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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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Support Board: Karateka help Karateka in Times of Corona

The picture shows Okuma Sensei with a some participating karateka of the seminar.

The Corona virus has spread over the whole globe. Many people are directly and indirectly affected. Some countries have been hit very hard by the virus. Other countries enforce strict measure on their citizens like social distancing etc.

Karateka also Affected by Corona

Among the victims are also karateka. Some have been infected by Corona virus. Others have already lost family members, friends, colleagues, and dojo members and friends to the disease. Some have or might lose their job because the economy in their country has also been shut down. Others might lose their dojo because students cannot come to classes due to the curfew but they still have to pay rent etc. And most of us many of us must stay at home in isolation and cannot join most favorite group activity: Karate keiko in a dojo.

Support Board – Karateka Help Each Other

Therefore, we want to organize some help. Because karatekas worldwide are one big solidary community and we support each other in times of crisis.

Below in the comment section (NOT IN THE FACEBOOK COMMENT SECTION) we offer you a Support Board. If you need something or want to give something, just post it with your name and email address and the conditions to receive it. You can post everything from chicken soup, toilet paper, money donations, legal advise or just a nice chat via Skype or Hangouts.

We will have an eye on the post so that no shady stuff gets offered or requested. Thus, it will take a bit for a post to become approved.

Home Dojo: Best Online Karate Lessons and Videos

In the meantime, everyone, who has to stay at home due to curfews and shut downs, might find some pleasure in a good online karate lesson and videos how to set up your home dojo or something similar. Please, post your favorite and most inspirational lessons or videos in the comment section below, too, so, that others can get a little bit distracted from Corona and stay fit and healthy. We will all collect them and put them in one post later.

We begin with three videos/channels we deem as valuable.

John Ngai Teaching Karate Online to Children

John is the head of SKIF South China. Thus, he was confronted much earlier with the ramifications of the Corona virus. However, he took the initiative and organized karate online courses for children. Here some footage. Let yourself become inspired.

JKA News: Exercises You can do Alone

On their Facebook news channel the JKA offer some technical explanatory videos to bridge the time until we all can go back to the dojo. Great service: English subtitles.

Jeff Christian: The Quarantine Home Dojo

Our senior editor, Dr. Jeff Christian, has turned his Instagram Channel into a window to his quarantine home dojo. Like many Jeff strictly follows the social distancing rules. However, he also likes to train. Therefore, he uses his garage as a dojo and conducts several karate and yoga exercises. Let yourself become inspire. You can also have your home dojo!

Feel free to post more videos, requests and offerings in the comment section. We will all go through this together and nobody will be left alone. Oss!

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Missing Links of Karate: Why We Need Traditional Martial Arts

The missing links of Karate have become a research field for a community of innovative and open minded Karateka. We link Karate back to its roots in traditional martial arts from Asia. By doing so we focus on improving Karate and bring back what the art has lost through the development of modern Shotokan and Sports Karate. Therefore, missing links challenges conventional Karate wisdom and changes perceptions. By Heero Miketta

Questioning Shotokan

Practicing Japanese Karate will always bring up the question: “Which style?” – at least from those in the know. Three decades ago an answer by Hirokazu Kanazawa made the rounds in my Shotokan circles. “Martial arts,” the old master mumbled in reply, and was not willing to discuss this any further.

It impressed me at the time, because back then I had a moment of confusion myself. I had joined the instructor team of the police in the then German capital Bonn. It was a fortunate event to be welcomed in this rather elitist circle of good fighters with all kinds of martial arts backgrounds. I was a complete rookie, while all of them had tested their knowledge in more or less realistic scenarios.

My Shotokan fell short. What I had learned was too static, too focused on the long distance, and very much tuned into the rules of competition.

Shotokan Did not Meet the Reality of Fighting nor Philosophical Depth of Asia

Not an unusual story – I have met plenty of others with similar experiences, not only from Shotokan Karate. If you listen to Geoff Thompson, British author and martial artist, he describes the same learning journey. Self defense, realistic conflict, and violence prevention always question what we have learned in the dojo.

