Forms of Address

By Erik Hofmeister

Respect and manners is the first precept for Yoshukai karate.  We use titles and formal forms of address when addressing or referring to various students.  While it is always preferable to be precise, the intent is important- if you make a slip up here and there, that’s just fine.  For those who want specific instructions, here they are.


Referring to someone

These rules are probably the least stringent.  I prefer using a title which makes it clear as to the context in which I am speaking about that person.  For example, when speaking of my Kyuki-Do training or Hapkido and referring to Ken Blumreich, I will use Sabumnim.  But when referring to him in Yoshukai or judo, I will use Sensei. You may refer to some people solely by title, such as Soke.  Use of an English honorific (Mr./Ms) and last name is the ‘minimum’ level of respect for this type of reference, as long as it is about martial arts.


Addressing a letter

For addressing a letter or email, I go with the most formal title available.  For example, when writing to Mr. Lecut for The Way newsletter, I address it as “Dear Shihan Lecut”.  When writing to Master Culbreth, I will use either “Dear Master Culbreth” or “Dear Kaicho Culbreth”. For Shodan and Nidan ranked students from other schools, I will use either “Dear Sensei X” or “Dear Mr. X”, as this latter is accepted within our organization for all ranks.


Addressing an individual

Use of “Mr./Ms.” and last name is always appropriate in a WYKKO context.  I tend not use formal titles like Shihan or Sempai, but do address Master Toyama and Culbreth as “Master”, and certainly do so for Soke.  “Sensei” without a last name is generally referring to your direct instructor- Sensei Serrian for Athens Yoshukai and Sensei Hines for Clarke County.  “Sensei Lastname” is generally used when addressing any other black belt. An exception can be made when you are working directly with a blackbelt. For example, when Master Toyama is instructing me at a camp, I will often address him as “Sensei”.  This is appropriate because that is that person’s _role_ at that time (situational authority vs. positional or rank-based). Within our dojo, for non-blackbelts with a civilian title besides Mr./Ms., we will usually use that, for example “Dr.”.


At the end of the day, many of these are personal preferences and are not codified.  You will never go wrong with addressing someone as “Mr./Ms. Lastname” in WYKKO. The protocol described here is a more elegant, sophisticated approach.

Student Engagement Pt.2

By Erik Hofmeister

This is the second of a short two-part series.


One of the greatest obstacles to improving student engagement is that instructors don’t know how to engage their students.  Most of us have learned from the apprenticeship of observation- we teach how our instructors teach. Maybe that is a good model for some, but it leaves out the important component of WHY our instructors do certain things.  This post presents some strategies you can implement to improve student engagement. While they work for all ranks, this set is focused on color belt students.


Ask questions according to Bloom’s taxonomy.

If you don’t know about it, Google it.  All students can handle questions aimed at all levels of the taxonomy.  Even simple questions like “What part of the hand do we punch with?” are valuable.  They promote engagement, they allow you to check student knowledge to make sure they are learning what you want them to, and they help the students learn what is most important.  More complex questions like “Why do we punch with the first two knuckles?” helps students reflect on their knowledge. Even more complex questions like “Is the ridge hand or knife hand a stronger strike?” allow students to begin to evaluate their knowledge.  Now, this is martial arts class, not a discussion seminar, so don’t go overboard. Try adding two questions to your classes for the next month and see what happens.


Have students interact with each other.

Students can learn from each other, help hold each other accountable, and increase engagement by interacting.  This can be stimulated by a question- “You three discuss what you think the best response to this attack is and be prepared to show us.”  It can be stimulated by a reflective discourse- “You three talk to each other about the hardest part of this kata for you and what you are doing to overcome it.”  It can be stimulated by a creative exercise- “You two come up with a short self defense routine that you can show the class.” The key is to get students talking and working with each other, not just following your explicit commands at every turn.  Try at least one cooperative learning exercise and see what the students think of it.


