Advancement Requirements

By Erik Hofmeister

The nuts and bolts of requirements for advancement are available in each style’s curriculum.  Usually, there is a combination of time in rank (i.e. number of months that has elapsed since last promotion), number of hours in class since last promotion, learning new techniques, and refinement of existing techniques.  Usually, each of these must be met at a minimum.  That is, you cannot have the minimum number of class hours and then test unless you also have the time in rank and KarateQuotePathadvancement of techniques.  Why, if you’ve learned all the material in a month, can you not just test and promote?

1) Dwell Time

This is the term I give for learning or improving material, and then time passing.  Maybe you practice that material, maybe you don’t.  After a period of time, trying the same techniques, you will have learned something, or developed.  Not as much as if you had been practicing, obviously, but the brain has had some time to process the information, integrate it into what it already knows, and evolve around that information.  Even if you practice your techniques every day for a month, you will learn something different if you practice the technique once a month for a quarter of a year.  I’m not advocating this as a way to actually learn the technique well- that requires actual practice.  But your knowledge and understanding will evolve just with time.  There is no substitute for time.

2) Giving Back

A student could just come to class and learn the material and soak it up in fewer class hours or fewer months than the minimum.  In doing so, though, they likely will not attend enough class to learn how to apply it (in sparring) or practice teaching it.  Teaching is a critical part of Athens Yoshukai.  It makes students better by improving their understanding, and allows students to give back to the dojo by helping more junior students learn in a smaller group setting.  If a student only learns techniques, their understanding will always be more limited than if they also teach those techniques.

3) Parity

Not all students are equal in athleticism, ability to learn material, ability to attend class, and many other variables.  The minimum requirements help maintain some equality among students.  No matter how many classes you attend or how long you hold a rank, you must learn the material for the next rank and spend the required necessary time in your current rank. If you are able to come to class every day, you must still have that minimum time in rank.  This helps to make sure that all students have a similar rate of opportunity to advance. Again, the more time you put in, the better.  But the minimums help maintain some equality among students.

In addition to the stated minimums and curriculum, there are other important intangibles that affect advancement.  Students should show that they follow the five precepts in the dojo.  Students who are resistant to instruction, who are not respectful to their peers, or have other attitude problems- even apparently minor ones- may not advance.  Yoshukai is not only about technique.  If it were, we would be a karate-jutsu.  Yoshukai is about a way of life and a philosophy.  The combination of time in rank, class hours, learning technique, improving technique, and intangibles are all necessary for advancement in this karate-do.  This is a traditional art, with traditional ideals.  For a more American, monetized way of doing things, try a different style.

A young boy encountered a Zen master on his travels.  “What do you wish from me?” the master asked.  “I wish to be your student and achieve enlightenment,” the boy replied “How long must I study?”  “At least ten years,” answered the master.  “What if I studied twice as hard?” asked the boy.  “Twenty years” replied the master.  “Twenty years!” “What if I practice day and night with all my effort?” the boy asked.  “Thirty years,” was the master’s reply.  “How is it that each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?” the boy asked.  “The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the way.”



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!

Teaching Improves Learning

By Erik Hofmeister

In medicine, we have an (arguably broken) saying: see one, do one, teach one. This month, Ken, Susan, Hali, Jon, and I began work on our Martial Arts Certification for Instructors.  This program, we hope, will make us better teachers. And that’s important.

As soon as students are capable, I try to get them involved in teaching other students.  There is a lot of evidence coming out of educational psychology that indicates people learn better in a collaborative setting, when they can both learn and teach.  In fact, the lecture setup- where someone just spouts information at attentive students- is one of the least efficient means of teaching information.

I regularly learn while teaching. I distinctly remember teaching a turn in a Kyuki-Do form- the second form you ever learn- which had been a very difficult move for me to master.  After teaching it, I was able to conceptualize it in a different way which made the move much easier (I still call it the hardest move you learn in Kyuki-Do before your blackbelt).   If you’re not learning when you’re teaching, then maybe something is wrong.