This was not the first time I second-guessed my Karate. When I started my training in Shotokan, coming from Judo and Tai Chi, I became disappointed at first. I found a sports system featuring tournament rules instead of the deep secrets I had expected. It was all sweat, mostly on my own, walking up and down a gym, hitting thin air. No Far East philosophy, nothing of the cool mystic background I imagined.

The Two Missing Links

Two missing links gave our research community its name: The actual combat content, and the deep knowledge, the Asian ways of thinking that challenge the Western mind.

The Bleeding Edge of Modern Society

This brings us straight to the core of martial arts: The connection of body and mind. What sounds like an advertising soundbite to the ears of experienced Karateka is a bleeding edge of modern society. In our book Missing Links of Martial Arts, we chose the term “debodification” to describe what is happening to humans today: An increasingly sedentary lifestyle dominated by screentime and virtual experiences. Fitness and wellness have the character of mere duties that have to be fulfilled. Looking good, being healthy, showing positive attitude is a mere part of a “personality package,” not a source of learning and personal growth.

This betrays modern people of genuine experiences that can only be made using the body. Some people aim to fill this gap in personal growth by attending Asian health systems like Yoga, Qi Gong, or meditation. Traditional martial arts offer the same philosophy in motion, and they bring even more to the table: Conflict, fear, stress, social skills, and communication.

The Depth of the Traditional Asian Styles

Modern fitness and self defense based systems offer much less depth. While mixed martial arts competition is a fantastic sport and often underrated by Karateka (also because of the testosterone-laden scenarios of competition in the octagon), it does not regard the deeper content of traditional martial arts. Do not underestimate MMA athletes, though. Many of them come from traditional systems and practice much more than what they need in tournaments. Grappling styles like Brazilian Jujitsu offer physical and mental training, as well as holistic knowledge. Nothing, however, beats the traditional Asian styles.

Shotokan Roots in China

The roots of our Karate go back to older arts from Okinawa and China, a fact that has not only been forgotten by many who think Karate is part of the traditional Japanese Budo curriculum. But it has been hidden by Japanese masters who went out of their way to rebrand Karate from “Chinese Hand” to “Empty Hand,” simply by changing the Kanji of the name.

In our Missing Link Community, we use the original character: Ko Ryu Kara Te – old style Chinese hand. The look backwards to China and old Kung Fu styles is as important to us as the focus on modern application and usability. We avoid chitter chatter about “the street” and what is useful. We care about what we can learn for everyday scenarios that actually happen in modern life.

Chinese Martial Arts as Compendium for Modern Karate

What did we find in the Chinese arts?

Flow

First and foremost: Flow. Static stances, powerful hard movements – both can be more obstacle than help for good martial arts:

  • Nothing is static in a fight.
  • A stance is just a short moment in the context of a bigger event.
  • The entire movement is much more important than the end position of a step.
  • Low stances only make sense in the context of weight shift and power development; they have no value on their own.
  • Every technique, any combination, needs to work in a flow, and with a partner.

Nothing is more important than constant partner training. It is essential to develop mental flexibility and the ability to adapt to ever changing circumstances.

Structure

Another important issue is structure:

  • Posture,
  • stability,
  • full body movements and
  • the understanding of principles

This approach is superior to learning single techniques and executing them with maximum strength.

Movements make Perfect

Understanding – and feeling – the body and its movement makes for good martial arts. Discovering the capabilities of the own body and transferring it into work with a partner is surprisingly often neglected in Karate dojos, in favor of endless repetitions of techniques that make no sense without bunkai – the deep analysis of their meaning and usage. The external form of techniques, especially at the END of the movement, is getting much more attention than the application and the internal development of strength and power.

Traditional Martial Arts Connect Mind and Body

These holistic physical experiences create the connection of body and mind mentioned above. The body is the most important gate for emotional learning, and thus for the development of social skills, communication, conflict competence, coping with stress and fear, or in short: A life lived to the fullest.

