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!


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.


Continued Improvement

By Megan Lyn PowellMegan Powell with Soke Yamamoto

I began taking karate classes in the Fall of 2012 in the Tate Student Center at UGA. I had never been an athletic person, so this was all new to me. I was there to learn a few things, have some fun and workout. Mostly I just wanted to have fun!

Right away I learned some need-to-know basics such as punches, blocks and kicks. When it came time to learn inside and outside center blocks, one word described me: uncoordinated. Just when I thought I did it correctly and tried to replicate it, something would go awry. Sensei Dawkins was patient. It took me about two or three weeks of classes to finally get the hang of the blocks, but I finally conquered them!

Fast forward a few weeks and I was learning kata (Nijushichi No Kata and Kihon Kata Shodan). We had class twice per week and I wanted to practice more. One of the topics discussed during warm up was practicing on your own. Sensei Dawkins emphasized how useful it was to practice more. My thought at the time was, “…but I don’t want to mess up and learn it the wrong way.”

Athens Tournament with MLPSoon enough I began practicing in my apartment. I cannot say I always did my kata correctly. I am quite sure there were times when I messed up the order of the blocks in Nijushichi. Or I probably had my feet in the wrong position in Kihon Kata Shodan. The most important thing was just that I was doing it for myself.

Slowly but surely I began to notice that karate was helping me. I soon noticed that I could perform the correct block, punch, or kick the majority of the time. The most important lesson I have learned is Continued Improvement. What does it really mean?

Continued improvement is a common thread that is tied to almost every aspect, if not all, in the WYKKO. In testing to 4th kyu we learn that Yoshukai really has two meanings (Strive for Excellence and Association of Continued Improvement). We all have some aspect of Yoshukai that we strive to improve. We want our kata to look sharp, our fighting to be top-notch, etc. We may aim for a stronger mae geri, becoming more efficient with nunchuka/sai, and so forth. This gives us that drive to want to improve. There is always a technique or kata that we can become better at executing, or teaching to other students. This is what helps us to continually improve and grow as martial artists. It also can impact other facets of our lives. School, work, parenthood, working out, etc. are just a few examples where we can always aim for continued improvement. Taking what we learn from martial arts and applying it to everyday life helps us as human beings to constantly progress.

Continued improvement really just means to always aim to be better than you were yesterday or the day before. Whether this be in the form of martial arts or not, it is an important lesson that we can all learn.

Rikki Hitatsu!

Athens Yoshukai Karate - MLP Brown Belt


By Dala Griffeth

I don’t want to fight you, but we can spar!

Any time I tell someone for the first time that I practice karate, they always start talking about how I must be able to beat people up, or I must love to fight. The truth is that while we all know fighting is part of our traditional training, it is not who we are. I believe sparring as well as kumite to be incredibly valuable in martial arts training to help develop the reflexes, strength and stamina necessary to practice our art at the highest level. However, your attitude and intentions regarding this training and its use are equally, if not more important.

Through my years training with the WYKKO, I have met and fought some incredible fighters, and I have learned something from every single one. And while many of these incredibly talented individuals spend a majority of their training time developing their fighting skills, there is not one of them that I would consider violent. This is something that I love about training with the WYKKO, and particularly Athens Yoshukai. We, as martial artists, understand that we are participating in a combative, contact sport, but I feel that we emphasize the sport aspect more than the combat. We never go into the ring attempting to injure our opponent, or hoping to cause any lasting damage. We instead focus on improving our own skills and fitness levels, as well as helping our training partners improve themselves and develop new skills. As a result, we build an incredibly tight network of, not just training partners or teachers and students, but true friends.

My personal philosophy regarding fighting and sparring can be summed up pretty simply by the title of this post: I don’t want to fight you, but we can spar! When I think of fighting, I think of a situation where there are no rules, and I am in a struggle to protect myself or my loved ones from an opponent that wants to cause real harm. And while we practice full contact kumite, there are guidelines in place to ensure the safety of participants. And that, I think, is the big difference, the intent. In a real-life situation, I would do whatever is necessary to protect myself or my loved ones. But in general, I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just want to improve myself. So please, to anyone out there who wants to teach me something, or would like to learn from my experience, I don’t want to fight you, but we can spar! Osu!

