By Hali Serrian

In Yoshukai, we have 19 colored belt forms, or kata. There are even more after blackbelt. Kata are one of the main units by which we measure progress toward our next rank. But why do we learn kata? Why don’t we just punch and kick and fight each other? What purpose does a glorified stately dance serve?

In the days of old, practitioners of karate may have known three kata, and that is if they were Masters with years and years of experience. Most only knew one, maybe two and these were still considered Masters. This is because, for these learners, the kata was the style. It was a system of martial arts in and of itself. The form was merely the training tool for practicing that system. It put all the techniques together in a kinetic pneumonic so that they could be easily remembered and practiced. Our kata today are derived from that ancient system.Athens Yoshukai Karate Kata

Our more traditional forms like Seisan, Chinto, and Bassai, are the forms that the old Masters might have known. These forms can be studied for years with something new to learn with each repetition. They often include multiple ‘acts’ or sections with a slightly different focus in each. They were created to be practiced alone or with the supervision only of the one who taught it to you.

The forms which are more modern and unique to individual styles (Kihon Kata Shodan, Nidan, etc.) have been created to teach the basics of a style before more complex forms are introduced. For those of us who practice karate for sport or as a lifestyle (we all fall into this category for the most part) this helps us get the hang of things before we advance further. Yoshukai’s classic example is in learning Yoshu, our highest form pre-blackbelt. Without Kihon Kata and Kihon Kata Shodan Nunchaku to teach the weapon’s basics, Yoshu would be too big a bite for many of us to chew.

Forms teach us the basics of our style and they can teach us an entire fighting system if we let them. They are for performance in tournaments and for cardio when performed one after the other without rest. They can be applied to self defense and thought about in the abstract. Kata are an integral part to modern karate and, of course, they’re fun!


A Gift From Sensei

Athens Yoshukai Karate MugBy Erik Hofmeister

Training at Athens Yoshukai is demanding.  There’s an expectation for a high degree of performance and great dedication to the dojo and organization.  When a student reaches green belt, they’re about halfway through the path to their black belt.  In order to test to green belt, you need to learn Seisan, one of the most complex forms we teach.  Earning a green belt is a sincere accomplishment in our school.  Students have invested a substantial amount of time and energy to achieve that rank.  At green belt, I invest a special amount of time and energy in each student in the form of an engraved mug.

When the dojo first opened, students brought their own water bottles to class.  Sensei Blumreich donated the water dispenser we use now, which begged the question as to how I would handle cups.  Would I have a cup dispenser which required refilling and contributed to waste?  Would students just be able to fill the bottles they brought?  I decided to have a rack put in to hold the mugs of individual students who had put in the time and dedication necessary to earn their green belt.  It is a small acknowledgement, but one that indicates that I feel they are becoming a permanent part of the dojo.

The first mugs I made were for Sensei Hines and Blumreich when they earned their green belt.  I wanted to show them how much their achievement meant to me by spending my own personal time to engrave personalized mugs for them.  Thereafter, I kept up with the tradition.  Students who transferred or left the dojo took their mugs with them, and I’d like to think they remember them fondly for the years they spent training at Athens Yoshukai.

I rarely make the mugs on demand, because they require a substantial time commitment to make.  I batch them when several students have earned their green belt.  Sometimes this means a student has to stick around for a while after earning green belt to receive their mug, whereas others get it right away.  The etchings are imperfect, but are not intended to be artistic or precise.  They are intended to convey my sincere appreciation to the student for their continued and ongoing efforts.  It’s my way of showing that I am paying attention and acknowledge their accomplishments by investing even more of my personal self in their progress at Athens Yoshukai Karate.  It a genuine gift from me to them.


For those who are interested, my process is described below.