No other physical training connects body and mind like the traditional martial arts do. The individual and their interaction with others is the main concern of our practice – and the challenges are physical as well as psychological and emotional.

The Missing Links between traditional Martial Arts and Shotokan
The Missing Links between traditional Martial Arts and Shotokan

What kind of martial arts do you practice?

So what is in a style? Why is the question, “What kind of martial arts do you practice” so important?

The Fallacy of Tribal Structures

The martial arts community as a whole has a very tribal structure. That arose surely from the way of teaching it in family structures in the past and then became a matter of national pride. Many Westerners are trying to be more authentic than their Asian teachers – so much that it borders cultural appropriation.

No Challenging of Opinions

Hierarchy and patriarchal structures in many associations are another issue. Not questioning the “master,” worshiping belt colors and double-digit dan degrees leads to an inability to challenge opinions, ask questions or be innovative.

Last but not least, styles give a level of security. To define what you are doing (and what you are not doing) gives control over your own training and a chance to measure your ability. “I have mastered this move, this kata, the rules of Shobu Ippon – I am a master now, my education is finished. I know where I am standing.” The comfort of narrow boundaries is enormous.

New Ideas Can be Challenging

We experience this in our dojos. Our ideas attract high ranked, experienced Karateka. But far too often they also put off these senior martial artists. “I have learned more in one of your lessons than in the last five years of training in my home dojo,” an experienced competition fighter told me. She was was talented, intelligent and fast. “I don’t like it,” she went on. “I will go back to my old dojo.”

Boom! Removing limits drops students into a void and leaves them confused. Our response is a sophisticated Kyu curriculum and a proper syllabus, giving beginners a scaffolding for their learning experience.

That is not the answer for advanced practitioners, though. Training with Missing Link is uncomfortable, challenging and needs engagement. That is what we face every day ourselves.

A Research Community For Karate

We see Missing Link as a research community. Yes, we build up new martial artists. But we also build up the knowledge of the community, and take on board the ideas and new impulses from experienced teachers joining us. Our ranking system is free of Dan degrees. The Okuden and Kaiden Master Levels that we use instead are not earned in a grading, but by delivering a thesis, a new idea, an own concept to the community.

A Diverse Community

This has brought an interesting mix of people to the Missing Link Community that started as a Shotokan-based venture. Soon members of our old ShoShin Projekt – a group of martial artists from different styles working together – joined the group. By now, our dojos in Germany, England, Denmark and Finland combine a colorful bunch of Karateka with a wide knowledge and the hunger to learn and discover more. The topics we care about grew beyond the narrow definitions of a style:

Missing Link offers a versatility curriculum and research.
Missing Link offers a versatility curriculum and research.

Innovative and Open Minded Tradition

What connects all teachers in Missing Link is the idea of a foundation curriculum, described in our book Missing Links of Martial Arts, and the general approach to teaching and learning, also detailed in the very same book. We feel that we have left the limits for personal development behind us in the past. But it also built a strong framework in which Karateka can feel at home if they don’t want to be restrained by an association that cares more for competition sport and purity of styles. Tradition, from our point of view, has to be innovative and open minded.

The Shotokan style is still a basis for many of our members. It has enormous values as a clean, straightforward gate into the complex world of martial arts. We call it the “Japanese garden of martial arts,” pretty and with intense focus. From this garden we want to head for the jungle, though.

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What does Kata mean to you?

The picture shows Miki Nakamachi performing kata during a tournament.

What does Kata mean to you? Many karate practitioners interpret it in different ways. This article will attempt to bring some clarity and explain how a Karate-ka can benefit from performing kata. By Derick Kirkham

The Meaning of Kata?

What is the meaning of Kata? What’s it all about? What’s the point of it? Many people have asked me these questions over the years. Among them were

  • members of the general public,
  • novice students,
  • advanced students,
  • teachers of the subject,
  • kumite specialists,
  • kata specialists,
  • sport-only karateka,
  • self-defense enthusiasts,
  • petty politicians in karate,
  • pundits, who are deliberately trying to be controversial,
  • heads of other associations,
  • practitioners of other style of martial arts,
  • mean spirited individuals, who are just looking for loop holes, who have an axe to grind,
  • candidates for a promotional exam,
  • Japanese cultural enthusiasts,
  • karate historians,
  • traditionalists and
  • modernizers.

