

Dr. Christian Tribowski, managing director and chief editor of The Shotokan Times, could not agree more: “loloco has done a fantastic job and the Dojo Finder will increase the offer of information to our readers, Karatekas and Dojos tremendously.”

“The Dojo Finder will be free of charge!” affirmed Dr. Tribowski. The app should serve the global Karate community. Thus, The Shotokan Times will also not sell collected information or data about the Dojos to third parties. Dr. Tribowski stressed this point: “We are based in Germany, which has very strict privacy laws. Therefore, no Dojo must worry about its data and privacy protection.”

How does the Dojo Finder work?

Dojos can easily subscribe to the Dojo Finder through the form below the map. As more Dojos subscribe as more detailed the map becomes.

Dojos only need their official Dojo email address to confirm their subscription through a double opt-in process. This step will prevent that other people intentionally add Dojos to the system, which do not want to become part of the Dojo Finder. It also prevents spam and bots to enter the Dojo Finder.

The picture shows the Dojo Yamato which has already subscribed to the Dojo Finder.
The picture shows the Dojo Yamato which has already subscribed to the Dojo Finder.

After another quality control step the map will be updated every 1 to 3 days. Everybody can then search for Dojos by tipping a city name in the query field and scroll on the map. We are working on further search queries like for Dojo names, styles, associations, countries, states, and addresses. When the these are available we will inform you.

To answer the most urgent questions upfront we have set up a detailed FQA section below the sign up form for you.

Dojo Finder only the First Step

In addition to the Dojo Finder we will launch further projects we have worked on the last few month. Beside a new website the team behind The Shotokan Times will also offer you more products in its shop. Another application is also on its way. Stay tuned! Oss

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Loyalty to Your Dojo during Covid-19

The picture shows the loyalty of students to their Dojo.

Loyalty to your dojo is highly required during the global Corona crises. Many dojos already face financial challenges due to the lockdown. But loyalty should also given to you teacher (sensei), your fellow karateka, and to the ones, who are loyal to you. True karate spirit means: Keep on fighting, and keep being loyal to each other – especially during Covid-19. By Michael Ehrenreich

It sounds like a tale from long ago. None of us has experienced anything like this. We live in times marked by uncertainty, people risking their lives for us and our loved ones, restrictions on personal freedoms, and loss of community. Nobody imagined such a situation just a few months ago. Now, social distancing, lock-down, stay-in-place-order, closure of businesses, and the ban of sport activities are normal. Different parts of the world have different laws in place. But, we all experience fundamental restrictions. Everything feels like a bad dream. We hope to wake up soon. But it is not going to be over any time soon. We will have to deal with this situation and its aftermath for a while.

We Miss the Dojo

These are not easy days for any of us. We miss our freedom, our friends, our family, and our normal life. We miss our daily practice in the dojo. We are all suffering to a certain degree. We all need to make sacrifices, and most of us are willing to do so. This is a time to practice self-discipline. Rather than seeking our own interests, we now need to consider the best for our community first. This is a time of self-reflection. And, this is a time to show loyalty.

Running a martial arts school is not an easy thing to do. Most dojo owners that I know chose this way for their love of the martial arts. These days, being the owner of a dojo feels like facing the abyss. Saying that, we witness dojo owners trying everything to stay in contact with their students. They send out training programs, send live stream online classes, offer online advice, send out regular emails, cancel the summer break to make up for lost practice time, freeze contracts, and much more. And they are hoping for this nightmare to be over soon.

But these are unprecedented times. There is no proven solution for all of our problems. These are new challenges for all of us. So, we have to try everything out ourselves. All that a dojo owner can do now is staying in contact with his or her students. Give them advice for an active life-style under a lockdown. Give students purpose in these difficult times. Most dojo owners understand their responsibility and prove great loyalty towards their students. They make a tremendous effort by showing amazing creativity in dealing with this new reality.

Loyalty to your Dojo

But responsibility and loyalty are not a one-way street. In this article I am speaking about dojos, not about clubs or schools. That does not mean that I hold little regard for those institutions. Far from it. But a dojo is a different place, a different idea. A dojo is not merely a space for our practice or a place to socialize with each other.

As karateka, we believe that a dojo is much more than this. Granted, it is a place of skill and expertise acquisition. It is a place for us to get stronger and acquire real-life fighting skills. But it is also a space to develop self-fulfillment, self-confidence, self-esteem, and a deep knowledge about ourselves. Being part of a dojo goes far beyond any contract. It is a way of life. In a dojo we learn about the important things in life, beyond gyaku-zuki, Heian Shodan, and ippon. A dojo teaches us about ourselves, it shows us who we are.

