Karatedo is a rich, complex art that can be pursued for a lifetime. For the benefit of prospective students, this page describes typical dojo training in Shorinji Ryu.

What Can I Expect?

Practice sessions begin promptly at the scheduled time. After the formal opening of practice, an instructor leads the group through a series of warm-up exercises. The pace of training is rapid. Multiple sets of activities are followed by brief intervals of rest during which the instructor may ask for and answer questions; otherwise there is usually little talking during the session. With the formal closing of practice, training is over until the next meeting.

Where Do I Begin?

Whether you are a multi-sport athlete or a couch potato, karatedo training begins with the practice of basic movement patterns, with an emphasis on improving stability, mobility, and symmetry. Karatedo differs from many physical activities in engaging the full range of movement of the human body in a balanced, dynamic way. This provides excellent wellness and fitness benefits, but it also calls for patience, perseverence, and close attention to coaching.

Most students participate in a few sessions of dojo training per week. During these sessions, your instructors will help you assess your fitness level and give you advice on training outside the dojo. Whether you are already active or are trying to establish better fitness habits, you will find that your progress in karatedo is enhanced by a sensible diet, plenty of sleep, and regular practice outside the dojo.

Regardless of your fitness level or prior experience, traditional karatedo training can be humbling. It's natural to struggle with fatigue and frustration. Try to check your ego at the door of the dojo. Keep an open mind and encourage yourself and your fellow students to train hard. Approached in this spirit, karatedo will be deeply rewarding, whether pursued for a short time or for decades.

What Will I Learn?

After several months of consistent training, most students will be able to demonstrate the following knowledge and skills:

  • Follow dojo etiquette and protocol (taitaikyo)
  • Understand and use basic Japanese karatedo vocabulary
  • Demonstrate basic movement patterns that are both stable and mobile (tachi waza)
  • Perform basic punches, strikes, kicks, and defenses (tsuki waza, uchi waza, geri waza, uke waza) under increasingly dynamic conditions
  • Demonstrate the ability to defend and counterattack against a range of attacks from opponents (kumite)
  • Perform and receive joint-locking techniques, throws, and pins (kansetsu waza, nage waza, ukemi waza, osaekomi waza)
  • Perform and interpret the following kata:
    • Taikyoku Shodan, Nidan, and Sandan
    • Heian Shodan and Nidan
    • Other kata as determined by the instructor

What Are Kihon Waza?

Kihon waza are basic techniques, including methods of standing and moving (tachi waza), punching (tsuki waza), striking (uchi waza), kicking (geri waza), defending (uke waza), grappling (kansetsu waza), and throwing and falling (nage waza, ukemi waza).

Like all complex motor skills, karatedo techniques are best learned through constant repetition and careful correction of form. Kihon waza training develops spatial awareness, coordination, and the ability to move in a fluid, balanced way while maintaining the body alignment needed to defend and counterattack with power and accuracy. Partner drills reinforce good movement and sensory habits and provide opportunities to experience and understand the application of tactical principles.

Kihon waza are essential to the effective use of karatedo for self-defense. Shorinji Ryu training involves constant practice of kihon waza, both individually and with partners.

What Are Kata?

Kata are the essence of traditional karatedo. These sequences of prearranged attacks and defenses have sometimes been compared to dance because of their dynamism and grace. It is more accurate to describe kata as "textbooks" of karatedo. Many kata are known to be almost 200 years old, and some are believed to be much older. They date from the period of Okinawan history when karate training was conducted in secret, without written records. To share their favorite combat principles and tactics, teachers created kata encoding the skills and understanding necessary to control various acts of interpersonal violence.

Shorinji Ryu students practice and study kata constantly. Achievement of kyu and dan rankings depends on learning, understanding, and performing kata.

Bunkai, or anaylses of kata, are subsets of kata movements practiced as pre-arranged kumite. This partner study is fundamental to understanding the practical applications of kata and the principles underlying them.

What Is Kumite?

Kumite, or sparring, is an essential aspect of karatedo training, providing a laboratory setting in which the functional value of techniques can be tested and refined. Kumite training also develops spirit, humility, and courtesy.

Kumite training ranges from simple two-person drills, to analytical practice of kata elements, to jiyu kumite (free sparring). Kumite is practiced both at the long ranges typical of tournament matches and the close ranges characteric of self-defense situations. In the latter context, grappling, throwing, and groundfighting are studied with particular care.

Ordinarily no protective equipment is used in the Shorinji Ryu dojo. To preserve the realism of jiyu kumite techniques without excessive risk of injury, punches, kicks, and strikes are focused short of penetrating contact, and many potentially dangerous tactics are excluded. In addition to non-contact kumite, experienced students also practice bogu kumite, using body armor, headgear, and hand protectors for contact sparring. In all forms of kumite, mutual respect and safety are mandatory.

Many students choose to compete in tournaments (shiai), but overall kumite training in Shorinji Ryu does not emphasize preparation for competition. Tournament sparring is an exciting and rewarding experience, and if you have a strong interest in competing, you should discuss it with your instructors so that they help you plan your training and identify appropriate events. However, it's important for students to recognize that safety and scoring requirements necessarily limit the realism of tournament competition; the skills needed for tournament success can sometimes run counter to practical skills of personal protection. Too much emphasis on training for tournament competition could actually interfere with development of functional skills and with understanding of basic principles.

The purpose of kumite is to help students acquire the skills and maturity needed to overcome aggression and violence in real life. Ultimately, the physical challenges of karatedo training should instill a deeper sense of compassion, humanity, and commitment to the protection of other people.

What Is Kobudo?

Kobudo is the use of traditional Okinawan weapons such as the bo, sai, and tonfa. Students benefit most from kobudo training after gained a basic grounding in empty-hand skills. Like the empty-hand art, kobudo training includes basic techniques, kata, and two-person drills.

Kobudo arts strengthen the connection of the empty-hand art to older warrior traditions. Training with weapons develops greater skills in managing fighting distances and in generating power through relaxation and speed. Partner training with weapons improves attention, decisiveness, and fighting spirit.