Dojo Protocol

We are soon moving from a temporary location to a new home for our dojo. It makes us think about dojo protocol. Questions come up about the right way to do things at the dojo. Have we become lax since moving out of the last dojo and into the temporary home?

Those who have been around say yes as it looks like a carpeted room and not like the former dojo. Bowing in and out feels different and it is easy to forget our dojo protocol. It is not our dojo home; it is a temporary place.

On Saturday, one of our head Senseis remarked that disrespect is not tolerated during the lineup. Sensei’s belief is that at the lineup, discipline is essential. Also, respect for the practice both at the beginning and end of class is achieved when the students have line discipline.

Of course the protocol we follow is an expression of our interest in upholding Japanese tradition in our karate training. We should bow each time we enter and exit the dojo and teach fellow students to follow the same pattern. Maybe like me, you sometimes inadvertently bow entering other places.

Like other sports we put on a uniform (a karate gi) and tie on our belt before entering the dojo. What is different is we train barefoot as we take our shoes off prior to entering class as well as bowing at the door.

Here is what Sensei is most sensitive about…when class begins, we line up shoulder to shoulder in rank and age order. Here we expect the students to stand in what the army would call parade rest if being addressed. When ready to bow into or out of class, we are all standing at attention.  For kids this is sometimes hard and no wiggling is allowed. We delay the class start or end until all are ready (standing still and at attention, eyes on Sensei).

Interesting thought about our attendance at the dojo: we came to the dojo and the Sensei for instruction and not the other way around. The lineup at the beginning and end of class reinforces that this is the Sensei’s dojo and as the instructor, he runs his dojo by his rules.

Observing dojo protocol from the beginning shapes students before the first punch or kick. And when we put on our gi and take off our shoes and join our fellow students in line at the beginning of class, we are observing dojo protocol.

See you in class soon.


Entering the temporary dojo


5% More

Sempi Glen here. I am in the middle of reading 5% More: Making Small Changes to Achieve Extraordinary Results by Michael Alde.  The book has a real simple message: give or do 5% more and you will achieve more.  It got me thinking about how to apply this book to karate. Before I answer—what do you think?

Today we worked on kata. It is always a good class at the dojo when we work on kata. Kata has so many moves and applications. Thinking back, I marveled at the skills of yellow belts when I was a white belt. They knew an entire kata and could run it without stopping! I was inspired. How about you? Today one of our brown belts ran a kata for the class, and the class thought it was the best kata they had seen. Our brown belt is running all her katas four times a day and would have been disappointed with another response.

The author makes this point in the book: “There is value in momentum and consistency.”  In karate we see this in the belt system. The belt system gives us hope as we see the effort we make in learning new skills paying off in the form of earning a different colored belt. With just a little practice a white belt becomes a yellow belt. And so we progress to the darker colored belts giving more effort to achieve the new belt. My guess is we gave that 5% more effort to reach the next belt.

When I was preparing for the black belt test, I knew it would be difficult. One of the black belt qualities is never giving up. During the months leading up to the test (yes, I can be a little compulsive) I applied giving just a little more to my daily schedule. My goal was to run kata four times per day. The way to fit that in began with finding the time during football huddles and commercial breaks–to get up and practice kata and still see a few plays. I came to hate the no huddle offense. Eventually I had to stop watching football altogether (until after the black belt test) and work a little bit more. That is the message from the book, just another 5% to work on your goals.

As I am preparing for the sensei test, I am wondering as I read this book “How can I practice teaching 5% more?” “What changes can I make that will make a difference for the dojo students?” The book has challenged my thinking. I am asking the question “What else can I do for the students that will translate into having a better dojo?”

Here are my thoughts. My practice, like for the black belt test, requires me to train daily on all skills: weapons, kata, fighting, self-defense, kicking, striking, blocking, stances. I cannot practice each aspect daily due to other commitments. What I can do is to think about my skills just a little more so I am always ready to teach them.

As you look at your daily and weekly schedule, what can you do just a little more of to achieve your goals? I know that after I am done writing this blog I will update my notes from the classes today and go over what I learned. What about you? See you in class soon.

What Color Is Your Belt?

Sensei Mae spoke to me last week about the color of her belt. Of course it is black…my black belt is newer than her black belt and the color is darker as the belt has not been worn as often as Sensei Mae has worn hers. Her observation? She is excited that her belt is looking a little worn. She was in Chicago this summer for a tournament and observed that all of the veteran karate senseis’ belts were worn.

We then reflected that as a beginning white belt student we could not wait to get to the next color. We do think that white belts and yellow belts are the life of the dojo which is a subject for another post.

The concept of an “aging” belt as a beginning student was foreign to us. We were just looking forward to and likely pestering Sensei about when we could test for our next belt.

Our Sensei tells the story of the ancient system of belt colors: white, brown and black. Everyone started as a white belt. Over time your belt became dirty as you learned skills and attended classes. Why a brown belt? The answer, according to Sensei, was from being thrown to the ground with sand and dirt—now you are a brown belt! Eventually, with enough time and training, the beginning belt became very dirty and turned black. Congratulations black belt!

Of course this story is a fun one to share. Sensei has also shared with us that colored belts come from judo. The number of judo students increased as they had progressive rewards while the number of karate students decreased. So, karate adopted the colored belt system.

The colors on the way to black were very important to me. Sometimes I felt like I had “earned” the belt and sometimes I did not believe I had mastered enough technique or skill to move to the next level. Someone is always better.