Loyalty to your Teacher (Sensei)

Of course, we develop our skills and our personality by our very own effort and discipline. But it is the instructor or teacher (the Japanese call him or her, “Sensei”) that guides us through this whole process. First, the Sensei helps us to discover who we are. It is the teacher we need to thank for our accomplishments. And because of that, this is not the time to leave our dojo for good.

This is not the time to leave our teacher behind just to save a few cents. As we all know, it is in difficult times that one reveals his or her true character. We all, teacher and students, are foremost karateka. And as such we show our true character by our willingness to fight this fight together. We will watch each other’s back, and we will be there for each other. This is what karateka do.

Loyalty to your Fellow Karateka

We have been witnessing an amazing sense of community in the last few weeks within our karate world. There is, for instance, an online group called Karate@home, started by Martin Buchstaller and Nadja Körner. I do not know Nadja, but I have known Martin for many years. He is not a professional karateka. He has a daytime job, as I think Nadja does as well.

Still, he works many hours every day to help karateka from all over the world to join in a daily online karate class taught by changing instructors. Actually, they hold two classes a day. Thousands of karateka from over one hundred countries benefit from this service, all for free. Martin and Nadja do not make money from it. They do this out of their love of karate. These examples of loyalty towards our fellow karateka give us hope for the future.

Loyalty Paid with Loyalty

Of course, I know that there are bad apples within any group of dojo owners. There is always this so-called sensei who is just trying to exploit difficult times for his or her own benefit. Or the other “sensei” who is just sitting out this situation, not putting in any effort in trying to help his or her students. But we need not concern ourselves with some bad seeds in our community. It is not worth our time. As always, as karateka, we focus on those that inspire us, those we can learn from. It is those who prove to be loyal to us that we pay back with our loyalty.

Focus on the Once Who Show Loyalty

By the way, I do not own a dojo. I was the owner of a martial arts school in Athens, GA in the United States for over ten years though. That is why I feel the pain many dojo owners are experiencing right now. I witnessed first hand, as a dojo owner, the financial crisis of 2008. And, like many other school owners I lost students during that time. More often than not, students left our dojo who were not impacted directly by the financial downturn.

The picture shows Michael Ehrenreich teaching a student makiwara training. Michal is the author of Loyalty to your Dojo during Covid-19.
Michael Ehrenreich teaches how to train with a makiwara.

And yes, I asked myself if the idea of Bushido had somehow escaped those people, especially if they were advanced students. But again, it is not worth bothering ourselves with those people. We remember the words of Alexander of Hales when he observed that it is the shadows that highlight the light even more. In other words, we need to focus on those who do show the true spirit of karate and stay with the dojo. It is those true warriors we can count on.

True Karate Spirit

These are challenging times. Not all of us will get out of this crisis unhurt. But we also see some tremendous sense of community within our karate world. We see some true karate spirit, some true warriors. And it is those examples of staying-together, of showing loyalty to each other that give us hope. This will eventually all end and we will get out of it stronger than ever before. Seeing our karate community sticking it out together makes me proud to be a part of it. As a matter of fact, I have not been this proud of being part of the karate community in decades. Keep on fighting, and keep being loyal to each other.

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Shotokan in New York City – Classic Documentary

A vibrant city like New York needs a location to calm down and ground oneself. Sensei Masataka Mori provided this place. In his dojo the, New York Karate Club Inc., which was located on 72nd and Broadway, he brought a little piece of Japan to the city that never sleeps. Thanks to Tim Danielson, who trained in the 1970´s under Sensei Mori, you can get a first hand glimpse into the New York Karate Club. Tim send us link to the fantastic documentary called Tokyo on the Hudson. It depicts Sensei Mori, his teachings, and the life in the dojo. Our opener picture shows the dojo in the 1970´s when Tim was training there (standing in the back third from the left).

Tim sent us this very personal and moving note:

“This video is about Sensei Masataka Mori. After four years of study, he romoted me to shodan in 1976 at this same dojo in New York City. Thank you Mori Sensei, for all that you taught me, it went well beyond Karate.”

Oss!


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Spirit, Style, Community! Our Dojo of the Month: The Rio Grande Valley Shotokan Karate Club

We asked the Rio Grande Valley Shotokan Karate Club (RGV), our Dojo of the Month in March, what spirit, style, and community mean for them. Because that are the principles The Shotokan Times stance for. The RGV puts its heads together and wrote us these fantastic and moving answers. They show deep understanding of Do. See yourself. Oss!

