By Erik Hofmeister

At the Athens Yoshukai dojo, we have a protocol distinct from some other martial arts schools and even most WYKKO schools.


White Belts Are Guests

At AYK, we consider new students guests.  They are not yet full members of the dojo.  They aren’t expected to teach or sweep or conduct other duties of students.  They are accorded respect, but new students come and go. Once they have tested and showed their dedication, then they are considered full members.  We address white belts by their first name, to indicate that they are indeed visitors but not yet members of the dojo.


Color Belts are Members

Once a student tests to 8th kyu, they are considered full students in the school.  They are expected to keep the dojo clean and may be called upon to warm up class or teach.  They are addressed by their American-standard title (Mr., Ms., Dr., etc.) and last name. This is to create a culture of respect and formality among the students.


Black Belts are Teachers

Although students teach throughout their time in the dojo, once a student reaches Shodan, the expectation for teaching is greater.  They are still learning, but they now have a greater burden for passing their knowledge on to others. Thus, they are addressed as Sensei and last name.  This is to indicate that blackbelts are responsible for teaching.


The Head Instructor

The highest-ranked student at the dojo is the head instructor.  This person is responsible for all the teaching and direction of the dojo.  The head instructor is addressed as Sensei. This indicates that the head instructor is ultimately responsible for the dojo, and is accorded a respect distinct from blackbelts in the dojo.


Taught by the Master

By Erik Hofmeister

I have read blogs that insist that you should make sure you will work with the head instructor before joining a school, and some which suggest that a school which asks students to teach is taking advantage of them by not paying them.  I obviously disagree with both of these stances, and here is why.

BlackbeltMasterKarateYou don’t need to learn from the head instructor.  You don’t need to learn from a blackbelt. You need to learn from someone who knows more than you and, sometimes, someone who knows as much or less than you.  In educational psychology, studies have shown that peer teaching is as or more effective than learning from a lecturer. Maybe the student can be more relaxed and hence receptive, maybe they feel more invested in the educational process, maybe the more junior teacher can identify more easily with the student.  This is not to say that less experienced teachers are objectively better, but that students may learn as well from others who are closer in rank and experience to them. Ultimately, it is up to the head instructor and blackbelts to make sure that the techniques are all correct and well executed. All of the instruction, however, does not and maybe should not come from the head instructor and blackbelts.  Doing so may hamper student learning.

As has been mentioned before, students learn by teaching.  In my opinion, not allowing students to teach is detracting from their own education and progress.  Asking students to teach is to their benefit as much as it is to the dojo’s benefit or the learner’s benefit.  Once a student starts to have their own classes that they are responsible for in a commercial school, the issue is somewhat different.  In that case, some compensation should be considered, as the student is directly helping the bottom line of the school and relieving the head instructor to do other (hopefully money-making) activities.

I have heard veterinary students complain during surgery labs about being taught by residents.  These are individuals who have finished vet school, an internship, and started specialty training in surgery.  Such people are more than qualified enough to teach a student basic surgical techniques. They do not need a board-certified surgeon to teach them how to tie a basic knot.  I feel the same with martial arts students. A white belt does not need a third degree blackbelt to teach them how to punch. They can be taught the basics of punching by, say, a blue belt.  This is not to imply that the blue belt has mastered a punch. But a white belt does not need to master the punch. They just need the basic elements, which the blue belt knows.

Commercial vs. Free vs. Club

By Erik Hofmeister


A commercial school is one run to be profitable.  A free school is one run where students pay no tuition.  A club school is one where students pay a minimal tuition, and is usually associated with another organization, such as a city’s parks and recreation department or a YMCA.  They each have advantages and disadvantages which are important to realize as you consider opening your own school or joining a dojo.



Commercial schools almost always include kids classes, since kids bring in the majority of income.  Club and free schools have more freedom, limiting student enrollment. The students for commercial schools are partly motivated because they are financially invested, whereas for free and club schools, the students come to class only because they want to, as they have little to no financial commitment.  Most commercial schools have no caps on the number of students they take, and the general drive is to constantly get more students, as more students equals more income. Some club or free schools may have student caps, since beyond a certain point, more students is not always better.



Commercial schools offer more classes, at more times, since that is the primary employment for the owner.  They may incorporate other styles, to appeal to a broader market base. They usually also include daytime classes to capture more demographics. Free and club schools offer fewer class hours- usually 2-3 a week is a minimum.


