Who should be called Master?

In the WYKKO, there is no canon with respect to the title of Master. index The title of Shihan is given to Yondan blackbelts at some point in their training, before they can test to Godan.  Titles like Fukukaicho, Kaicho, and Soke relate to the individual’s role in the organization, but do not equate with titles like Renshi, Kyoshi, or Hanshi which other organizations use to indicate mastery.  The English title of Master is never officially used in the WYKKO.

When I wrote the WYKKO Handbook, I asked Masters Toyama and Culbreth about the use of the title Master.  They both seemed uncomfortable, and agreed that this is a title that cannot be claimed, it can only be conferred.  That is, an individual cannot attain a certain rank and say, “You should address me with the title Master now.”  Instead, the bosses said that an individual is given that title by their students or others below them in the organization.  Presumably, Soke could say that a certain rank of student should be addressed as Master, but he hasn’t done that to date (December 2015).

So, now we have a situation where the students need to be aware of when they can or should use the title Master.  Technically, since the bosses say this is a title conveyed by the students, the students could choose to use this title when addressing any blackbelt.  Within the WYKKO, however, it would be odd for students to address some blackbelts as Master.  So, how can students be appropriately respectful and avoid a faux pas?

The easiest solution is to never use the title of Master.  The bosses address each other (and everyone else, including Soke) as Mister, and most or all of the Shihan-ranked blackbelts also address everyone as Mister (or Miss).  I insist on using the title of Master for two reasons.  One, other styles use the title of Master, and I think it’s important to emphasize that there are individuals within our organization who have a degree of proficiency that one would acknowledge as Master.  Two, I do feel that some distinguishing title should be used when addressing certain high-ranked blackbelts to distinguish them from other high-ranked blackbelts.  The formal titles (Sempai, Shihan-Dai, Shihan, Kyoshi, and Kaicho) are not used in verbal forms of address.

If you want to use the title of Master when addressing or referring to a high-rank blackbelt, the only rule of thumb I have is my Sensei.  Sensei Blanck would refer to Master Toyama _as_ Master Toyama.  This was when Sensei was a Yondan and Master Toyama was a Rokudan.  Everyone also referred to Master Koda as Master when he was a Shichidan.  Therefore, I assume any blackbelt at Rokudan or higher rank may be addressed as Master.  You may also restrict the use of the Master title to the Directors of the organization- Master Toyama and Master Culbreth.

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Lineup Protocol

A couple of Winter Camps ago, the Shihan-Dai (4th degree blackbelt) line was AthensYoshukaiLineupWinterCamporganizing itself.  In the line (from left to right) was Mr. McInnish, Ms. Brinkley, myself, and Mr. Wheeles.  Mr. McCullars got there after we had organized ourselves and got into the line at the far right.  Each of us already in line continued to shuffle him to the left until he was in his rank-appropriate place at the head of the Shihan-Dai line.  In this anecdote, two good, important things happened.

The first good thing that happened is that a late-comer placed himself at the ‘end’ or right hand side of the line.  Mr. McCullars didn’t just appear at the left hand side and ask us all to move down, although he very well could have, as the highest-ranked in the line.  We were already lined up, so he went on to the end.  He was showing respect and modesty.

The second good thing that happened is that everyone else in the line identified a problem with our order and corrected it.  We were showing respect and attentiveness.

When you line up, the first criterion is by rank, then by test date, then by age.  Unless you are very confident that you are the highest ranked student in a line at an event, you should not head directly to the front of that line.  For example, I know that Ms. Brinkley is the only active Shihan-Dai who outranks me at the time of this writing.  If she is not at an event, I know I should be at the front of the Shihan-Dai line.  When I was a Nidan, I would usually mill around near the middle of the Yudansha line.  I would never place myself at the front of the line, and actually was only at the front of the line once- when bowing in for my Sandan test.

AthensYoshukaiLineupAtTournamentWhen in doubt, you should not place yourself at the front of the line.   If you know there are students present who outrank you, you should move them to your left.  The first time I met Mr. Trawick, I didn’t know when he had earned his Yondan, so deferred to him as probably being senior to me- I moved him to my left.  If you aren’t certain you are the highest-ranked student present, you should probably not be at the head of a line.  When in doubt, you could ask those around you.  My solution was to just put myself in the middle of the line when I was Yudansha and Sempai.