Have students demonstrate and describe/explain to the class.

One of my favorite tools is to call out a student who is doing a technique exceptionally well and show them off to the class.  “Everyone pause and look at Sensei Dawkins’ angle- that is how it should be.” This not only makes the student proud- rightfully so- but can be a springboard for a new way to learn something.  “Sensei Dawkins, briefly tell us what you are doing to accomplish that.” This causes the student to reflect- and engage- and they may provide some tidbit that will help the other students. Each time you run a kata or a drill, try to identify one student who is doing particularly well, have them show off, and ask them to share how they are able to be successful.


There are three simple but effective strategies to improve student engagement and enhance learning.  Try them next time you teach martial arts students!

Student Engagement Pt.1

By Erik Hofmeister

This is the first of a short two-part series.


Tell me – I forget.

Show me – I remember.

Involve me – I understand.


Students pursue martial arts for a variety of reasons.  One thing is consistent: if they aren’t engaged, they probably aren’t learning, and they probably won’t stay long.  Engagement means a student orienting to a task, having some interest in it, being challenged by it, and ultimately being involved in learning.  Disengagement is usually easy to get- just stand in front of a class and drone monotonously for about an hour without asking any questions, changing your pacing, or changing your style of presentation.  Many college classes are like this, and are terrible at getting student engagement.

Encouraging engagement is complicated, but it’s not complex.  Give students something to do. Ask them intriguing questions.  Make them active learners and not passive learners. Have them interact with each other.  There are dozens of strategies, some of which we will go over in the next few posts.

Besides this short blog post series, how do you learn about exercises, or drills, or questions to ask to engage students?  Talk to your peers- everyone has different exercises! Books can be good resources- almost every martial arts book has its own set of exercises and drills.  Of course, the internet if filled to bursting- “martial arts exercises” is a fine place to start. Be careful about making everything new all the time.

When Sensei Blumreich and I were first getting to work out together, he showed me many binders filled with elaborate and detailed warmup plans.  This contrasts with my warmups, which are pretty routine and similar from class to class. He initially felt he would be bored by my warmups. After doing them for a while, though, he said he actually liked having a similar routine.  It allowed him to zone out and just focus on his workout and pushing himself, instead of trying to figure out all these different exercises. So change it up a little bit, or on occasion, but realize there may be value in regularity and consistency, too.


What are arguments against increasing student engagement?

Complaint: You have to learn new skills.

Solution: Learning new skills is GOOD for you.

Complaint: You have to practice something different.

Solution: You practice your karate- why not your teaching?

Complaint: It takes too much time.

Solution: If you spend 30 minutes teaching a technique but the students are disengaged, you didn’t teach them anything.  I would rather spend 40 minutes teaching them a technique with engagement, so they will actually learn.


Many instructors don’t understand engagement or know enough about it.  Let’s fix that.


By Erik Hofmeister

At the start of a class, the highest-ranked student has a choice: do a formal bow-in or an informal bow-in.  Generally, if the highest-ranked student is visiting another school, if a promotion is occurring, or if time permits, a formal bow is preferred.  An informal bow consists of the highest-ranked student facing the other students (facing away from shomen) and calling, “Kiyotske, rei.” and everyone bows.  This is tachirei- standing bow.

A formal bow involves the highest-ranked student calling “Seiza!”.  Everyone then kneels, left knee first, to seiza position. The highest-ranked student calls “Mokuso!” and everyone closes their eyes.  Everyone breathes in through the nose, out through the mouth, expanding the diaphragm, and clearing their mind. The highest-ranked student then calls “Kaimoku!” and everyone opens their eyes.

The next command is “Soke-ni, rei!”.  This is a bow to Soke Yamamoto. Everyone holds for a four count (ichi, ni, san, shi) and then comes up.

Assuming one of the directors is not leading the bow, the next command is “Kaicho-ni, rei!”.  This is a bow to Kaicho Toyama and Kaicho Culbreth. Everyone holds for a four count, then comes up.

