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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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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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What can Karate teach us? By Shinji Akita

What Karate can teach us! Shinji Akita during a seminar in Malta

What can Karate teach us? Follow me on my quest through Japan to answer this question. By Shinji Akita

The Shotokan Times asked me this interesting question a few month ago. I wanted to pursue it further during my recent trip to Japan. When I addressed different Karate Sensei, they all gave me a very similar answer. They all indicated how much the values we learn in the Dojo also characterize Japanese society. In Japanese language we have a term for these values. They are called: Reigi.

The Foundation: Reigi

The term has a major significance in the various Japanese arts, at school, work, within the family, in public etc. Reigi means etiquette and courtesy and should be reflected in one´s behavior and actions. It is not only the respect towards others but also towards the Dojo, the environment and nature.

Reigi also characterizes the relationship between Senpai and Kohai – senior, older graduate and junior, less experienced. This concept exists in the Dojo as well as in school or between colleagues.

What can Karate teach us? Watch Akita Sensei on his incredible journey through Japan.

Shin-Gi-Tai: The “Mind of a Beginner”

Matsuda Hisashi Shihan, under which I started practicing Shotokan in my hometown Gifu, also mentioned the term Shin-Gi-Tai. The term describes the connection between mind and heart on the hand, and technique and body on the other hand. It is not easy to translate “Shin” with one word as it has a deep meaning for Japanese people. The mind or heart (“Shin”/“Kokoro”) amongst others stands for the attitude of a person. According to Matsuda Shihan, students must wish to learn something and get better. This “mind of a beginner” is the precondition for “Gi” (technique) and “Tai” (body). Good techniques and the benefits for the body will come naturally based on that kind of attitude.

Greetings, responses, and lining up quickly, for instance, reflect shin. These things appear simple. However, they are not that easy and need to be taught properly.

  • What Karate can teach us! Shinji Akita during a seminar in Malta
  • What Karate can teach us! Shinji Akita during a seminar in Malta
  • Shinji Akita in Malta

Karate: A Path to Self-discovery

I had the chance to interview Richard Heselton Sensei during the Summer Gasshuku of the Takudai Karate Club this year. I also asked him about what karate can teach us. He said that “Karate is a path of self-discovery, teaching us many different things.” This could also be modesty and acceptance, making one´s expectations and physical abilities match.

After all, nobody is perfect. There is always something we can learn and improve. This is what makes Karate so interesting. It is something one can do for life.

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Women of Shotokan: Mirjam Widmer

Mirjam Widmer knows only too well that with passion also comes – sometimes – pain. Karate is her passion and she pursues it with willpower and commitment. For her karate means: “a combat against myself that makes me stronger.” That is the essence of Do. Karate, she says, keeps her going. But for Mirjam karate is not just a matter of fighting spirit. It goes deeper. Karate is about the way we all live together. For her “manners and respect are more important than a superior attitude.” Being humble and thoughtful belongs for her to the central traits of a good karateka. Have fun reading this insightful and moving interview with Mirjam Widmer. By Dr. Christian Tribowski

Mirjam Widmer

  • Age:                                  48
  • Karate since:                   13. September 1991 … it was a Friday
  • Origin and residence:    Zurich, Switzerland
  • (Kyu/Dan) Rank:            3rd Dan
  • Dojo:                                 Seikukan Karate Do Zurich

Additional information:

  • JKA Instructor C / JKA Examiner D /JKA Judge D
  • I opened my own Dojo called Seikukan Karate Do in Zürich in 2011

What was the reason that you started Shotokan Karate?

When I was 12, I had a neighbor who was doing Karate. He taught me the first Kata heian shodan. We played a lot of Karate outdoors. The next dojo, however, was too far away and I was not allowed to go there for training. So, unfortunately I did not start as a child. Only at the age of 20, I finally turned up at the dojo and joined the Karate Club. I still had the kata heian shodan in my mind. After the first class I knew this was what I really want to do.

The reason why I started at that time, were some problems in the office. I needed something that distracted me, on the one hand, and, on the other, reduced my aggression. So, my kime was straight away very good!

I was very keen about learning Karate. As an 8th Kyu I went to London to learn English and ended up in Enoeda Sensei’s Marshall Street dojo. It was the time when I became really addicted to karate.