As Sensei Mae and I have learned, once you earn a black belt, it is like starting over at white belt again, but just on a more advanced level.  The black belt is great with the knowledge that the journey is important. As I prepare to test for Sensei this month I am again reminded how little I know and how much my teachers know.

Today, while teaching eight eager white belt kids in class, an orange belt (just two steps above their level) began warming up and kicked the kicking bag at the other end of the room. All of the kids stopped and stared at the orange belt and marveled at his skills. I am sure I would have said as the white belts appeared to be saying to themselves, “there was no way I will ever be that good!”

The lesson for Sensei Mae and me is that we are on the journey and we are always ready to learn from others. Each time I step onto the floor I am happy to practice a drill I have learned so I can begin to master it or to learn a new skill.

Keep an open mind. We do not always go over the material for a belt test. Sensei said on Saturday—you should be happy of the opposite! You should be happy we do not test you on the knowledge shared in every class—just the specific skills outlined for the test. Keep an empty mind during class so the Senseis may fill it up with knowledge. A full cup cannot be filled.

As we look at others’ belts, try not to envy them.  The color of the belt is not as important as the lessons learned and the obstacles overcome along the way. We know that our experiences are not the same as anyone else’s experiences.  This is why a black belt encourages everyone in the continual pursuit of improving the quality of one’s life through the martial arts. As the popular saying goes “A black belt is a white belt that never gave up.”

See you in class soon—with my crisp newer black belt tied on!


Fancy belt colors

Sensei or Mentor?


Sensei Steve and Sensei Sarah with our Karate Family. Thank you for teaching us good karate!

Sempi Glen here writing as I am preparing in earnest for my sensei test.

One of my morning routines is to listen to Daren Daily. It is 5 minutes of help and inspiration for my day or week. This week one of the talks was called Minding your Mentor. In this talk Daren indicated the three most important attributes were to 1. Show up 2. Ask questions 3. Do what the mentor asked you to do. And as a tip—tell them how it worked out. Wow. I think about our karate journey. Our Sensei is a mentor to us giving us direction daily in class on how to handles ourselves in different situations.

The easiest of the three parts of the minding our Sensei as a mentor is to show up for class. Okay, you might say, “I have done that this week.”

The second part asks us to do more than show up. I have shown up for class and walked through the drills. I have also shown up for class with questions. Which one are you most often at the Dojo?

Sensei Mae talked about The Importance of Taking Notes in an earlier blog. It makes reference to writing down the wisdom from Sensei after class and then asking questions to clarify understanding. Just participating in class I know that I am looking for a teaching or technique that I can incorporate into my style and my teaching. I really enjoy the class where we are challenged to polish just a little bit of technique. Last Monday we took some of the Green and higher belts and worked on spinning. Sensei was looking at the starting and ending stances and how the foot was moved. I wrote that down in my notebook and worked on practicing it during the week. What a great teaching. Were you there for a class like that? Do you want to share your experience?

The most difficult of the three parts may be putting the drill or exercise into practice after you leave class. My Application of Technique blog was about putting into practice what Sensei said to do. The lesson I learned was about practicing skills. If we practice them they become ingrained in our neuromuscular memories. Once there, we do not have to think about them when needed.  As a white belt I had to think long and hard about a down block. Now I just perform a down block as I have done a lot of down blocks. Thank you Sensei Steve for teaching me and my family how to perform a down block and how to fall!

Here are the three action plan steps for you to contemplate (again adapted from Daren Daily). Answer these three questions in your journal:


  1. How can you show up more during class?


  1. Where can you ask more questions?


  1. What drills or advice have you been given that you still have yet to practice?


I know that after I am done writing this blog I will go to class with questions for Sensei and trust I will come back with actions from today’s class to work on during the week. What about you? See you in class soon.



How Well Do You Know Kata?

We were in our Saturday mixed belt class practicing kata. As usual we begin with our basic white belt kata. Sensei had us all run through the kata—some in the class were thinking that as we get to the higher level katas the lower belt students in class will soon drop out and watch as we show off how many katas we know…

The class did not go in that direction. Here was the entry to a fun and challenging class for all who were participating. After running and announcing the moves of the basic kata, Sensei asked us this question:  “Who knows this kata really well?” Of course most of knew we were in trouble, even black belts, if we were being judged by Sensei’s standards for a basic kata. Again we were not going to show off and we were not being singled out for a critique in front of the class. That was not the drill for us—we were to learn the importance of practice and referencing and self-discover how well we knew the kata. Sensei did not even have to tell us—at the end of this drill we all knew.

Like all good students everywhere, we went through the kata with Sensei calling out the 16 moves in the kata. The refresher is always good. No one in class was a white belt and all were at least two belts past white belt. We could comfortably say it was an “easy” kata for us to perform. No one in the class questioned the moves, the timing or sequences.

Now for the drill…we divided the class in half (safety first) and spread out on the floor. Facing our original direction we were asked to perform the kata with our eyes shut. As expected the class did not all end the kata facing the same direction. The other half of the class then had the same experience. We did the same kata in the same way in two other directions. After that experience we learned what was lacking in our kata and how to train better. We had not even moved on to the next katas in our system.

Do you want to know the secret? Practice the kata and reference the feet and you will stay on course—no referencing of the feet and this drill is almost impossible to perform correctly.

How well do you know your kata? Can you pass the blindfold or eyes closed test? Do you practice in different directions? See you in class soon as we are sure to run this drill again in the future.


Blindfold Kata can be fun


Down block left!