Making Time for Martial Arts

By Hali Serrian

AthensYoshukaiTimeForKarateWith all the activities we have to fill our life—work, school, other hobbies, kids/family, so on and such—it can be easy to let something slip through the cracks. Since work and family tend to take a priority, for just reasons, oftentimes it is a hobby, perhaps martial arts, that slips through the cracks. It starts simply enough; miss one class one week, two the next, the third week you are unable to attend any class. From there it can be a slippery slope into “never having time” for class and getting out altogether. This is a sad end to what was presumably an enjoyable hobby at the very least, if not something much more meaningful.

We have a limited amount of time for “non-essential” activities. And unless martial arts is your livelihood, then that is the category where training Yoshukai and other martial arts falls. From there, training has to be a priority in order for it to continue. Because you will have to give up time doing something else in order to come to class, even if that something else is chilling out in front of the T.V.  But, as anyone who has been training for an extended amount of time will tell you, it’s totally worth it.

You don’t have to be a super-karateka and come to four classes a week, nor do you have to train in three different styles to reap the benefits of martial arts. But you do have to come to class one or two times a week. One or two hours of a seven day week isn’t so much to ask for something that will give you lifetime benefits.

If you have decided to dedicate yourself to martial arts as an activity, go ahead and make it a priority. It will give back what you put in, so go ahead and put something good in.


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.”

What is a black belt really worth?

By Hali SerrianAthens Yoshukai Tournament Bow In

The ranking system is so ingrained in karate culture that most of us don’t even stop to question it. We line up by rank. We defer to higher ranks. We know a black belt should be better at karate than us. But take a step back and questions come to mind: who started the ranking system and when? How did it develop? Why do we have colored belts? If someone is a black belt, how good should they be?

As ancient as it seems, the colored belt/black belt ranking system has only been used in martial arts for a little more than 100 years. Jigaro Kano, founder of Judo, was the first one to Athens Yoshukai Soke Visitconfer black belts on his students in the 1880s. They were sashes rather than proper belts, as they wore kimono rather than dogi (these were developed later, also by Professor Kano). There were black belts and white belts, no in between. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the colored belts were added in between white and black.

Contrary to what the movies and assumption teach, having a black belt does not mean a martial arts practitioner is a walking weapon of destruction, ready to defeat anything that crosses his path. Rather black belt, or Shodan (which we know means “first”) denotes that a practitioner is competent in the basic techniques, philosophies and principles of his chosen style. If a martial arts journey is a flight of stairs, Shodan is the first step. All the kyu grades (the colored belts) are the landing leading to the stairs.

Does this mean the kyu grades are pointless? Of course not. You have to get to the stairs somehow. The kyu grades help those of us who haven’t been practicing martial arts for 30+ years a way to measure our progress, just as the degrees of black belt help to measure the progress of those more experienced. The kyu grades divide three years of material and study into manageable three to six month chunks. It allows more senior Athens Yoshukai Color Belt Teststudents to teach junior students (say a green belt teaching a yellow belt) with a certain amount of authority and confidence. It gives more externally motivated students a clear goal that they can strive for. And it allows incremental improvements to be made on various techniques, with a certain improvement to be made with each rank.

Just because someone is a black belt does not mean they are a super duper awesome martial artist in all aspects. There are fighters and kata folks and teachers and everywhere in between. But if a person does have a black belt, especially in our dojo, you can be assured they at least have a grasp of the basic concepts of Yoshukai. They are no longer a basic student; they are a true learner of the style, one who has put in great time and effort to achieve that rank. That is what a black belt really is; time and effort. Competency, and later excellence, comes when those two requirements are met.

For more information on the history of the ranking system, see this article: http://www.minrec.org/wilson/pdfs/History%20of%20Belts%20and%20Ranks.pdf

Or there’s also Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_belt_%28martial_arts%29

Athens Yoshukai Dawkins