You should always be showing respect, modesty, and attentiveness.  If your goal is to make it to the front of the line, your plan should not be “get there first, and quickly run to where the line will form.”  Your plan should be, “I will continue to train until I know there are no students to my left.”

Protocol Miscellany

By Erik Hofmeister

We do things a certain way in WYKKO- all the dojo in the organization do.  I don’t have actual answers to all of the questions of protocol, but I do have some anecdotes which will help students remember which way things are.

1) Left knee down first so you can draw your sword.

In Yoshukai, whenever we kneel down in seiza, the left knee goes to the ground first, and this position is called iai dachi (sword stance).  The sword is worn on the left side of the body and is drawn with the right hand.  When kneeling, if you kneel with the right knee down first, the left knee is now obstructing your ability to draw the sword.

2) Lower ranks on your right so you can cut them down.

When students line up for class, we line up with the highest-ranked student in the front left corner, with the next-highest-rank to their right, and so on.  If you were wearing a sword, it would again be on your left side and drawn by your right hand.  If some uppity lower rank wanted to challenge you, you could draw your sword and attack them more easily than they could draw and attack you.

3) Zarei is starting with the right hand so you can draw your sword.

When we execute zarei, the right hand goes down to the floor, then the left and, when we come up, the left hand returns to the leg, followed by the right.  This is to keep your left hand by your sword for as long as possible, so that you could draw it if necessary.  This may actually be canonical, since, in the Yoshukai Iai series, the first move is predicated on being interrupted mid-zarei, and the sword is able to be drawn quickly because the left hand is close to it.

4) Turn clockwise to cut down everyone.

When we turn to kneel down and prepare weapons, or when black belts turn during zarei, we always do so clockwise.  Again, with the sword on the left hip, you can draw and turn clockwise, executing a cut, but cannot do so counter-clockwise.
These are small issues of protocol, and there is probably no actual reason why except “Soke said do it this way,” which is good enough for me.  Still, anecdotes help students learn.  So, if you think about how you would use your sword in a given situation, it may help you remember what the protocol is.

“What do I call you people?”

By Hali Serrian

While seemingly a simple question of introductions, knowing what to call one of your dojo-mates can be rather complex, most especially if you find that you’ve become friends with them outside of the dojo.

In our dojo, we call white belts by their first names. This is because they are technically a guest in our dojo, and not a part of the hierarchy which requires the use of surnames. This is also why we do not ask our white belts to sweep the floor or refill the water cooler. Once a white belt has tested, they are an official member of our dojo and we begin referring to them by Mr. or Ms. and their surname. This shows respect to them as a peer in martial arts training. And of course we remember that Yoshukai is all about respect. And manners.

So, we call white belts by their first names and everyone else by their last names, plus Mr./Ms. How is that difficult or complex? Well, the trouble really comes when we move outside the dojo walls. For instance, when we travel to Summer or Winter Camp, we often caravan and meet up at a restaurant for lunch. Well, we’re not in the dojo, so what do we call each other? The semi-unwritten/assumed rule is that since we are going to an event where karate is going to happen, the event has already begun and so we should refer to each other by our ‘karate names’, generally surnames.

Well, what if we’re at a party with a bunch of karate people? That depends. Do you only see that person in the dojo, excepting this party? You should probably call them by their karate name, unless told otherwise. Are you friends in real life? Do you see each other outside the dojo to hang out and such? You’re probably good to call them by their first name, since that’s usually what friends do.

One of the most interesting ‘rules’ (once again unwritten) about what to call dojo-mates is in conversation, including stories about people who are not present at the time. I’ve heard people flow between stories, switching between first names and surnames, all dependent on the context of the conversation. Conversations about stuff that happened at class the other day? Surnames. Conversations about when they all went out to dinner afterward? First names.

So at its simplest and most boiled down, there is only one rule about what to call people in your life who also do karate. If your current situation or conversation has anything to do with karate, you call the person by their surname. If not, and you’re friends, roommates, married, or share some other relationship outside of the dojo, feel free to call them whatever you like, as long as it’s appropriate.

Face Front

By Erik Hofmeister

“Kiyotsuke!  Face front!  Rei!”  This series of commands is given regularly in the dojo and occasionally at WYKKO events.  What, exactly, is going on here?  This series of commands is given when a high-ranked student enters the dojo.  It calls everyone to attention in the room and asks that they bow to the entering student.  This shows respect to the student who is entering, and also serves to let those in the room know what high ranks are around.  It also calls for humility on the part of the student being bowed to- they should not be eager to be bowed to.  Some students feel embarrassed being bowed to, and that’s good.  It suggests an appropriate dose of humility.  A student who shies away from being bowed to on entering the dojo, in contrast, may be insecure or inappropriately uncomfortable with being bowed to.  A student who can’t wait to get to a rank where they are bowed to probably needs a serious attitude adjustment before promotion.