Administrative Time

Commercial schools require significant administrative time, both in planning and execution.  A business plan, location, lease, business incorporation, and similar steps need to be taken before opening.  During execution, commercial schools require more administrative time (specifically billing, filing taxes, and similar money matters) and large amounts of time dedicated to marketing.  Free and club schools require some administrative time, but are generally less than a commercial school.



Commercial schools usually occupy a commercial location, which is a substantial expense.  Club schools usually use another organization’s facilities. Free schools have a variety of locations, but are usually low-to-no cost, such as the instructor’s house. Organization costs and liability insurance are similar among school types.



Obviously, the greatest difference among the types of schools is income.  Commercial schools generate money for the owner, whereas club and free schools generally do not. Some club schools may generate some income, but it may not exceed the expenses.



As anyone who has ever invested money should know, with greater risk comes greater reward.  Your tolerance to risk should be clear. If you are highly risk averse, a commercial school is a terrible idea.  A significant amount of startup costs makes it a huge problem if the business fails, and if you don’t also have a primary job, you’ll need to be able to pay yourself.  A club or free school has less risk and, hence, less payoff in terms of financial return.



When it comes to the three pillars of motivation: purpose, autonomy, and mastery, each is satisfied by running a school, regardless of the type.  This is probably the most important idea I can impart: you can feel great satisfaction from running a school of any type.


If you can tolerate a high degree of risk, have the initial money for investment, and need the income, a commercial school might be for you.  Otherwise, a club or free school may be the best way to go.

Anatomy of a Great Kata

Image result for kata

A post by Sensei Hofmeister:

Kata are a series of movements designed to teach a wide variety of principles in karate: balance, focus, striking height, techniques, combinations, stances, and more.  There are many elements in kata.  So what makes a great kata?


In Yoshukai, the movements in a kata are not all executed at the same tempo, or as quickly as possible.  The transition from one stance to the next should be done quickly, and execution of each technique should be done with kime (focus).  A brief beat should accompany most techniques as kime is used.


It should go without saying that stances should be distinct (e.g. kougeki vs. boubi shikodachi), and the student should settle in to the stance immediately before executing the technique.  Without a solid base, techniques will not have power.  Stance first, then technique.


The student should be relaxed throughout the entire kata, except at the moment of execution of a technique.  At the point of execution, the student should add power and tension to the technique.  The rest of the body- stance, shoulders, etc. should be relaxed- only the muscles required for the technique should be engaged.  After executing the technique, the student should be relaxed again.


Throughout the kata, the student should have the same easy, rhythmic breathing.  This is true even on execution of a technique, since the only muscles which should be contracted are those involved in the technique.  The core can be engaged without altering the rhythm of breathing.  Audible breathing during kata (except when noted), or during execution of a technique, can reveal to an opponent your breathing cycle, which they can use against you.

Hands and Feet

Many students neglect the non-technique hand.  During a technique, the hand in chamber should be stable and closed without being clenched.  The hand executing the technique needs to be correct- the hand position for haito is different from shuto is different from nukite is different from shote.  During kicks, the foot position should be correct- using koshi for mae geri, pointing the toes for mawashi geri, etc.


The student’s gaze should be focused toward the direction of the technique.  The head should be held up, the back straight.  Some students tuck their chin down, hunch their shoulders, or bend forward slightly.  Having correct posture will make balance easier.


Obviously, the actual sequence of techniques and execution of the techniques and stances must be correct.  The above elements, when considered separate from knowing the actual kata, will help students increase their mastery of kata and their own body mechanics.

New Year, New You (and all that)


Each year, come January 1st and usually in the weeks leading up to it, the air is abuzz with people saying what New Year’s resolutions they’ve made and how they’re going to change their life for the better. Standard stuff. There also happens to be somewhat of a trope that those same people are  going to quit those resolutions in T-30 days at the most. No one really succeeds in new year’s resolutions, or at least that’s the joke.

New Year’s resolutions can be tough to keep, and it’s because they’re often about making huge life changes. Lose weight, exercise more, study harder, learn French, play the bassoon, go learn karate. These things take time and effort, and most people are already filling their time and using their effort. Change takes evolution, and evolution takes time.

I don’t have a new year’s resolution this year, per say. My new me started back in November when I officially took over as Head Instructor for Athens Yoshukai Karate. I gained new duties and responsibilities, and am now having to dedicate more time and effort to something I was already dedicated to. This is not a complaint; far from it. But this new year does mean a new me simply by my new title. Hopefully, as things continue on, I’ll continue to evolve into my head instructor role.