At a small dojo and when high-ranked visitors are not present, the second-highest-ranked student (Second) now has a choice.  If the highest-ranked student (Highest) is also the head instructor of the school where the bow is taking place, the Second should call “Sensei-ni, rei!”  If the Highest is not the head instructor, the command is “Title-ni, rei!” Acceptable variations in either case include, “Mr/Ms lastname, rei!”, “Title lastname, rei!”, and “Mr/Ms lastname, thank you for today’s training/today’s test, etc., rei!”.

This process is zarei, or kneeling bow.  The zarei is a time for all students to reflect on their role within the WYKKO, and to help cement relationships and the rank structure of each dojo.

Starting a Dojo

Although not every student wants to have their own school, my personal goal is to help every student who wants to open their own school do so.  Starting a school is probably easier than you think, although it depends on the type of school. Starting a for-profit commercial school is like starting any business, requiring a business plan, startup costs, etc.  Starting a club or free school is relatively easy.


1) Talk to your instructor.

This should go without saying, but if you have even an inkling of wanting to start your own school, talk with your instructor and other higher ranked students.  Your instructor has gone through the process, and can provide information, support, and perspective. In the WYKKO, your instructor’s approval is virtually a requirement for opening an official branch dojo.


2) Find a location.

The hardest step is to find an actual place to hold training.  Let’s assume you’re not wealthy enough to buy or rent a commercial space.  Your options are to use your home, a city or county space, or space in an existing business like a gym, dance studio, or yoga studio.


2a) Use your home.

Unless you live somewhere with perfect weather, you’ll probably need an indoor location.  If your house has a single large (500 sq ft) room, it is workable. Some people use their garage, but such a space rarely has an appropriate floor, unless it has been remodeled.  You can also build an addition, but the price for such is around $60-100/sq ft. Enticing students to come to a private home is difficult due to distance from central areas and cultural bias against strangers going to a private residence.  If you live in an apartment complex, a common-use area may be the perfect solution.


2b) City or County Space

The recreation department of a city or county is a good starting place.  If there isn’t a martial arts program in place, they may be willing to accept proposals for starting one.  They may have students register through them, or they may just allow you to schedule the space and manage the school yourself.


2c) Existing business

A related business which has the space and open time slots may be willing to host a dojo.  The easiest arrangement is for students to pay the hosting business the usual rate for classes.  An alternative is to charge students directly and then pay the hosting business. The most important thing is establishing clear expectations and a positive relationship up front.  If the hosting business is hoping or expecting dojo students to eventually sign up for their business (such as a gym), that should be made clear to the students.


3) Get authorization.

Although mostly taken care of by item 1, the parent organization will need to approve your dojo.  For the WYKKO, this requires confirmation by Kaicho Toyama and Kaicho Culbreth. Usually, your instructor will initiate this conversation.  Once you’re authorized, you can begin training students!


4) Marketing and attracting students.

Product, price, place, and promotion are the classic principles of marketing.  Why would a student want to come to your school? What do you offer that differs from their other entertainment options, or even other martial arts options?  Where and how can you advertise your dojo? People are bombarded with so much passive advertising, active marketing is much more effective, but consequently more time consuming.


5) Be patient.

Some days you’ll come to class and no one will show up.  Sometimes there will be only one or two students. This is typical for the first year, and as long as you have some students who keep coming back and having fun, you should persevere.  If you have no students show up or no students come back, you may need to reconsider your approach to be successful.


Opening and running a dojo is one of the best, most satisfying things I have ever done personally.  It hits the three principles of motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. If you’ve done martial arts for long enough to earn a black belt and enjoy teaching and organizing, starting a school is a minor step in contrast.  You should do it.