What do you like about Shotokan Karate?

I love the fact that it takes all my concentration. Therefore, I have to focus my mind and train hard to get better. I like to work on myself, but in a group together with other people. And it is very important for me to follow a master and show my loyalty by doing my best. Shotokan karate is very structured what I really like. I need this. I could never do expressive dance, for instance. ☺

Is there something you do not like? What is it?

It is a pity that, beside to fantastic seminar with outstanding instructors and amazing friendships all over the world, politics in Karate always plays a big role. In my opinion, we all have our master, our source that we follow. Maybe other people have other ideas. Why should one not just respect them? Manners and respect are more important than a superior attitude. By the end, I decide for myself what is best for me. That doesn’t mean it’s the best for someone else.

What has been your greatest and your worst experience so far related to Shotokan Karate?

The greatest experience has been, of course, my time training with Enoeda Sensei and Ohta Sensei at Marshall Street in London. Enoeda Sensei formed my fighting spirit and Ohta Sensei was definitely the best for teaching the technique. I feel honored as well that I had and still have the chance to train with many charismatic instructors. I admire them with my whole karate heart.

However, there have also been sad moments. After I returned from London back to Switzerland, I got kicked out of the dojo at home. I would have changed too much, they said. Of course, I did change after all the training I did in England and maybe I also had just not enough time to arrive back home. Or my teacher at the time had not enough patience to let me settle.

However, it was my destiny. As I had no other Dojo to go and my loyalty to the JKA was so strong that I did not want to go to an other organization. Therefore, I stopped Karate for several years. But I came back – even stronger!

Mirjam Widmer doing a yoko-geri
Mirjam Widmer doing a yoko-geri

What do you do when the training becomes challenging? Where do you get motivation from?

As I train for myself because I don’t have a teacher here in Switzerland I have had many ups and downs. To have a sensei, who is looking after me, is very important. Even though, there is no one in my own dojo, there are many great senseis around the world that helped me a lot. My motivation is not to disappoint them by giving up. To show them that I can do better the next time, I see them in England, Berlin, Japan or any other country on a visit of a gasshuku. This motivation keeps me going.

How has Shotokan Karate changed you as a person?

It is difficult to say what I would have done different in my life without karate. But I think it gave me a structure in difficult times. Even though difficult times were often related to karate. Karate gives me the opportunity to deal with myself. It is a combat against myself that makes me stronger. However, only for a short time and then the struggle starts again. In short: it keeps me running!

Why gave Karate you a difficult time?

In one way, I had this issue when I got kicked out, followed by the struggle to start again. Today, I have my own dojo. Which is great. But, when I started to work part time to be at home early in order to teach the children classes, the financial struggle began. In addition, the place where my dojo is will be closed for two years soon. I do not have a solution yet.

For me Karate is something which just cannot be perfect. However, I must also admit that I maybe need this kind of challenges.

How has Shotokan Karate influenced your life?

Since I started karate, it has been influencing me a lot and by I have built my life around karate eventually. But I think: if I had done something else, it would have been the same. I do something it 100% or I do not do it at all. I put a lot of effort in it. However, I am never happy with the result.

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Is it helping you on a daily basis with the challenges of life?

Karate is the straw to catch when things are difficult, on the one hand. On the other hand, it is pure joy when I achieve something. I guess my emotions are the engine of my karate.

How has your Shotokan Karate changed over time?

At the beginning, I wanted to be very strong. Then, I found out that a good technique is more important. Right now, I try to become more relaxed about everything. Due to the fact that I have not started as a child I never competed in tournaments a lot. My focus was always my technique and this reflects the way I teach in my dojo. I belief I became much better, since I teach. But due to the fact that I do not have have partners for kumite and there is no instructor around I cannot tell whether this is really the truth.

What are your personal Shotokan Karate short- and long-term goals?

I go to Japan to the JKA Autumn Course in October and I would like to take exam for the 4th Dan.

A long-term goal is to stabilize my dojo. I hope to have enough members to keep it up without having to a financially struggle. My dream is a small dojo with a good standard and people that not just consume and come only if they feel like. I would like people that appreciate the training and have ambition.