I used to think that students would just know how to teach.  It’s not something that anyone ever taught me, so I never thought of it as a separate skill.  That is, until I encountered students who needed a lot of work to develop their teaching skill.  I realized that I couldn’t just launch students into teaching other students- they needed more supervision.   Now, I watch students teach and give them feedback to make them better.  The best way to improve a skill- ANY skill, which includes teaching- is to practice it and receive feedback on your performance.  I want my students to teach like they do their kata- not just adequately, but _well_.

I see students evolve all the time after teaching.  Having to explain the material and demonstrate it makes them think of it in an entirely different way.  I find that most students don’t really start to learn a form until they teach it.  Teaching students how to teach has the added benefits of expanding their skill set, allows the head instructor to effectively delegate teaching roles, and prepares the students to be instructors themselves in the future.  More students teaching and learning how to teach equals good.  Athens Yoshukai, the Teaching Dojo.

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.

Hidden Training, Part 2- Recovery

By Daniel Williams

This post is the second of post of a three-part series covering hidden training, or how things that you do outside of practice can either improve or impair your athletic performance. Part 1- Nutrition, can be found here.

This post discusses recovery, and Part 3 will discuss study.


You put a lot of strain on your body by doing karate. For several hours a week, you practice skills and techniques that require large amounts of muscular effort, energy, and concentration. Proper nutrition is the best way to fuel your body for these endeavours, but if you want to maintain a regular training schedule and continue to steadily progress, you need to exercise the following good recovery practices as well:

1) Rehydrate. As mentioned in Part 1, you need to drink plenty of water after class to restore the water you have lost due to sweating. Individual needs can vary, so aim for quenching your thirst and steadily drinking water after class, rather than trying to chug down a specific quantity. If you don’t like the taste of water, try adding natural flavorings like lemon juice or try letting a tea bag slowly steep in your water bottle.

2) Get plenty of sleep. During sleep is when your body releases human growth hormone, which helps you regenerate muscle cells damaged by exercise. Not getting enough sleep can also impair your mood, hormonal balance, weight management, and memory. Most people need around 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.

3) Replenish glycogen. Glycogen is a carbohydrate energy source that is stored in your liver and muscle tissue. Your body primarily uses the glucose in your blood to fuel physical activity, but this supply is depleted after about an hour of exercise, at which point your body utilizes its glycogen supply for energy instead. If you want to work for as long and as hard as you did the last time you tapped into your glycogen stores, you can help your body replenish them by consuming a snack with somewhere between a 3:1 to a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio immediately after your workout. A piece of fruit with a handful of almonds meets these criteria, as do well-balanced protein bars, and other snack options.

4) Soothe soreness. If you are feeling sore after a class or an event, applying cold or heat can help. Cold helps to numb pain and reduce swelling, while heat helps stiff muscles to relax and recover. Anti-inflammatory medication can also help reduce swelling and soreness and is particularly useful before or after an especially demanding event, such as a test or a few rounds of semi-knockdown fighting. You can also help reduce inflammation and recover from it faster by eating a diet containing antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids.

5) Don’t ignore injuries. Strains, sprains, pulled muscles, and other more serious injuries are always possible in athletic pursuits. If you become injured and attempt to push through the pain and continue doing things that aggravate your injury, you are putting your martial arts career in jeopardy. Injuries that are not given the proper time to heal can become much worse or result in other debilitating impairments that can force you to stop your training for far longer than you would have needed to do so had you just let your injury heal appropriately. In some cases, improper injury care can lead to permanent bodily harm. Remember that our second precept is “Be prudent in action” and that our byword is patience, and treat your body with appropriate respect. If you have an injury, inform your instructor prior to class or before performing exercises that would bother it so that he or she can make appropriate accommodations for your injury. Proper care varies by injury, so consult with your instructor or another qualified source to make sure you are doing everything you can to heal as quickly as possible.

Though it takes time and planning, practicing proper recovery is absolutely essential if you want to continue to improve yourself through martial arts at a steady and continued pace. Think of this time not as an additional chore, but as an investment in your future health and performance.