Spirit

Spirit means for us… maximizing each individual’s potential.  Although some may have natural abilities greater than others, everyone must “endeavor” to do as much as they are capable of so that they are “seeking perfection.”

Spirit can be evidenced by the passionate teaching in the dojo.  The instructors impart a passion for their art to their students.  As a teacher, I’ve rarely seen a class where 100% of the student population wants to be present 100% of the time.  Yet, this is the reality at RGV Shotokan 5 days a week…every week that classes are offered.  Students can often be heard discussing how they would like to go more often when they are not able to.  There is a longing to be present!  Passion for the art leads to inspired teaching and the students can’t get enough!

Style

Style means for us… tailoring your style of karate to benefit you the most.  How can you incorporate the style of your techniques to suit your own physicality? Even though we are lead by SKIF guidelines, these are to make sure we stay focused on the way, but it is important to experience variations of techniques from other systems to better understand our style as a whole.

Style-Shotokan is a strong style which features hard strikes and long, deep stances.  Body conditioning is prevalent, preparing the karateka to achieve some pretty amazing goals (higher jumps, faster motions, etc.).  Compared to other dojo’s in the area, RGV Shotokan comes across as super-legit!  Students are required to train hard in order to advance, and Black belts cannot be earned in house.  Shodan, and subsequent ranks, can only be tested for once a year in Houston.  Candidates congregate to be judged by instructors from SKIF headquarters in Japan.  This brings a high level of authenticity to the goal of earning advanced ranks!

Community

Community means for us… leaving a place better than you found it.  Sometimes this takes understanding and adaptation, but sometimes this takes plain hard work mixed with repetition followed by reevaluation. Whether this is our small dojo community, which includes not only dojo member but their families, or the local community people and natural wildlife.

RGV Shotokan is more than just a dojo, it’s a community of instructors, members , and parents, who go out of their way to support other members outside of the dojo. From attending each others’ plays, concerts, musicals, and other sports events to planning parties for the members of the club; RGV Shotokan is a place to truly feel welcomed and encouraged!

 

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Dojo of the Month March: The Rio Grande Valley Shotokan Karate Club

Our Dojo of the Month March is the Rio Grande Valley Shotokan Karate Club (RGV) located in Harlingen, at the lower tip of Texas, USA. Jeremiah Walker, Director of the club, wrote us a convincing application especially focusing on the family and philanthropic activities of the club. Thus, we let you take part in what convinced us the most in the following short portrait.

The RGV was found in 2004 and is a charter club by the SKIF. It regularly vistis seminar with instructors like Manabu Murakami and Fumitoshi Kanazawa on a regular basis. All their Dan ranks are tested by them.
Head of the SKIF-USA Board of Directors, Ruben Fung, travels to Harlingen area twice a year to help us adhere to guidelines of SKIF. This strong connection to the SKIF shall lead to the maintenance of a high level of technical skills.

What us also convinced, that the RGV should become the Dojo of the Month March, was their approach to inclusiveness and social aspects of the club. According to Jeremiah the Dojo has “various levels, ages, and even styles … that train together.” For instance, they offer “an open mat” session “where we have a good relationship with other martial artists in our area and either cross train or work on focus points of our Shotokan curriculum.”

Seminar with Kagawa Shihan of the JKS
Open Mat session

The Dojo also offers additional cross training and outdoor fitness training. They also participate in 5k runs together. Very convincing for us was the “family kickboxing day on Saturdays. Here, Jeremiah explains, “some of our members bring family to sweat and learn some striking skills to help get their family more active.” We appreciate this family kickboxing day because it offers a joint activity for families. This can be an adventure and leads to shared experiences. It also opens a low-threshold gateway to martial arts in general and Shotokan in particular. However, while not all family members may want to take part in Shotokan classes, they still become related to the Dojo and the community.

Family Kickboxing Day

But most importantly for us, the RGV also participates in local philanthropy activities like beach clean-ups, public library summer events, and reforestation projects. For Jeremiah it is important “to help our younger members develop a sense of giving back and community.” Such activities cannot be overrated. They build character, lead to mutual understanding, and bring the Dojo, its members, and Shotokan closer to the community and society. As grand master Funakoshi wrote in his 3. principle:

空手は義の補け (Hitotsu, karate wa, gi no tasuke) = Karate stands on the side of justice.

This does not stop to count behind the exit of the Dojo. It has to be carried into society. Oss!

Karate Philantrophy – Joint Beach Cleaning