The face front command is given only the first time a student enters the dojo for class around that time.  If there was a noon class where a student was bowed to, then the evening class would also call for a face front and bow to that student.  However, a student who enters the dojo at 5pm and stays for a 6pm class would not be bowed to again.  The exception to this is when changing styles.  For example, for the 7pm judo class, students will bow to me as a brown belt.  Once I change and enter for Yoshukai class at 8pm, another bow is given as this is a different context.

Generally, the first student to notice the incoming student should issue the command.  If multiple students notice the incoming student at once, it is up to the higher-ranked student to issue the command.  Students should be aware of what high-ranks are ‘around’ and not yet entered the dojo.  I will almost always face the door after I have entered the dojo, so that I can be aware of brown belt and higher ranked students who enter so I can issue the call.  If you know there is a higher-ranked student who is aware of the door, it is probably best to wait a beat before issuing the call, to make sure the higher-ranked student has the opportunity to call “face front”.

There are three venues worth considering: the local dojo, official closed WYKKO events, and open events.

Each dojo may have its own rules on when to call “face front”.  Most use it for blackbelts.  Some may use it solely for the head instructor.  At Athens Yoshukai, we use the command any time a brown belt or higher-ranked student enters the dojo.  This prepares the brown belt for having the respect given to black belts, and also aligns with several other WYKKO schools.  As we have had more brown belts for longer than black belts, it also gives other students an opportunity to ‘practice’ bowing to the front when a high rank comes in.

At WYKKO events (Summer Camp, Winter Camp, Traditional Tournament), students with the Shihan rank are bowed to.  If you are in doubt, defer to a higher-rank student to issue the command.  Typically the call will be issued by those of Sandan rank and higher, but this is not a rule (see above guide about deferring to higher-ranks to issue the command, though!).

At open events (Dothan Tournament, Athens Tournament, Panama City Tournament, Superfights), there is not usually the face front command.  If a sufficiently high-ranked student (i.e. Shihan) decides to issue the command, however, everyone should comply.  This is more typically done when Kaicho or Soke enter into an open event.  However, there seems to be some variability in application of this rule.

The face front command is designed to show respect to those particularly high-ranked students who are entering the dojo or practice area.  When in doubt, students should defer to higher-ranked students to issue the command.

Late Arrival Protocol

By Erik Hofmeister

It seems like each school has a distinct way to handle students who arrive late to class.  Some schools lock their doors, some have you do pushups, some have you wait until you’re recognized to join class, etc.

Students should know when class starts, and should plan accordingly to arrive in time to be dressed, aware, and ready to go by the class start time.  Sometimes, the instructor may not start class on time since they are waiting on brand new students, a student is fulfilling a dojo responsibility (like filling the water), or some official business needs to be conducted before starting class.  However, class should NOT start late because of an individual student’s tardiness.  Therefore, it is each student’s responsibility to be on time.

Some people work 9-to-5 jobs.  That’s great, and I admire the fact that they have a consistent, reliable, regular work schedule.  That has been, and probably never will be, my own experience with work.  As a professional, work ends when there’s no more work to do.  If we did a great job getting cases done, it might be 5:30pm.  If we had a lot of emergencies or someone didn’t show up for work, it might be 7pm or later.  Therefore, I have acquired a significant sense of flexibility when it comes to students arriving at class.  As such, I have a simple policy:

Are you late to class because of something outside your control (work went late, flat tire, etc.)?  If so, come in, bow, and join the line below the lowest rank there until the instructor revises the lineup (usually after warmup).  If you are late to class because of something within your control (fell asleep and forgot to set alarm, forgot uniform, had to get one more block in Minecraft), then come in, bow, and do a number of pushups that you feel is the appropriate punishment for your lapse.  This requires the student to take ownership of their tardiness and allows them to set the punishment they feel is appropriate.

At the end of the day, I never want a student to NOT come to class because they might be late, even if being late is due to their own decisions.  I would rather have a student be 10 or even 20 minutes late than not come at all.  Not coming at all begins the slow decline of out-for-a-week-out-forever.