By Erik Hofmeister

The actual translation for Yoshu is hard to come by, but it is at least approximately “continued improvement”, which is how we use the word in Yoshukai Karate.  It’s easy to “keep getting better at stuff”, particularly in karate. You always continue to learn in karate, even at very high ranks. Keep coming to class and you keep getting better.  It’s a simple recipe. Yoshu, though, can and should be applied to your out-of-dojo life.

It is my opinion that human beings should continue to get better as people over time.  “Better” is subjective and may include physical, intellectual, spiritual, psychological, etc. development.  This improvement should translate to improvement in your life- in your happiness and contentment. I am always sad when I encounter older people who are angry, discontent, and clearly not enjoying life.  They have, in my opinion, missed the point. You should be “better” at 30 than you were at 20. Better at 50 than you were at 30.

Getting better is hard.  It’s hard in terms of time and cognitive burden.  People resist change, because there is an implicit judgement that how we are right now is not acceptable.  There needs to exist a dual perspective- being happy with who you are but nonetheless wanting to improve. This requires no judgement of your current state- so that you can be happy- and simultaneously motivating yourself to improve without that judgement.

It’s a difficult balance to strike.  Many people have concerns about their physical being, such as being overweight.  It’s unhealthy to be depressed or despondent about being overweight. However, blithely accepting being overweight without any desire to improve is also counter-productive.  People should seek a balance, where they can be accepting of themselves as being overweight while also wanting to improve. Acknowledging the truth without judgement (“Yes I am overweight and I am happy with myself but I still want to get my weight down”) is a healthy step in the right direction.

While it is a comedy website, Cracked has addressed this in ways far better than I can.  I encourage you to read the article below and continue to contemplate: how can I be better than I am now by next year?


4 Simple Changes That Instantly Make You A Better Person


The 4 Kinds of People (And What You Can Learn From Them)


3 Things You Don’t Get Any Better at With Old Age

Why Learning Japanese Matters

By Erik Hofmeister

KarateKanjiRikkiHitatsuFor the test to Shodan, there is a written component which includes questions about Japanese terminology.  Athens Yoshukai has written tests starting at blue belt expecting a basic understanding of karate-related Japanese words.  Commands in advanced classes and tests are given largely in Japanese. Why? Couldn’t the command just as easily be “right leg front kick” as “migi ashi mae geri”?

Yoshukai is a traditional martial art.  One of the elements of that is learning, understanding, and respecting the cultural origins of the style.  Language is a major contributor to culture. Learning the little bit of Japanese we do helps us to understand the Japanese culture and pay homage to it within the context of karate.

In my opinion, traditional arts require a mental or cerebral component in addition to the physical aspects.  It’s not enough to be able to DO karate, you need to understand and KNOW karate. The language requirement helps to highlight that cerebral component and requires effort studying.  Before a test, a student can’t just run through kata and techniques- they also need to study written material.

Finally, our organization is tightly associated with Yoshukai Japan.  Students may be called upon to understand a Japanese speaker giving commands in the dojo.  Some students may travel to Japan, and having some rudimentary understanding of the language is helpful.

Learning Japanese can be frustrating for some students.  This is particularly true if you don’t understand the utility and need.  Demonstrating your understanding of Japanese for karate can be a point of pride- look at this cool piece of information you have for communicating about karate!  For anyone who has tried to learn martial-arts-related Korean, Japanese is a breeze, so be thankful you don’t have to learn Korean!

Types of Authority

By Erik Hofmeister

You’re an experienced, but enlisted-ranked, military firefighter and arrive on the scene of a fire.  There’s an officer on the scene from another unit with no MilitaryRanksKaratefirefighting experience and a lowly ranked private already fighting the fire.  Do you A) tell people how to put out the fire or B) wait for the officer to give orders or C) allow the private to continue their efforts?  There are three types of authority in rank-structured organizations like the military and the dojo: rank-based, positional, and situational.

Rank-based authority is the most obvious.  A brown belt gives instructions to a green belt because they are a higher rank, and so have authority over the lower ranked students. Obviously, this authority extends only within the dojo and with karate-related tasks.

