Dojo Ownership

305747_599163800094260_1835252804_nIn karate, the terms Gimu 義務, (duty or obligation) and Giri 義理 social obligation, are sometimes incorrectly used to describe the responsibilities or obligations of the dojo population. As much as we would like to proliferate Japanese traditions in the dojo, some are difficult to truly apply. I have heard karateka use Giri before when referring to actions in the dojo or association but this term can often refer to an obligation one does for another, but may not necessarily want to.

I think hokori 誇 is a more proper term as shown by a beginning adult student one evening. After finishing her training, she asked if she could come back in two hours later after yudansha keiko and do osogi 掃除 with the black belts. When I told her that it would be two hours before training ended, she smiled and even more enthusiastically asked again. This young lady came back in street clothes and still cleaned up and down the dojo floor, elbow to elbow with the yudansha and then cleaned the mirrors. 

Her gesture, enthusiasm and smile showed pride and altruism, something that is the foundation of great students. Remember that the dojo is not owned by the Sensei, it is yours. The PRIDE you show ensures a legacy for you and others to enjoy and grow.

Belt Rank

994587_647428295267810_1892988999_nIn 2008, Joe Wilson Sensei and I were sitting with some of our Okinawan seniors in the Live House where Hanshi Gibu and the Butokukan members were giving our group a kankeigai (welcome party). Nakamura san, who is a sake-in (liquor distributor) came in to join us and brought a case of Okinawan Amamori with him. We were all having a fun discussion when someone asked him what rank he was. Nakamura san shook his head with a smile and said “wasurimashita” (I can’t remember) 

Suddenly, it began to be a topic of great debate and discussion amongst the seniors to what rank he was. Nakamura san had begun karate at the Butokukan in the 70’s and was one of Gibu Sensei’s first students. Finally, the seniors asked Gibu Sensei to join the discussion and he said “Nakamura san is a yondan(4th dan).” Cheers went around the table from those who had won the bet.

Nakamura san seemed only satisfied that the answer had been found and went back into other conversations with no more attention to the matter as if someone seen a bird land outside the window. 

On Okinawa, training is the only thing that matters. When someone goes to a gym in the United States, the only thing that concerns them is to be able to get stronger or more fit. When someone is able to bench press more than they did last month, they don’t get an award or recognition, they set goals to lift more next month and to stay strong. Karate on Okinawa is the same and should be the same in dojos around the world. Rank does not change you physically, it only changes the insecure. Those who only care about training don’t care about the next rank or what rank they are compared to others, they only care about being the best they can be.

“Skill is what counts. With skill, rank is irrelevant. Without skill, rank is meaningless”. – Charles Goodin Sensei

Progress in the Dojo

Interesting enough, karate and music lessons are extremely similar. Some students start both of these activities with varying abilities. Some are very natural from the start and some struggle. However, practice outside the music lesson/karate lesson is essential for improvement and proficiency. 

Like a music student must consistently demonstrate a strong knowledge of chords/notes, scales and the ability to play actual songs, a karate student must do the same with kata(forms), techniques, self-defense, sparring, weapons, flexibility/conditioning and terminology. 

If a music student comes to his/her next lesson without practicing what was needed for that session, the teacher cannot move forward and has to waste valuable time repeating what should have been practiced by the student. This compounds over time to the point where there is nothing left that the teacher can do for the student and the music lessons are a waste of time and money. It is the students’ responsibility to practice and be prepared to move forward with their lessons. 

The word “kyu” in English refers to what grade they are in based on their belt. (ex. Yellow belt =12th kyu) So in other words, white belt is kindergarten, yellow belt is 1st grade and the higher belts represent high school/college. Although students all advanced at different rates, if they are not regularly practicing their required material outside of class and not testing once they have reached their required hours more of training at the dojo, then more practice is needed on the part of the student. It is true that some students take longer than others to grasp material as everyone has a different learning style so this means the student will have to practice harder to reach their goals as well as ask the instructor for help.

In a society that seems to think that every child should play on a team, every child should get a trophy, we do not teach false life lessons. There are martial art schools that will gladly take your money and test you or your child whenever you look “close enough or if you have signed up for the best “program.” We encourage and expect our students to earn their goals and reach their potential through their own effort and that is traditional karate. 