I have gone into print and given a wide range of answers to the same question. Not because I constantly change my opinion. But my answer was dependent upon the recipient of the message, their motivation for asking, their area of interest and what is their level of experience.

What Does Kata Mean to You?

However, I believe, that many of them meant to ask: “What does Kata mean to you?” If they had asked that question then they would have got a completely different answer.

I feel whatever the person believes to be true about Kata, is as valid of an explanation as every other persons interpretation. As long as a practitioner gets something in exchange for them holding their particular belief of what it is, then I think that this is a good thing. However, the return on investment must enhance their experience of, their practice of, and their performance of the kata.

But What Does Kata Mean in General?

It is part of the physical culture of Karate. The Japanese term means shape or form. All Kata have individual names. They comprise of a set number of prescribed basic techniques and performed following a specific route Embusen. Although different styles of Karate use different names to describe the same Kata, one can recognize them as being from the same root.

The picture shows the Embusen of Kanku Dai. The Embusen is one way to answer the question: What does kata mean?
The Embusen of Kanku Dai.

Kata can be seen as a martial war dance, similar in nature to the New Zealand “HAKA”. They hold similarities to shadow boxing or gymnastics floor routines, as the student practices them individually. Aesthetics play a major role in the appearance of it. But they are definitely Martial and warlike by nature.

Kata as Library of Basic Karate Techniques

Kata can be viewed as a library of rehearsed fighting routines. While in reality they do not portray an actual continuous fight scenario. That does not mean that individual techniques or mini sequences of techniques in it would not work in a real fight, because they do work. It holds self-defense nuggets of gold, but not necessarily in the format they are often presented when cumulatively performed in Traditional Bunkai. As a result, every kata depicts a library of basic Karate technique put together in a series of combinations. They are misleadingly represented a series of continuous techniques against four or eight imaginary opponents instead.

Despite some kata having been invented only 50 years ago, the roots of the majority date back several hundred years. Some people gain great strength and enjoyment during practice when they think about the history and tradition of the it. It creates great pleasure to reflect how they have been handed down from generation to generation.

Kata Changes – Constantly

In reality it has been changing over the generations. The kata, which Gichin Funakoshi taught, varied slightly from how he was taught and likewise Masatoshi Nakayama, taught them slightly differently to his students.  Hirokazu Kanazawa teaches them with slight nuanced differences to the way that Nakayama taught him. Nevertheless, it links us all to the past. For me personally Kata are even more enjoyable for that very reason.

Yoshitaka Funakoshi: He changed also plenty of kata. He introduced the Kokutsu-dachi to Shotokan, for instance.
Yoshitaka Funakoshi: He changed also plenty of techniques. He introduced the Kokutsu-dachi to Shotokan, for instance.

Enjoy It!

Keep in mind: Kata is not a punishment beating for the performer. So, whatever ones motivation to practice it is: Please enjoy the experience, even if you only perform it as a means of physical exercise and perform it without any traditional appreciation whatsoever. One should still enjoy the experience.

How to Study and Perform It?

When one has chosen a kata to study, the first aim must be to achieve excellence in the delivery of the techniques. Then the secondary aim is to perform it to express the elegance of the Art and to execute Kata with martial intent. Kata practice and performance should lead to the experience of personal growth. For me it is a form of moving Zen, something that allows me to gain a focused state, albeit for the duration of the performance.

Kata is the ideal vehicle to allow one to block out the everyday worries of life and channeling ones concentration elsewhere in a positive manner. If one performs it well and the viewer understands the broader message. As a result they appreciate the effort, time, and levels of hard work that has gone into delivering that performance. Then that in itself is a bonus but that should never be the aim. Perform Kata with the initial intent of you being the main beneficiary.

Good Luck and Good Practice.