How should Shotokan Karate evolve in the future?

I hope that young people not just practice karate to win competitions and that elderly people recognize the benefit of karate as a whole-body workout. Karate should be practiced as an art and with together as a family: Young people, older people – but always with the mindset of killing with one blow.

I hope people stay interested in the history of karate and appreciate to learn from the legends that are part of this history.

Would you recommend Shotokan Karate to your female friends? Why?

I wished I had more female karateka in my dojo. Many women are afraid when it comes to punching and kicking. However, karate is a workout that not only strengthens the body but also builds confidence. The weapons of everyday life are not the fists. They are patience, respect, diligence, and willpower. The path of karate do is not just the physical aspect it is also the development of mental strength. Karate helps to focus on the essential values.

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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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Karate Combat and the Commercialization of Karate

Karate Combat promotes itself as the only full contact karate league world wide. This claim made us curious and we had a closer look. What we found was commercialization in the first place. A commentary by Dr. Christian Tribowski

If some of you have thought that Karate in general has become very commercialized in the past two decades, you might be surprised by the latest step on the capitalistic ladder. Karate Combat, a full contact Karate League, was launched this year.

Format of Karate Combat

It follows a pretty simple format: Two Karateka fight in a pit-like ring for a few minutes. The referee does not stop the fight: if one of the opponents scores a point – the fight goes on. At this point, it clearly distinguishes itself from Shobu Ippon kumite. Even on the ground the fighters can attack each other for five seconds. The rules prohibit hooks and elbow strikes. Gloves  are mandatory. The opponents should use long tsukis and keris like in Shobu Ippon kumite.

What was most astonishing for me about Karate Combat was the excessive and conspicuous presentation of status and economic power. Big cars, incredible venues like the Acropolis, naked bodies, and apparently an exclusive audience are part of the production. The main sponsor, as you can see on the ground of the pit, is Bitcoin. To get an own impression have a look at their YouTube channel.

Karate Combat as Retro-Futuristic Spectacular

Vice Sports called it “retro-futuristic” because it shares similarities with some 80´s martial arts movies. This similarities led me to the following association: The general setting and aesthetics of the scenery reminded me about the movie Lionheart with Jean-Claude van Damme. The movie depicts a wealthy upper-class that organizes illegal bare-knuckle fights for their entertainment in Los Angeles. JCVD takes part in these fights to raise money to help his brothers family.

Focus on Monetization

Karate Combat, on the other hand, follows the law and is not a fight to death. Although, the similarities with Lionheart cannot be overlooked it shares more traits with the modern boxing industry. Like professional boxing it focuses on entertainment and commerce. Bitcoin as the main sponsor must have paid a considerable amount of money, because Karate Combat streams the fights on the internet for free. The “domain name Karate.com, which we can only imagine costs more than all the fighter’s purses combined”, as Vice Sports noted, must also been paid. A non-profit could not effort this production. In addition, the website lists a variety of partner companies like amazon prime, YouTube, Dailymotion etc. Hence, the commercialization of Karate has gone a tremendous step further.

Shotokan Serves a Different Purpose than Karate Combat

Everybody is free to watch and visit Karate Combat events. However, everybody should be aware that making money is not the true value of Karate in general and Shotokan. To put the Do into practices it is. While money serves as a necessary means in any professionalized system, even in Karate, e.g. professional instructors must make a living and associations need money to develop professional structures, the maximization of profits as a major purpose contradicts with the values of Shotokan Karate Do.

Shotokan cultivates humility, solidarity, perfection of one’s character, truth, respect for others and etiquette, endeavor, and impetuous courage in the first place. Everybody who puts money and entertainment in the center of their Karate loses the positive outcomes of this life-long journey: mental freedom and balance, empowerment, humility, enlightenment, empathy, friendship, a sense of belonging, solidarity. Karate Combat, instead, encourages the satisfaction of egoistic short-term goals like immediate consumption and spectacular.

The Shotokan Karate Do community, thus, should work harder than ever before to stress and foster the traditional values and positive effects Shotokan has on individuals and societies.

What do you think? Please comment below the article and discuss with our author.

Note: The boxing ring picture of this article was shoot by Joel Muniz on Unsplash.