In short, we have provided every possible written example, curriculum outline in the dojo and on our webpage( ) to guarantee an upper hand by the student towards reaching their next belt and beyond.

It is my hope that all of our students make becoming a black belt their goal as it is the highest honor a karate student can make and then allows the student to truly begin to learn more and reach new heights and achievements. Like in boy scouts, not everyone makes it to Eagle Scout but the opportunities, instruction and information is there for everyone to, if they take advantage of it. It is the same for the dojo and the karate student.

Smoke and Mirrors


I recently part of a huge email invitation to a seminar at dojo that was hosting a “master” at bunkai. While this individual is probably a very talented and likeable karateka, this is again an issue that leads susceptible karate students and instructors astray. 
While bunkai has it’s place, we have to remember that it’s applicability mostly lies in the arrangement between practitioners, not combatants. When someone leaves a punch locked out, grabs your wrist, attacks you with a knife (all when you give them the “ok” to start) then anybody can create all sorts of possibilities of physical responses since they are controlling the arrangement. In real life, your opponent controls the arrangement and although there are things that you can do to disrupt it, real life altercations are violent and unpredictable. 

Because of this, dedication to serious training (i.e. conditioning, mechanics, proper technique, etc) is the goal, not stage combat. There are many that use bunkai like a slight of hand magic trick to create the illusion of superiority over other instructors, but on Okinawa, the greatest karate teachers were created by hard training, not smoke and mirrors.



One of the greatest experiences in my adolescence was my involvement with the Boy Scouts. A number of years ago, I was invited to receive the Troop 103 Hall of Fame Award at their annual banquet. When Bill Johnson asked me to say a few words after handing me the plaque, I was a little caught a little off guard. What I told the young men and their families was that Scouting reinforces high self expectation.
As I recited the Scout Law (A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.), I reminded the scouts that no one executes any of these ideals halfway. You live them as completely as you can throughout your life.

Gibu O’Sensei named his style Butokukan using Butoku (martial character) as the center ideal for himself and his students. In one of my private training sessions with him in 2007, we were taking a break and sat on the makiwara platform to chat. I asked him to explain what it is about Butoku that he wants us all to understand and demonstrate in our lives. The following is his response:

“When an animal dies, it leaves behind skin and bones. When a man dies, he leaves behind his name. What kind of person he was, what did others think about him. No one will remember what awards or medals he received; they will only remember what kind of person he was. Just like the school students you teach, you will not remember what grades they made on tests, but you will remember what kind of child they were. Were they respectful, did they try their best? Butoku is the most important thing that all karate students must have in the dojo and outside. It is how I want to live my life. Strong karate is important but it is worthless if you are not a kind person.”

On my trips to Okinawa, Gibu O’Sensei always encouraged me to meet some of his karate peers when the opportunity presented itself and would often personally arrange for me to visit their dojo. One of things that I always appreciated was how highly his friends spoke of him. I cannot remember a conversation with one of his fellow senior teachers where they did not reference O’Sensei a couple of times in conversation instead of just talking about themselves. They rarely spoke about his karate, they spoke about his character.

I think the greatest gift a teacher gives us is not what they physically teach us in the dojo but how they teach us to live. When we stop worrying about belts, titles in front of our names, etc, then I think we can focus on not carrying on just karate, but the character of the Sensei who gave it to us.

Osu / Spirit

Some of my black belt students were innocently asking about the expression “osu” 押す/ おっす last week after our training. They had told me that they read on a blog and also seen it on a website of how the word was not found on Okinawa and was painted as an inappropriate term that declassifies an Okinawan style from a Japanese style. While I agree it can and has been overused by the West, it has nothing to do with making one’s style or it’s teacher misinformed.

My teacher used “osu” and it was a part of the spirit of his training and the way he lived his life every day. There is not a soul who knew him on Okinawa or outside that question his integrity, the love of his island people and his devotion to Okinawan Karate. I certainly don’t need to defend him, his use of ‘Osu” and how it made him any less the Okinawan Sensei that he was and will always be.

There are too many people out there trying to make a name for themselves as “professional Karate teachers/celebrities” using webpages, blogs and how knowledgeable they are about Okinawan Karate.(If I am wrong, let’s see them remove their name from any of the social media that they use and just promote Okinawan karate) You should only be concerned about the life your teacher has led, how they trained and continuing their spirit through your training.