Blackbelts by Rank

By Erik Hofmeister

When you attend your first WYKKO function, it’s so exciting! There are students from so many dojo, there are swarms of blackbelts talking and companionably beating on each other, the highest-ranked blackbelts are mingling.  Once the group lines up for a formal bow in, it starts to get confusing. Some people are wearing red and white belts, some black and white belts, and mixed in with all of these are some wearing regular black belts. The blackbelts are arrayed in multiple lines, without any clear visual indication of why they are in different lines.  Welcome to World Yoshukai, where a student wearing a black belt may be a Shodan or may be a Rokudan, and there is no way you can tell just by looking at them.

In some styles of martial arts, such as Tae Kwon Do, it is clear what rank blackbelt a student has by their belt.  They have a gold bar on their belt for each degree of blackbelt they hold. This makes determining the rank of any blackbelt easy and instantaneous.  You know exactly where you stand in relationship to others you have never met before. Why doesn’t the WYKKO use a similar system? I don’t know, please ask Kaicho if you have a chance and tell me what they say.  However, there are some unexpected and positive side-effects of this policy.

You know where you line up, as a blackbelt, because you have attended WYKKO events and know the others in your line personally.  You know them by name, you know when they tested, and you know who they are as people. The organization is small enough to allow this, but it does require vigilance and regular attendance.  A Sandan who does not appear to events for several years will be entirely unequipped to line up at their appropriate place.

While there are differences among ranks, we do not highlight those and push into other’s faces what our rank is.  It encourages humility- a Shodan is wearing the same belt as a Yondan. The Yondan should feel humble and not hold their rank over the Shodan, and the Shodan should feel that they are a peer to the Yondan in some regard.  We do not highlight the differences among the ranks of blackbelt. In World Yoshukai, we are all friends and know each other and should have no ego when dealing with each other.

Knowing exactly what rank a blackbelt holds is absolutely valuable.  But not knowing exactly what rank everyone holds has fringe benefits, which ultimately make our organization more friendly, humbler, and more harmonious.

What Yoshukai is All About

By Hali SerrianKarateTraditionalTournament2015Bowin

One of Yoshukai karate’s claims to fame is that it is the “Actual Fighting Karate”. Well at the Traditional Tournament in Roswell this past weekend, it certainly showed itself to be that and more.

The Atlanta Tournament is the only closed Yoshukai tournament. This means that there were only Yoshukai dojo present, doing Yoshukai forms, and everyone there was in some way related to our style. The Atlanta tournament has competitions in kata, weapons, self-defense, point sparring and semi-knockdown; there’s something for everyone. Athens Yoshukai Karate represented itself well. Dr. Elrod, Dr. Sharma, Ms. Gao, Mr. Cheesobrough, Ms. Sleeman and myself all competed, and everyone won a first-place medal, or earned a second-place medal because the first was taken by someone in our own dojo!

Before any of the competition started, there was bow in and the presentation of new blackKarateShihanLillyPromotionbelts. All those who had tested at Winter Camp were given their new belts and certificates. There was also the promotion of Shihan Lilley to 7th dan, a rare occurrence and particularly exciting. He is the fourth person in the US to earn this rank, after Master Toyama, Master Culbreth, and Master Blanck.

The first part of the tournament was black belt competition. There was Iai (sword), bo tai sai, and bo tai bo. The iai kata is intricate and precise, but KarateIaiCompetitionthere are lots of pauses and space in between the strikes, so it has a different feel to it than most of our kata. There are strikes from seiza (kneeling position) as well as standing, and there is always kiai. It was powerful to watch. Bo tai said and bo tai bo both involve partnered competitors. It’s basically Ippon Kumite with weapons. I particualary like when the bo person sweeps at the other person’s feet and they have to jump the bo or risk getting hit. Timing has to be almost perfect. With the team who won it was like watching a real fight, which is what it’s supposed to be simulating.

After the blackbelts competed, it was the colored belts’ turn. The divisions were divided into under 18 and adult, and from there divided by rank.  In the open hand forms there was a wide variety, with everything from Shiho Hai to Rho Hai Sho amongst the brown belts, and Nijushichi No Kata up to Kihon Kata Yondan among the lower ranks. It wasn’t the difficulty of the form that determined the winner, but rather the excellence of the form performed. After the forms came the fighting, something many had been waiting the whole tournament for.

KarateBlackbeltPointThe most fun part of watching the tournament was watching the blackbelt point sparring. These are karate-ka who have known each other for 20 or 30 years and they were having a grand time joking around and laughing all while trying to backspin hook kick their buddy in the head. It was quite fun to see. It was also very impressive. They weren’t just punching and kicking and flailing while trying to hit the other. They were carefully calculating how to get the point. They were distracting each other with jokes and waving hands and feints. They were trying to outsmart each other and just have a good time. It really was a game of tag to them and they were enjoying themselves, even if they lost.

Semi-knockdown is a different beast when there are really good fighters present. A good semi-knockdown match is more than two people beating on each other. The winner isn’t determined by who has better technique; it’s who has more stamina, better conditioning and, most importantly, more heart. Semi-knockdown tests the fighters’ spirit, which as we all know is one of Yoshukai’s defining characteristics. Semi-knockdown is preparation for full knockdown fighting, which is what gives Yoshukai its actual fighting karate fame. Wayward blows can lead to injuries, so control is important, and most of the competitors were able to demonstrate that control. When a blow did go wrong, and someone needed a break to check for injury, the offending fighter knelt down facing away from the other, showing respect and that they wouldn’t fight an injured opponent. This is something that  shows that respect is important to us, even between those who are fighting.

After the tournament’s end, some of the folks from our dojo and Clarke County Yoshukai went out for food and social time. It was a lot of fun, with plenty of laughter and good conversation. It emphasized the spirit behind the traditional tournament and all World Yoshukai events: to have fun with your karate friends. Whether you’re practicing in class, competing against top-tier opponents, or just having dinner after all that is done, Yoshukai is a family, and that’s why it’s a great thing to be a part of.