A new year is an exciting time for many reasons, and I don’t want to take away from that by joking about new year’s resolutions and how often they can fail at the time. If you’ve made a resolution to come to more karate class, by Jove, do it! I’ll encourage you once you’re here. But you have to take the first step. And after the first, the second step. But it gets easier. And you get better. And, given enough time, you’ll find you’re a whole new you. With or without a new year.

Yoga Philosophy and Yoshukai

Someone once asked me how many sparring matches I’ve won.  By most methods of reckoning, this number would be zero.  By my own reckoning, every time I’m willing to spar at all, I’ve won.  Sparring is extremely emotionally difficult to me, so the very act of being willing to step into the ring is a victory.


There are a few different aspects of the yoga philosophy that overlap with Yoshukai, including meditation and focus.  In my view, most of these aspects can be summarized in the concept of jai, which roughly translates to victory, and I’ve often heard it used to represent victory over ego.  One cannot strive for excellence or continue to improve without victory over ego.  If one allows oneself to be defeated by one’s ego, one would never continue with anything difficult.  By definition, continuing to train represents a victory over ego.


There are various other ways in which our ego can defeat us: our ego might cause us to push ourselves beyond our limit, resulting in injury.  We might unfairly compare ourselves to others rather than focusing on our own improvements, resulting in poor spirit.  Overall, I believe victory over ego reminds us to compete only or primarily against ourselves, focusing on our own improvement.  With this focus on our own improvement, rather than external rewards or validation, we can more completely strive for excellence.

Yoga for Hip Stretches

With all the power and strength that comes from our hips in Yoshukai, it’s important to take some time to release those muscles.  These are big muscle groups, and continuing to strengthen them without spending time on flexibility may limit your kicks and stance transitions.  There’s also wide variability in how each individual will respond to hip stretches, which is why I’ve provided several different options.  It’s suggested you try various poses to find something that works, but recall that each of these may not be more difficult than any of the others; they’re simply provided to give you lots of options to find what works best for you.

Seated position:

Sit with one heel in front of your groin, the other heel directly in line with that.  If this is enough, stay here.


If you need more, begin to extend forward with a flat spine until you do find a stretch in your hips.


Once your reach that point, round forward to release your spine and neck.


Hold for five to ten breaths[1], then switch the cross of the feet and repeat on the other side.  Remember that you may not go as far or may go farther on the other side (true of all these hip stretches). 

Bull seat:

Sitting on the floor, bring your right knee forward, with your right heel alongside your left hip.  If possible, bring your left hip alongside your right heel.


If your left knee floats high above your right, stay here for your five to ten breaths and let gravity slowly pull the right knee down.

If your left knee easily stacks on the right and you need more of a stretch, begin to walk your fingertips forward with a flat spine until you feel your stretch.


After you find this stretch, round the spine for your five to ten breaths.


Repeat on the other side.

Firelog pose:

From a seated pose, bring your right shin parallel on the floor in front of you, foot flexed.  Stack your left ankle on your right knee, letting your left knee stack or float over your right ankle.


If this knee is floating, hold here and let gravity increase the stretch.


If you need more of a stretch, extend forward until you feel the stretch in your hips.


From here, round your spine for your five to ten breaths.  Repeat on the other side.


Keyhole pose:

Lay on your back, planting both feet on the floor.


Flex your right foot and place your right ankle over your left knee.


Bring your legs toward your chest and hold behind your left thigh or in front of your left shin.  Hold for five to ten breaths, then repeat on the other side.


PIgeon pose:

Start in downward-facing dog.  Bring your right leg up behind you into three-legged dog.


From here, bring the leg forward and place your right knee behind your right hand.


The farther forward your right foot, the more intense the stretch; be sure to keep the foot flexed and go slowly into the stretch to avoid injury or muscle tightening.  Lower your left knee onto the floor.


Extend your arms forward and lower your chest as far as you can.


Hold for five to ten breaths.  To release, press in with your hands to come back to downward-facing dog.  Make any movements here to release the muscles.  Repeat on the other side.

Butterfly pose:

The previous stretches focused on the outside of the hips; this pose focuses on the inside of the hips and groin muscles.

Sit on the floor with your feet together and knees falling open.  Pull your heels in as close to your hips as possible.  From here, lie back onto the floor and let gravity pull your knees down.


This is a restorative pose; that is, you shouldn’t be using a lot of muscular effort here.  Hold for five to ten breaths.


[1] These poses should be held for longer than the other poses because the hips are such a large muscle group, and should be given a longer period of time to get full release.