  1. Acquire mugs.  I use a very basic type of sturdy mug acquired at Bed Bath and Beyond.
  2. Print stencil.  This uses an Asian-looking font which has changed slightly over the years.  I use the student’s last names.
  3. Cut out stencil.  I place the paper on a wood cutting board and take a sharp utility knife to cut out the letters.
  4. Use stencil.  I tape the stencil to the mug, then use a permanent marker to fill in the cut-out letter shapes.  After removal, the student’s last name is printed in an Asian font on the mug in marker.Athens Yoshukai Karate Mug Stencil
  5. Etch.  I use a diamond-tipped bit on my Dremmel.  I trace the edges of the ink and then fill it in.  I use a vacuum to remove the glass dust periodically.Athens Yoshukai Karate Mug EtcherAthens Yoshukai Karate Mug Glass DustAthensYoshukaiKarateNProgression
  6. Once the initial etch is done, I go back over it to do clean up and make sure the lines are as smooth as I can make them.
  7. After the entire name is done, I go over it again to fill in any small defects.Athens Yoshukai Karate Finished Mug
  8. I use an ink remover to remove any residual permanent marker.
  9. The mugs are washed and ready to be gifted!

Tales of Winter Camp

By Hali Serrian


On February 20th, students from our dojo, as well as students of Yoshukai from across the country, but from Alabama, Georgia, and Florida in particular, converged upon Pensacola Beach, Florida for the 35th Yoshukai Winter Camp. There was a blackbelt test to be seen on Athens Yoshukai Karate Winter Camp FlagFriday night, and a day-long workout on Saturday, with a variety of class topics and instructors. Adding to the fun was the social time before and after classes, where we met instructors and students from all the different dojo represented.

My own experience of this event was thoroughly positive. On Friday I got to watch four brown belts test for Shodan and two Shodan test for Nidan. Though it was a small test, and the testers were all young—each around 13 years old—the experience of watching a blackbelt test is always eye-opening and entertaining. It is especially nice to see karate-ka so young with so much spirit.

Saturday, of course, was the main event. We began with a talk on Respect and Manners, one for the blackbelts, and a separate one for the colored belts on the beach. We were reminded that Respect and Manners is the first of our Precepts for a reason: it is the most important. We should respect our instructors because they have taught us what we know and are more experienced in the art we are studying. We should respect our fellow students because they are our peers and are on the same path as we are, at least when it comes to karate. More importantly, we should respect all these people because they are people, the same as us, and as karate-ka we should hold ourselves to a higher standard of behavior, so that when others see us, they respect us in turn.

After the talk, we took a picture of the entire group present in the shape of a heart. We did this in order to send to Soke, who is recovering from surgery, in order to give him a bit of hope and uplift his spirit by seeing the practitioners of the style he created. And then came the workout…

First we were led in warmup by Master Toyama, who even with one arm is quite formidable. We ran on the beach, punched the sand and beat on each other in some light conditioning. The kiai from the whole group was pretty impressive. We also played leapfrog, which can be a surprisingly tough workout when the line stretches on long enough.

The classes were all helpful. I learned practical application for Seisan, got to practice my Nunchaku and Sai work, learned self defense as taken from Ippon Kumite, and worked with various partners in developing practical self defense routines. Unfortunately we were not allowed to get into the ocean due to the riptide and strong waves, but we found a way to get wet by kneeling on the beach and doing punches and pushups while the Shihan dumped buckets of water on us. It was a blast, and not even that cold.

Then came more relaxation and social time. Our group sat on the balcony of our awesome hotel and talked about the workout, about how things could be improved, and about martial arts in general. There was grappling and lessons in grappling, and only minor injuries, which were given and received in laughter. A good evening followed an excellent day.

Winter Camp is only a weekend, and it may seem a long distance to go for a single day of classes with some people you only see once or twice a year, but that’s not the point of Winter Camp. Winter Camp is about getting together with people who share your passion for karate, Yoshukai karate in particular, and learrning with them, playing with them, and bettering ourselves through Yoshukai. It is social time with your own dojo, whose practitioners you may not see often out of dogi, and getting to know their non-karate personalities a bit better. Winter Camp is an awesome experience, as are all WYKKO events, and if you haven’t gone before, or just couldn’t make it this year, I encourage each and every one of you to make it to the next one. Ask anyone who’s ever been, it’s totally worth it.

Athens Yoshukai Karate Winter Camp 2015