Positional authority is that given in titles independent of rank.  At Athens Yoshukai, this is the instructor structure- Head Instructor, Senior Instructor, Instructor, and Assistant Instructor.  Students in the instructor hierarchy have authority when it comes to the management of the dojo and teaching of students. If a high-ranked student bows in class who is not in the instructor hierarchy, they then turn the running of the class over to the highest instructor.

Situational authority is often dependent on who is on the scene first with some ability and knowledge to handle a situation.  If a student has an injury, the first person to tend to them with any first aid knowledge can give others orders, regardless of their rank or positional authority.  If you encounter a situation that needs management, you must give specific orders to individuals (e.g. pointing at a person, “YOU, call 911!”) as opposed to diffuse orders to a group (“Someone call 911!”).

The interplay of each of these is unquestionably complex and requires consideration. Layered on top of this is the dichotomy of dojo-associated activities and non-dojo-associated activities.  When in doubt, ask a high rank or the head instructor what the appropriate course of action in a given situation is.

Karate Should be Fun

By Erik Hofmeister

My wife put off trying karate for years.  When she finally agreed to try it out, she said, “I’ll keep doing it until it’s not fun.”  I thought this was a terrific philosophy. I think some people may object because they think karate should be hard, or painful, or a struggle.  Some classes, or even stretches of time, are unpleasant. I don’t disagree-anything worth doing is hard. But shouldn’t it also be fun?


Something fun is something we find enjoyable.  Something enjoyable gives us pleasure, which is a state of being happy or satisfied.  There are many ways to achieve happiness or satisfaction, but scientific studies suggest five major contributors: pleasure (sensation), engagement (absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity), relationships, meaning, and accomplishments.  Karate touches on all five of these.

Although training can be hard, and sometimes suffering is involved, ultimately being active and athletic gives us a positive, euphoric sensation.  If karate is constant suffering, or we do not experience that pleasurable component after working hard, something may be wrong.

Engagement is achieved through performance of repetitive actions, kata, and other activities which allow us to be purely in the moment.  We don’t need to worry about work, or significant others, or similar distractions. We can be focused, similar to purposeful meditation. A class period passes and it seems like just 10 minutes elapsed.

Although karate is not a group sport, relationships are extremely important.  I believe most karate students continue with their training because they make friends in the dojo and have positive social contacts.  Working with peers, going to events together to have shared experiences, and talking with fellow students before or after class or at social functions all help to foster positive human contact.

Meaning is provided by students contributing to the growth of the dojo, teaching other students, participating in WYKKO events, and feeling that they make a contribution to the school and organization.  Opportunities for meaning need to be carefully cultivated. It is easy for a student to just show up, do class, and go home, without thinking of how important they are for the dojo or organization.

Accomplishments are obvious in martial arts- we have a rank system, with a clear hierarchy, which provides a visible confirmation of accomplishment.  In addition to the rank system, individual skills can be small accomplishments- executing a break perfectly, or perfecting a kick, or learning an entire kata.  Accomplishments abound in karate.

Doing karate should be fun.  All five characteristics that contribute to happiness can be present, if the student and the instructor are mindful and careful to cultivate those characteristics.  Even after having a hard class, where you sweated and suffered and groaned and even hurt a little, it should still have been fun.

If karate isn’t fun for you, reflect on why that may be.  Are you not able to be engaged, due to too much stress or the exercises not being appropriate?  Do you have some physical pain which makes activity not pleasurable? Do you feel socially not a part of the group?  Do you feel that you lack meaning, or that your participation is not appreciated? Do you have a hard time identifying your accomplishments, or are you too focused on rank-based accomplishments to not appreciate other accomplishments?  In any of these circumstances, you should talk to other students and the instructor. You should be happy doing karate, but you may need to take some active steps to overcome any barriers you have to that happiness.



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.